New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 191

new internationalist
issue 191 - January 1989

Letters

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

The empire's new clothes
Cover of the NI Issue 190 I read with interest and some misgivings your Soviet Union issue (Moscow Circus NI 190). You are too enthusiastic about Gorbachev and his reforms for my tastes. The reform program has not even raised the subject of the ultimate right of the party to control society. How is it possible to imagine that socialism (control by the workers) is compatible with the monolithic rule of the Soviet Communist Party? The same system of privileges survives almost untouched. For example Gorbachev, for all his reforming zeal, is currently having his own multi-million rouble country estate built in the Crimean sunshine. In short, new clothes but the same old bureaucrats.

The issue lacked the clearheaded analysis that I have come to expect from NI. It is simply not on to believe that those at the top will willingly give up power for the overall health of society. I wouldn't expect this to happen in a capitalist country so why expect anything different from the USSR? Your articles on women and workers make fascinating reading but provide us with little hope that a movement for change is likely to come from these quarters. I see no reason to be optimistic about the prospects for Soviet democracy.

Joan Cartwright
Vancouver, BC

Subhuman sin
I have not seen the film The Last Temptation of Christ (Reviews, NI 189) and my comments therefore rely on your excellent review article. The main theme of the film seems to be that since Christ was meant to be truly human, it is not unreasonable to portray him as subject to the same faults that bedevil all our lives. The main flaw in this argument is that though Christ was fully human he was also fully God and therefore did not sin. This apparent contradiction is only resolved when we realize that man in his (sic) present state is sub-human - i.e. less than God intended and created. The emphasis of the New Testament is that Christ resisted the temptations thrown at him and it was this that qualified him for dying on the cross.

Tim Ensor
York, UK

Debt dismay
I welcome NI tackling the difficult but vitally important issue of Debt (Dicing with Debt NI 189). However your emphasis in most of the articles is on the middle-income countries and bank debt. The poorest countries - especially in Africa - also have a devastating debt problem which, though small by international standards and offering no threat to the West's financial systems, nevertheless represents a crushing burden for the peoples of these countries.

Although overlooked by your 'Action Directory', the World Development Movement is running a major campaign on official debt and the World Bank and IMF 'adjustment' policies. We can provide campaigning materials for NI readers around the world wanting to take action. Our base is: Bedford Chambers, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8HA.

Shelagh Diplock
(Chair of Campaigns)
World Development Movement,
London, UK

Born targets
The Humane Society of the United States has reported that two toy gun manufacturers - Ray Plastics and LNJ Toys, makers of the new Gotcha enforcer gun - test their products by firing shots into the eyes of rabbits at distances of five feet, three feet, six inches, three inches and half an inch. The manufacturers defend the practice saying that the rabbits are anesthetized for the shootings and that 'they are raised specifically for this purpose'. If you are as outraged as I am, write to Jack Friedman, President LNJ Toys, 1107 Broadway, New York, NY 10010, and to Raymond Leclerc, President, Ray Plastics Inc, Mill Circle Road, Winchendon Springs, MA 01477.

Sarah Kiddington
California, US

Poor question
The theme of The Politics of Greed issue (NI 188) was the greed/envy of the 'have nots' for the salary, property, and education of the 'haves'. As the issue pointed out, many of the 'have nots' are unemployed. What it did not say was the frequency with which they have chosen that condition. Why should these people expect to be supported by those who have chosen employment?

AW Cronshaw
Hampshire, UK

Division decision
I am sure that your decision to fragment your coverage of the New Right's impact along geographical lines in The Politics of Greed (NI 188) wasn't taken lightly. However in doing so you deprived us of detailed insights into the conditions of life in other parts of the world, and played into the hands of the New Right with its 'divide and conquer' tactics.

Stefek Zabo
Bristol, UK

Waving hopefully
There was an expression of bemusement and depression in The Politics of Greed (NI 188) concerning the advance of the New Right. The depression is understandable. Sadly the Right has hijacked the moral high ground by diverting attention away from social justice and focusing on issues like homosexuality, abortion and promiscuity. However there is still room for hope. Although the capitalist waves of greed are growing higher there is a strong undercurrent too - a green alliance of individuals and organizations with varying commitments to social justice.

Mike Thomas
Wiltshire, UK

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Left disappointed
Your Politics of Greed issue (NI 188) is sickeningly liberal and middle class. The values and assumptions implied in the quiz 'How right wing have you become?' are best described by the term 'cultural imperialism'. Many of us aren't in any position to consider buying a house or car, let alone shares. Similarly the group of four articles advancing the route to an ideal society, amount to nothing less than 'kind capitalism' - a popular fantasy amongst the socially aware middle class, and a contradiction in terms. Capitalism is a system of producing profit and gain for a few at the expense of others.

Francesca B
Warwickshire, UK

Hard lesson
Thank you for the Personal Violence issue (NI 187). I spent 16 years married to a violent alcoholic. Although I had four young children, I was unable to leave because I had nowhere to go. All things in balance I still can't see what else I could have done. People think that women are only beaten in poor working-class homes, but we were quite well off which is why I came to the decision that it was better for me and my children to stay with my husband. All things considered I would not make the same decision again.

