Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

週三, 02 九月 2009 01:50

The Aftermath of Typhoon Morakot

On August 7-10, Typhoon Morakot’s torrential rains devastated southern Taiwan. At least 600 people died under the giant mudslides triggered by the typhoon. More than three weeks after the disaster, the psychological and political aftershocks are still felt throughout the island. The raging debate has become increasingly multilayered:

- The first debate has been about the dismal performance of the forecasting system, unable to predict the deluge that has engulfed the southern part of the island.

- The second one, and the most damaging politically, has focused on the slow response of the central government. President Ma Ying-jeou, it has been argued, has shown that he was not a strong and capable leader. From the start, he had appointed a cabinet of technocrats insensitive to real life issues and popular feelings. And he has focused so much on bettering relationships with China that he has forgotten to tackle Taiwan’s everyday concerns. Whatever the fairness of these allegations, they have suddenly altered drastically his public image, with consequences so far-reaching that they are still difficult to predict.

- Though they have not taken the brunt of political criticisms, local governments have not fared much better than the Center. They sometimes have been slow to request external help. Roads and other public facilities might have been so inadequate because public works contracts are given out by local powers in dubious fashion; however, the “Green” counties of the South have been keen to shift the blame towards the central government.

- Quite logically, the attention now focuses on the poor quality of public works, deforestation and general neglect of environmental imperatives, which might explain the amplitude of the mudslides. Political leaders are not the only ones to blame. The strife towards rapid profit and Taiwan society’s indifference to long-term issues account for the rapid ecological deterioration, especially in mountain areas, which might trigger similar disasters in the future.

- The prayer tour conducted by the Dalai Lama has opened up a new front: political motivations have been invoked, as the invitation made by Green local leaders is deeply embarrassing for Ma Ying-jeou, who could not reject the Dalai Lama’s application without further political consequences but has now to deal with China’s anger. Meanwhile, not all Taiwanese religious leaders have reacted enthusiastically to the coming of the Dalai Lama: many victims from the mountainous area were aborigine, thus probably Christians. Taiwanese Buddhist leaders fear the growing influence of Tibetan Buddhism on their own flock; and Chinese religion associations have pointedly underlined the “efficacy” of traditional memorial services and rituals…

- Once avidly watched, medias have also suffered from a backlash: their unbridled sensationalism, the relentless flow of often meaningless reports and interviews and the competition among TV channels have illustrated once again the very poor quality of information service in Taiwan. Medias now appear as the main profiteers of a national disaster.

- One positive effect of the disaster has rarely been noticed: Civil society has very quickly taken up relief work (from the outset of the disaster in fact), without public support, and newly relying on Internet Social Networks, especially through Plurk, preferred by many young Taiwanese activists to Twitter. Once again, Taiwan has shown that its main strength lies in its robust civil society that works independently from the public and media apparatus. A positive inheritance from the way Taiwan’s democratization came about.

The typhoon has thus proven to be a social and cultural revelation. Taiwanese have experienced once again the ills that come with short-term vision and concerns, and have strongly expressed their political disillusions. At the same time, their natural gift for self-introspection and for self-organization has been as remarkable as has been the case in previous circumstances, such as after the massive earthquake that happened ten years ago. The problem is now to draw the right lessons from the disaster, and to resolutely orient Taiwan towards sustainability and proper use of land resources. A global challenge that new social networks might help to spell out for the greater good of a traumatized society looking for meaning, purpose and unity…

週五, 12 六月 2009 22:27

The Resilience of the Party-State Model

It is now official: from July on, Ma Ying-jeou will add to the position of President of Taiwan, that of Chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT). The move is hardly surprising: Ma has difficulties in controlling his own party; he needs stronger leverage over the parliamentary group, to impose nominees during the next elections, and to make his policies prevail, notably when it comes to relationships with China. Furthermore, presiding over the KMT should allow him, eventually, to meet with Hu Jintao – and such a meeting will be one between two party chiefs, thus putting aside many embarrassing questions about protocol and Taiwan’s international status.

