We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On this day in 1951, Seoul fell for the second time

BBC On This Day: 1951: Communist forces to re-take Seoul

The Third Battle of Seoul

We in the West seem to have entirely forgotten the Korean War. President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China is keeping the memory alive, in his own fashion.

Hong Kong as it was

Here is a long, very good article about Hong Kong as it developed after WW2 under relatively hands-off British rule. That is all fading away, very sadly, at least in terms of its civil liberties. Quite what the future holds for the jurisdiction, I don’t know.

Check out the photo in the middle of a Boeing 747 flying above the roof-tops. Makes the hair stand up from the back of your neck.

China’s Soweto

The Soweto riots were the beginning of the end for Apartheid in South Africa. This is how they began:

Black South African high school students in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as languages of instruction. The Regional Director of Bantu Education (Northern Transvaal Region), J.G. Erasmus, told Circuit Inspectors and Principals of Schools that from 1 January 1975, Afrikaans had to be used for mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies from standard five (7th grade), according to the Afrikaans Medium Decree; English would be the medium of instruction for general science and practical subjects (homecraft, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, art, agricultural science). Indigenous languages would only be used for religious instruction, music, and physical culture.

Forty-six years later, in Inner Mongolia, sorry, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China (not to be confused with the neighbouring sovereign state of Mongolia), children of another subjugated land are protesting against a decree that forces their schools to use the oppressor’s language as the medium of instruction:

Inner Mongolia protests at China’s plans to bring in Mandarin-only lessons

Thousands of ethnic Mongolians have protested across northern China in opposition to Beijing plans to replace the Mongolian language with Chinese in some school subjects.

Tuesday marked the first day of a policy revealed in June, to gradually transition the language of instruction in Inner Mongolian schools from Mongolian to Mandarin Chinese. The change affects three subjects over the next three years in the autonomous region. The education bureau said Mongolian and Korean language classes would remain.

The official explanation for the change to a bilingual education system was to ensure the curriculum and textbooks were of a high standard, and that government documents cited by analysts also referred to president Xi Jinping’s push for shared language as part of a common identity.

However mass protests in Inner Mongolia – referred to as Southern Mongolia by ethnic rights and independence groups – have revealed the depth of fear that Mongolian would be relegated to a foreign language as part of government plans to assimilate ethnic minorities into Chinese Han culture.

I called this China’s Soweto. But don’t expect any equivalent to UN Security Council Resolution 392.

Other links concerning this story:

Tightening the noose on Mongolian in Southern Mongolia

Rare rallies in China over Mongolian language curb

The State’s lament: ‘A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened;’

Thus went the UK government’s discussion paper on increasing social distancing on 22nd March 2020.

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.

There were other considerations:

Hong Kong’s experience:

Having a good understanding of the risk has been found to be positively associated with adoption of COVID-19 social distancing measures in Hong Kong

And carrots:

6. Social approval: Social approval can be a powerful source of reward. Not only can this be provided directly by highlighting examples of good practice and providing strong social encouragement and approval in communications; members of the community can be encouraged to provide it to each other. This can have a beneficial spill-over effect of promoting social cohesion. Communication strategies should provide social approval for desired behaviours and promote social approval within the community.

And of course, coercion, along with ‘social disapproval’:

7. Compulsion: Experience with UK enforcement legislation such as compulsory seat belt use suggests that, with adequate preparation, rapid change can be achieved (16). Some other countries have introduced mandatory self-isolation on a wide scale without evidence of major public unrest and a large majority of the UK’s population appear to be supportive of more coercive measures. For example, 64% adults in Great Britain said they would support putting London under a ‘lock down’ (17). However, data from Italy and South Korea suggest that for aggressive protective measures to be effective, special attention should be devoted to those population groups that are more at risk (18). In addition, communities need to be engaged to minimise risk of negative effects. Consideration should be given to enacting legislation, with community involvement, to compel key social distancing measures.

8. Social disapproval: Social disapproval from one’s community can play an important role in preventing anti-social behaviour or discouraging failure to enact pro-social behaviour (15). However, this needs to be carefully managed to avoid victimisation, scapegoating and misdirected criticism. It needs to be accompanied by clear messaging and promotion of strong collective identity. Consideration should be given to use of social disapproval but with a strong caveat around unwanted negative consequences.

So, for us rats in the lab, we can see the experimental parameters. I can’t find the words ‘rights‘, ‘freedom‘, ‘free‘ or ‘liberty‘ anywhere in this document. I can see this, my emphasis in bold, with the lie about people being ‘asked’:

9. Community resourcing: People are being asked to give up valued activities and access to resources for an extended period. These need to be compensated for by ensuring that people have access to opportunities for social contact and rewarding activities that can be undertaken in the home, and to resources such as food. Adequately resourced community infrastructure and mobilisation needs to be developed rapidly and with coverage across all communities (6, 15).

