Gangnam Style

I have a smattering of thoughts I want to express here, and cannot think of a more suitable title. I guess the general theme is the cultural divide from the Cold War. I use Gangnam Style as the title since it is a representative, and also it’s occurred to me that it’s better for attracting attention/marketing. It is or at least was the most viewed video on YouTube after all.

Why am I suddenly reminded of Gangnam Style? Well, yesterday somebody spoke of that Crazy Rich Asians movie that just came out, that’s in a couple weeks time gotten $86.6 million box office already, almost thrice the $30 million budget. After searching online, I learned it’s based off a novel of the same name by a Singaporean-American of Chinese descent from, predictably, quite a prominent family in Singapore. I had already learned of it, as it has been everywhere online for a few weeks, though I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was quickly reminded of an anecdote involving Gangnam Style, which is also Asian. As for the name, Gangnam is this important, wealthy district in Seoul, or something like that. It is Korean for 江南 (jiangnan), which means south of the river, I believe.

What is the anecdote? My smart as fuck Russian friend in math raised in America who identifies strongly with the Soviet era has a younger brother nowhere near as smart as him who plays video games all day. On the car, he would keep singing Gangnam Style. My friend got so annoyed with that he said,

From now on, sing that again, and I’m going to sing back No Motherland Without You, Comrade Kim Jong-il.

I have listened to Gangnam Style by the way, and my reaction was like, “how the fuck did this trashy culture-less music video in Korean become number one on YouTube? What the fuck is going on with the taste of the current generation?” I guess it’s also impressive, that South Korea can produce a video music this viral, in their own language. Korean drama is also a big thing. Samsung and Hyundai too. Koreans (in the South) are both technically and culturally innovative.

Reminds me of my unusual ABC (actually born in America) friend who’s sympathetic to the North. He said some things about them which surprised me. Now, most Chinese in my parents’ generation I’ve encountered were from relatively humble backgrounds, often first in their family to attend college. He’s an exception though. He told me that his father’s family used to own a four story building in Tianjin that he’s visited. During the war, it became Japanese barracks. After the Japanese left, they got it back, but four years later, they ended up sharing it with a bunch of poor people. He told me his grandpa was about to go study in Britain, but the Japanese invasion disrupted that plan. His mother’s dad were also highly educated in STEM, and occupied a relatively high up position there. Ironically though, he really surprised me by saying a bunch of stuff in Chinese in the likes of what you hear from people during the Mao era or nostalgic for it, like how back then people didn’t need to buy a home, because the state provided one. I concluded that he, who has spent his entire life in America, must have learned all that from his parents.

As for North Korea, I told him about how some Korean was telling me about how there’s this map of lighting of world, in which South Korea is super bright while the North is almost completely dark, which exception of a glimmer from Pyongyang, which just goes to show the sheer economic disparity in level of development. His response was,

Or maybe because while the South Koreans are being worked to death, the North Koreans are sleeping.

Inside Facebook office, there’s an analogous display.


In this one, China is also entirely in totalitarian darkness. 😉

On DPRK, that guy was also like,

In a situation of war, the South Korean soldiers are not going to fight to the death to preserve the interests of their capitalist masters.

I spoke of how American and South Korean media talks about how the North’s army is extremely weak and ill-equipped now. Like their pilots don’t even have enough fuel to do sufficient training. On that he was like,

That’s not how the American and South Korean armies staging military exercises think.

I was like “lol okay.”

A few days ago, I finally learned of Erich Honecker and his wife Margot Honecker, who were the General Secretary and Minister of Education of East Germany respectively. They both pretty much got screwed after reunification. Erich escaped a criminal trial out of poor health to reunite with his wife in South America, who had sought asylum in Chile through the Chilean Embassy in Moscow. Margot died in 2016 and defended the GDR till her death. I had known before of the predecessor of Honecker, Walter Ulbricht, but not that he also had training Moscow from the 20s on as part of the German Communist Party. Not a surprise though, after the war, the Soviets pretty much planted those types in positions of power in East Germany. The system they established certainly had some political influence, they trained communists from all over the world, setting up schools just for that. The Comintern was certainly quite an effective political organization. Many of the old Chinese revolutionaries had that background too. I also learned of Egon Krenz, a top East German politician who actually travelled to China in 89 to thank Deng Xiaoping on behalf of the regime for using force to suppress the student protests, who subsequently published some books sympathetic to the GDR.

