Category: Places

Tai O

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 differing 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),

China Culture Development Diversity

Blame it on reading James Scott’s argument for an “anarchist squint” in social sciences on the flight over to Oxford, blame it on an increasingly limited tolerance for the word “neoliberalism,” but a lightbulb of sorts went off during my first day at 2013 UKFIET conference on the Post-2015 development goals. My realization was that, as a field, we seem to only be able to think of power in social world that education is constructed in as (a) being necessarily institutionalised and (b) sitting on a monochromatic spectrum ranging from public to private, from state to business, from black to white. And rather than talk about the state as a “thing,” in a Latourian / Actor-Network Theory sense, we often speak instead with the euphemism of a “public sector” – which is not a “thing.”

Capacity China Development Diversity Inequality Politics

China Politics

America Politics

Because the news today is dominated by Chinese debt, I thought I share David Graeber’s ideas about the Chinese government’s potential responses. I’m sharing not because I agree, per se,…

China Economics

I wanted to publish some early thoughts on Edward Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong. I’ve broken it down into two questions: was it strange that Snowden came to Hong Kong…

China Politics

I woke up this morning and put my black t-shirt on. Today is June 4th, or 六四/ liusi, as the Chinese call it. I was considering joining in the annual 6/4 candle light vigil…

China Politics

Agriculture Asia China Development Economics Inequality Resilience Uncategorized

Economics Education Inequality Philippines Politics

One of the keynote speakers for CESHK 2013 was the Dean of Teacher Education at Cebu Normal University, Filomena Dayagbil, who spoke about quality issues in Philippine education. Internal and external (TIMMS) testing showed that there has been a precipitous drop in math, reading, and science scores in the Philippines that show up in even short, year-to-year timeframes. She spoke about three new approaches to remedy the issues: a new policy to increase the length of schooling from K-10 to the more conventional K-12 system, the role of teachers colleges in increasing teaching quality, and change away from English Medium of Instruction to mother tongue instruction.

I found myself disagreeing with the overall framing of educational quality issues in the Philippines. In general, it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that teachers can and should be better or that K-12, under the right conditions, would make the Philippines more academically competitive. But this ignores the fact that expanding enrollment rosters without increasing funding to go with it would likely decrease quality even further. This is exactly what has been happening over the past two decades, as successive Philippine governments failed to adequately prepare for a population boom. A 2009 New York Times article summed up the issues very succinctly:

According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000. The Philippine government spends 2.19 percent of its budget on education, according to official figures, well short of the 6 percent that educators say is optimal — despite a constitutional mandate to make education a priority. At the start of the decade, educators talked of a radical overhaul of the education system, but the main change since then has been increasingly intense overcrowding, Mr. Luz, of the policy study institute, wrote in a recent paper.

Asia Capacity Development Economics Education Philippines statistics