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The term Xicanmei [lit. Little sister who eats Western food], refers to women, born and bred in Taiwan, who have a preference for partners from Europe and America in terms of sexual relationships and dating.
I'm not denying that this phenomenon exists, however, I'd like to take it to a deeper level. Why, for instance, haven't we come up with terms such as Xicandi for younger men, or Xicanjie for older women or Xicange for older men? We shouldn't limit our gaze to younger Taiwanese women, we can widen it to other groups, there are lots of people who want to date foreigners, whether it be young women or young men and they don't necessarily have to be young either, maybe they're older, or maybe they're gay.
The reason that there is this focus on young women goes back to manipulation by the media, what the media have created is the image of a Taiwanese girl who is more open, who lives a little more unrestrained life. There are also implied stereotypes surrounding the foreign men with whom they form relationships.
When faced with this kind of manipulation by the media we should touch upon a certain issue and that is nationalism. The reflections on the issue they make, such as asking why Taiwanese women don't love Taiwanese men, basically puts private relationships into a nationalistic light, wherein the private relationship no longer belongs just to you, it belongs to your country, belongs to this or that community or group, so, you have to view your own relationship through the eyes of others.
So a big part of the reason we talk about Xicanmei and nationalism is because of media manipulation, however, if we look at those people who refer to themselves as Xicanmei, as we do come across people on the internet who refer to themselves as Xicanmei or they say that they're dating a foreigner, that they're engaging sexual relations with women or men, we can discover two things. The first is that a lot of it seems to be simply for dramatic effect, in the story they tell to validate themselves, they'll say, I liked dating foreigners from when I was young and which parts of the body is stimulated during intimate contact with the foreigners they dated, what nationalities they've been with – German, American, Italian or French – and how many people they've been with. They can often list them at will, every one. A woman might say she's been with 6 handsome men or pretty girls, for example, where each event happened, in what bars, or in what villas. I think that the Xicanmei phenomenon, first of all is a media construction that was later fleshed out by internet users, but we don't really know if their experiences are real, maybe they are. I've seen some blog posts online, and my feeling after reading a few of them is that, the idea of Xicanmei was a media creation, and this was interpreted in two ways by internet users. The first interpretation was to dramatize it, as I just mentioned. The second was to eroticize contact with foreigners. Why is it that we only ever talk about sexual contact? Can't we talk about negative aspects, like misunderstandings thrown up by language barriers and cultural differences? Or how these differences can be resolved, and friendship can be formed?
Xicanmei are representative of a phenomenon in Taiwan. When we talk about Taiwanese people making friends with foreigners, we always view it through a lens of eroticism. We should broaden the way that we see the interaction between Taiwanese and foreigners, for example, we can talk about business people from America or Europe who come to Taiwan to work for multinationals, those who come to Taiwan to learn the language or on exchange programs, or those who meet their Taiwanese partner abroad, whether it be their wife or their husband, and subsequently comes to live in Taiwan. This will give us a chance to reflect on the idea of Xicanmei, and maybe approach the issue from a different angle.
I did research into cross cultural weddings and romance between Taiwanese and French people, and what I discovered was that they're not as great as we make them out to be. Feelings start to develop between a foreigner and a Taiwanese man or woman, and perhaps the Taiwanese person will marry the foreigner, but I wanted to research how they make the relationship work once they are in a stable relationship. That's why I think that we shouldn't see relationships between Taiwanese and foreigners as one-night-stands or as short term sexual intimacy; but rather, we should look more deeply at how they negotiate longer term relationships and friendships.
The terminology used to suggest these relationships, with an image of girls who eat 'Western food' being used to represent Asian girls who date Western guys or the image of girls who eat 'Chinese food' being used to represent Asian girls who date Asian boys employs food as a metaphor for a country or a culture.
In Taiwan Western food is used to refer to food and drink habits that don't come from Taiwan's indigenous food culture itself, and through these food and drink activities, Taiwanese people come into contact with the world outside, so the idea of Western food can be interpreted as referring to this, and of course the idea of Xicanmei exists in other countries too. Abroad there are several terms for people who like Asians, by saying they like Chinese food, or rice. In Asia and the US, if someone is said to like Chinese food, or rice, it can mean in some contexts that they particularly like Asian men or women, and that they like to date Asian men or women. So the concept behind the term Xicanmei – literally 'Western food girls,' is not unique to Taiwan.
As to whether the idea of 'Western food' in reference to sexuality has any relation to nationalism, I would like to give a bit of background on Taiwanese politics in the past decade or so. We all know that, from 2000, when Chen Shuibian got into power, Taiwan's academic and political circles have been looking to take part in academic and political movements to build up Taiwanese nationalism. The political movement aimed at broadcasting the name "Taiwan" to the world, that is to say, not a desinification exactly, but just that the word "China" wouldn't be brought up as often in rhetoric. They tried their best to use the name "Taiwan" in all arenas, like food and drink, culture, or in terms of politics and diplomacy. You can see that even our passports, Taiwanese people's passports, emphasize the name Taiwan. In this context, over the last ten years or more, there's been a growing atmosphere in Taiwanese politics, so that the time has come where we can talk about Taiwanese nationalism. Of course, academic circles have also had a contribution, particularly in research in the social sciences. A common term that often comes up is national identity, in other words, if you mention anything to do with Taiwanese history, sociology or anthropology, I can guarantee, that the words "national identity" will appear very frequently. So why is this? It was the fruit of this atmosphere, this political climate, which formed under the name Taiwanese nationalism. After this nationalism arose, a binary opposition was produced as a result, that is Taiwan was posed against foreign countries. This kind of contrast is often oversimplified. The first simplification is of Taiwan itself, Taiwan is not just Taipei, it also comprises Taizhong, Gaoxiong, aboriginal cultures, Hoklo and Hakka. The other simplification was the idea of foreigners, "the West" so to speak, which is not just made up of the US. Even when talking about the US, there was a tendency to overlook the diverse range of communities there, the urban rural divide being just one example. A lot of "the West" would actually include Europe too, but in this kind of political climate, things often get simplified, in order to make Taiwanese nationalism seem more profound, or more influential, we simplify it to "Taiwan" and ignore the diversity of communities therein. If viewed through this lens, the implications of the term Xicanmei takes on a clearer image.
As to why we praise foreigners who eat food Taiwanese people don't normally expect them to eat. I have to say this has already been discussed a lot in anthropology. In anthropology, if an outsider, when eating with the tribe, doesn't like their food, this is of great significance, it's not just practical, but metaphorical too. The practical meaning is, that you accept someone else's invitation, and that you should put a bit of effort into accepting the kindness of other people, because other people have given you something, so you can't refuse it, that's the first thing.
