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new internationalist
issue 183 - May 1988


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
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Tunnel vision
Cover of the NI Issue 182 Your claim that modern scientific method 'can be said to be fascist' and that it encourages people to have tunnel vision', is itself myopic (Keynote NI 182).

Who cares what methods scientists use or what goes on in their minds? As long as we live in a society that puts profit above people we will never have a science that does us any good.

No amount of 'feminising' science or caring about the environment is going to break the power of multinational corporations, or the states that serve them.

It's a pity that in an issue of the magazine that was so provocative in some respects you failed to adequately focus attention on this central issue. By pillorying modern scientific method you let capitalism off the hook and end up with a wishy-washy, green, feminist solution which is no solution at all.

John McCord
Manchester, UK

Happy housewife
I read the March issue (NI 181) with interest and astonishment. I know many women feel trapped by housework and resent being labelled as housewife', but do labels matter? Are we not first of all individuals with unique personalities and some choices?

There is much that is positive and satisfying in being a housewife and there is a lot of freedom: I choose how much time I spend on housework, which is probably no more than 17 hours per week on routine things. And I make my own decisions about what chores to do and when to do them. Of course I get depressed and frustrated sometimes, and for long periods. But so I suspect do most people.

It's a pity that there was little mention of this positive aspect of a'housewife's life'. It might have helped some housewives recognise their freedom and use its potential creatively, instead of which they are probably more discontented and rebellious than before.

Triny Thelwall
Northampton, UK

Free yourselves
Debbie Taylor argues that women are imprisoned. and that men must help set them free (NI 181). But women will never be anything but men's appendages so long as we continue to expect men to give us liberty or anything else. We must give ourselves what we want Why expect men to do something for us which would take away their comfortable dominant status?

Janet Swift (housewife)
Chippenham, UK

Sex appeal
Has John Pyl (Letters NI 180) got any facts to substantiate his claim that some feminists hanker after'more traditionally masculine men' (whatever that means)? If some women do, it's probably because their gender roles and subsequent place in society make them feel they ought to be dominated. But most feminists who have 'unpacked' their gender, know differently.

Until society explodes the myth that women like being dominated by men (and that includes trying to live up to the masculine image of the ideal woman) nothing sadly, will ever change. Incidentally, if your woman has lost interest in sex, Mr Pyl, I suggest you look to your own techniques.

J P Bestwick
Cornwall, UK

Revolutionary gains
Your Housework edition (NI 181) provided startling evidence of the oppression of women in the home.

I was amazed therefore that there was no mention of the enormous gains for women in the early years of the Russian Revolution: communal nurseries, easy divorce, implementation of full civil rights and so on. Perhaps the NI associates socialism with Stalinism - no they are not the same thing - and cannot bring itself to acknowledge this?

D M Collett
Birmingham, UK

Editor: It's true that child-care facilities are very cheap in the Soviet Union. But Soviet men - like men everywhere still expect their wives to do all the housework, despite the fact that the vast majority of Soviet women are in full-time employment.

Double standard
For 15 years, NI has completely ignored the repression of lesbians and gays in the Third World, despite writing repeatedly about the plight of women. Finally, an article on issues of masculinity and femininity appears (NI 175), and four months later you print no fewer than five letters of a fanatical Christian nature denouncing gay people, compared to only one which was mildly positive (NI 179).

A double standard exists. You are prepared to publish essentially fascist views on sexuality from people who find gays 'abhorrent', 'perverted' and 'not normal', but never (quite rightly) fascist views on race, for example, such as letters about inferior 'niggers'. Surely you must know that homophobia is as distressing to lesbians and gays as racism is to black people?

Mark Lilly
University of London, UK

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Cow freaks
I was appalled at the Update on mini-cows' (NI 180). Have scientists nothing better to do than develop such freaks? Don't they know that the ideal 'mini-cow' already exists? Living on rubbish, producing more nutritious milk than a cow, and less susceptible to disease, this 'mini-cow' inhabits many Third World countries. It's called the goat.

Jacqueline Nebel
Brussels, Belgium

In response to Joyce Nelson's article about television (NI 180):

Firstly, recent research on viewing suggests that tuning in does not mean 'switching off', either bits of the brain or other activities. Secondly, she confuses television itself with what people do with it. Her attack on TV is really an attack on certain groups of users.

Finally, as one of the educators Joyce seems to hold great stock by, I am concerned about TV, but I do not hold her elitist views nor her wish to wean children off it. My concern is that we do not do enough to educate children to enjoy TV and become critical, media-literate citizens.

Martin Garwood
Kent, UK

Cowardly editors
Much enjoy your mag. But fail to understand Training Thatcher Youth (NI 179). The Gothic type and phrases like 'Thatcher Youth', Fatherland' etc, hint that the current crop of Tories are actually National Socialists, along the lines of the German political movement led by Adolf Hitler in the first half of this century. But you do not actually come out and say this. If you believe the Tories are Nazis, I think you should print it boldly, and then others may feel free to agree or disagree. But this sort of innuendo is intrinsically cowardly.

