John Derbyshire On China, America, and the Chinese in America
[This is the text of a talk I gave to the American Renaissance conference on April 26th, 2014. The talk was organized around PowerPoint slides, links to which are scattered through the text. As is always the case, the delivered talk differed somewhat from the text here. AmRen will be posting the talk on on their YouTube Channel: subscribe here. Previous talks are available for purchase here.—JD]
Jared has asked me to speak today about China, a subject in which I have some small expertise. To keep my talk on-topic for American Renaissance, I’ve titled it “China, America, and the Chinese in America.”
So this talk is a three-parter. Here’s Part One: China.
China is a big country in the Far East—who knew?—currently trading under the name People’s Republic of China. If you look at the statistics, the interesting thing is that China and the U.S.A. are almost precisely the same size, 3.7 million vs. 3.8 million square miles. China is of course much more populous: 1,356 million people v. 319 million.
Other stats, those for China given first: GDP $13.4 trillion. v. $16.7 trillion., GDP per capita $9,800 v. $52,800, total fertility rate 1.55 per woman v. 2.01, mean IQ 105 v. 98. The numerically dominant ethny in China is Han Chinese, 92 percent.
This is American Renaissance, though, and what we talk about is race and ethnicity, so let’s look at a different map. I’ve taken this one from Hermann’s Historical Atlas of China, a classic of historical cartography, first published in 1935 but updated many times since.
This map shows the base populations in various regions by ethnicity. The big pale yellow area at the left is Tibetans; the pink and purplish area above is Central Asian peoples, mostly Turkic; the strip of beige coloring across upper center is Mongolians; most of the rest, the darker yellow coloring, is Han Chinese.
You can see that less than half the territory of the People’s Republic is Chinese in base ethnicity. One-quarter is Tibetan; one-sixth Turkic; one-tenth Mongolian. Metropolitan China, the part of the People’s Republic that is Han Chinese in base ethny, is basically China of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) plus Manchuria.
There has of course been much settlement in these non-Chinese areas in recent decades. Mongolians are now actually outnumbered in Inner Mongolia (that beige strip in the first map). The base populations still push back against Chinese occupation, though. Even in Inner Mongolia there are occasional ethnic riots. [China’s Inner Mongolia ‘under heavy security’, BBC, May 30, 2011]
These non-Chinese populations, although they occupy big areas, are numerically small. Ignoring Chinese settlers, the density of Tibetans in the Tibetan region is about eight per square mile, which is very low, equivalent to Australia or Iceland. The U.S.A. population density, for comparison, is 83. The Uighurs, etc. in East Turkestan are about 20 per square mile, the Mongolians in Inner Mongolia about 12.
The density of Chinese in metropolitan China, by contrast, is 660 people per square mile, the same density as Britain but of course in an area twenty times bigger. That’s a sensational number for such a big region, some of which is desert, mountain, or forest.
The Han Chinese are autochthonous. They have always been in China, at any rate North China. “Always” of course means “since the great out-of-Africa dispersals of 50 to 30 thousand years ago.”
Genetically the Han are a mix of ancient Northeast Asian and Southeast Asian stocks, in proportions 72:28. Much of that mix happened in historic times. North China was the arena for power struggles to control the empire. When the Empire was weak it was also subject to invasion from further north and west. These episodes sent floods of refugees to the South, where they mixed with local populations.
Cavalli-Sforza et al., in The History and Geography of Human Genes, give a finer cut than my PowerPoint slide, which I took from National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 project. They emphasize the genetic distance between North and South Chinese:
North China and South China belong to different major clusters, thus confirming the suspicion that, despite millennia of common history and many migrations, a profound initial genetic difference between these two regions has been in part maintained.
The authors subdivide the North Chinese into North and East Central groups, the South Chinese into South Central and Southeast groups. They buttress their findings with an analysis of Chinese surnames that shows good agreement with the genetic groupings.
The characteristic feature of Chinese history has been what the discredited Marxist paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, in a different context, called “punctuated equilibrium”: spells of unchanging stability interspersed with periods of great disorder—the “dynastic cycle.”
The core Han ethny and its culture always remained intact, but there was essentially no constitutional progress, as the historian Demetrius Boulger observed very pithily in 1881:
It is the peculiar and distinguishing feature of Chinese history that the people and their institutions have remained practically unchanged and the same from a very early period … All is now as it was.[History of China, Chapter 7]
A more recent historian, S.A.M. Adshead, has described this as “the triumph of state over society.” [China in World History ]
Schools in Britain used to teach, and perhaps still do, a subject called “British Constitution.” In the late 1950s the standard textbook was by a scholar named Taswell-Langmead, confusingly titled English Constitutional History. It took the student through all the developments, from the tribal councils of the old Teutons, through Magna Carta, Parliament, Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the Glorious Revolution, political parties… all the way to universal suffrage and the modern cabinet system.
For a 15-year-old schoolboy Taswell-Langmead was a formidable book: over 800 pages of small print.
A book titled Chinese Constitutional History would be much slimmer. You could not possibly fill 800 pages on that subject. I don’t see how you could fill eight.
