Ming China, Precursor to European Dictatorship: Part 2, Patriarchal; Rural Values


In my previous post, I first proposed the idea that China under the Ming Dynasty was the world’s first fascist state. I also defined fascism as:

a political system distinguished by an emphasis on patriarchal, rural values; corporatist economic policy; extreme nationalism and patriotism, often involving extreme xenophobia and/or racism; and militant authoritarianism in both domestic and foreign affairs.

This post will be dedicated to explaining the first of these characteristics: patriarchal and rural values.

It is no secret that until no earlier than the late nineteenth century, China was among the most misogynistic societies in the world, if not the most. However, during the Ming Dynasty, this misogyny further intensified. Perhaps the most infamous example of such social trends involves the practice of foot binding, in which young girls’ feet were bound tightly to maintain their small size and break their arches for aesthetic purposes. Although this practice had existed in China for centuries prior to the rise of the Ming, it was much less common and virtually nonexistent outside of rural areas. Under the Ming, foot binding started to become mainstream in cities as well with the government’s encouragement.

Like the Ming, fascist rulers of European states in the twentieth century were also deeply misogynistic. In Italy under Mussolini, traditional gender roles were highly valued. Men were expected to be athletic and physical strength was prioritized over academic intelligence. Men who displayed any “feminine” attributes were regarded as biologically inferior to those with fewer or none. Not surprisingly, women were expected to work as housewives and avoid the public sphere.

Similar attitudes prevailed in Nazi Germany, where women were encouraged to leave the labor force and work as housewives. Due to the Nazis’ vision of the supremacy of a pure, Aryan race, German women were encouraged to only marry Nordic men and were expected to have as many children as possible. The Nazis even awarded those women who had given birth to at least four children.

The rural values of Ming China stemmed from the dynasty’s founder, Zhu Yuanzhang, also known as the Hongwu Emperor’s, peasant background. All too aware of the injustices Chinese peasants faced at the hands of the wealthy and the Confucian scholar bureaucrats that constituted the core of Imperial China’s political system, Hongwu instituted land reform intended to prevent peasants from losing their lands. He also implemented a caste system in which peasants were near the top and merchants were at the very bottom. Because merchants did not produce anything, Hongwu reasoned that their contributions to society were inferior to those of peasants, indicative of a sort of rural populism that would permeate Chinese society under the Ming.

In fascist Italy, ruralism was a product of Mussolini’s rejection of modernity in favor of tradition. The fascist ideal of a rural man was reflective of the regime’s traditionalist, anti-modernist worldview. Italian men were discouraged from relocating to metropolitan areas, as the urban lifestyle was considered emasculating.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ming China, Precursor to European Dictatorship: Part 1, Introduction and Defining Fascism


Of the world’s many great civilizations throughout history, few have generated the same amount of fascination as China. Among the reasons for Sinophilia are a history spanning over four thousand years, a rich culture and literary tradition, and a track record of great innovations in science, technology, philosophy, and many other intellectual pursuits.

Despite China’s rightful recognition for its achievements, few recognize that from 1368 until 1644, the ruling Ming Dynasty implemented what can be considered an early form of a political system that the world would not see again for several centuries. This political system, which most people would argue originated in Italy, is fascism.

Since the Second World War, the word “fascism” has developed highly negative connotations for understandable reasons, losing its original meaning in the process. In common parlance, the word is now usually used as a synonym for “authoritarian” or as an epithet to refer to political ideas or views that are at odds with those of the speaker. This colloquial definition of fascism is not the one that I will use for this series of posts. Rather, I will use a more academic definition based on characteristics of the political ideology embraced by and imposed on Italy under Benito Mussolini and such similar societies as Spain under Francisco Franco and Germany under Adolf Hitler.

By applying the commonalities of these societies to China under the Ming, I define fascism as “a political system distinguished by an emphasis on patriarchal, rural values; corporatist economic policy; extreme nationalism and patriotism, often involving extreme xenophobia and/or racism; and militant authoritarianism in both domestic and foreign affairs.” Each future post in this series will discuss one of these four criteria and how the political system of China under the Ming Dynasty wasn’t much different from that of many European nations in the twentieth century.