If you are suggesting that the Tories are Nazis, I think you do the forces of good a grave disservice. This is exactly the sort of panicky rhetoric favoured by parties of the Right. Ken Livingstone is a Bolshevik! Derek Hatton a terrorist! Arthur Scargill a Soviet agent! As George Orwell pointed out, this sort of careless thinking is essentially repressive, and does the enemy's work for him (sic).

Will Parente
Gloucestershire, UK

Left out
I notice in your article about Fiji (NI 179), that you do not refer to the Fijians once. We are Melanesian by race but the indigenous people of Fiji are called 'Fijians'. I also notice you refer to Indo-Fijians as if they belonged to Fiji. Your articles were biased to the point of being racist.

Lusi Cole ('a Fijian')
Midlands, Zimbabwe

Bubble burst
In response to the Update in NI 180 on the production of mercuric iodide soap in Eire (exported to Africa for lightening black skin, despite being physically harmful), we enclose the Managing Director's address of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), which is the semi-State body responsible for facilitating W & E Products (manufacturers of mercuric iodide soap) to set up production in Eire.

As you already know, the IDA have also given funding to this company. We hope that those opposed to the manufacture and sale of mercuric iodide soap will write to Mr Whyte to express their feelings on this issue. His address is:
Mr Padraig Whyte, Managing Director, Industrial Development Authority, Head Office, Wilton Park House, Wilton Place, Dublin 2, Fire.

DU Greens Collective
Dublin, Eire

Read me
Literacy rates amongst adults in industrialized countries are much lower than the 98 per cent suggested in your Education issue (NI 180). Some studies in the UK and US indicate only 75 per cent of adults possess functional literacy - which reinforces your general thesis that our education system is less than wonderful.

Hugh Kerr
Clwyd, UK

Clear compliment
Congratulations to NI for another year of fine quality journalism. I'm often horrified to read the petty criticism from other readers. This nit-picking seems to me an attempt to convert an azure blue clarity into a dull grey haze.

Steve Tonks
Amsterdam, Netherlands

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

Letter from China

[image, unknown] World of images
Sue Robson describes the allegorical
landscape which is everyday China.

China sometimes feels like a world constantly describing itself in the language of colours, scents and legend; where each vivid figure of speech creates brighter associations around mundane acts or objects. The old Dowager Empress Ci Xi rebuilt the splendid Summer Palace repeatedly sacked by Western imperialist powers, and constructed an elaborate poetic world around herself. She could pass, for instance, from the Hall of Happiness and Longevity to the Hall of Benevolence and by continuing along the lake filled with pink-flowering lotus would come to the Pavilion for Perceiving the Spring. Or she might journey westwards through her palace, moving from Longevity Hall to the Hall That Dispels the Clouds, to rest finally in the Hall for Listening to Orioles (songbirds).

But one need not be rich, powerful and cruel in China to live in a world of beautiful images. At our first meeting, I asked my students to write a short self-introduction. But since I had no wish to read 80 versions of 'I was born in 1966...', I asked them to find images to help me see, hear and experience their world.

'I was born during the storm of the Cultural Revolution on a hot evening, and I came into the world like a wild horse,' one began, 'but now I have been tamed like a sleepish sheep.' 'When the peach blossom came to bloom, I was born,' added another. 'The meaning of my name is "the silence of the evening".' And: 'When the apples in my home town are ripening and the big red apples are picked, I went to university at the foot of the Fragrant Hills.' By contrast I feel much more detached from the natural world - and use far fewer images to describe it.

I found their names evocative too, for someone from a culture accustomed to re-using names like Susan, Catherine, Lynn or John, so old their origins had all but been forgotten. 'Zhou Wei Min means I should serve the people heart and soul. For in the Cultural Revolution that was the slogan.' Or 'I'm Liu Rui, meaning "the blossom of a flower in springtime".'

Although English appears to these students only as a series of letters on a page, their own written language is visually evocative through the series of ancient ideograms from which it comes. The word for 'mountain' has three upward peaks; 'water' is a stream of wavy lines; 'fire' shows leaping flames. These basic ideograms appear as the linguistic root to give a clue to the meaning of many related words: 'fry' has the fire root; 'towering, majestic,' the mountain sign; and 'beer' the water element by it. Seeing a part of the meaning of the written word you may not completely understand makes the physical world much more present than with our Western alphabetical system.

Words in Chinese are created by blending current words: 'self-go vehicle' for bicycle; 'air (or gas) vehicle' for car, 'electric language' for phone. And so a student I met from Zaire who studied medicine in China had little difficulty learning Chinese - after all, he already spoke three African languages plus English, French, Italian, German and some Russian. Compared to Western medical terms, he said, Chinese names were self-explanatory: 'blood-sugar disease' for diabetes, 'change liver disease' for cirrhosis, and so on.

At times the country's vivid world of words and images makes me feel as though I was travelling through an allegorical landscape. Turning right out of Beijing railway station, a huge red hoarding caught my eye. A friend translated. 'Go the way of the socialist road,' it instructed. 'Follow the Party's leadership and that of the dictatorship of the proletariat; and finally continue down the path of Mao Zedong thought.' We shall see.

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

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New Internationalist issue 183 magazine cover This article is from the May 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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