This might be a smart political move – but hardly a laudable one. It shows how resilient remains the model of the Party-State in Taiwan – a stain in an otherwise democratic political culture. Both the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party structures were shaped according to the Leninist model, which draws out a way of controlling and monopolizing power, independently from any ideological content. The Party-State model has even inspired the party that was founded to oppose the Kuomintang’s dominant position, i.e. the DPP. During the time of the Chen Shui-bian‘s presidency, Chen was sometimes the party’s chairman, and sometimes not, according to circumstances. Also, the DPP showed some disquieting signs of trying to substitute itself to the control of the State apparatus as was done previously held by the KMT. Due to the minority position of its internal division on the Legislative Yuan it was prevented from doing so. Its revival and moral status as an opposition party will largely depend on its capacity to fully modernize its political outlook and to further contribute to Taiwan’s democratization. There is no “providential man (or woman)” who will save the DPP and Taiwan by concentrating all powers between their hands, as some supporters still seem inclined to believe.

In a fully democratic culture, a Chief of State should not preside over a political party (though of course he often unofficially retains ultimate control over the one from which he comes.) The Chief of State has to keep the moral capacity of being a referee in times of troubles or national division. Conversely, in a parliamentary regime, the Prime Minister can be the chief of the party holding the majority: a Chief of State, who only enjoys limited powers, still incarnates the State’s legitimacy. This might sound like a formal requirement, but it has profound significance, and the fact that Taiwan’s Presidents are still prone to double-up as party chiefs, is a sad remanent from the political past of the country.

There is another reason to lament the taking-over of the KMT’s chairmanship by Ma Ying-jeou: Clearly, China is in favor of developing party-to-party negotiations. The reconstitution of a Party-State structure, even if mitigated by Taiwan’s otherwise democratic institutions, makes it easier for China to engage Taiwan in a political agreement on its own terms. Should Taiwan play its hand by mimicking the Party-State structure that is at the core of China’s system, or should it remain faithful to the spirit that has made it the most vibrant Asian democracy, and thus continuing to offer to China the insight that comes from its political experiment?

Clearly, the new atmosphere that reigns between China and Taiwan has many beneficial aspects, and is conducive to changes not only for the nature of the cross-strait relationship but also, potentially, on China’s political system. However, there is a question mark about the course on which Taiwan is ready to embark further smoothen the relationship and about the nature of the concessions it is ready to make to that effect. The fact that the Chief of State will become once again Chairman of the KMT is bringing back a strong stench of the past, and is sending the wrong signal.

(Drawing by Li Jinyuan)

週三, 15 四月 2009 01:16

Local power in a time of global crisis

The recession is a global phenomenon that requires global measures: coordination of economic policies, regulation of the world financial markets and instruments, as well as fiscal stimuli… At the same time, the crisis has revealed that too strong a reliance on the “global” side of economics jeopardizes the vitality of “local” territories: during the last two decades or so, local planning has been more or less identified with inserting these territories even more closely into global trends, networks and exchanges.

The crisis calls for a revitalization of local territories. Revitalization can apply to a number of actions:
-Diversifying economic activities, by developing alternative industries, encouraging “niche” services and products, fostering the revival of know-how that can be of economic value, be it in the field of agriculture, tourism or craftsmanship;
-Concentrating stimulus packages on needed infrastructures, especially in the fields of water access and sanitation, healthcare facilities and carbon dioxide reduction;
-Stimulating citizens’ participation when it comes to (a) solidarity with the population most affected by the crisis, (b) the common invention and planning of the territory’s future and (c) the impetus to nurture economic activities with a clear social and environmental outlook.

These are not only “side measures.” It might be actually in the flourishing of local initiative that the new economic paradigm we are looking for might be devised, tried and confirmed. “Globalization” will be beneficial to all if and when fully associated with a “localization” of economic, social and cultural dynamics.

Such turn of events requires a revitalization of local powers, without which local initiative will not come through. Though decentralization and grassroots democracy were the talk of our global village for long, the very globalization of exchanges and services has eviscerated the power bestowed to local communities. Today, the revitalization of local territories cannot be reduced to an experiment in economics, it has to be an experiment in politics as well.

