I’ve mostly finished reading through James Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed. Like so much of his work, I simply find it brilliant. He animates the worlds he writes about more than any other author I know. There is no linear progress for Scott, but instead endless actions and reactions by groups with varying degrees and types of power over each other. Rather than the world being composed of the powerful and the powerless, there are the various forms of states and people with various degrees of autonomy from the state.
I think much of what Scott writes about applies to Hong Kong. Let’s start way back, with the “Hundred Yue.” Originally “Yue” was a description of the people living near the Yangtze when that was still the periphery of Han civilization. It evolved into a term for people of south and southeast China, pushing further and further south until ‘Yue language’ became another term for Cantonese. Vietnam translates directly into ‘South Yue.’
It looks a lot like the dynamics Scott describes, with “Yue” being a state term for a very diverse glob of stateless people that don’t really constitute a ‘group’ in any meaningful sense. The term was eventually adopted by different groups in very different contexts to its original meanings. It was an exonym-cum-endonym, an outside term eventually being appropriated as local by those still on the periphery of Chinese state power.
It also serves as a useful point of departure in thinking that this area was ‘always’ Chinese. Instead, there’s good reason to think that everyone from the Austronesians (Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians, Malagasy in Madagascar[!]) to the ethnic minority groups of Guizhou, Guangxi, and Yunnan are likely refugees of the Han push southward. What are today Filipinos and the Hmong were probably then the ‘Yue.’ As Scott points out, it’s not that group X left as Group Y came in. Some stayed, some left, and everyone reinvented their identities and histories.
This is to say there is no biological or foundation to what it means to be “Han Chinese,” nor are their essentialist characteristics of what it means to not be Han. The Han are simply those people who, for historical and political reasons, were either captured by Han empires or chose to integrate. This Han civilization was further broken up by a cellular structure (Skinner, 1971),
More from The Art of Not Being Governed:
Illiteracy in the hills [of Southeast Asia] can, more speculatively, be interpreted in the same fashion. Virtually all hill peoples have legends claiming that they once had writing and either lost it or that it was stolen from them. Given the con-siderable advantages in plasticity of oral over written histories and genealo-gies, it is at least conceivable to see the loss of literacy and of written texts as a more or less deliberate adaptation to statelessness.
Interesting and worth considering. Will add some thoughts later.
A quote from James Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed, which I find difficult to disagree with:
The general pattern, however, seems to be as follows: as the reach of the Chinese state grew, peoples at the point of expansion were either absorbed (becoming, in time, Han) or moved away, often after a failed revolt. Those who left be-came, at least for a time, distinct societies that could be said to have “self-marginalized” by migration.48 As the process was repeated again and again, culturally complex zones of refuge sprang up in the hinterlands of the state. “The history of the various non-state peoples of this region” can, Fiskesjö believes, be written as the bifurcation between those who had long been in the hills (for example, the Wa people) and those who sought refuge there: “Among those who left [the zone of Chinese state power], we find many Tibeto-Burman ethnolinguistic formations (Lahu, Hani, Akha, etc.) as well as Miao or Hmong speakers, and other peoples . . . described as ‘hill tribes out of China’ with a ‘heritage of defeat’ that has led many of them during the past few centuries, into the northern parts of the modern states of Thai-land, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam where many of them are still regarded as newcomers.”
I’ve been doing some work recently on national and regional qualifications frameworks. A big thing, for me, is what I’m calling “horizontal mobility.” I see nearly all around me, and in my own life, people trying moving between careers as much as they’re trying to move up careers. How we frame “qualifications”, in my mind, is deeply flawed and often serve as pointless barriers. In a few months, I’ll be qualified to teach and develop teacher training courses but not qualified to teach in my school system.
Second, I’m increasingly of the belief that problems we see in work performance are related to the systems themselves far more than a lack of specific skills. Does the US have an shortage of engineers or a shortage of engineers willing to work for a low price? Are service sector employees rude because they’re not paid well and their managers are rude to them or because they simply don’t know how to be empathetic? Is there an entrepreneurialism crises because people don’t know how to start businesses or because competing with Wal Mart is impossible and the police would chase most unlicensed, unregistered vendors off the street?
Getting back to teacher education specifically, I found myself mostly agreeing with the claim by Bill Keller in today’s New York Times that teacher training programs in most universities “have treated education programs as ‘cash cows.’” Why?
… they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel.
Like everyone, I am stunned by the elegance of Malala’s words. I am inspired by her bravery. There’s nothing that she says that any modern, progressive person wouldn’t agree with and cheer on. That said, something hasn’t sat right with me about how and why she’s been placed on the international pedestal. Primarily, I am concerned that how some people are framing her specific situation, as horrific and inspiring as it is, detracts us from some larger issues in educational development and simplifies the drive towards gender equity in the South in ways that might ultimately harm progress.
I get there by invoking Godwin’s Law, which in short form states that when Nazi’s or Hitler come up in a discussion or a debate, the discussion is effectively over. Nazi’s are so unambiguously evil that they can’t be accurately compared to much of anything else today. Unless one is comparing genocide to genocide, and fascism to fascism, it indicates that the conversation has reached a point where all nuance has been lost. It’s a very useful heuristic that informs us about the quality of a discussion.