new internationalist
issue 185 - July 1988


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Cover of the NI Issue 184 I was disappointed with your June issue (NI 184). By lumping a whole range of different tree-types together you once again resorted to gross over-simplifications in order to make a political point. Trees are not all the same. The problems caused by deforestation in tropical countries bear no comparison to the very minimal environmental effects of forestry in Europe. Moreover the argument that we use trees to satisfy wants instead of needs is dubious. How do you define a need? Should I for example stop buying pencils? And what would you have me use instead? Plastic pens, I suppose. (Or haven't you heard about the environmental problems associated with plastic?) As for the suggestion that I should convert my dog to vegetarianism - I never heard anything so cruel in my life!

Maureen Conlin
Dubbo, Australia

Cheat charge
NI has engineered its own monster (albeit not genetically) in its Science issue (NI 182). Driven by a worthless method of enquiry, blinkered to alternatives, nurtured by unfeeling recluses who at best are cheats and at worst are phallo-imperialist megalomaniacs, this monster with the teeth of a wolf and the eyes of a tiger is a simple, convenient scapesheep on which to blame all our modern woes.

Hidden away in the issue are some very valid points. Science (or more correctly, technology - the way science is applied) is indeed 'only as good as the political and economic system in which it operates'; collective decisions need to be made on the ethical issues raised; and more people, especially women, need to take an active interest in science. Unfortunately your journal, which thanks to technology reaches thousands of readers throughout the world, presents precisely the kind of image of science that will continue to turn such people away from getting positively involved.

Mike Weale
Southampton, UK

Lamentable logic
In her article Do you believe in magic? (NI 182) Debbie Taylor claims that magic is more logical than modern medicine. But surely the whole basis of magic is that it cannot be explained by logic or reason? And her own logic in this article is lamentable. She derides scientific medicine and ignores the many benefits it has brought, drastically reducing morbidity and mortality worldwide. Vaccines against a wide variety of infectious diseases have been of major importance in saving young lives, as have other advances like antibiotics and oral rehydration therapy. She scoffs at 'placebos' and controlled studies in medicine, forgetting that they are the only consistent and unbiased way of objectively assessing various therapeutic procedures.

Constance Ross
Glasgow, UK

Clean break
Your issue on Housework (NI 181) missed an essential point. It is not housework as such which is the instrument of women's oppression, but having to carry out other people's housework, especially without compensation. Gandhi's perception of housework as an activity of equal importance to that of advising the British Governor (see Ben McNaughton's article), reflects my own realization that cleaning can be very therapeutic after a hard day's mental work. Recognizing this fact frees one to enjoy all forms of human activity equally, whether it be washing the kitchen floor or composing a letter to the NI.

Elsa Landers
Lima, Peru

Angry nanny
I read the Housework issue (NI 181) with great interest. As a nanny I make $800 per month and am considered well paid for what I do. Yet I work a laborious 10-hour day with an incredible amount of responsibility attached to it. Any man with such a job description would be paid much more than I. When will society begin to value our services?

Veerle Peters
Victoria BC, Canada

I found your issue on Education (NI 180) confusing. On the one hand you decry attempts at imposing Western educational values on Third World students. On the other, you condemn the lack of money being spent sending Third World students to Western-style schools. Which is it? Or do you believe that a bad education is better than none?

Bernie Koenig
Ontario, Canada

Fertile fury
How dare Stuart McKelvie and Gerry Chidiac (Letters NI 182), suggest that women should continue with unwanted pregnancies to produce babies for childless couples? They may couch their proposals in compassionate language but the implication is that women who do not want to be pregnant should be forced into surrogacy.

If you really want to improve the world, Gerry Chidiac, work towards improving it for everyone. Let's see fertility treatment freely available for all women regardless of race, age, marital status or sexual orientation. Put women's reproductive rights where they belong - in the hands of individual women. If McKelvie and Chidiac long to produce children for childless couples then I offer my support. As for myself - I am quite capable of making my own informed decisions. So get off my back!

Julie Lewis
Amsterdam, Holland

Cartoon: Cath Jackson
Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Forward look
I was surprised to find a letter in NI 181 claiming that no Jewish person could be called 'remotely "indigenous"' (to Palestine). I thought it was well known, and it is certainly well documented, that the Jews were the inhabitants of the land of Israel from at least 1200 BC until they were the victims first of Babylonian, then of Roman, imperialism.

Whilst I do not condone Jewish racism - of the Zionist or any other variety - it should at least be understood in its context 2,000 years of persecution and suffering, of which the Nazi 'final solution' was only the latest and most outstanding example. The Jewish people's patience, endurance, and final return to their land should be an inspiration to all tribal people now suffering and dispossessed by imperialism (as indeed it has been to the Rastafarians, for example).

Let us look forward to a just and peaceful settlement of the claims of all the indigenous people of Israel or Palestine - a settlement not to be achieved by closing one eye to this or that unwelcome fact.