The Greek city has been the place where modern politics has taken shape. Nowadays, our counties, metropolis and regions shape the space, both virtual and real, in which are found new ways of identifying challenges, fostering participation, giving room to dissenting opinions, devising consensus and mobilizing creative energies. Recession has come partly as a result of “political regression’, i.e. of the weakening of the public sphere. Now, the local public sphere is the space where political progress and inventiveness might foster a new model of sustainable growth that will make the network of our local territories the agents of globalization with a humane face.

Photo by C. Phiv
週三, 08 四月 2009 18:56

Life after G20

The London G20 Summit had been cautiously orchestrated: rumors of a possible walkout, excitement over President Obama’s maiden voyage, and dramatic speculations upon whether the participants were ready to unite and “save the world”- all of this came up to the expected conclusion: our leaders had risen up to the circumstances. The additional funding pledged for the IMF and the resolution to enforce stricter financial regulations are supposed to provide us with the best possible deal in the worst possible economic environment…

Actually, the hype about the Summit had positive results per se. World economy these days seems to be ruled as much by “psychological stimuli” than by a financial one, and anything that concurs to a boost of optimism has real effects in the real world… World leaders need to be global cheerleaders as well, and their smiling faces splashed on TV screens and newspapers’ front pages somehow contribute to economic stimulation.

This however does not mean that the Summit was purely rhetoric. The steps announced for controlling the world financial system were slightly more stringent than one could have expected, and its step by step re-foundation now looks like a real possibility – only ten or fifteen years later than should have been the case. No lessons had been drawn form the Asian financial crisis, and the reforms suggested at that time are only now being examined.

The additional funding for the IMF and the foreseen stimulus packages are good news for the emerging economies, the growth of which remains the best hope of revival for the world economy. However, these measures will do little for solving the haunting problems of toxic assets that still besets the American economy and virtually threatens its partners. More importantly, the nature of the growth to be achieved has not been truly addressed by the Summit. A mere rise in consumption will not solve the long-term issues that the present crisis has put under light. The rate of growth is much less important than the quality of development. This is not true only for developed nations but for emerging ones as well, as environmental hazards, public health risks and growing inequalities threaten their stability as surely as recession does.

The debate now runs between the ones who advocate strong stimulus packages and those alarmed that fiscal stimuli will only add up to the burden of future generations. Both parties are wrong. The most pressing issue has to do with the way fiscal packages will be invested where they should be. Since the beginning of the nineties, the world community has done its homework well and has recognized where the true priorities are to be found: universal access to clean water, primary education and quality medication, public health facilities, energy-saving investments and soil conservation are the assets needed for ensuring that we inhabit the common house of the earth in a just and sustainable way. The current recession does not change the nature of the global agenda, it makes it even more stringent. The G20 has not succeeded in igniting a sense of urgency and purpose that would make the crisis the opportunity to engineer a genuine new world order. Short-term economic revival and long-term overhaul of the global system should not be seen as conflicting objectives but rather as mutually reinforcing obligations.
(Photo by C. Phiv, London, 2009)

週三, 07 一月 2009 22:45

A Tribute to Bob Ronald

You were smiling a lot, Bob, not speaking very much.
But, during these last years, you wrote down streams of words,recollections, essays, editorials...And, above all: fables. Around 250 of them.
You loved fables, you loved these short stories with malicious endings

- "There are lessons hidden here" -,

stories with dogs who bark and dogs who do not bark,
stories with trees, kings and farmers,
stories full of the wisdom taught by the Earth and by Heavens,
stories as flavory as the cookies that your mother was keeping in a jar.
We loved your fables, Bob, and we will share them with many,
with all people ready to open up their ears and to listen.

But do you know Bob?

You were a fable by yourself, the best, the most majestic of all the ones you wrote.
You were for us the parable of God.
Seeing you as you were, we learnt to know better the God who takes patience,
the God who has lovingly entrusted the world to his sons and daughters,
the God who transforms us just by doing nothing, just by staying with us.
And we were also witnessing in your silent, constant and formidable fight
the God who works as a gardener so that life may flourish,
the God who cherishes all forms of life,
the God who constantly works in the rocks, in the flesh and in the spirit.
Yes, you were for us the living story of the God who inhabits your body, our bodies,
and who makes them the seed of His Kingdom,
provided we freely accept to fall into the earth and to die there for bearing fruit
as you did, day after day, with few words and good smiles.