The second aspect is, the metaphorical layer of meaning, and that is why food and drink affect such a large range of transactions. You accept other people's food, and you eat it, when you eat other people's food, it signifies that your body is taking the good will into your bloodstream; it's a symbol in anthropology. What's it is really saying, is that when you eat food that others offer you, it's a way of accepting something they've made an effort to prepare for you, to accept their good will. When they see that you've eaten what they offered you, they'll think that you're accepting their good will, and that will signify that you're a person that they can interact with successfully.
And if we go back to the Taiwanese media, and why they put so much effort into reporting when foreigners eat Taiwanese foods that they don't necessarily like, stinky tofu for example, or Taiwanese black pudding, or chicken feet, or any of the innards of pigs and chickens, it's because the media want to say, "Look! This foreigner is willing to try something that's not part of their food culture," and they'll interpret this as the foreigner making an effort to understand Taiwanese culture - not just paying lip service mind, but actually eating it.
Hot dog stand picture by byronv2.
Interview translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart with further editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy.
Also refer to eRenlai past Focus on Women and Nationalism, featuring this interview with several women and one men about the expression "xicanmei".
In an interview given to the Jesuit cultural journals in August 2014 Pope Francis mentioned two thinkers he particularly likes: Henri de Lubac and Michel de Certeau. He has mentioned the latter several other times, particularly for his edition of the "Journal" of St Pierre Fabre, which inspired the Spanish edition he asked two Jesuits of his province to undertake.
The mention of Henri de Lubac might not be very surprising, as the author of 'Meditations on the Church" is certainly a Jesuit theologian universally respected and admired. The one he made of Michel de Certeau raises other questions. Famous among anthropologists and historians, Michel de Certeau may be a little less popular among Jesuits, and his style and thought have made him less consensual an author. But an exception to this rule should be made for... Latin America. Michel de Certeau taught on this continent many times, and several of his books were translated into Spanish at an early stage.
Michel de Certeau (1925 – 1986) wrote on history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences. He started by studying Jesuit mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries (especially Jean-Joseph Surin, and went on exploring the formation of history as an academic discipline, mobilizing his professional experience as a trained archive historian. He also tried to interpret the mystical authors he had been studying in historical perspective. The experience of the "night of the senses" or of "ecstasy" cannot be repeated or understood in the same way as in the past, but we are still experiencing the "departures' and "coming back" of God through the filter provided by social sciences, by psychoanalysis and by the institutional changes affecting the Church and society. In other words, we are still "travelers" and "migrants', but we travel through new landscapes and uncharted territories. Michel de Certeau was very sensitive to the inventiveness deployed by ordinary people in their everyday life (a dominant theme of The Practice of Everyday Life, probably his most influential book), and was thus able to speak about spiritual experience in its diversity and contrasts.
One can guess and feel what Pope Francis appreciates in Michel de Certeau's thought and works: a deep knowledge of Ignatian spirituality associated with a desire not to repeat the past but rather to be creatively inspired by it; a special attention given to the resources and ways of life of ordinary people; a deep sense of the crisis affecting Church institutions; and a love for cultural diversity and artistic sensitivity.
So far, four books of Michel de Certeau have been published into Chinese. An academic program is presently under construction for more and (better) translations. Several present-day thinkers consider that the resource offered by Michel de Certeau are nowadays more useful for understanding cultural and social patterns than the ones provided by more well known authors like, say, Michel Foucault. Here is a Jesuit author whose thought can and probably will grow influential in China during the years to come.
Actually, the influence of Michel de Certeau could be detected early in the words of Pope Francis. In 2012, in an interview to an Italian newspaper, the then-cardinal Bergoglio was declaring: "We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former." The word "self-referential" often comes in the words spoken by Francis, and it refers to something that he perceives as a specific temptation within the Church. In my view, the risk-taking attitude is the only one that can connect into a meaningful dialogue 'culture' - or "cultures" – and faith(s).
"Culture" is not a luxury product, is not something like paintings or flowers that we would hang on the walls or put on the table after everything else is ready. "Culture" refers to the worldviews, languages, ways of translating emotions, identities and insights that are developed and perpetually transformed by individuals and communities. Cultures are one with the "languages" (oral, written, artistic, emotional) that shape communication among peoples, and also communication between peoples and the Church. The Word took flesh within a given culture, expressed Himself with the resources of this culture while He was also challenging it, and He asked us to continue the "translation work" that He started when He was "explaining" to us (literally: "making the exegesis" cf John 1,18) of the mystery of the Father. By doing so, by asking us to continue this "exegesis" of the divine mystery in various languages and contexts, Jesus encourages us to go from the "scattered diversity" of Babel to the "unitive diversity" of Pentecost. When we close on our own "clerical culture" we refuse to open up the walls of our house, we refuse to surrender ourselves to the fire, the wind and the diversity of tongues that constitute the Pentecostal gift. This is the perspective from which I propose to consider not only our "cultural apostolic works" but also our mission among cultures in its totality.
For a Jesuit, the intuition according to which we are evangelizers only if we are "evangelized' by the people with whom we meet remains a basic one. Reflecting on Church history teaches us that building up a position of "superiority' from which to preach without ourselves begin changed ultimately produces rotten fruits. I am often reminded for myself of the words of Jesus: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are." (Mt 23, 15) In a context where Jesus reproaches the Pharisees to impose on people burdens impossible to bear, it certainly requires from us to examine whether we make our teaching, our living and our understanding of human situations one and the same endeavor. It happens that zealous "converts" generate more negative than positive energies. Preaching the faith and fostering a process of human growth need to be two interrelated endeavors. 'Pulling on the shoots to help the rice to grow" ruins the harvest.
A more personal note: when I include in a textbook of Latin and Roman Religion, as I did recently in Beijing, excerpts and commentaries of Tertullianus, Augustine, Minucius Felix, etc..., showing how their intellectual and spiritual elaboration was closely linked to the developments happening in the Roman Empire I may contribute in my very modest way to an "understanding of the faith" which is not direct evangelization but attempts to nurture a rooting of Christianity into sound intellectual and spiritual insights. The same could be said of what we do in a variety of fields. While not hesitating to be counter-cultural, we also try to make the Christian worldview better understood by contemporary culture, while trying to make the Church emerge from what is presently a kind of cultural ghetto.