10. Reducing inequity: Adherence to these measures is likely to be undermined by perceived inequity in their impact on different sections of the population, especially those who are already disadvantaged, e.g. those in rented accommodation and those working in precarious employment. Reducing costs of phone calls, data downloads etc. by ‘responsibility deals’ or government subsidies should be considered.

Just in case you don’t think that this is an experiment, there is a reference to methodology including this, but read the whole thing:

The criteria go under the acronym, APEASE (Acceptability, Practicability, Effectiveness, Affordability, Spill-over effects, Equity)

Edit: Just after Paul’s comment, a bit more has just come out, from 25th February 2020, about the risk of disorder, foreseeing a risk of PPE shortage on 25th February 2020, so they knew that they could be short long before they did anything about it:
The last paragraph says it all:

Promote a sense of collectivism: All messaging should reinforce a sense of community, that “we are all in this together.” This will avoid increasing tensions between different groups (including between responding agencies and the public); promote social norms around behaviours; and lead to self-policing within communities around important behaviours.

Keeping it long

Volume 9 of of the collected works of Kim Il Sung is now out, and Mick Hartley is having a hard job containing his excitement:

Let’s hope the book maintains the powerful tradition in Korean revolutionary literature of keeping sentences long, with plenty of clauses which further elaborate on the idea first mentioned in the opening clause, thereby ensuring that the original idea becomes ever more entrenched within the consciousness of the reader as the theme is expanded upon and elaborated, very much in the way that a piece of music takes an original theme which is then embellished and repeated in different formats and combinations, which serves to increase the power of the music and can similarly be a powerful device to increase the power of a revolutionary thought or indeed instruction from a Great or Dear Leader, even if there is a risk, among those perhaps insufficiently devoted to the drive towards a successful and dynamic socialist country, that the original thought that started the sentence may have been forgotten by the time the reader comes in, panting but nevertheless certainly wiser and also older, to the end of the sentence.

Hartley has also been very good on the lockdown.

Samizdata quote of the day

Taiwan is not a Chinese province, you bat-eating, dog-beating, grave-robbing, ethnic cleansing, police state cockwomble of a stolen Nazi uniform.

Mike Fagan

The death clock

A few years ago I remember the arrival of a sort of clock that measured the terrifying rise of the UK’s public debt, a pile that has got much heavier and scarier as a result of the splurge of spending enacted by the new UK finance minister last week. The idea of some dial on the dashboard of our lives, so to speak, which rises constantly, or maybe eventually slows and reverts, is an interesting one. In the media, some newspapers seem to have these daily counts of the number of people dying of coronavirus. On some of the TV channels there is a scrolling feed at the bottom of the screen (I saw this on Sky News, which is arguably even worse than the BBC these days) do this. It was rather like the tickers for the level of the S&P 500 or the latest cricket scores from Lords.

A writer on Linkedin, whom I quote from here but I won’t name as I am not sure I have permission, has written this, and I do sort of sympathise:

Is the news going to report every single death which include a majority of elderly people each day death by death? Many have cancer or asthma or weak immune systems or underlying health issues and many may be on respirators in assisted living or hospitals so how do we know the real cause of death? Smokers who harmed their lungs. Rx’s that damaged lungs and organs such as the heart. Every person is different. The news or government doesn’t report the 109 Americans who die everyday or the 660,000 deaths of individuals from cancer each year. How about the 47,000 plus individual deaths by suicide and illicit drugs? How long is the scare mongering going to linger on? Will be it be until July or August or longer? Viruses and diseases are always popping up…Influenza, Asian Influenza 1950’s, Hong Kong flue 1960’s, Meningitis, AIDS, Mers, Sars, Swine Flu, Ebola…..We don’t know what else may have contributed to the death. Just sayin’.

Of course the State should not in any way ban or try and interfere with such reporting, whether it is crass, hysterical, or sober. At least in the West the media is covering this outbreak heavily, whereas in China, as appears to be the case, people who blew the whistle on what was going on have been punished or just disappeared.

Viruses and globalisation

The virus outbreak in China and the clampdown on travel and other activity by a Communist country is inevitably going to cause some political commentary about the implications, and it already has. One comment I am bracing for is how this proves how dangerous globalisation can be because of extended supply chains, long-haul flights, etc. In fact I expect some on the Green, anti-trade side might make such points. What the episode shows is that all advanced societies need “firebreaks” that can be imposed – hopefully by public consent for a limited period – (I mentioned firebreaks in my previous item about the Australian bushfires). There may also be lessons to come out about local food and hygiene, as well as what is done to immunise young children and so forth. This echoes what I wrote the other day about how forest fires in Australia got more deadly because the “immunity” of the forests was undermined by neglecting to do controlled burns and thin out dead trees.

But it is wrong in a broader sense to say that viruses are a point against greater human interaction via trade in general. One might as well draw the conclusion that we should all live in sealed boxes. When the Black Death raged, it killed a huge number in relative terms of the population in affected areas, and other plagues in early history have been as deadly, and yet most people at the time did not travel far from home. Some did of course, and human cities were dirty and unsanitary. But overall, the world of the 14th Century wasn’t as globalised in terms of human interaction as it is now.