I’ve read before that there is quite a bit of East German nostalgia, with the so-called Ossis still being culturally different, of course, I’m not qualified to judge. In any case, it’s probably safe to assume that the stuff we hear in English about East German and the Stasi should be taken with a grain of salt. Victor’s justice after all, those part of the Stasi (an equivalent of Department of Homeland Security really), along with just about everyone high up in the East German regime, were politically disgraced after reunification.

More generally, I can sense how the political outlooks and ways of doing things still vary widely, and the legacy much persists today. The political rhetoric employed is markedly different, needless to say. Also, how those former socialist countries do those military parades, which would be naturally viewed in American mindset as distasteful and totalitarian, the style of dictatorship. Many from former those states also think that, especially ones who emigrated to the “free world,” also eventually grow to think that. They’ll say stuff like “waste of money.” An uncool way to “show how good we are.” I once said С днем победы to a Russian friend raised in America and he was like,

It’s stupid to celebrate the deaths of so many people.

My response was

So you’re saying that it’s basically, “we beat the Nazis, we saved Europe, we saved the world, we’re the best!”

And he was like, “pretty much.”

In the American political narrative, that stuff is almost always portrayed as people taking part in that not because they want to but because they have no choice under a totalitarian regime. An easy way to be dismissive of course. Expectedly, I find this perspective rather problematic. I’ve heard enough times the likes of “I like China, just not the Chinese government,” and “Remember that the Chinese people and the Chinese government are not the same thing.” The reality is that a government of a country is made up of a subset of its people, with the percentage depending on degree of government affiliation, not to mention that a government is necessarily influenced by its people, so it’s entirely unrealistic to speak of a government and its people as entirely separate.

I’ve also seen some liberal Russians here poke fun at Iosif Kobzon. They’ll say,

Oh, everybody hates Kobzon.


He’s ridiculous. Super pro-government. And he’s not even Russian you know, he’s actually Jewish. He’s ridiculous.

When the government routinely organizes those concerts where they sing those songs about the Red Army and crowds clap along, those guys find it either ridiculous or revolting. The thing is that the system gradually normalized that kind of activity to the point where people in that environment don’t find it strange and even enjoy it.

I do wonder how much of one’s preference on this spectrum is heritable versus shaped through experience. Necessarily, experiences shape one’s tastes and views but it is genes which largely determine how people respond to experiences more or less imposed on them as well as which ones they actively see out.










On questioning authority

A couple years ago, my friend who won high honors at the Intel Science Talent Search told me that he was talking this guy who created some app that allows you to schedule a Uber ride for later, who was also at/near the top of the same science competition, who is extraordinarily versatile and prolific. I watched a little of a video of a TED talk he gave, wherein he explained what one can learn from ancient Hebraic texts. Overall, I wasn’t terribly terribly impressed by it, though it was quite eloquently delivered. Mostly because with those types of things, one is too free to interpret and thus, the lessons/messages given were overly generic so as to make them almost meaningless, one of which was how the Bible teaches the importance of questioning authority, with reference to the refusal to bow to the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as an exemplary.

Here, Joshua like many from the same cultural root portrays questioning authority as a pillar of the Jewish moral and intellectual spirit. I would say that this has already gotten to the point of cliche. There is also, again, that people have different ideas of what it means to question authority.

First of all, what is an authority? An authority can manifest itself in many forms. It can be a political authority. It can be a government, especially a “dictatorship,” as much as I hate the usage of that word. It can be a boss at work. It can be a distinguished professor. It can be an adult when you’re a child. It can be an official or not moral, religious, or political code/ideology, or commonly accepted versions of history and its verdicts, by which I mean judgments of history as opposed to hard facts more or less incontrovertible, such as what exactly happened on X day with documentation abound. It can be the tradition we are all taught to abide by growing up with little question of their rationale and relevance, especially as times pass and change.