Going one step further, I have no problem either in the fact of devoting - as I do - a large part of my time to the study of Chinese religions - as we could also invest in paleontology of biology. The Jesuit charisma should remain to be at the frontiers of knowledge, with a sense of gratuitousness - the very gratuitousness through which God created us - for it is the way we "praise God" by marveling at the work that his Spirit accomplishes throughout the course of natural and human history - a praise that remains on our lips even when we are confronted to realities that seemingly challenge our faith and introduce us into an 'intellectual dark night."
Thanks to Francis and to Michel de Certeau for helping us to become more sensitive, in everything we undertake and we reflect upon, to the wonderful gratuitousness of a God who delights in dwelling among us.
Illustration by Bendu.
Prof. Sun Ta-ch'uan (孫大川 - Paelabang Danapan) was elected President of the Taipei Ricci Institute on January 15th, 2013. Prof. Sun, of the Puyuma tribe, is a most gifted writer, a leading aboriginal intellectual, and a former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Professor Sun's leading role in aboriginal research will reinforce the efforts deployed by the TRI since many years for linking concerns having to do with spiritual empowerment, sustainable development and cultural diversity into one.
In an interview from 2011, Prof. Sun talks about the challenges of the young aboriginal generation in Taiwan:
Matilde Hong remains the executive director of the Taipei Ricci Institute which counts among its board members Jacques Duraud, S.J., Olivier Lardinois, S.J. and Benoit Vermander, S.J.
I have a nice colleague who once told me that she loved "Chinese eyes". I was as surprised as when I first heard from French tourists that Chinese have les yeux bridés. Whatever does that mean? Among Chinese, we think we either have double or mono eyelids, perceived to be hugely different. I was then shocked to read about the suggestion, from American and French presses, as well as from some English-monolingual writers of Asian origin who do not have much contact with Asian communities, that Asian women go through double eyelid surgery so that they can look more Westernized, or as a form of "internalized racism". That is a serious charge unknown to most Chinese people. It is not much help that the most vocal people to oppose this view tend to be connected to beauty industries. Even though statistically they know more Asian women who have gone through the procedure, their financial interest makes their opinion less credible. Since no one wants to be "spoken for" nowadays, I might as well say something about my eyelid and my identity. I will limit myself to the Chinese case whenever possible because I do not claim to know enough about all the Asian cultures.
Having double eyelids in no way makes a Chinese woman look Westernized. I have natural double eyelids and live in the "West", but no one has ever thought I bear any resemblance to a Westerner; on the other hand, I have met Vietnamese or Japanese who mistook me for one of their own. As far as I know, people have always preferred double eyelids in China, even during the decades of Mao Zedong's reign when no Western movies were allowed. Actresses in leading roles almost invariably have double eyelids, to the point that a few years ago, when a beautiful woman with single eyelids played the leading role in the film Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010), all my Chinese friends noticed the "momentous" change and wondered if mono eyelids were finally becoming fashionable. In fact, people as old as my father remember their parents also thought women with double eyelids were prettier. The pressure mainly comes from Chinese community itself. Double eyelid surgery is one of the most frequently performed procedures in China or Chinese communities elsewhere in the world. Contrary to some gruesome procedures, it is almost non-controversial. All of us know someone who has done it and people increasingly do not keep it a secret as the practice became more common. Since it is not rude among Chinese to give unsolicited advice, when a girl has mono eyelids, it is not unusual for some affectionate aunties (ayi) who are not really her aunts to tell her:
- You would be even more beautiful if you had double eyelids! It is really an easy surgery!
As someone who considers getting ear piercings (holes) too painful and settles for wearing only necklaces, I am the last one to advocate for plastic surgeries. I am glad to live now in a society where many people are or claim to be open-minded to different types of beauty, but we need to realize the challenge others face in their own cultural environment. It is easy to take the moral high ground and judge Chinese women who go through double eyelid surgery, but I can put myself in their place, because they can be my friends, my sisters and my daughters, and I know that my eyelid is not my identity.
Since my mother has double eyelids and my father single eyelids, it was through pure luck that I inherited the culturally more desirable feature. My younger sister, however, was born with monolids. Strangely, when she just woke up her eyelids would look double for a while, or when she rubbed her eyes, which she did more often than our parents liked. Maybe she had a hidden or very shallow crease. Then in her twenties, her eyelids became double even when she was not rubbing them or waking up. I noticed the change during a visit:
- Oh, they just became like this little by little! She said as if it were nothing.
Who would have believed that? But I did, and for many years. Then it dawned on me she might have done what many other women did.
- How...How did your eyelids become double? I tried to sound as casual as possible over the phone.
- I just got a surgery! It was so wonderful! She giggled like a little girl.
She already had a job, and an adoring husband. But so many women she knew were getting them, with stunning results. She chose the simple technique of "stitching threads", which leaves no scar, and with quick recovery time.
- Did it hurt?
- Not at all! And it took less time than a haircut!
- What...what did brother-in-law think?
- He was thrilled. I surprised him. He saw my double eyelids when he was walking upstairs, and liked them right away. Oh, it was the happiest day in my life!
It was the same old happiness, perhaps, as when Cinderella somehow got her party outfit. It did not occur to me to ask her if she internalized Western beauty standard, or if she betrayed our father's heritage. I knew the answer was no, and no.
The first time when I came upon an Asian woman (I could not tell her exact ethnicity) with single eyelids on a magazine cover either in France or in the U.S., I experienced a moment when "one hundred feelings mixed up simultaneously" (baigan jiaoji). Seeing a woman who would have had a hard time in a school dance in China look confident in her attractiveness revealed to me that perhaps in this world beauty might be somewhat relative and culturally constructed. It reminded me that it was beneficial to expand the range of our beauty tastes for the sake of our own and other people's pleasures. The realization made me feel bad for all the Chinese women with single eyelids who did not have the luck of being discovered and appreciated by Western lenses. But I also wondered if it could reflect a subtle form of orientalism: that is how Westerners think Asian women typically look.
Sometimes our poor eyes can only perceive what our heart or mind want them to see. A longtime Chinese diplomat and Francophile, who had spent years in France, wrote a book in Chinese about his wonderful impressions living in the Hexagon (Impressions in France, Falanxi yinxiang): one of his greatest pleasures while traveling there was to ask directions to "slim and graceful blond women with blue eyes". You wonder how long he normally would need to wait. I know that French women don't get fat (that is the title of a popular book in the U.S.), but it is safe to think that his pleasure would have been reduced at least by half if it had depended on talking with blond women with blue eyes (jinfa biyan, the Chinese stereotype of Westerners) in France, because he would have had at least equal chance of running into women with different eye or hair colors. Believing that single eyelids constitute a distinctive feature of Chinese women is not much different from thinking that French women typically have blond hair and blue eyes: what about the other (roughly) half?