As a land empire, the Chinese system of course included some border peoples of non-Han ethnicity. Some of these persons played significant roles in Chinese history. Here is just one: An Lushan, a Chinese general of Sogdian origin. (The Sogdians were a Central Asian people speaking an Indo-European language. Alexander the Great married one.) An Lushan ignited a terrible civil war that broke the back of the glorious Tang dynasty in the middle of the eighth century.
The great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, in his typology of the major races, listed East Asians as “severe, haughty, desirous [by which he meant acquisitive]” and “ruled by opinion.” That kind of classification is of course deeply deplored nowadays, but Linnaeus, in that last point, was on to something.
A good way to study national character is through the nation’s proverbs and idioms. Chinese is very rich in expressions urging conformity: “The leading bird is the first to be shot,” and so on.
We nowadays know that natural selection has been operating across historical time, so there are speculations as to the evolutionary origins of the Chinese national character. One of the best of such recent speculations is by Ron Unz:
In an interview a few years ago, [Chinese geneticist Bruce Lahn] casually mentioned his speculation that the socially conformist tendencies of most Chinese people might be due to the fact that for the past 2,000 years the Chinese government had regularly eliminated its more rebellious subjects, a suggestion that would surely be regarded as totally obvious and innocuous everywhere in the world except in the West of the past half century or so.
[How Social Darwinism Made Modern China by Ron Unz, The American Conservative, March 11, 2013
America and China compared and contrasted
Now, America, formally the United States of America, a big country in the Western hemisphere, familiar enough to us here to need no detailed description. I’ll just go over a few of the facts relating to ethnicity and race.
The numerically dominant ethny is non-Hispanic whites at 66 percent. This is a decline since 1950, when the census showed us as 90 percent white, ten percent black, and other races and ethnies at trace-element levels. Note that this is basically the result of deliberate public policy: the 1965 Immigration Act and the subsequent abandonment of enforcement of laws against illegal immigration.
On the other hand, taking the territory that today forms the 48 contiguous states: At the time of the founding, the population of that territory was only 62 percent white, with 22 percent Indian and 16 percent black. Subsequent immigration made us whiter, but we are now headed back again towards eventual minority status.
The progress of that reversal is well-known. The post-WW2 cultural revolution spread cosmopolitanism, moral universalismb and expressive individualism from WASP and Jewish elites to the general population, culminating in the 1965 Immigration Act and today’s cult of “diversity.”
Indeed, it is easy to forget that few of the world’s dominant ethnic groups, if any, have yielded to pressure from contending subaltern ethnies. Less than 10 percent of the world’s states are ethnically homogeneous, and in a third of states, the majority group constitutes less than half the population. However, dominant ethnic groups like the Romanians of Romania or the Persians of Iran generally do not feel compelled by political and economic rationality to recognize minority group desires … Instead, nation-building, assimilation, or ethnic hegemony has been the typical response, as it has been throughout most of American history.
[The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America by Eric P. Kaufmann (2004).]
Like Britain, and unlike China or indeed most other countries—France, for example—the U.S.A. has undergone constitutional evolution across its history, treasuring the forms, words, and principles of our original Constitution while adapting the details to changing times.
The Chinese in America
Now, the Chinese in America. This final section comes with some editorial matter up front. My point of view here is one I call “salt in the stew” multiculturalism. I take for granted that:
- A stable nation with a healthy culture needs a single ethny in confident, unapologetic, supermajority (90-95 percent).
- Small minority populations add “flavor” (interest, instruction, entertainment, genetic variation).
- The supermajority is maintained by strict controls on settlement and a strong assimilationist ethic.
This is the outlook expressed in the 1924 Immigration Act’s National Origins quotas. It is close to the outlook of present-day Japan, except that the Japanese do not want foreigners to assimilate.
In regard to the first of those bullet points, note that the Han people of China, at 92 percent, are within the supermajority range. The whites of 1950 America were at the lower boundary of it.
That said, let’s look at the history of Chinese people in the U.S.A.
The nineteenth century saw inflows from coastal regions of South and East China. This was not the “model minority” of our own times. The incomers were mostly low-class males seeking work as laborers or miners.
The 1882 Act was aimed at laborers taking the jobs of American workers. Plenty of Chinese were not excluded by this legislation, especially those who had connections with Christian missionary activity in China.
One interesting aspect of this pre-1965 era of Chinese immigration was that one single county predominated. This was Taishan County in Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong. In 1970, more than 60 percent of Chinese in the U.S.A. had origins in this one county.
During WW2 the U.S.A. was allied with China against Japan and the Exclusion Act became an embarrassment. It was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act, with further relaxation under the 1946 Chinese War Brides Act. The 1965 Immigration Act placed China in the same status as other Eastern Hemisphere nations.
This didn’t at first do the mainland Chinese much good, as emigration was very difficult under the Mao Tse-tung dictatorship. The numbers only turned up in a major way following the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1979. The doubling of Chinese numbers in the 1980s had a big mainland component. There are now close to four million people of Chinese ethny in the U.S.A.