So, Bob, thanks for having been the seed and the story hidden in our midst,
and help us to make sense of our own story, keeping gratefully in mind
the fable that has been your life,
now that it has become one with the wondrous story of Christ

- "For there are lessons hidden here."

Bob was born in Martinez, California on Oct. 1, 1932. He entered the Jesuits in 1950 and was ordained a priest in 1965. He arrived in Taiwan in 1957 and was diagnosed with polio in 1958. After getting a M.A. as a professional rehabilitation counselor he founded the Operation De-Handicap in 1973 and worked at the Veteran General Hospital till his retirement. During the last five years he worked as English editor for Renlai and eRenlai and wrote around 250 fables as well as more than 200 editorials and essays.


We will miss him dearly. At the same time, we remember him as a living story of the God, a parable of God in our midst, showing us the patience and serenity of the Creator who has entrusted the world to his sons and daughters as well as His tireless labor for making life grow and triumph. Bob was a patient but formidable fighter, and will help us to receive as a gift the resources of strength, and inner peace that we continuously need.

週五, 31 十月 2008 02:44

China’s Resilience

Whomever lives or travels in China cannot but be struck by China’s resilience in the midst of the world economic crisis. For sure, China’s stock market is taking a beating, real estate is steadily going down, and unemployment is threatening to become a major social problem. However, most Chinese people still show a robust optimism, consumption remains vibrant, and the majority of Chinese observers believe that China will suffer from the crisis much less than the rest of the world, eventually consolidating its economic and diplomatic rise. Recollections from the Asian economic crisis of 1997-2000 play a role in this decidedly optimistic scenario.

Is this a delusion? In the near future will China meet with much more severe challenges than foreseen today? It is far from being impossible. However, China’s psychological resilience might prove to be a factor of economic resilience as well. The positive energy displayed by ordinary Chinese can help the country tackle its problems with resources not found in countries which suffer from a crisis of confidence and from doubts about their own future. Weathering a storm is largely a question of collective spirit, and economy has proven to be for a very large part a field of social psychology…

It remains that a reversal in the public feelings would be very dangerous for China - an especially volatile country. In other words, the stakes of the crisis are higher for China than for other nations: weathering the storm would be a resounding success giving even more significance to China’s rise; conversely, a breakup of public confidence would have consequences deeper and more far-reaching than anywhere else. China’s resilience makes a pessimistic scenario less likely than an analysis based on mere statistical data would suggest. It remains that resilience has limits and that a breakdown is still a working hypothesis.

(Photo by B.V.)
週五, 29 八月 2008 02:10

Asia and Environmental Diplomacy

The exhaustion of natural resources and the damage to the ecological environment, competition for resources and environmental damage have become issues of concern in the international community. Environmental issues are redefining the notion of security. Consequently, initiatives have been flourishing: Japan launched its Cool Earth 50 initiative in May 2007. End of November 2007, the new Australian government put to immediate execution its decision to sign the Kyoto Protocol. In December 2007, the United Nations Climate Change conference held in Bali draw much international attention, as the question of which mechanism will succeed to the Kyoto Protocol after 2012 is becoming one of the main global concerns and fields of diplomatic initiative. The Bali forum has seen developed countries set more ambitious goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa voluntarily proposing to set goals to reduce emissions. Also, innovative mechanisms for stopping the greenhouse effects of deforestation were agreed upon. The conference culminated in the adoption of the Bali roadmap, which charts the course for a new negotiating process to be concluded by 2009 that will ultimately lead to a post-2012 international agreement on climate change. In July 2008, the enlarged G8 summit in Japan was another stepping stone, closely followed by the largely successful Accra conference at the end of August 2008.