Once single eyelids were made the distinctive mark of Chinese women despite the fact that a significant proportion of them naturally have double eyelids, any attempts to modify them through make-up or surgery can be viewed as an identity issue. We can observe an obvious double standard: when a brunette dyes her hair blond, a blond dyes her hair red or black, a curly woman straightens her hair, fair-skinned people sunbath or use tanning beds risking cancer to obtain darker skin, those widespread practices are not perceived to involve their identity even though they alter their natural look. Sometimes well-meaning people interpret too much through racial lenses. Instead of going as far as those who accused them of psychological projection or cultural imperialism, I would rather think they simply overlooked some important facts. My late foot-bound grandmother, who had never seen a single Westerner in her entire life, told me that "whiteness of skin covers a hundred flaws", which happened to be a common saying in China. In case you still think she was somehow influenced by Western standard, an influential poem from the Book of Poetry, written several hundred years B.C., describes a great beauty as having skin as white as "frozen fat". I do not know why my ancestors of the time preferred fair skin, but it was probably not due to internalized racism.
It is not my intention here to discuss the pros and cons of plastic surgeries, or its place in the continuum of things we do to embellish our appearance based on beauty standards du jour. Employment discrimination based on irrelevant and ridiculous criteria such as eyelids should be illegal, but then in a market economy, if enough kings/customers in certain places make their business decisions according to the perceived beauty of the vendors, it will be difficult to enforce such a ban. At the very least, when a Chinese woman decides to get double eyelid surgery, please do not assume that she is having an identity crisis or she is denying her cultural heritage. She most likely just wants to look as beautiful as her own mother or supposedly luckier "sisters" who constitute her reference group. The tapestry of our identity cannot be reduced to the shape of our eyelids, or whatever we do with them.
Drawing by Bendu
In May 2013, the first stage of the cause for beatification of Matteo Ricci was completed in Macerata, Ricci's home diocese. The file is now with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. Calls for the beatification and canonization of Ricci have been recently amplifying.
That Ricci amply deserves to be canonized constitutes a fact that is beyond doubt. The rectitude of his character, the unwavering patience, perseverance and humility he showed all along his Chinese journey the fruits reaped from his mission - all this amply testifies to the sainthood of a man who is very much respected and even loved by many Chinese.
The question is: should he be beatified alone, or does his cause open up opportunities for a new approach on such matters?
Ricci started his Chinese pilgrimage by publishing a little booklet entitled "On Friendship.' His beatification process should reflect the spirit under which he conducted his missionary endeavor.
In other words: do not beatify Matteo Ricci without beatifying Xu Guangqi at the same time.
There are three reasons for uniting the two friends into a common cause. First, Xu Guangqi is also a man whose life speaks of sainthood. Second, this will change the way missionary history is ordinarily presented. Third, this is by far the best gift Rome could make to the Chinese Church and China proper.
Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) is known in China as an outstanding scholar and public servant, the author of an encyclopedic treatise on agricultural techniques, a patriot who was witnessing the progressive weakening of the Ming dynasty and trying to defend it against aggressions, and a mathematician and astronomer. Still, these humane qualities would not been enough for proclaiming him a saint. So, what else does he have to show for himself? First, let us note that Xu fully involved himself into practical pursuits only after his conversion experience, the depth of which seems impressive: his baptism, in 1603, was prepared by long meditations over the Chinese Classics, repeated experiences of failure and grief, a dream, in 1600, of a temple with three chapels, interpreted in 1605 as an image of the Trinity, and deep-felt emotion when seeing an image of the Madonna with the Child in Nanjing. Once baptized, he brings his whole household to the new faith – not only relatives and servants depending upon him, but his own father as well. His descendants, especially his granddaughter Camilla Xu, will protect and foster the Shanghainese Christian community.
During the thirty years that separate his baptism from his death, Xu Guangqi continuously protects, advises and even guides the missionaries, while developing a spiritual life anchored in self-examination and dialogue among traditions. Among other testimonies, we possess the one of Longobardo, a Jesuit who was quite opposed to Ricci's acculturation strategy: through a kind of "counter enquiry" on Chinese converts' orthodoxy, Longobardo unwillingly lets us appreciate the depth and inner freedom of Xu's spiritual vision.
Moreover, the way Xu translated his faith into courageous and practical plans of action reminds us of Ricci's moral character: both men are less prone to write about their feelings than to engage into what they sense to be their calling. This may also recalls us of the beginning of the "Contemplation for attaining love" in the Spiritual Exercises: "Love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words – and love consists in interchange between two parties ... So that if the one has knowledge, he gives to the one who has it not." Such style of interchange nurtures the friendship that Xu developed with Ricci and inspires his attitude throughout his career. If Xu did not experience martyrdom, as Saint Thomas More did, his style, courage and achievements are very much reminiscent of this other great lay Catholic saint.
The joint beatification of Ricci and Xu would therefore change the way missionary history is often told – not a history of passive reception but rather of active collaboration. It would show that the first converts displayed exceptional openness and fortitude when working with missionaries in the building of the local church. It would also show that these converts brought in from the start the riches of their traditions. It will tell the faithful that all charismas are needed and must associate when grounding a Christian community into the life of the Spirit.
Finally, a common beatification would be much more meaningful for contemporary Chinese people – including Chinese Catholics – than the one of a lone missionary would be. It would send a message of friendship, collaboration, and spiritual equality. Even more importantly, the multifaceted figure of Xu - one of the "three pillars of the Chinese Church" (along with Li Zhizhao and Yang Tingyun) - can operate reconciliation among all sectors of the Church as well as between Church and society. Besides, the association of Xu and Ricci will speak of a Church that strives towards universality in the midst of a dialogue between local cultures and in the variety of life experiences.
It remains true that the present difficulties met by the diocese of Shanghai make the cause of Xu's beatification much slower and more complicated than the one of Ricci. But these very difficulties should prompt Rome to instruct the case with even more diligence – and there are many roads through which such case can be advanced. More than four hundred years have passed since Ricci went to Heaven. I am convinced that he would willingly wait a few years more, so as to be recognized Blessed and Saint in the company of his friend Xu Guangqi.
Also read eRenlai special Focus on the Legacy of Matteo Ricci : http://www.erenlai.com/en/focus/2010-focus/matteo-ricci.html
The official seal of Du Wenqiu (1823-1872), Sultan of Dali, Yunnan Province, and leader of the Panthay rebellion
I. A trip into the hills
On a bright July day in 2013, not long after I arrived in Taiwan, I decided to go on a cycling trip. I was told that if I went a little down the busy Chongde Street from the Liuzhangli roundabout, it would quickly become a quiet street, then a lane, then a track rising into the hills and from there on to the massive Liuzhangli Cemetery. Sure enough the traffic thinned, small grocery stores and shrines replaced the 7-11s and noodle shops and in less than ten minutes I was in what I would call the countryside.