One side effect of the mainland inflow was the Night School Wars of the late 1990s. Chinese immigrants, like others, had been sending their children to evening classes in Chinese culture, usually at local high schools. Prior to mainlanders coming in, these classes were run by Chinese from Taiwan and Hong Kong, where the characters of written Chinese have their traditional forms and pronunciation is taught using a Japanese-style alphabet developed in the 1910s.
The Chinese Communists simplified the characters to aid the spread of literacy. The noun “hall,” for example, went from ? to ?; from 25 brush or pen strokes to four. The Communists also switched to a Latin-alphabet transcription for teaching pronunciation.
Mainlanders wanted their kids to use these newer forms. There were conflicts, leading in some places to the establishment of separate schools for mainlanders and others. Mainlanders quipped that there ought to be an offshore island for the traditionalists to retreat to …
The high mean IQ of Chinese immigrants, and their culture’s ancient enthusiasm for book learning, caused distortions in American higher education. Most universities established quotas for East Asian undergraduate numbers, the Ivy League colleges holding them below twenty percent even as actual numbers of college-age East Asians doubled from 1990 on. The universities of course lie about doing this.
In China itself, the fever to get one’s child into an elite American university was typified by the book Harvard Girl Liu Yiting, which was a major bestseller in China in the early 2000s. It described how a Chinese couple had raised their daughter from birth with the aim of being accepted to Harvard. (She was.)
The book ignited a genre of similar titles: Princeton Boy, How We Got Our Child Into Yale, and so on. To the credit of the Chinese, it also brought forth a counter-genre, of which my favorite was titled I’m Mediocre and I’m OK. The pushback can be seen in the reader reviews at the Amazon-style bookseller website, with more negative than positive reviews.
With China’s rise as a military and industrial power, espionage has become an issue. The Wen Ho Lee case of the late 1990s is only the best-known; there have been many others. The first happened right after the Communist takeover in 1949: rocket scientist Tsien Hsue-shen was placed under house arrest in 1950. On his release five years later he went to China and founded the nation’s ballistic missile program.
In recent years the Chinese government seems to have concentrated its efforts on cyber-espionage, although in-country operations, both military and industrial, undoubtedly continue.
Another issue related to the Chinese in America is what might be called “politics with Chinese characteristics.” There are of course honest Chinese-American politicians and crooked white, black, and Hispanic ones; but China’s political tradition has been more tolerant of corruption than the Anglo-Saxon norm, as the prominence of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the Clinton-era funding scandals illustrates. Just this month we have seen the case of California State Senator Leland Yee, now under indictment for racketeering.
A lesser issue arising from the Chinese presence in America, of curiosity value rather than any possible social harm: niche Sinicization. I always smile to see pictures of the U.S. team at the annual International Math Olympiad. Five of the seven team members in 2012 bore Chinese names. That’s 71 percent. With Chinese at 1.2 percent of the U.S. population, there is over-representation of sixty times.
I’m not aware of any significant anti-Chinese hostility in the present-day U.S.A., and with sensible immigration policies to keep numbers low, I think prospects for assimilation would be excellent.
However, sensible immigration policy seems to be something we have forgotten how to do. As a caution against proceeding in our present reckless path, I’ll just note one peculiarity of American thinking about racial frictions.
Because of our nation’s history, and much assisted by more than half a century of relentless anti-white propaganda, the common assumption is that the arrow of racial hostility points from a more capable, more socially successful race to one less capable and less successful.
In fact this is hardly ever the case. Taking humanity at large, the usual attitude of more capable races to those less capable is somewhere on a line from pity to contempt, depending on the behavior of the less capable. The arrow of real hostility points upwards, to the more successful. Historical examples are easy to find.
Representatives from the far West were concerned about the competence and competitive threat presented by Japanese immigrants, and their rhetoric suggests they viewed the Japanese as racially equal or superior …
Finally, some book recommendations. I have been the China books guy for literary editors at magazines and newspapers since the early 1980s. I get ’em all. Not only have I read a million China books, I’ve gotten paid for reading them! (Most recently, just last week.)
Here are four that made a particular impression on me recently.
- Jonathan Fenby’s Tiger Head, Snake Tails: China Today, How It Got There, and Where It Is Heading (2013) is a good up-to-date survey of Chinese society and culture. Fenby has also written a biography of Chiang Kai-shek, reviewed by me here.
- The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Australian journalist Richard McGregor, gives a very good explanation of China’s political system at all levels.
- Pierre Ryckmans, better known by his pen-name “Simon Leys,” blew the lid off China’s “Cultural Revolution” in the 1970s with his scathing book Chinese Shadows. His 2013 collection The Hall of Uselessness contains some essays with exceptionally deep insight into Chinese civilization and culture, along with others on French literature and other topics.
- For the Chinese-American experience, try Chinese Girl in the Ghetto by Ying Ma, 2011. The authoress moved from middle-class urban China to the Oakland, Ca. ghetto at age 10. She gives a frank account of her experiences.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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