During the last 25 years or so, several significant documents and conferences testify to the development of environmental diplomacy as a choice area for multilateral, global cooperation: most often mentioned are the 1985 Vienna Convention on Protecting the Ozone Layer; the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer; the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, and its offshoots, Agenda 21 and the Commission on Sustainable Development; the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity; the 1994 UN Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States; the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change; the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa… Of decisive importance was the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.

From what precedes it clearly appears that the prominent role now given to environmental diplomacy at the global level makes it impossible for any responsible nation-state not to actively participate in it. First, this derives from a sense of global responsibility. Second, the change in methods and focus that environmental diplomacy encompasses opens up new venues for a culture and a nation, allowing it to intensify and diversify its presence in the international arena. Finally, it allows a nation to encourage its citizens, its scientists, its entrepreneurs and its social agents to become a defining force of this global endeavor, such “democratizing” international relations..

At the same time, it should be recognized from the start that engaging into proactive environmental diplomacy comes with a requisite, i.e. making international and national policies fully congruent. If a nation engages further into the path of sustainable development, with all adjustments needed in terms of legal regulation, economic policies and social implications, then its sincerity will be recognized by the international opinion, and its moral status will be consequently enhanced. Conversely, if a nation’s international diplomacy does not go along concrete policies and far-reaching domestic initiatives, then it risks to be accused of making environmental diplomacy a ploy, weakening its moral status at a time when the effectiveness of national policies on the issues at stake is becoming the focus of attention.

The contribution of entrepreneurs and scientists is of primary importance. Developed nations have to take advantage of their energy-saving technologies and experience in solar power, organic agriculture, nature conservation, ecological tourism… in order to create more opportunities for environmental diplomacy. This should start from the example provided by their entrepreneurs. Responsible environmental behavior must not be limited to one’s territory but extend to all countries where industries have delocalized. The development of a culture of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among a nation’s entrepreneurs will go a long way in helping her to achieve a decisive advantage through environmental diplomacy.

Summing up, environmental diplomacy should be based on citizens’ and entrepreneurs’ participation, technical cooperation with interested countries, spreading of knowledge and experience, and sense of global responsibility. Such strategy aims at creating model experiences in national policies, international pilot projects and institutional innovations. As illustrated above, there cannot be efficient and convincing environmental policy without a national policy of sustainable development that involves governmental agencies in charge of economic affairs, agriculture, the environment and, eventually, all public policies.

Nations, especially in Asia, must deploy an even greater inventiveness. This starts by paying an acute attention to the changing nature of global challenges. The ongoing debate on sustainability - with more specific questions on global warming, developmental model, use of energy resources, preservation of biodiversity as well as cultural diversity - is the most striking example of the questions that they must confront. It is not enough for Asian “dragons” to have been pioneers of accelerated growth and of democratization, they have now to be at the forefront of a new global battle: the one engaged for making sure that future generations will benefit from environmental, cultural and energy resources sufficient for ensuring the satisfaction of their needs. This is the ultimate rationale behind the rise of environmental diplomacy.

週一, 25 八月 2008 23:04

Buddhism and China’s Religious Awakening

Buddhism’s present revival in China is remarkable in two respects: it combines the richness of a bimillennial religious, spiritual and cultural tradition with the dynamics of a reinvention which nowadays makes the Buddhist monastic communities one of the most notable and organized forces of the civil Chinese society. One would be tempted to say: when China will awake…Buddha will smile!

In China, the temples asserted themselves very soon as the epicenter of the Buddhist expansion all over China: a liturgical place, the temple acts as a collective intercessor for the community of believers directing to it their wishes and their prayers, especially for the deceased; a place of learning, the great temples make it possible to carry on through several centuries the translation of the Buddhist canon into Chinese, one of the greatest editorial enterprises of history, and to multiply the interpretations of it; a place of power, the temple knows how to negotiate its relationship with the great men and women of the locality and then of the Empire, although this model was held at bay at the time of the big persecution of the ninth century, partly due to the concentration of wealth realized by the monastic communities.

The reconstruction of Chinese Buddhism after the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution relied therefore on the monastic institution, as it was already the case in other times. Furthermore, the recognition of the role of the Chinese Buddhist Association and the concomitant creation of “transmission belts” between the Power and the local religious organizations go hand in hand with a greater communication and solidarity between the various centers, big or small, which, taken as a whole, innervate Chinese Buddhism. In other words, Chinese Buddhism seems to be more robust and more interdependent today than at any time in the past.