A corollary of my last paragraph is that to talk about questioning authority alone is almost utterly meaningless. You absolutely need some context, and Joshua did provide some. In the specific example of his I regurgitated, it is standing up against a dictator, and I’ll elaborate my thoughts on that.

Growing up in America, in my social studies classes and in the media, the mantra of dictatorship vs democracy with the latter morally superior and in many cases with its defense by virtually any means justified was heard again and again that it has itself become an authority taboo to challenge by our political norms. First of all, I want to clarify that here by democracy I am referring to a political system where elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body. There is another form of more general democracy where the government does what is, or is at least perceived as, in the best interest of the entire nation or populace. What American political culture fails to discuss sufficiently is the vital matter of to what extent the former democracy implies the latter one, with the latter’s being, hopefully, the end goal.

In contrast, dictatorships are portrayed as one lone, usually brutal dictator having absolute power, being able to order virtually anything, and thus, leading often to genocidal regimes with mass murderers such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. This image may be tempting to many but it is in reality rather ridiculous. Yes, a dictator has enormous power and stays at the top often for decades, in contrast to the four year term system in America, which is very frowned upon in our culture, but surely, a dictator is not politically omnipotent. He has plenty of people underneath that he needs to satisfy, and though he may have a cult of personality within the propaganda, people are basically free to ignore him and go about their own business. He is also a human too, just like you, with very human interests, though sure, he may be a psychopath of some sort. There is also a vital point that almost always for a dictator to come to power, he must have a high degree of support from a large number of people, and thus, dictators in practice have little incentive to work against people’s interests, with getting people to like him being largely in his interest. Ironically, dictatorships can be very good at motivating people to achieve great things and providing certain continuity and long-term perspective difficult within a system where the people can easily choose to elect a new leader. In fact, if I have someone pressuring or forcing me when I don’t want to to do what is good for me (like waking up early on a weekend) and good for the society at large (like not being a parasite), I consider that to be a very positive thing. On this note, talking with someone in China recently, that guy was like: China now has 10 year terms for leaders, and maybe it should be gotten rid of, because it’s too little time for a leader to do anything serious, as he would have to pass the torch before he can be finished. Maybe Xi Jinping should try to extend his presidency past his 10 year term. Even in America, during WWII, Roosevelt was president for 16 years.

I personally love reading and watching controversial and sensitive material that most people dare not to. I’ve read plenty of material in Chinese banned in the mainland (but of course, still easily obtainable there if one really wants), most memorable of which was the very well-written, of high literary quality, autobiography by 巫宁坤 (Wu Ningkun). I’ve watched an anti-Semitic Nazi movie and also a North Korean movie out of sheer curiosity of certain places so smeared by our media. I also think that Soviet music is some of the most beautiful music out there. I have also, not surprisingly, watched some PRC (propaganda) movies from the 50s and 60s, which I felt were very well-made. The scariest and most grotesque movie I watched was one on the WWII Japanese human experimentation camp, Unit 731. A few weeks ago, I also had the pleasure of watching Saving Private Ryan, which I also much enjoyed, though surely it’s, as a Hollywood movie, more or less well-accepted here on our soil, unlike some of the previous ones, for which many would think I’m crazy, which I’m obviously not, for watching. I would say that this is out of a combination of my political intellectual curiosity and a distaste for certain oppressive, intolerant mainstream views and norms in America. Shaped by these explorations, I am of the belief that people should be more tolerant of differences and more politically and culturally open-minded. Be emotionally insensitive and let others be who they are. Also, be reasonable, precise, and stick to the facts. This is a concrete and substantive characterization of how throughout my life, I have challenged and questioned authority in the political intellectual domain.

Joshua is obviously promoting his own Jewish culture in that TED talk. On this, I’ve come to note that Jews in America are for the most part entirely unashamed, if not eager, to display and extol their culture. This is in contrast to Chinese who grow up here, many of whom try to distance themselves from their roots. Well, I guess there are self-hating Jews (like Bobby Fischer, who I feel I can understand much more now, with where he’s coming from) as well, but overall, they seem far less conspicuous. I believe the latter is out of a combination of their lack of self-confidence, the gross bastardization of Chinese culture in America, and the difficulty of learning the Chinese language in an American environment even when parents speak it at home, especially the written aspect.