Posted in Class, Commentary, Culture, Politics, Race, Society, world | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Why I Hate Moral Relativism

As most of my veteran readers are probably aware (and all of my new readers should know,) I’m a product of the political Left. However, I am more than willing to stand by the political Right on the handful of issues on which I agree with them. For this reason, I feel it is my responsibility and obligation to attack an ideology that too much of the Left has embraced and that most of the Right, especially the religious Right, despises: moral relativism.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, moral relativism can be defined as, “…the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint…and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.” In other words, moral relativists believe that the context behind actions, and not the actions themselves, determine their morality. In essence, while a moral absolutist could say that it is never acceptable to steal under any circumstances, a moral relativist could argue that stealing a loaf of bread to feed an impoverished family would be a moral act.

While I can see moral relativists’ points in many cases, it is also my view that the context behind actions which they use to determine morality is not a reflection of an action’s morality, but rather its necessity. Whether we like it or not, the world does not operate in a moral fashion. In every sedentary society in the world, some portion of the population is marginalized in some way. Similarly, the Soviet Union’s 1991 implosion proved that communism, despite being a morally superior ideology to capitalism in theory, is unworkable in reality. It is therefore safe to assume that despite our immense intelligence as a species, it is highly anthropocentric to say humans are a benevolent species and are anything more than apes.

Because the world is inherently immoral, people sometimes must do bad things in order to achieve good goals. For instance, the firebombing of German cities by American and British forces during World War Two was necessary to save Western European democracy from the dual evils of Nazism and Stalinism. As horrific as the bombings were for those who suffered most from them, their necessity to defeat Nazi Germany and undermine the Soviet Union’s geopolitical influence in Europe makes them necessary, understandable and perhaps even excusable, but still not moral.

Going hand-in-hand with moral relativism is its anthropological cousin known as cultural relativism. Cultural relativism teaches that one’s behavior must be understood in the context of their cultural background. While cultural relativism has value when it comes to such things as material and political cultures (the latter always having at least some degree of immorality,) it can be just as self-serving as moral relativism, and used to justify such historic and contemporary acts of barbarism as foot binding in China, sati in India, cannibalism in Papua New Guinea, female genital mutilation in Egypt, and human sacrifice in pre-Hispanic Mexico. While this school of thought originally was intended to serve as a non-ethnocentric alternative to an anthropology field that had long been dominated by imperialists, it can be argued to be just as racist, if not more so. According to Maryam Namazie, an Iranian-British human rights activist:

[Cultural relativism] is a profoundly racist phenomenon, which values and respects all cultural and religious practices, irrespective of their consequences…It asserts that the rights of people, women and girls are relative to where they are born, “their” cultures and religions. There is no right or wrong according to cultural relativists. As a result, cultural relativism supports and maintains sexual apartheid and violence against women…because it is “their culture and religion.”…

Cultural relativism doesn’t merely ignore violations ; it actually legitimizes them. Moreover, it never opposes any cultural or religious practices. Cultural relativism not only makes it unnecessary to oppose violations and lack of women’s rights, but also makes it racist and against freedom of choice to do so!

By pointing out that cultural relativism is too often used to to hold people to a lower moral standard, because of their religion or culture, Ms. Namazie demonstrates that cultural relativism can be seen as a smug, ivory tower form of racism little better, if at all better, than the pro-imperialist anthropological currents it was created to combat.

Namazie’s argument against cultural and moral relativism is further validated when one considers that in order to believe in these ideologies, one must hold different people to different moral standards or deny the existence of moral standards altogether. Such attitudes undermine the ability of law and order to prevail in a society, which while not always moral, are necessary for its survival. Furthermore, any legal system that officially holds different people to different moral standards will inevitably be ridiculously byzantine and unworkable. For these reasons, moral relativists should learn that morality and necessity are not the same thing, the world is inherently an evil place, excusing one’s bad behavior on the basis of their culture or religion is bigoted, and that no matter what we do, human societies will never be perfectly just and moral.