It is not so easy to describe the Chinese Buddhist world in its totality. Monks and nuns, be they still novices or already ordained, are easily identified by their clothing, their tonsure, and, for those who have been ordained, by their ordination certificates as by the scars on the head following the fulfilled rites. But the faithful are not recognizable in the crowd of those who visit the temples, so great is the diversity of their motivations and behaviors. The quality of “Buddhist faithful” (jushi) is normally reserved for those who have formally taken refuge (guiyi) in the “three Jewels” (The Buddha, the Law, the Community) and in return have received a certificate, which they can show at the entrance of a temple to be exempted the admission fees or to get board and lodging for instance. The levels of membership are many and not always so clearly identified.
The visitor of a Buddhist monastery will generally be struck by the predominance of young monks, often already at the head of their monasteries, sometimes graduated from prestigious universities, and the production of this elite of clerics is facilitated by regulations reserving the admission into Buddhist studies centers to those of less than thirty years of age as an average. Beside these young monks, who are more and more engrossed in their tasks – construction of buildings, setting up of research centers, libraries of social institutions-, one will see usually some quite old and silent monks: entered at a very young age in the monasteries, and long before the turmoil of the sixties, they had already assimilated the spirit and the traditions of the School to which belonged their temple, and managed to survive and then to start anew some communities at the beginning of the eighties, before handing over their responsibilities to their successors.

Of course, with the passing of time, the absence of an intermediary generation, so much conspicuous between about 1985 and 2000, is less visible now, and the generation today in power has progressively asserted its experience and its authority. The nature and the exercise of this authority depend mostly on a transformation in the economic bases of the monasteries: the exploitation of the agricultural estates was replaced by an increased dependence on donations (from overseas first, then from local donors), on the help of the governmental agencies (for the reconstruction of buildings in particular), on the practice of rituals, and on some specialized productions. The monks affiliated to a given monastery receive generally a modest allowance, in nature or in cash, in return for their liturgical talents or by other services.

One cannot understand the present state of Chinese Buddhism by looking only at its two extremes – the time of its beginnings, when the look of the monastic community has taken form, and the reconstruction boom of the last two or three decades. One must also say a word about the ups and downs of its history throughout the last 150 years. For the destructions of the Cultural Revolution had been preceded by those of the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864), particularly in South China, the traditional Buddhist bastion. The subsequent effort of reconstruction coincided then with the rising internal criticisms concerning the system of formation and the (non) effective aspects of precepts. Chinese Buddhism was entering the era of the aggiornamento. Some of the reformer monks advocated mainly going back to the ancient disciplines, selecting a small number of texts and practices of meditation to be privileged. A little later, another trend, of which the monk Taixu (1890-1947) is the most well known representative, undertook a modernization of Buddhism, following a way of doing close to that of the Chinese Republicans of the beginning of the last century – the ideal “science and democracy” applied, so to speak, to the religious sphere. The role of the laity was emphasized. The monastic education was also to approach the mode of the western universities. The creation, in this first half of the twentieth century, of the Chinese Buddhist Association, the popularization of a “humanistic Buddhism” or “Buddhism in the world” (renjian fojiao), the contacts between monks and political leaders of that time, all these characteristics have probably helped shape the look taken by the Chinese Buddhism when it recovered a relative freedom of movement after 1980. In the same time, the debates which characterized the revival of the years 1870-1940 are still present today within a Buddhist community which must from now on define its relationship with the post-modernity of a China in constant transformation.