Stopping for some water at a temple on a bend in the road I saw a very familiar but incongruous sight, on black marble and in gold calligraphy:
And those who believed will be admitted to the Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein by permission of their Lord (Qur’an, 14:23)
Not since my time in the Middle East had I seen this phrase, the standard epitaph for a Muslim grave. Amongst the hundreds of shrines and the grand whitewashed red-roofed ossuary was this blast from the past. I asked the temple guardian why this was here and kept hearing the same reply: Huizu (回族)
Getting back on my bike I rounded the corner to see a whole hillside of such graves and, at the top of the hill, a vast dome with a crescent moon. Climbing up the steep steps past rows and rows of these graves and religious epitaphs it seemed to me that compared with the surrounding Daoist and Buddhist graves, these ones were not as well kept. Some graves had fallen over, the ornamental trees, plants and flowers that had once shaded the headstones had withered and the soil turned to dust.
In the outer sections the forest had begun to claim back its ground, snaking over the graves with roots and tendrils. The final resting places of dozens of souls had been hidden behind dark brown expanses of bark. Nearing the dome I found that this too showed signs of damage. The concrete was crumbling in large pieces from the curved roof, the Islamic arabesque designs cracked and broken, reducing the ornate symmetry to only jagged patterns. By the entrance to the mausoleum was a rusting can of Taiwan Beer, and a pomelo tree long escaped from its circular plot of soil.
An inscription- the bronze letters had fallen off, but I could still read from the indentations on the marble- “General Bai Chongxi, he earned the love and respect of all.”
The heat of the day prevented any further explorations and I climbed down the hill, got on my bike and cycled back towards the city, in a state of confusion about this mysterious, forgotten place I had stumbled across. Taiwan, I remember feeling, is a country of many secrets, forgotten stories and many ghosts. A ghost island. The road turned busy again, and these thoughts were lost in the traffic and noise, and negotiating my way home past scooters and buses and pedestrians.
Back in Taipei I decided to go to the National Chengchi University, the only place in Taiwan that has an Islamic Studies department, the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (CMEIS). In the courtyard of that building, perhaps built incidentally to match the type of courtyard houses I had seen in the Middle East, surrounded by trees and plants, sat a man who turned out to be the Islamic Studies professor. We began to talk in Arabic about my life in Taiwan and our shared experience in the Middle East and elsewhere- he had spent a lot of time in Jordan, but even longer in Leeds, my hometown.
That evening the Arabic students were hosting a barbeque party by the riverside, and Professor Lin- his name- invited me along. He told me that I could find out a lot of information about the Hui, meet lots of interesting people, and speak a lot of Arabic.
I could see the smoke even before I crossed the Daonan bridge. The gathering consisted of 70 or so students and professors. A group of girls were excitedly roasting squids on a barbeque. Next to them sat another group of students, wearing keffiyehs and smoking nargile, the men with their beards grown long. Most of the students who were in their third or fourth year of the Arabic program had spent years abroad in Kuwait, Jordan or Syria and we could speak very comfortably together in Arabic. Most simply wanted an edge in the Taiwanese job market and hoped to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or in international trade, but a few of them had converted to Islam and studied Arabic for religious reasons. I had a very good time, but discussed absolutely nothing about the cemetery, or the Hui.
II. A professor’s study
I agreed to meet Professor Nabil C K Lin the following week for a more in-depth discussion. I went to his office at NCCU. Professor Lin completed his thesis on the Islamic movement in Fujian province that took place at the end of the Qing dynasty. He has written several book chapters and articles in academic publications related to Islam in Taiwan. He is also a member of the Muslim Taiwanese Study Group. His small room was a warren of books on every conceivable subject concerning Islam.
According to the Professor there have been three major waves of Chinese Muslim migration to Taiwan. The first was at the end of the Ming dynasty (around 1661-2), when Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) came to Taiwan with his troops- a number of them certainly Chinese Muslims- expelled the Dutch and Spanish settlers, and set up his own loyalist government in Taiwan. The second was in 1949, when as many as 70,000 Muslims who were in the ranks of the KMT retreated to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek from the mainland. The third was in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when KMT loyalists who had retreated from China to Burma and Thailand began to come to Taiwan, many of them Chinese Muslim.
China’s Muslim population has a long history of service in the military, and it was no surprise that Muslims played a major role in both Sun Yatsen’s rebellion, and the Chinese civil war. Indeed, Sun Yatsen was a vocal supporter of the Hui in China, and it was his successor Chiang Kai-shek who, in 1938, approved the foundation of the Chinese Muslim Association, which moved to Taiwan in 1951 following the retreating KMT troops. Many Hui had taken the KMT side in the conflict because it would not have been acceptable in religious terms to be governed by the Communists, who were atheists. Others retreated to Taiwan because they feared religious persecution in China if they stayed. In Taiwan, the KMT continued to give generous support to the Chinese Muslim Association and under the government of Chiang Kai-shek, a disproportionate number of Hui Muslims held important political and military positions.
Hui from the first migration have, explains the Professor, lost their hui-ness. A few do not eat pork, and often Qur’ans and other Islamic artefacts have been incorporated into their family shrines, but essentially they have completely adopted Han folk culture. This same amalgamation is happening now with the second and third waves of Hui into mainstream Taiwanese culture. What is more, this is in complete contrast to their families in Fujian , Xinjiang and other places in Mainland China where despite the fears of repression, communities have actually recaptured and expanded their sense of Islamic identity.
To understand why this is, we have to look at the concept of Hui that arose in the Mainland, one that is distinctly different from that in Taiwan. From the beginning the Communist authorities treated the Huizu as an ethnicity (minzu) rather than a religious minority. Whereas there was some of the feared political repression, the Huizu were given greater economic and cultural independence through the establishment of Hui autonomous zones and accorded privileges based on their minzu status. In Taiwan however, the Hui remain a religious, not ethnic minority, thus they are treated like any ordinary Taiwanese citizens. The result is that the Hui in China feel a stronger bond as they are tied by a sense of shared ethnicity, as well as religion.
“The problem (in Taiwan) is that the younger generation has no concept of Islamic identity” says Professor Lin. In Taiwan the Hui are a tiny minority. Because of their military background they are spread thinly all over Taiwan. In some ways it is inevitable that the community structure they had in the Mainland would be compromised. However, Professor Lin also argues that more could be done internally to provide a cohesive framework, especially for the younger generation. “There is no basic Islamic education for them and as a result they don’t think Islam is important for them at all.”