Sarah Miles
Worcester, UK

Sharpen up
I was surprised to see that you used the colonial mis-spelling 'Mururoa' instead of 'Moruroa' to name the Polynesian atoll devastated by French nuclear testing (Facts NI 186). To anyone interested in knowing more about, this region, I strongly recommend the book Poisoned Reign by Bengt and Marie-Therese Danielsson (published by Penguin).

Moyra Killip
Christchurch, Aotearoa

Discriminating science
Research by neuro-psychologist Dr Dianne McGuiness of Stanford University in the US refutes many feminist theories. Monitoring motor activity in newborn babies, Dr McGuiness found boys to be significantly more active, spending less time asleep and performing more facial grimaces than girls. She also discovered that boys responded to 'mathematical' stimuli such as flashing lights and geometrical shapes, whilst girls reacted more to social stimuli like faces and voices.

These differences exist from birth and cannot be attributed to socially conditioned roles or the expectations of 'sexist' parents. I suggest that a lot of so-called 'equal opportunity' is based on political myth - ignoring our in-built sex differences. A woman's place is in the home - not only is this common sense, it is also backed by scientific evidence. (I'm glad my mother believed it anyway.)

Arnold Jago
Fitzroy, Australia

Nameless frustration
I sympathize with Sue Robson's Chinese women friends who are angry at the way names inscribe their inferiority to men (NI 185). I find it insulting to be addressed as Mrs D Patterson (D being my husband's initial). Where am I in this name? And I see no point in reverting to my maiden name since that belonged to my father. I rejoice in the ambiguity of being called 'Chris'. But this brings its own problems - like mail addressed to 'Mr Chris Patterson'.

Chris Patterson
Exeter, UK

Graphic illustration
Although I partly agree with Jacqueline Prelimo that photographs represent an attempt to possess the moment by turning it into something tangible (Letters NI 185), I have some reservations. A recent visit to Bangladesh and India gave me photos which have educated others about cultures they are not fortunate enough to have experienced. I did not 'acquire' people or their lives through these prints. They simply gave me the means to share some sad, courageous and beautiful things.

Rosalyn Fuller
Fitzroy, Australia

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from China
 

[image, unknown] What's in a name?
Sue Robson gets a grip on Chinese handles.

Teacher Li, Little Brother Wang, or Great-grandmother Hou are all entitled to their titles. Indeed titles are everywhere in China today, with little trace of the fact that the Cultural Revolution sought to banish such indicators of rank and position. Nowadays you are careful to address Interpreter Ni, Professor Chen and Party Secretary Yang by their handle as well as their name - and can cause serious insult by forgetting to do so or by introducing them to each other in the wrong order.

Our own Western family titles - 'sister', 'aunt' ,'grandfather' - are quite inadequate in Chinese. They omit vital information: younger or older sister? Grandson or 'outside grandson' i.e. one born to a daughter now married and by definition a part of her new family? Aunt on whose side of the family? In a society of close family bonds, a mother's younger sister is quite a different thing from a father's older sister.

Then there is the problem of addressing acquaintances and strangers. A toddler I know refers to me as 'English aunt' - even if he does mix it up and call my male friend 'foreign aunt' too. You address older men respectfully as 'grandfather' or call a younger girl friend 'little sister'. There are regional differences too. 'Comrade' is still widely used, but people from Western China often say 'friend' and Westernised southerners may use 'miss' or 'waitress' and in this city we say 'teacher'. To the man who calls: 'Buy apples, teacher!' I've only just got used to responding: 'Two pounds please, teacher'.

The use of titles encourages you to see individuals as set firmly into their social slots. And people have a fine sense of who to butter up and who to ignore. They know exactly who can help you buy a train ticket, who can iron away which problem. As in Confucius' system, everyone has their place. Senior professors atour university for example, may earn less than the staff at the nearby Westemised hotel and considerably less than the street corner cobblers or entrepreneur peasants, but they get massive banquets and use of the university's chauffeur-driven cars.

Indeed definitions of status are so precise they are even numbered. Ateacheris status level 21, Chairman Mao was level three. Only at level 14 and above can you buy a soft sleeper train ticket.

To a Westerner, the closely-knit quality of Chinese life is hard to comprehend. If my colleagues in England have a low opinion of me, I can take anotherjob. At any rate, home offers some respite. Not so in China. Work units allocate accommodation, so your dorm mates are likely to be the people you work with all day. Geographical mobility is rare and job mobility rarer. Society cushions you, defines you, but will never erase a bad opinion of a single youthful mistake.

A friend of mine was unhappy at university some years ago, and may - or may not - have committed a minor sexual indiscretion. After graduation she was assigned a job in her home town. The man in question followed her, denounced her, and wrote letters to everyone in power. Now she wants to move to another town to work, but her employers won't let her - they simply refuse to hand over her records. The minor mistake she may not even have made - for society's judgement, not actual guilt, is what counts - is likely to dog her forever.

But like many Chinese people my friend would be terrified to live abroad. Her view of the West is that society's bonds are too loose there. Look, for instance at all the lonely old people whose families do not care for them. Western society seems cold and people seem to care only for money. Friends passing in the street may simply fling a quick 'hallo' at each other. While Western commuters hoist newspapers in front of faces and shut out the rest of society, Chinese people will use a train journey to chat and offer snacks to each other.

Sue Robson is a teacher of English at a small-town university in the Yangste River Valley.

 
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