According to the opinion of the majority of observers, and this in spite of the difficult interpretation of statistics, the two religions whose growth is today the fastest in China are obviously Buddhism and Christianity. A multiform growth, which must not hide the weaknesses, the divisions and the contradictions within these believing communities. The question of the stature and of the influence of Tibetan Buddhism with respect to Han Buddhism will mark the next development of the first of these two religions. And the influence of the evangelist groups, or, on the contrary, syncretists, within Catholicism as well as within Protestantism, will determine the final relation between Christianity on one hand, and Chinese society and power on the other one – Christianity being perceived by the authorities with more suspicion than a Buddhism reputed more “national” and politically accommodating. But still, it is the very interaction between these two religions which is going also to exert its influence on the future outlines of the Chinese civilian society, reducing it to a series of juxtaposed communities, mutually ignoring the groups nearby, or favoring mutual understanding and interconfessional collaboration. If both believing expressions, as one may assume, go beyond the present stage of their growth crisis, if both can assert themselves as authentically “Chinese” and nevertheless universal religions, their interaction will determine how China takes part in the cultural globalization.
To know more on this topic, read C. Cochini’s book (in French)

週五, 29 二月 2008 18:15

Fatherhood as Withdrawal

My father died at 47. I was then 18, and my younger sister was 10. His own father had died when he was 15 or 15 if I remember well. My mother’s father died when she was 7. It means that, in our family, we have experienced what the loss of a father feels like, and we know what its long-term consequences are, when it comes to family equilibrium and psychological development.

What I want to stress here is that not all consequences are negative. In some respect, a good father remains a father in death, as withdrawal is an inherent part of a father’s role. What it means to be a father evolves with the coming of age of a son or daughter. However, very quickly, a father proves to be truly a “good” one if he is able to withdraw, to give space to the growth of his children – it might be what the Bible tells us when it is said that on the seventh day God rested: the creation was now the playing ground of His children, and He was giving them the space needed for becoming themselves and continue His work.

A father is an authority figure, even if he has to show a loving and compassionate face. He is the one who gives the Law, who teaches the rules that makes it possible to live as a human being in harmony with the rest of the species. The Law is ultimately the setting that allows us to grow as being “one among other people”, with our rights and duties. But he also has to make his children discover that the Law is for growth and freedom, not for enslaving them, not for cloistering them within the age of childhood and irresponsibility. He has to “let it go”, to retreat from the Law he gave them, so that they can interpret it, understand it in their own terms, and ultimately make the Law their own, as they will be able to transmit it to their own children. He is a father because he enables children to become father on their own terms, not according to a ready-to-made model.

As I grow older, I remember more vividly things that my father said and did, I remember his way of reacting to people and situation, his inner joy and his frailties, I make his life experience mine, not that I am repeating it – not in the least -, but rather because it provides me with renewed insights. In the process, I feel as if my own father was growing within me, as if I was becoming responsible of his ultimate destiny. The best of what he lived for, the meaning and essence of his existence, all of this is now entrusted to me, and I have to transmit it in new and inventive ways, so that the common tree that humankind is called to become may continue to grow and to bear fruits.

週五, 28 十二月 2007 20:17

Millennium Goals or Global Warming?

The struggle against global warming has taken a new dimension during the year 2007. Though many concrete decisions remain to be agreed upon and implemented, financial and human investments are sure to increase dramatically during the years to come so as to tackle an unparalleled challenge. This is good news indeed. At the same time, this evolution reflects a shift in global consciousness that might bear some preoccupying counter-effects. Around 2000, the Millennium Goals were sketching a roadmap, the focal point of which was the elimination of extreme poverty for 2025. It was apparent enough that humankind had the means and the know-how for achieving what, in other times, would have seemed like an impossible dream.

Struggle against poverty is still very much on the agenda. At the same time, mobilization has been far below what is deemed necessary for achieving such a lofty goal. And we might now witness a subtle trade-off between two objectives: eradicating poverty and alleviating global warming. For sure, the two goals are not contradictory per se, they are even mutually reinforcing: eradicating poverty will prove to be impossible if natural disasters caused by climatic changes occur in Africa or impoverished Asian coastlines. Deforestation and water depletion diminish the meager capital that many populations have to rely upon for earning an income. However, international credit allocation obeys to bargaining laws and power games, and these games might actually benefit rising developing nations rather than the ones suffering from extreme poverty – the latest counting for around one sixth of the world’s population. Developing nations contribute to the rise in carbon emissions and rely on highly polluting technologies: subsidies for cleaning up the environment will go primarily to them. When poverty is such that you do not contribute to greenhouses emissions you might be left out of the new distribution mechanisms of global subsidies… Global warming would such become a pretext for developed nations to spread and sell their technologies, and for middle—income nations to profit from an array of international subsidies.