This pastoral role was fulfilled in the past by the Chinese Muslim Association. Under the leadership of General Bai Chongxi, who was Director General of the Association from its inception in 1939 until 1959, it continued to receive generous government funding. In 1960 the Association finished the rebuilding and extension of the mosque in Taipei to become the Taipei Grand Mosque. The Association was also given land by the Taipei City government in Liuzhangli to use as a cemetery. With the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the association also funded over 200 of its members to study abroad in the Muslim world, in order to impart their learning to Taiwanese Muslims, but with the implicit assumption that a certain number would also help the government of Chiang Kai-shek to gain legitimacy for the ROC in the Islamic world. However, by the early 1970’s most Muslim countries had accepted the legitimacy of the PRC and the Hui were no longer needed. “He (Chiang) just used them, basically” says the Professor. After that, the influence-and funding- of the Association was reduced, and the cohesion it provided for the Hui community in Taiwan was lost.
The clearest evidence of this decline is the Hui cemetery in Liuzhangli. “For the past five decades the Chinese Muslim Association never gave proper attention to the cemetery” says the Professor. “And now Taipei City Government is threatening to take back the land.” Part of the problem is that many of the cemetery’s graves are those of KMT soldiers that came from the Mainland alone. The ones who did not marry a benshengren (local Taiwanese) wife had no family in Taiwan to upkeep their grave. A lot of the graves have now become unknown graves, and so the rights to the land and the responsibility for their upkeep is unclear.
As for the grave of General Bai, it has simply been forgotten. General Bai is known as a key strategist and confidante of Chiang Kai-shek in the war with Japan. However, his role in the Hui community and promotion of Islamic education has been completely overlooked. Even General Bai’s son, the novelist Bai (or Pai) Hsein-yung, like many of Bai’s children, turned away from Islam. “The young generation (of Hui) have no idea about General Bai” says the professor, as we flick through family photos of the Bai family. “Even back then, see how secular they were, so sinicized.”
It is for this reason, says the professor, that there needs to be a similar collective effort amongst the Hui in Taiwan to re-engage with their Islamic identity, as is happening in the Mainland. He mentions a list held by the Taipei Grand Mosque of over 100,000 names of Hui who should be contacted and, if they have lost touch with the community, reintegrated. He talks of oral history projects, a collection of artefacts and an ambitious project to renovate and expand General Bai’s grave to become a tourist spot. But he laments that “there is not the enthusiasm amongst them to do this”.
For Professor Lin, Hui means “Muslim Han Chinese”, and they are a religious rather than an ethnic minority. This separates the Hui from the Uyghurs, the Salars and other Muslim Chinese who are ethnically different as well. So in Taiwan Hui is a religious and not an ethnic term. However, due to the ethnicization of the Hui by the PRC there are some younger generation Hui in China who are starting to say “I am Huizu but not Muslim”, an assertion the Professor strongly disagrees with. Indeed, as a Muslim, he distances himself from the Hui label altogether. “My view of Islam is rather more universal and global. I do not confine myself to the Hui identity. The Hui identity and the global Islamic identity are very different.” he says. Through his work in the Muslim Taiwanese Islamic Studies society Professor Lin is trying to qualify these concepts through research, and a series of public lectures.
Over lunch in a local speciality rice noodle restaurant he also mentions that he is helping to organise an exhibition of Islamic life and Culture at the National Taiwan Museum, in order to make Hui culture more familiar to Taiwanese people. As we part ways I am left thinking about the contrasts and contradictions in the figure of the Professor himself. Dressed in a traditional 唐件 (tang jian) jacket, with his love of green tea and rice noodles, and his belief in a global Islamic revival.
III. A meeting at an exhibition
The opening ceremony of the Exhibition of Islamic Life and Culture at the National Taiwan Museum took place on the 13th of January 2014. It was a grand affair and, apart from the press area, everyone was in formal dress. Aside from the main organisers- the Taiwan Association of Islamic Studies, and the Department of Arabic Language and Culture at National Chengchi University- there was official help and support from trade organisations representing the Sultanate of Oman, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia, and the list of invitees included ambassadors, trade representatives and cultural figures. The audience was treated to a darbouka drumming performance and a Qur’anic recitation from Chinese Muslim children, followed by a headline speech by the Minister of Culture Dr. Lung Ying-Tai.
However, towards the back of the hall, were a small number of prominent members of the Taiwanese Hui community. Most were elderly men, some with beards and caps, but others, like Ni Kuo-an, wearing a suit and tie. Ni Kuo-an is 86 years old. He came to Taiwan from Henan Province, Mainland China, with the KMT army when he was 19, and was sent to Hualien to work with the ordinance unit. He worked up the ranks of the military to become a Major General, and after his retirement from the military was Director General of the Chinese Muslim Association from 2002 to 2006. When he came to Taiwan, he said, there were almost no Hui from the older migrations from Fujian province who had kept their Islamic faith. “They did not eat pork, that was it.” he said. As there was no mosque (the first was built in Taipei in 1947) he and other Hui officers used to meet in each other’s houses for Friday prayer.
Benefitting from the aforementioned government grants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, many of his family members and friends went abroad to Libya, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia for study. As other mosques began to be built across Taiwan (Kaohsiung 1951, Taichung 1951 Taipei-rebuilt- 1960, Taoyuan 1967) they were staffed by these returning Hui, who also gave Islamic instruction to the next generation. Meanwhile, in his military career Ni Kuo-an’s Hui status put him in contact with senior figures such as Bai Chongxi, who in fact acted as witness at his wedding.
Ni Kuo-an’s pride in his family’s and his wife’s family’s mixed Chinese-Persian heritage demonstrates that Hui is not a completely ethnic-free marker. However, like the Professor, he does not believe that Hui can be an ethnic identity either.
“Actually it was the Communists who gave us the name Huizu” he says. “They have 10 Muslim (ethnic) minorities and one of them is Huizu. But we look Chinese, whereas the others look different.”
Confusingly the word Hui, he says, actually has its origin in the word Uyghur 維吾爾, now recognised as a completely different-and definitely ethnic- minority. Before, he says, Islam was called Hui-jiao 回教 or, approximately translated, “Hui teachings” or “Hui religion”, but then, in the mainland, they started to use the more modern term Islam-jiao 伊斯蘭教.” In Taiwan Huijiao is still used to mean Islam, and for Ni Kuo-an the two terms are interchangeable. And despite the completely different treatment of the Hui by the governments of the ROC and PRC, Ni Kuo-an asserts that “the Hui in China and the Hui in Taiwan are completely the same.”