Posted in Commentary, Culture, Ethics, Philosophy, Religion, Society, world | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why the Illiberal Left Lost the Culture War

Over the past few years, a new strain of left-wing politics has become increasingly influential in American society, particularly among younger millennials. Though clearly a product of the left, it can hardly be considered “liberal” in the traditional sense of the word. This movement, which has become increasingly influential on college campuses and has been promoted by such social and news media outlets as Twitter, Tumblr, Gawker, Buzzfeed, Vox, Upworthy, and Everyday Feminism, focuses primarily on addressing social inequities faced by various marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. Commendable as their efforts may be, activists within this movement have often been criticized for a variety of reasons, including the hostility of many to anyone who disagrees with them even slightly, a common tendency to manufacture controversy, and the widespread presence of open bigotry by such activists towards members of privileged groups. These criticisms, which are not necessarily without merit, have enabled critics of this “illiberal left” to pejoratively refer to them as “social justice warriors,” “white knights,” and “special snowflakes.”

Although adherents to this new left-wing movement have successfully drawn attention to many legitimate social issues, such as disproportionate police brutality against black and Hispanic Americans, the high prevalence of rape and sexual assault on American college campuses, and increased rejection of the gender binary, a number of recent developments seem to indicate that the worst components of the illiberal left have lost much of their influence, if not all of it.

Perhaps the first nail in the illiberal left’s coffin took place following the Charlie Hebdo shooting on January 7, 2015, when two French Muslim brothers forcibly entered the satirical newspaper’s headquarters and shot, killed, and injured dozens. The brothers’ sole motivation was retaliation against the publication for displaying cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on their cover.

Although most people condemned the acts of senseless violence, a vocal segment of the illiberal left, including Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, placed greater blame on the murdered cartoonists, arguing that satire should always “punch up”and never “punch down.” The idea behind this is that satire should serve to challenge the status quo, but never to attack marginalized populations.

A close look at Charlie Hebdo’s leanings serves to discredit these claims of the periodical “punching down.” The paper has a strongly left-wing, anti-racist political slant. It is also staunchly secular, and has a history of using distasteful cartoons to criticize morally questionable values and practices espoused by various religions, including Christianity and Judaism along with Islam. While it is wrong to judge people based on what they look like (racism), there is nothing wrong with judging people based on how they behave. Because religion can greatly shape a person’s behavior for better or worse, there is nothing wrong with criticizing interpretations which justify harming people. Based on these facts, it is clear that the cartoons that inspired the shooting weren’t so much an attack on French Muslims as they were a criticism of Islam.

Taking these facts into account, it is my view that by demanding the cartoons be censured, the illiberal left were the real Islamophobes in this incident, as their view implies that Muslims are incapable of responding to perceived aggressions and slights against their faith nonviolently. That is not to say that Muslims do not have the right to take offense to these cartoons (they do). However, murder is not an acceptable way to express offense. Had the shooters boycotted the paper or picketed in front of its offices, they would have been better able to garner sympathy from all people. Furthermore, common sense dictates that anyone who would consider an irreverent cartoon as bad as or worse than murder has their priorities completely wrong and would do well to have their heads checked.

More recent developments have also greatly hurt the illiberal left, especially on college campuses where they have more influence. In higher education, they have called for “trigger warnings” (an appropriation of accommodations for people with PTSD now primarily used to censor any academic content that could make anyone uncomfortable for virtually any reason,) the punishment of students who commit “microagressions” (unconscious and/or unintentional acts of discrimination, such as touching a black woman’s hair or talking to a developmentally disabled person in a condescending, sing-song tone of voice,) and the dis-invitations of speakers with views that run counter to large swaths of student bodies. On September 15, President Barack Obama openly advocated for less oversensitivity on college campuses, pointing out that efforts to curtail free speech undermined the ability of students to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another and learn from each other. As an icon of the American Left, Obama’s opposition to the efforts of the illiberal left to curb free speech on college campuses surely undermined their ability to do so.

While Obama’s opposition to the illiberal left’s extreme “political correctness” was instrumental in helping to defeat them, he is hardly the first prominent figure to speak out against this tool. In June, Jerry Seinfeld, arguably the most well-respected comedian alive, said in an ESPN interview that the new culture of political correctness was bad for comedy. While other comedians, such as Chris Rock and the late George Carlin, had expressed the same sentiment years earlier, Seinfeld’s opposition to the illiberal left paved the way for an even greater number of comics to speak out against it, including Bill Maher and Dave Chappelle. This widespread opposition to the “new political correctness”among so many comedians suggests that the efforts of the illiberal left were effectively, if not intentionally, stripping American society of one of the greatest things that can bring people together: laughter.