Let’s not forget that trade also increases options when a population is hit by a local disaster. Take the case of food supply if the local produce goes wrong. Lack of imported food access was fatal for Ireland in the 1840s because Corn Laws hampered imports of wheat into the country.

It is true that people who even friendly to the free market economy and global trade use words such as “contagion” to describe how an issue in country X can affect a nation Y, and so on. (Some have even claimed that Chinese savings “surpluses” helped cause the 2008 financial crisis by funding the US housing binge. And writers such as James Rickards have even attempted to defend protectionism and capital controls on the same basis that one might defend a fire safety door.)

There are also implications for the effectiveness or otherwise of “transnational” organisations (aka “tranzis”), as this article at Pajamas Media states.

China is still a deeply oppressive place in many ways, and the disaster today is grim, and worrying. But bear in mind dear reader how far that nation has come since Mao, one of the greatest mass murderers in recorded history, has gone. The virus breaking out is horrible, but far less horrible than anything that bastard brought about. China is now much richer, and has the resources to tackle this plague. I wish them well.

The rewards of compliance

The headline you see when you click on this BBC new story is “Macau: China’s other ‘one country, two systems’ region”, but the headline on the BBC front page that takes you to the story is “HK’s model neighbour that stays loyal to China”.

The rest of the story follows that line.

We hear that Macau has the third highest per capita GDP in the world and that China “has expanded its economy phenomenally”. The government hands out cash to residents “as part of a wealth-sharing programme”. A lady called Mrs Lam – not that Mrs Lam – says of Macau’s relations with China, “We understand the boundaries quite well” and “there has been a big focus on improving the region’s economy as well as its education system”. Even the democracy activist found by the BBC says, when reference is made to the Hong Kong protests, “This dissent does not exist in Macau.”

President Xi Jinping of China is quoted as saying, “I wish to stress that the handling of [Hong Kong and Macau] affairs is strictly China’s internal matter, there is no need for any external force to dictate things to us.”

The article reads as if Mr Xi dictated it to the BBC.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We didn’t always know it at the time, but Hong Kong has been a kind of bellwether for the state of freedom in the wider world.”

Tyler Cowen.

He’s right, which is why, despite the mockers, I am writing about this topic quite a bit and intend to keep doing so.

Terrible arguments excusing what is going on in Hong Kong

On social media I have come across this sort of “argument” used to justify Beijing’s attempt to put its boot fully on the face of people in Hong Kong:

Britain has no right to interfere in any way, even to protest. That’s because the evil British conquered Hong Kong in the 19th Century, got the locals hooked on opium, and ran it as a colony. Colonies are evil, even if they have the benefits of the English Common Law, reasonably non-corrupt officialdom, and all the rest of it. So it is better that Hong Kong be taken over and turned into the rest of China, with all its charming qualities.

If I wanted to engage in “whataboutery”, I could respond (and did, to wind up a couple of particularly nasty interloctors) with the following points:

China has conquered places of its own. Its treatment of Muslims, Christians and others in different parts of China, including the use of internment camps, etc, has been a disgrace. If today’s Chinese want to play the imperial victim card about Scotsmen taking over Hong Kong and turning it into a capitalist dynamo, they might want to look in the mirror a bit first.

China is a repressive state – and while by far from being unique in that regard, its practices (organ harvesting, internment, intense state surveillance, etc, etc) makes it an egregiously bad place by any sort of pro-liberty metric. Whatever the real or alleged sins of the British Empire, what is happening now is clearly a threat to liberty, and we should judge it on its merits.

There is also a curious sort of moral inversion one sees here. A place (Hong Kong) is a former colony and another place (China) takes it back from said former imperial power. Hong Kong is gradually squeezed; there are protests, and the fears of protestors are widely discussed. And the best that those who try to defend China is to say “oh, but Opium Wars!”

Of course, there is a distinct possibility that some of the people making the Opium War point are in fact bots produced by the Chinese state, or trolls working for Beijing. That point cannot be ruled out.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When the U.K. handed back control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised the city that it could maintain an independent legal system, democratic freedoms and a “high degree of autonomy” for at least 50 years. This “One Country, Two Systems” formula has underpinned the city’s success because it allowed Hong Kong to maintain access to global markets as a separate, law-abiding and free-trading member of the World Trade Organization. But as President Xi Jinping has concentrated more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, Hong Kong’s autonomy – and therefore its economic raison d’etre – has come under ever greater threat.”

Ben Bland.

My expectation is that if China does indeed fully crush what autonomy Hong Kong has, business will flee to the benefit of Singapore, mainly, and possibly other jurisdictions along the Pacific Rim. It will be commercially dumb of China to do this, but bear in mind that what is dumb commercially is not always dumb if your main agenda is nationalism and being a general asshole. In the meantime, I will go to Hong Kong and do business there and have a good time, but I fear the good times aren’t going to last forever.