For him, a key constituent of Hui identity-whether in the Mainland or in Taiwan- is Professor Lin’s feared amalgamation with Han Chinese Culture. “I am Muslim, but I am also Chinese, and Chinese people have Chinese traditions.” he says. So while celebrating Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr may be religious duties, giving red envelopes, eating zongzi on Dragon Boat Festival and sweeping the tombs of his relatives on Qingming Festival are cultural duties he feels are almost as important to his identity as his faith.
Readers in China can watch the video here.
Even so, he concedes that the Hui in Taiwan today are facing many problems. “Now Taiwan is so mixed up. Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, all are one family! And young people are not so loyal to their faith anymore.” For the Hui, marriage between two members of their community was the easiest and simplest way to pass down their faith and traditions. In the modern age, mixed marriages are very common, even the norm, amongst the Hui. A mixed marriage thus severs the transference of faith and cultural heritage to the next generation. However, the age of globalisation also means that many Chinese Muslims he knows have found partners from Pakistan, Morocco, and other Muslim countries and are continuing their Muslim heritage in that way.
IV. To be continued….
The study of Islam in China is a relatively new discipline, and is heavily biased towards contemporary sociological research. This research is itself biased towards areas such as Xinjiang- a Uyghur autonomous zone-, where because of the recent unrest it has become of interest to funding bodies and foreign governments, and something of a trendy topic for PhD students. Research on the Huizu “ethnic” group has, as far as I know, been almost exclusively focussed on Mainland China.
(Photo from the 2013 Asia-pacific Chinese Muslim youth summer camp)
This research shows that here, in the remote western provinces, the Hui population have for a long time lived in their own exclusive communities. So, irrespective of whether -scientifically speaking- the Hui constitute an ethnicity separate from the Han, the concept of a Hui ethnic identity is accepted both among the Hui themselves, but also among local Party officials. These officials are ineffective and unreliable in the resources they provide. Furthermore, they distribute these resources unevenly, giving preferential treatment to Han areas. Discrimination on perceived ethnic grounds, of course, only serves to strengthen the concept of a Hui identity.
Given these circumstances, the Hui community in Mainland China has had to become self-reliant not only economically but also culturally. Distinct Hui cultural traditions, whether ancient or modern, are a touchstone to come back to at times of trouble, and Islam is always a rallying call in any instances of division within the community. The Islamic identity of the Hui has become more outward- most obviously in dress- and more oppositional with regards to the surrounding Han population. Even though the Hui areas often have their own Muslim ganbu officials and are still integrated into the centralised system of government, the relationship between the Hui and the PRC seems to be developing into one of conflict.
Taiwan, when it is mentioned in this research, appears only as part of a list of other places with significant Hui populations. The fact that the Hui in Taiwan have developed in a completely different fashion from their relatives in the Mainland has been overlooked. Indeed, the search for the Hui in Taiwan has been a frustrating one. As impressive as the Exhibition of Islamic Life and Culture was, hardly any attention was given to the history of Islam in Taiwan, and the term Huiwas never used. It seems that in Taiwan -peaceful, secular, religiously tolerant- there is no impetus for the Hui to form a strong collective counter-identity. In the absence of any resistance from central authorities, a Hui-or even Muslim- identity struggles to find relevance and has faded almost completely out of significance.
As I have seen from the handful of interviews already completed, concepts of Muslim identity in Taiwan are by no means uniform. There are those such as Professor Lin who seek to transcend or even supercede their domestic cultures to find a connection to the global Islamic identity. Or, like Ni Kuo-an, there are those who feel their Muslim identity and Chinese identity to be constituent parts of their being. Both of these concepts of identity need to be recognised as forming a part of the greater Taiwanese identity.
Historical study on Islam in China is comparatively sparse, but a few hours of background reading turns up some fascinating details that are essential to understanding modern Chinese and Taiwanese identities. For example, that in the 1910’s Sun Yat Sen was actively exploring a political and cultural alliance between the ROC and the Islamic world, that factions within the Chinese Muslim Association were planning to use their influence within the KMT to carve out an Islamic future for China, and that for a time Japan and the ROC were locked in a battle to win the hearts and minds of China’s Muslim population.
We are running out of time. Many of the Hui who came to Taiwan in 1949 have died, and with them died invaluable first-hand information. But this information would not just be of value to historians. There are many young Hui today who are searching for an identity that for one reason or another was not passed down to them by their parents. Many of these individuals are attracted to the idea of a global Islam, while some try to reconnect with their Hui roots in the Mainland, a conflict which in itself would be an interesting topic of study. Furthermore, there are many new Taiwanese converts to Islam who, given the lack of domestic support, are increasingly looking abroad to countries such as Saudi Arabia to provide funding for Islamic activities. This is a worrying trend given that in countries such as the UK this funding has led to the radicalisation of some Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslim communities. This younger generation must find a way to balance their Chinese and Islamic identities, as the Hui have been doing for many hundreds of years.
Some contact has been made with the Chinese Muslim Association, but at the time of writing there has been no response to our proposal to conduct comprehensive research on the Hui population of Taiwan.
Liz Hingley came to Shanghai in June 2013, twenty years after line 1 of Shanghai's metro opened. It is now the second largest metro system in the world and transports an average of more than 7 million people daily. She was fascinated by how its development has dramatically changed the city's social, economic and geographical structure. Liz spent two months traveling to every metro terminus to document the landscapes and communities at the peripheries of Shanghai's urban sprawl. The work was published as part of the Portrait De Villes book series in November 2013. Liz is also curating the 'Mapping Shanghai' talk and workshop series at K11 Shanghai Art Space.
《 End Of Lines 》INFORMATION
• Opening Party: 7pm Friday April 18th 2014
• Exhibition Date: Saturday April 19th 2014 – Sunday May 18th 2014
• Opening Hours: [Every day] 13:00-19:00 * Closed on national holidays
• Venue: ONE
• Address: #201, Bldg 5, 831 JiangNing Road, JingAn District, Shanghai
• Entry fee: Free of charge
• Curator, Design and Organizer: ONE
Liz Hingley is a renowned photographer, researcher and member of Agence Vu. She holds a first class BA Honors in Photography and an MSc in Social Anthropology with distinction from University College London. Her work has received numerous awards including the Getty Image Grant, Prix Virginia and Photophilanthropy Activist Award. During a two-year scholarship with Fabrica in Italy she made the work "Under Gods " which was published by Dewi Lewis in 2011 and became an internationally touring solo exhibition.