David Martyn
London, UK

Punch Swinger
John McCord (Letters NI 183) swings a few punches at Greens and feminists whilst reminding us that our essential battle is to 'break the power of multinational corporations' and a 'society that puts profit before people'. I wouldn't argue with him about the need to overthrow capitalism but why does he have to slag off Greens and feminists? Any mass movement that is seriously going to challenge the power of capitalism will be heavily influenced by all the down-trodden, myself and himself included. We should be building barricades yes, but let's not forget the bridges.

Davie Twine
Bristol, UK.

Man talk
The term 'macho' which appears at least once in virtually every issue of the NI, is the Spanish (Castilian) word meaning 'male'. Your using it as a pejorative term to mean 'male sexist' or 'chauvinist' is an insult to my Latin friends and family, and to Spanish and Latin-American people generally. Please discontinue this racist usage.

John David Simnett
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Editor: Interesting point. But we have heard macho used in this sense in Spanish too. Guidance from Latin Americans please!

Fun seeker
Though I am greatly informed by your magazine, I have to admit it also brings me down. Surely it is possible to keep in touch with humour and look at the incredibly good things happening, without denying the problems that we all know exist?

Lark Bowman
New York, USA

Ozone burns
Chileans used to sunbathe quite frequently 20 years ago, but are now afraid to do so because of severe burns caused by the depletion of the ozone layer above the earth.

An official scientific investigation has apparently been carried out recently, but the results suppressed because they were too controversial. Can anyone shed light on this?

Dave Womersley
London, UK

Black editor
As a white woman I cannot imagine a feminist paper written largely by men, and I wonder therefore why there are no black editors on NI. I understand that one of the major aims of the magazine is to change our currently racist, imperialist society; aren't the people in the best position to do this those who have first hand knowledge of oppression?

Jane Thewlis
Halifax, UK

Editor: The point you make has always been a concern to us. Whenever we shortlist for a job we take affirmative action, which we believe is necessary to counter the effects of society's racism and sexism. But recently by far the best candidate at the end of the process has been white. We should mention, however, that we have had two black women editors in the past five years.

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

Letter from China

[image, unknown] Ms Colourful Clouds
What's in a name? we ask in English. Sue Robson discovers that, in China, names reflect changes in the political climate.

If you want to understand China's history, my students keep telling me, all you have to do is look around you - and listen. From the oldest grandmothers (their feet still tiny from binding in feudal China) to today's bright toddlers, almost every person in China bears a name evocative of the fears and longings of society at the time they were born.

So the names of my friends' grandfathers show the dreams of China's people in the years before Liberation: Get Rich, these old men are called, Have Luck, o Gain High Office. Babies born to intellectual families were sometimes given bookish names - adopted straight from literature, or having as an element 'book', 'ink' or 'poem'.

Some older names show an underlying sadness and hardship. Dog's Reject was a name supposed to turn devils away from a precious son - because after all, if not even a dog treasured the child, what devil would want him? A much-longed-for son might be given an ugly name - such as Er Tu, or Baldhead - simply to protect him. In those years of high infant mortality, parents often choose names which indicated that a child would be easy to bring up. And in families of nine or 10, parents gave younger children the hopeful name Jie - The End.

But among my students, now in their early twenties, names recall the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution. Red Guard, Defend the People, Protect Mao Zedong and May You Triumph Forever are the personal names of both men and women. Other students once had such names but have quietly changed them since. And when they choose they adopt names like Study Quickly, Fly Far and Wide and - my favourite - Colourful Clouds at Dusk.

The Chinese laugh at the idea that we in the West can have forgotten the meanings of our names: in China, everyone accepts that names have power. This is part of a culture in which the people - colloquially, the 'old hundred names' - assume language relates directly to the real world. It is in any case easier to believe this in a country where the written language is based on ideograms: words are pictures, and everyone can read a name's real meaning in the elements of a Chinese character. But Chinese also shows more linguistic inventiveness that English, creating new names while we use words from other languages. Thus the Chinese made up 'bear cat' and 'pocket rat', while we simply borrowed 'panda' and 'kangaroo'.

But Chinese names also show how disproportionately precious boy children still are in China. Boys are sometimes given girls' names: because fewer girls die, superstition has it that female names can protect from danger. Families of girls sometimes have such names as Pan Di, Zhap Di, and Lai Di - Expect Brother, Call for Brother and Come Here Brother. Names are so powerful, the Chinese believe, that they can call boy children to the world.

Attitudes to women change slowly, one friend told me angrily. In her grandparents' time, women were often simply called by their husband's surname, then their father's, then shi - meaning 'married woman'. Her own grandmother was called Quiet, felt then to be a female virtue; her mother Pretty Pearl. Her sisters had names linked to quietness, kindness and shyness - and she was called after a flower. So when her elder sister had a baby girl and my friend was asked to name her niece, she thought hard. And in a generation where parents give their precious only children pretty but meaningless names such as Bao Bao or Ling Ling, she chose Zhen Hua - or Vibrate the Universe!

Sue Robson is teaching English at a small-town university in the Yangtse Valley.

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