As distasteful as many of the illiberal left’s views may be, there are some things that they are absolutely right about. There ought to be greater awareness of privilege and power as well as greater efforts to address needs specific to members of various marginalized groups. However, censoring free speech is not the way to go by it. “Stunning and Brave,” the season premier of the nineteenth season of South Park, manages to lampoon the authoritarianism of the illiberal left while offering better solutions to the legitimate problems they seek to combat. Rather than demonizing people in positions of institutional power or punishing those who offend members of marginalized groups without malicious intent, such incidents should be used to foster dialogue so that both parties involved can learn from each other, an idea which at least in my eyes is more reasonable, humane, and perhaps most importantly, effective.




Posted in Class, Commentary, Crime, Culture, Politics, Race, Society, world | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is the U.S. the Solution to the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

Over the past week, the media has drawn a great deal of attention to the influx of refugees from Syria desperately traveling to European and other Middle Eastern nations in order to escape the horrors of a brutal, seemingly endless civil war and murderous terrorist groups such as Da’ish (better known in Hellenic civilization as ISIL or ISIS.) According to the United Nations, this exodus of people is the worst since the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

Despite the perils the refugees face, Middle Eastern and European countries are for various reasons unwilling and/or unable to take in enough refugees to fully address the problem. This has led to an even greater concern as to where else they can go. While doing so would be a highly unpopular move, the United States could easily be the solution the many Syrians unable to be fully processed elsewhere are looking for.

Perhaps the most obvious of these reasons is crucial structural differences in the political cultures of Europe compared to that of the United States. Virtually every European nation’s identity rests on its dominant ethnic group or groups, while the United States is a multi-ethnic society whose national identity focuses more on a common set of values. Although they have much more secular societies than the United States, the countries of Europe have much less of an official separation of church and state. For these reasons among others, it is much harder for the ethnically homogeneous, officially Christian European countries to integrate foreigners, particularly non-Christian ones, than it is for the United States to do so.

Despite the difficulties Syrian refugees to the United States would inevitably face as newcomers, they would have opportunities to find culturally familiar institutions. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are approximately 154,450 Syrian Americans. The only larger Arab-American demographics can trace their heritage to Lebanon and Egypt. Considering the significant size of the Syrian population in the United States, and the fact that Lebanese, the largest Arab American demographic, are similar to Syrians in terms of culture and dialect, it should be relatively easy for Syrian refugees in the United States to find people with whom they share a common cultural heritage.

While there is no question that many Americans would have reservations about or be completely opposed to taking in mass numbers of Syrian refugees due to concerns about security, there are more safeguards in American society than in European or Middle Eastern ones to help keep any extremists in check. As I have previously written, the greater diversity of American mosques over those in the Muslim world, as well as the constitutional guarantee of a free exchange of ideas has allowed Muslim Americans to establish interpretations of their faith that are compatible with American values. In fact, a 2013 Pew poll indicates that they are more liberal and tolerant than most of their coreligionists worldwide. Similarly, a 2011 Gallup survey shows they are also more tolerant and pacifistic than Americans of virtually all other religious backgrounds. The liberalism of Muslim Americans therefore makes it harder for extremists of the same faith to engage in acts of terrorism with the support of their coreligionists.

Although it appears unlikely that the United States will not take on the Syrian refugee crisis in the way that I advocate, its multi-ethnic character and official separation of church and state, a significant Syrian presence already existing within the Arab American community, and Muslim Americans’ general preference for a liberal interpretation of their faith all make it perhaps the best place of refuge for the millions of Syrians seeking a better life outside of their homeland.


Posted in Commentary, Culture, Politics, Society, world | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s the Times, Stupid!: The Source of Donald Trump’s Popularity

In the 2016 election cycle for president of the United States, few contenders have received the same degree of media attention as the current Republican frontrunner, real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump. From his comparison of Mexican immigrants to drug dealers and rapists to misogynistic remarks about comedian Rosie O’Donnell at the first Republican debate and allegations that former Democratic president Bill Clinton urged him to run in an attempt to sabotage the Republican Party’s chances at taking back the White House, nothing thus far has managed to undermine Trump’s campaign for the nation’s highest office.