She moved to Shanghai in June 2013 to continue her work on multi-faith urban communities at the invitation of the Ricci Institute at Fudan University and as a visiting scholar of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
Read an interview about her project on eRenlai:
By Fabrizio Bozzato and Tatiana Komarova
Russia's takeover of Crimea represents the checkmate of a geopolitical chess game between the Kremlin and the West. The game was opened by Putin's decision to give a safe haven to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, and then continued with the Syrian crisis - seeing Moscow outsmart and outplay the Obama Administration - and culminated into l'affaire Ukraine, in which Russia has carved for itself, rather than found, the opportunity for recapturing Crimea after sixty years of separation and, by doing so, finalizing the first annexation of another country's territory in Europe since World War II. Vladimir Putin has won. Thus, now there are but two significant questions: 1) what is the prize of victory? And 2) what is the price of victory?
The most important trophy of victory is Crimea itself. Controlling the peninsula is a geostrategic essential for Russia. Leaving Crimea's sentimental value aside, the region hosts the Black Sea Fleet naval base, from which Moscow can project force into and throughout the Mediterranean. Notably, the majority of the Black Sea coastline is held by NATO allies except for Georgia, which is keenly pursuing NATO membership, on the east and Ukraine in the north.
Therefore, for Moscow, losing its naval base in Crimea would be akin to military emasculation. By incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation, Putin has thus secured Russia's enduring status as a Eurasian great power. Also, Russia's assertiveness in protecting its Crimean naval base might result in Moscow establishing a substantial military presence in a key Asian theatre. In fact, Hanoi might decide that allowing strong-willed Russia to have its navy operating permanently from Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay would be a very effective way to counterweight Beijing's increasing activism in the South China Sea.
Second, by showing uncompromising determination and effectively rattling his saber in Crimea, Putin has conveyed a sturdy message both to the West and to the former Soviet republics seeking to join NATO or other 'Western arrangements'. Namely, Russia has geopolitical imperatives and is going to affirm and defend them with any means it will deem necessary.
The Kremlin has also made clear that it considers any intrusion in the Federation's near abroad a strategic threat to Russian independence. Simply put, Russia means business. In addition, Putin has exposed Western impotence in a Europe still on holiday from strategy and further questioned the diplomatic resolve and martial credibility of the Obama Administration. From now on, Europeans would be better off to think strategically and be aware of their vulnerabilities when dealing with Moscow. Washington, for its part, must realize that Russia has learned to use the democracy and 'responsibility to protect' rhetoric in as Machiavellic a way as the US - and that the Russian President is a leader that thrives in confrontation, is now widely popular at home and, in a growingly multipolar world, has several supportive friends. Especially in Asia.
Third, on the domestic front the retaking of Crimea in spite of Western opposition has boosted Russian pride and nationalism. As a result, Russians are going to weather sanctions and diplomatic retaliation with their chins up. Actually, the US and the EU governments might find it difficult to put together - and cogently implement and sustain - a cohesive sanctions package. Because of their energy dependence on Russia and concern about losing contracts and economic links with Moscow, the Europeans are inclined not to be too heavy-handed with the Kremlin. Economic sanctions might end up hurting both ways, as people in Europe need to stay warm in winter. Besides, the Russian Federation is a large country with extensive resources and diversified trade partners. So, in key EU countries, the industry is lobbying vehemently against imposing sanctions on Russia. As for political-diplomatic sanctions, they are probably going to be generally ineffective. No doubt, Putin is going to wear the exclusion from G8 as a badge of honor at the next BRICS summit.
However, acquiring Crimea comes at a price, one that is both economic and diplomatic. The peninsula used to be umbilically reliant on Ukraine and the Russian government has acknowledged that the Crimean economy "looks no better than Palestine." Therefore, bringing the region in would require massive financial and infrastructural investments from Moscow. Anyway, even if all of these investments added up to US$ 20 or 25 billion, it would still be small change for the cash-rich Russian government. This said, the combination of international enmity and punitive decisions might significantly impact on Russia's economy and international standing. For example, Moscow will not be invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development any time soon, and will have to abandon any hope of including Ukraine - which has just signed an association agreement with the European Union - in the Russo-centric Eurasian Economic Union. Also, foreign investors could become more hesitant about risking capital in Russia and Russian companies could find it more difficult to obtain credit from Western lenders.
More importantly, Russia's relations with the West are going to enter in a new phase marked by mutual distrust and confrontation. "If it is the price of greatness regained" might remark the Kremlin, "we are ready to pay it." To Moscow's advantage, the Cold War era is unlikely to return. History does not repeat itself. Today's global political and economic ecosystem is one characterized by polycentricity and the tyranny of interdependence. Thus, envisaging a world which is once again neatly divided into two monadic blocks would be nothing short of unrealistic. Equally, to keep pursuing a vision of unilateralism in Europe would be detrimental both to the West and Russia. Time will tell whether the seizure of Crimea has been a masterstroke or a counterproductive move for Russia. If Moscow will be able to develop Crimea and turn it into a success story, it will prove that Russia is as responsible as it is resolute, and shift the burden of proof to the West, which has now the moral obligation to stabilize Ukraine and make it prosperous. Such is the price of Europe being geopolitically fluid again.
Map source: Wikimedia Commons
First published on The World Security Network
Fabrizio Bozzato ( 杜允士 ) is a political analyst with a keen interest in Pacific Studies. He holds an M.A. in International Relations (University of Tasmania, Australia) and a Master in Political Science (University of Milan, Italy). He also attained a Grad. Dip. in International Politics with high distinction (University of Tasmania, Australia). Fabrizio lives in Taiwan, where he is an Associate Researcher at the Taipei Ricci Institute. He has also worked at the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji (Fiji Islands), where he served as Adjunct Lecturer. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University (Taiwan) and is an editor for the World Security Network Foundation. Fabrizio believes that the currents of the global ocean are shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific Rim, and especially Asia. He is trying his best to follow Lao Tzu's advice about knowing honor, yet keeping humility.
Tatiana Komarova is a PhD Candidate and Research Fellow at GIIASS, Tamkang University (Taiwan). Tatiana is specializing in international politics, strategy, and Russia-Taiwan-China relations. She has worked as research assistant at Eurasia Studies, Chien Hsin University (Taiwan); and as teaching assistant at GIIASS. She holds a MA in International Politics and Graduate Diploma with Honors in International Affairs from the State University of Nizhny Novgorod (Russia). Her MA thesis is entitled "Pros and cons of the 'Cultural Revolution' in China."