World governance is still suffering from a lack of comprehensive mechanisms that would allow people to arbitrate between priorities and policy choices. Still, from now on, the struggle against poverty and the one against global warming must be conceived and implemented together rather than risking to become, even partly, a kind of trade-off – in which case the losers of the game would be, once again, the poorest of the poor. This shows that the struggle against global warming cannot be considered as a mere technical challenge bur rather as a political and humanist endeavor. It is not enough of a Al Gore for tackling the issue. We also need a Gandhi who would remind us of the humane, social and spiritual issues at stake.

Photo by Liang Zhun
週五, 30 三月 2007 03:49

Vanishing Land and Growing Cities

The Chongqing "nail house’ story has focused medias’ attention. The case may be a small one, maybe blown out of prorportion, but its symbolic importnace cannot be overestimated.

Not so long ago, Chen Xiwen, vice-minister of the Central Office on Financial and Economic Affairs, said that “disputes about possession of land are the cause of more than 50% of all social protests”. Indeed, in today’s China, the path of urbanizations and subsequent tensions about the use of land are the structural reasons for the gravest protests. The issue links together environmental and social concerns.

Urban population is expected to continue growing by as much as 15 million annually. There are already 90 cities with more than a million residents. The World Bank predicts that China’s urban population (430 million in 2001) will double to 850 million by 2015, bringing the urbanization rate to 57%, from 36% in 2000. At the same time, the number of Chinese cities of 100,000 persons or more is expected to increase from 630 in 2001 to over 1,000 by 2015. For sure, this does not correspond to the number of people moving into cities. On the one hand, migrant workers might go unreported. On the other hand, “towns’ are regularly reinforced and enlarged for reaching the rank of “cities’, which allows for the inclusion of their inhabitants into the categories of ‘urban dwellers’ at some point. Most important: the population is classified by the registration status into “agricultural” and “non-agricultural “. “Of the 430 million individuals with “non-agricultural registration” (thus officially urban) in 1999, 37.2 per cent (160 million) were resident in rural counties, not in urban districts. On the other hand, around 38.6 per cent of long-term residents of urban districts (101 million) carried agricultural registration and were thus regarded as part of the rural population, even though most of these no longer had any relation with farming.” (Athar Hussain, International Labor Office, ” Urban Poverty in China: Measurement, Patterns and Policies”)

Forty million farmers have lost their land over the past decade due to urbanization, with another 15 million to suffer a similar fate over the next five years, according to a report from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security in July, 2006. Disputes on land expropriation and property rights are brewing everywhere. The Property Law finally passed by the NPA in March 2007 defined private wealth, including income, houses, investments and other personal assets. However, it maintained the concept that property is owned publicly, and individuals are merely given a right to use that property. It is that right of use that the law protects, not private ownership of land. However, the law also explicitly gives farmers the right to renew their land-use leases after they expire.

The issue is further complicated by the poor quality and scarcity of China’s land. Over the last ten years, China has lost almost 8 million hectares of farmland, and the process is continuing at a pace of 200,000 to 300,000 hectares a year. Some studies even expect that ten additional million of arable lands could be lost by 2030. The ecology of 60 per cent of the country’s territory is considered fragile. A national study in 2000 rated the ecological quality of one-third of the country’s territory as good and another third as bad. About 90 per cent of natural pasture land, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the country’s territory, is facing degradation and desertification to some extent. Desertified pastures have become the major source of sand and dust storms. Acid rain falls on 30% of the country; affecting the quality of soil.

The answer to the questions raised by China’s pace of urbanization will not be solved by legal means only. Should not the quality of urbanization take precedence over the rest? And should not small and medium towns be revalorized in a way that fosters more diverse, sustainable ways of living? The use of land and the pace of urbanization constitute the focal points around which all the challenges linked to China’s development and social model are presently evolving.

週二, 27 三月 2007 00:00











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