Political pundits of various stripes have proposed different theories behind the businessman and unlikely candidate’s popularity among Republican voters, with many saying his appeal simply comes from his tendency to publicly say what others are too afraid to say. Considering many politicians, including Vice President and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have frequently been known for doing just that, this reason holds little water. Rather, it is my view that Trump’s popularity is a product not of the man himself, but of the times in which he is running for president.

In order to understand how the current point in American history has positively impacted Trump’s candidacy, one must recognize the similarities between the present and the United States of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. During the chronologically earlier period, the country underwent vast political and social change. Such change included the abolition of Jim Crow laws, the reclassification of homosexuality from a mental illness to a natural sexual orientation, and the expansion of women’s rights, especially pertaining to reproductive health. This increasing liberalization of American society was very troublesome for a sizeable segment of Americans, particularly socially conservative, working-class white men overwhelmed by the changes that too often seemed to come at their expense. Although this demographic traditionally voted for Democrats, they became disillusioned with the party as it began to embrace more liberal stances on social issues. As a result, they would serve as a crucial component of the majority of the American electorate that would bring Republican Ronald Reagan, who proved himself effective at showing concern for the fears of such voters, to the White House in 1980.

Like then, the United States is becoming more socially liberal than ever before. The nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, increased public awareness of racial and gender issues, increased opposition to marijuana prohibition, and the reality that the United States will not be a white-majority nation for much longer have all alarmed a segment of the American electorate that feels helpless as their country changes in a way they would prefer it didn’t. Trump, who has frequently spoken out against “political correctness” during his campaign, manages to capture the fears of such voters much as Reagan did with the so-called “Reagan Democrats.”

Despite this similarity, Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan. Much of the Gipper’s appeal came from his charisma, his tenure as Governor of California, and the fact that his opponent in the 1980 election was deeply unpopular incumbent president Jimmy Carter. Trump lacks charisma, appearing more as a bully than a leader, has never held elected office, and will not be facing an unpopular incumbent if he receives the nomination. For these reasons among others, it will be much harder for Trump to win a general election than it was for Reagan.

Even if Trump does not win the primary or the election, his message could be instrumental in the near future. History shows that culture wars, such as those that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s as well as now, almost always end with the dominant culture winning, but not without the counterculture leaving a big impact. For this reason, it seems likely that Trump, or someone else who can effectively communicate the fears of those who would vote for him, could be elected in the not-too-distant future.

Posted in Commentary, Politics, Society, world | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Arabian Nights” from Disney’s Aladdin: Copy or Coincidence?

Of the many American film companies, none have produced animated musicals that have achieved the acclaim, popularity, and influence of Disney’s. One of their most famous animated musicals, the 1992 blockbuster Aladdin, was praised not only for the late Robin Williams’ hilarious performance as the Genie, but also for its music. The film’s iconic score, which includes such classics as “Friend Like Me,” “One Jump Ahead,” and “A Whole New World,” led composer Alan Menken to win multiple Oscars, Golden Globe Awards, a Grammy, and a BAFTA Award.

But what if Menken’s score was not as original as it has been given credit for? The song that calls his originality into question is the film’s opening number, “Arabian Nights.” During the song’s instrumental opening, a riff can be heard, which in the scene below can be heard from 0:23 to 0:29.

While most people would understandably assume that this riff is simply intended to reflect the song (and film’s) Arabian theme and aesthetic, it sounds almost, if not completely identical to a riff played in an older, but much lesser-known song. This other song, “Ghost Town,” was first released in 1981 by British ska band The Specials. In the song, the riff which sounds suspiciously similar to that of ”Arabian Nights” plays multiple times throughout, but can first be heard from 0:17 to 0:23 in the version below.

Despite the immense similarities between the two riffs, I am not accusing Menken or Disney of plagiarism, but am only informing my readers that it is a distinct possibility. I will leave it up to my readers to decide whether the riff from “Arabian Nights” was deliberately taken from “Ghost Town” or if Menken was unaware of the song and its riff when he composed the score to Aladdin.


