Friday, April 29, 2011

another interesting article discussing the differences between Western and Chinese cultures

Thursday, April 28, 2011

No time travel in China

China's censors apparently decided to outlaw SF, fantasy and in particular time travel. CNN treats this as a joke. But in fact, the fringes of an ideology are much more revealing of its inner logic than anything in the "rational" middle. The Holocaust and the Terror were inherent in the "cooky" discourse of Hitler and Stalin, dismissed by rational people as a poor joke until they became reality.

But what is the logic behind this particular prohibition? Why time travel? My guess - and I don't read Chinese, so it's just a guess - is that underlying it the fear of the contingency of history, of the "black swan" of a sudden revolution such as the ones that shake the Arab world right now. If so, it is the worst strategy imaginable. If China wants to survive as a great power, it should do just the opposite: encourage Chinese SF to write its own alternative narrative of the future. The students I met in China were definitely very interested in fantastic literature and cinema. Let's hope they can prevail.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

genocide sweepstakes

In Hong Kong airport, I bought a great new book by Frank Dikkoter, "Mao's Great Famine". 45 million people died in China between 1958 and 1962. This leaves Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler in the dust in the genocide sweepstakes.

When I lectured in Chongqing, mainland China, I got an honorarium in yuan (HK has its own currency, HK dollar). Each 100-yuan bill is decorated with a picture of Mao.

China today is neither the killing fields of the Great leap Forward nor the feckless disintegrating USSR of the perestroika. It is an amazingly dynamic, prosperous and interesting society. Chongqing, almost unknown in the West, has the population of 30 millions and better public architecture than NYC. Its people are kind, optimistic and vibrant.

I do not believe that China has to accept the Western model of "democracy" (meaning the tyranny of the majority) in order to prosper. I have no sympathy for the religious insurrectionism of Tibet, the Muslim Uigurs, or the sectarian Falun Gong. China has to stay unified; its disintegration would be a disaster for humanity.

But I believe that China has to come to terms with its past. Otherwise the unacknowledged trauma of auto-genocide will fester until it eats the culture from within. It has happened to Russia whose past greatness is gone - if not forever, for a long time.

But the airport in Hong Kong is a cause for optimism. Hong Kong is officially part of China - and yet it has free press, free civic culture, and as its airport book selection demonstrates, could not care less for the mainland's censorship. When I am able to buy Dikkoter's book in Chongqing airport, I will know that Mao has lost. And then I don't even care if they keep his chubby face on their currency. The genocide sweepstakes of the twentieth century will truly be over.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maya Kaganskaya

As many of you know, my beloved mother Maya Kaganskaya passed away on Saturday, April 16. Her untimely death is a heavy loss to our family, to her many friends and admirers, and to the world of Israeli letters. In profound gratitude to all those who have helped her in the last difficult days of her illness, I want to say some words, inadequate as they may be.

My mother was a true intellectual who faced life and death with the indomitable courage of clear thought. She fought the evil empire of the USSR and she fought for her beliefs in her adopted country of Israel. Her words were her weapons and she proved daily that the pen is mightier than the sword and that lies, obfuscations and repression will not withstand the light of reason and truth. She loved words and they requited her love by giving her the power to move hearts and minds.

She was the best mother a daughter could wish for; the best mentor an intellectual could desire. She never succumbed to the false consolations of religion and ideology but stood up to powers-that-be and spoke the truth as she knew it. She was an example of integrity not only to her family and friends but also to her many readers. She is gone but her voice still speaks to us through her writing, urging us “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

We mourn her passing and remember her as she was: a writer, a charismatic speaker, an officer’s daughter, and a loving mother and grandmother. The world will never be the same without her.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hong Kong and Jerusalem

Hong Kong is an amazing city. What's most amazing about it is the fact that it seems immune to the political earthquakes that convulse America and the Middle East. No Tea Part here and no jihadists. When people ask me why I like China, my answer is: because it is the only truly secular civilization in the world. Europe's secularism is the result of exhaustion. China's is inborn. The Chinese have superstitions, gods, and demons. But it is a people living in this world, committed to its pleasures and pains, rather than seeking an otherworldly justification. If the future belongs to China, as they say, then it'll be a civilized future. Otherwise history will be once again the arena of religious wars between radical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity (our own ultra-Orthodox fortunately have no power to inflict permanent damage on anybody except ourselves). Humanity has tried for two thousand years to build a Heavenly City and has built various kinds of hell instead. The time has come for earthly cities. and you could do much worse than Hong Kong.