There is the cliche saying that Chinese people in general, due to certain elements deep-rooted in Chinese culture, are very deferential to authority, which stifles creativity and innovation. I’ve surely thought about this and my views have evolved over time the more I’ve learned and seen. It is obviously too simplistic a notion presented by those of meager and often incorrect understanding. I do believe that Confucianism had and still has a strong element of the phenomenon described, but so did Christianity, just of a very different character.

Personally, I have to say that the more I learn, the more impressed I am with the fearless and pure spirit Chinese people have displayed in questioning and challenging authority, especially in the 20th century. I have written here before that I believe China has the richest revolutionary history of the 20th century of any nation or culture, with that of course much owing to the circumstances. China in the 20th century, being in deep trouble, had a dire need for revolutionaries, martyrs, and heroes. With this, the Chinese led by the communists essentially created a new Chinese culture on top of the traditional Chinese culture that had Confucianism as the guiding ideology. There is now a rich tradition and culture of Chinese communism, especially in military and social science, that has become holy in some sense, as is Jerusalem, which became so also out of certain formational historical events, that is very revolutionary in its essential spirit. However, the Chinese being materialists view all this as a force of nature rather than a force of God, a key contrast to holiness in the Abrahamic religions.

Another essential difference is that while Jews have more or less based themselves upon the Western system, having taken great advantage for themselves of the Western imperialism that came out of the discovery of modern science in the West, which they are also in service to politically, with reliance on it, the Chinese have more or less created an independent system from the West without kowtowing to pressures to conform, which has proven to be a correct decision, one that took much political courage and belief in oneself. The foundation for modern China was built largely in the 50s and 60s with little direct exchange with the West, if one excludes the Soviet Union from that, and in certain cases direct confrontation, with the freeze in relations owing to that in the Korean War, the Chinese challenged the Western authority successfully in a military setting in a way unimaginably shocking. It is only now very much in hindsight that while that inability to trade with the West for a few decades very much delayed China’s economic growth in certain respects, it brought about the creation of a very distinctive political culture and system deeply embedded that remains distanced from the mainstream in spite of reform and opening up, of a nature that may well be an advantage for China in the long term if not already. In this respect, Chinese culture has produced a feat and tradition of questioning authority that will forever live in our historical memory.

Another that I have noticed is the upright dedication to truth exhibited at large by Chinese scholars in the often corrupt and political social sciences that become authoritative, relative to those in the West. It is a reflection of good judgment of the Chinese people on who to promote in that arena. It does have much to do that China has in modern times been humbled by and learned so much from the West, the source of the most unprecedentedly radical and explosive growth in human history, but I also dare say that it is an indicator of very high moral character of Chinese civilization. In Chinese intellectual and media circles, bullshitting and falsifying history for political motives seems much more frowned upon. I believe that in this respect, history will eventually look at what the West led by America, that is heavily influenced by Jews in the social sciences, has done with utter disgrace, with various facades unlikely to continue indefinitely.

Speaking of truth, in terms of scientific truth, Chinese civilization has, however, contributed very little in comparison, though surely, Chinese produced a good number of revolutionary scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century, especially later in it. I find it somewhat odd how it is seldom said directly in the West that modern science is a product almost entirely of Western civilization with Greek roots and later Islamic preservation and expansion. Because scientific achievement requires so much in the way of the quality that is the subject matter of this article, surely the Confucianism based Chinese civilization has experienced a dearth of it of a nature that was only learned from the West later on. Now, Chinese are indeed quite relieved and also proud that in STEM, they have been increasingly successful and are now on the verge of reaching a world leading position, with much more to contribute to the world.

I’ll conclude with the following message. If Jews value questioning authority so much, they should let their authorities in media in America be freely and openly challenged. They should let their majority representation among Ivy League presidents and senior administrators be questioned too. In anything that is not terribly meritocratic and more connections and reputation based, their gross overrepresentation often well over 30%, so long as is objectively there, ought to be seriously questioned.