Posted in Commentary, Crime, Culture, Film, Music | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Boost for Bernie from #BlackLivesMatter?

On Saturday afternoon, Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was interrupted at a rally in Seattle by a group of black women. The women took the stage from Senator Sanders and proceeded to accuse him of not doing enough to combat racial inequity and his predominantly white crowd of supporters of white supremacy. This incident prompted Sanders to cancel the rally early. Although the disruption appeared to undermine the Sanders campaign at least initially, it nonetheless sparked a series of events that could help Senator Sanders win the black vote, aiding him in his efforts to win the Democratic nomination in next year’s presidential primaries.

The idea that Sanders is disinterested in racial inequality and focused only on class divisions in the US is not new. Many left-wing publications, such as Salon, have said the same. Even so, Sanders, while far from perfect, is quite possibly the least racist Democratic candidate running for president thus far. In contrast with the current Democratic frontrunner, former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, both of whom have said that “All Lives Matter,” (an appropriation of “Black Lives Matter” used mainly by racist whites and well-intentioned white people who are ignorant of racial power dynamics in the US,) or former Virgina Senator Jim Webb’s defense of the Confederate flag and his insistence that the traitors who used it in battle were “honorable,” Sanders’ biggest failure on racial issues has seemingly been his apparent ignorance of and inaction on them.

Since the affair in Seattle, however, Senator Sanders has become more outspoken about addressing racial inequality in America. This is evidenced by his appointment of #BlackLivesMatter activist Symone Sanders as his press secretary and his announcement of a comprehensive plan intended to address various forms of racial inequality in the United States on Sunday. Even though his plan will almost certainly fall far short of eliminating racial injustice, no other candidate in this election cycle has proposed as much to address this inequity. This suggests that Sanders is genuinely interested in combatting such problems, even if he is ignorant about how best to address them.

Despite these efforts, Sanders continues to poll in only second place to Clinton, whose husband, former US President Bill Clinton, was and is a popular figure in American politics, notably among African Americans. His appeal among much of the black community influenced prominent African American writer Toni Morrison to declare him the “first black president” in 1998.

Despite President Clinton’s popularity among members of this demographic, which his wife will inevitably use in her bid for the presidency, there is at least one comment from the former president that Sanders can and should use against the Clintons to increase his appeal among black voters. Following then-Illinois Senator and current US President Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 South Carolina Democratic presidential primary, Bill Clinton, in a seemingly dismissive tone, compared the future president’s primary victory to those of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 in the same state. By comparing Obama’s campaigns to another black man’s, and in particular one whose presidential campaigns did not go especially far, Clinton seemed to demonstrate contempt for black candidates and voters. As a result, his comment, at least in my opinion, should be a matter of concern as to whether the Clintons are truly interested in the well-being of African Americans.

While Bernie Sanders still has a long way to secure the Democratic nomination next year, let alone the White House, the apparent catastrophe that was the Seattle rally may have been a positive turning point in his campaign. The interruption still communicated the important message that too many politicians in the United States neglect the needs of African Americans. Taking this into consideration, Sanders has started to prioritize racial inequality in addition to class inequality in his campaign. This, along with Bill Clinton’s apparently racist remarks about President Obama and Reverend Jackson, could allow him to siphon black votes from Hillary Clinton and grant him a victory in the Democratic primaries.

Posted in Class, Commentary, Crime, Culture, Politics, Race, Society, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Jews and the Chinese: An Anthropological Comparison

Out of the many ethnic groups in the world today, there are few whose longevity is greater than or equal to that of the Jews and Han Chinese. Over millennia, both groups have made vast contributions to world history. Although both groups have existed for such an immense time period, there has been relatively little significant interaction between the world’s largest ethnic group and one of the world’s smallest. Despite their historical isolation from each other, the cultures of the Jewish and Chinese peoples have a great deal more in common than one would expect at first glance.

Perhaps the most obvious source of similarities between the Jews and the Han can be found in their theo-philosophical traditions. Unlike most other religious traditions, Judaism and Confucianism both prioritize actions over beliefs. Often, the traditional Jewish and Confucian views of which actions are good and which are bad are identical. Such common values include modest dress, intensive study of sacred texts, the disposal of dead bodies by burial, and a taboo associated with body modifications, such as tattoos.

Furthermore, the traditional structures of Jewish and Chinese families are in many ways similar. In ancient times, the traditional conventions of marriage for both groups involved a loose form of monogamy. Men would have one wife and multiple concubines. Although these conventions of marriage are no longer practiced, other similarities in the family structure exist, particularly in regards to gender roles. Like most, Jewish and Chinese culture are traditionally patriarchal, with the oldest male in the home usually representing their nuclear family in the public sphere, as well as to extended relatives and guests to their home. Despite the male supremacy present in both cultures, women are hardly powerless, as they are expected to run the daily affairs of the household, including being responsible for virtually every component of their children’s development. It is from this role that such archetypes as the neurotic, overbearing Jewish mother and the strict, smothering, Chinese “Tiger Mom” have emerged.

Another similarity between the Jews and the Chinese is present in the behavior and perceptions of their sizable diaspora communities. In these communities, Jews and Han both serve as prominent middleman minorities, dominating the business and financial fields in their adopted countries and possessing greater wealth, power, and education on average than the majority of their respective countrymen. The diaspora communities’ great successes, along with their relative insularity, inspire a great deal of fear, hatred, and suspicion. It was for this reason that the Thai King Rama VI, better known as Vajiravudh, famously called the Chinese “the Jews of Asia.”

When Vajiravudh referred to the Han Chinese as such, he was referring only to the similarities of their diaspora communities as middleman minorities. However, by focusing on just one of the many similarities between the Jews and Chinese and ignoring others, including their similar ethical codes and family structures, he could have made his comparison even stronger.


Posted in Commentary, Culture, Race, Society, world | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: An Overrated Band

In the history of rock music, few artists have achieved the popularity and acclaim of heavy metal pioneers Led Zeppelin. The band, whose lineup consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, lead singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones, and the late drummer John Bonham, have been ranked at 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Many of their songs, such as “Stairway to Heaven,” “Good Times, Bad Times,” and “Immigrant Song,” have become iconic rock standards. Despite their fame and influence, a closer look at Led Zeppelin’s history and musical technique shows that they are given much more credit than they deserve.

In order to understand why Led Zeppelin is overrated, one must first understand their roots in an earlier band, The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds, who are probably most famous for bringing Page, along with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, into the public spotlight, were an influential blues rock band that emerged in 1963. During the Clapton and Beck years, the band would release such hits as “Heart Full of Soul,” “For Your Love,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and “Shapes of Things.” In 1966, Page replaced Beck on guitar, after which the band failed to release any quality songs until their breakup in 1968.

After this breakup, Page would found Led Zeppelin, or “The New Yardbirds,” as his new band was originally called. The original name choice suggests that Led Zeppelin was intended as little more than The Yardbirds recreated in the image of the worst lead guitarist they had. This reality should serve as a red flag to anyone convinced of Led Zeppelin’s greatness.

The inferiority of Page’s guitar playing can be asserted by contrasting his style with that of Clapton and Beck. In contrast to Clapton’s soulful blues sound and Beck’s innovative use of distortion to emulate such sounds as trains and sitars, Page’s style is innovative only because it makes use of distortion during loud, uptempo solos. Considering earlier bands, such as The Kinks and The Kingsmen, already had a history of loud and fast solos, that Page’s only significant contribution to such a style is distortion says a lot about him as a guitarist.

Even if Jimmy Page was a better and more innovative guitarist, their reputation remains tarnished by their long history of plagiarism. Among their songs that have ripped off other artists are “How Many More Times,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love.” They have even been alleged in court, with merit, to have plagiarized the iconic riff in “Stairway to Heaven,” probably their most acclaimed song. The fact that so many people have managed to win lawsuits against them on allegations of plagiarism proves their relative lack of originality and a need to rely on other artists to create much of their music.

There are many great classic rock bands out there, and Led Zeppelin is no exception. However, their origin as a reincarnation of The Yardbirds in the image of its worst guitarist, Jimmy Page’s lack of originality and creativity, and the band’s frequent plagiarism of other musical works are proof enough that they are hardly in the same league as many others in their genre.

Posted in Commentary, Music, Society | Leave a comment