new internationalist
issue 190 - December 1988


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Simply surprising
Cover of the NI Issue 189 I was interested that your Debt issue (NI 189) referred to knowledge as part of the West's debt to the Third World. In fact the West would be unrecognizable were it not for the contributions of Third World knowledge and culture. Europe's medical techniques and understanding derive indirectly from the great North African civilization of ancient Egypt. The arch that characterizes Europe's lofty cathedrals was a technique learned from buildings of the East. Unwieldy roman numbers - impossible to add together without using a counting device - were replaced by arabic numbers which made scientific calculation more sophisticated and precise. The science of astronomy which enabled Europeans to navigate by the stars, was learned from the techniques of the Arab world. I defy anyone to say that more valuable knowledge passes from the West to the Third World than we have gain in return. After all how do you put a price on the rock in rock and roll?

Susan Sharp
Sydney, Australia

Ideal images
Your issue on Native People (NI 186) indicates a strong sense of guilt and disgust at what people in industrialized societies have done. Native people on the other hand are described in idealized and stereotypical terms. Again and again the philosophy of these people and their close relationship to the land is presented as something to be venerated. The authors are not reporting so much as projecting onto native people values and qualities they feel they lack: a classic case of 'You're OK, I'm not OK'. Of course white people could learn a lot from Aborigines, but the world is too big and too complex for any one law or philosophy to handle.

Marc Sheffner
Tezukayama University, Japan

Born to conquer
I did your quiz 'How violent are you?' in the September issue (NI 187) and according to your assessment I must be a lying hypocrite. But I am writing to tell you that violence does not breed violence: it depends entirely on one's mentality.

I was beaten and abused all my young life (I am now 62 years old). Suffering from bronchitis, asthma, malnutrition and anaemia, I was continually told by my parents that I was a bloody nuisance and should never have been born. My mother would bang my head against the wall almost rhythmically to relieve her own frustrations. But my childhood beatings did not make me beat my own children - rather the opposite.

J A Scaly
Devon, UK

Native ignorance
A few minutes thought by David Kemp (Letters NI 187) would have made him question his own premise that Australian Aborigines and Aotearoan (NZ) Maoris decimated their own environment. He suggests that Aborigines should be hunting desert-creating rabbits instead of endangered species. But settlers imported rabbits as well as over-hunting the indigenous animals. Why should Aborigines change their traditional ways to solve problems made by the whites?

Patricia Tan
London, UK

Hammered to death
In what way is the subject of Debbie Taylor's article (What I deserve NI 187) on sado-masochism taboo? I thought the myth that women love men who knock them around, had been hammered to death. Rational people of both sexes are sick of the idea. It is obvious that those women who cannot keep away from violent men are those who find it impossible to be economically independent and maintain their children. The woman in Debbie's fantasy is a pathological case. There is nothing particularly internationalist about this piece of fiction and it lowers the standard of an otherwise rational and informative publication.

Kathleen Jones
Shropshire, UK

Drinking dilemma
Amazingly your issue on Personal Violence (NI 187) left out alcoholism, which is responsible for so many crimes. As a co-alcoholic - a colluder in alcoholic behavior - I accepted emotional, verbal and physical brutality for 12 years. During that time I watched my partner's physical and material deterioration and almost reached breakdown myself. For me and my children it became a matter of life or death to find the right answers, some of which I discovered with Al-Anon, the companion group to Alcoholics Anonymous. There I learned how to exercise choice in dealing with alcohol and alcoholics and ceased trying to take responsibility for my partner's life.

Having been through all this, I found your 'fun-quiz' dangerously disappointing. You suggest eight solutions to every problem and then criticize all the responses. Even the answers which in your judgement were 'reasonable' could mean that one is a liar. For people enmeshed in violent relationships it is hard enough to know what to do: before I had found some right answers, I had severely beaten my eldest child, regularly taken sleeping pills and taken days off work. If someone's drinking causes you to suffer or be violent, there is help available.

London, UK

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Scientific curiosity
I like loud pops ( Pops and Bubbles NI 182). Does this mean I am really a man?

Amanda Suthers
Dodoma, Tanzania

Social disease
Your June issue (NI 184) on Trees strikes a profound note with me. Our traditional Melanesian religion in Papua New Guinea is described by anthropologists as 'animistic'. This means we believe natural things have soul and power the power to heal, protect, assist and cause destruction in our lives.

This belief is the basis of our people's respect and reverence for the trees, rivers, sea, fish, animals and other natural phenomena. Our tribal totems and traditions are based on natural things because we hold them in awe.

Since the first European contact with our land in 1884, our values have been overturned. Christianity came to rid us of our animistic digressions from the 'true' and 'only' God. In the process it destroyed the basis of our faith - our belief that God's presence and power is all natural creations. Thirteen years into our political independence and 102 years since the first European contact, we have contracted the dreadful disease of the Western World that thinks all natural things are meant for consumption.

Basil Peutalo
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea

House of horrors
It was disturbing to hear world leaders at the Economic Summit touting economic 'growth' as a solution to all ills, after reading NI 184 on Trees. How long will it be before they recognize the damage we are doing to the environment? The words ecology and economy are semantically linked. Ekos - Greek for house - is the root of both words. Our Ekos is the earth. Between the atmospheric roof of air and the lithospheric cellar of rock and water is our home - the biosphere. It is the only house humankind will ever have. And today, indifferent to the cracks appearing in the ceiling and the foundations, industrialists sit counting out their short-term profits.

We must govern productive processes with thrift. The earth cannot support these mindless increases in Gross National Pollution. The only question is whether it can survive being looted long enough for us to replace the current destructive economic system with a humanistic, ecologically-orientated society.

Jim Christoff
Ontario, Canada

Forgotten people
On the matter of native people (NI 186) too little attention is given to tribal people in Asia - particularly mountain people living in the 'Larger Golden Triangle' or Himalayan Foothills. There are tens of millions of people here, many of whom have been driven from their land because they are considered politically inferior. Reports about opium growing have created myths of wealth, whilst in many sectors of the Golden Triangle life expectancy is no greater than 37 years. The plight of these people is extreme and deserves an in-depth study.

Dr Leo Alting von Geusau
Chiangmai, Thailand

Divine knowledge
With regard to Endpiece NI 179 and Robert Katz (Letters NI 186) who doubts that dowsers can actually find water? A great number of borehole sites for farms and estates are located in rural Britain by means of dowsing. Almost without exception these are ordered by very hard-headed, wealthy landowners, professional agents and architects, all of whom are aware of the high costs of hydrogeological survey methods. Many rural water engineers find water sources under a 'No Water, No Fee' agreement. And most offer an 85 - 95 per cent success rate. To the amateur and the sceptic I offer this quote: 'Dowsing is rather like the old game of Twenty Questions. You ask Nature a series of questions to which she - through your instruments - will only answer " yes" or "no".'

David Griffiths
Water Engineer,
Devon, UK

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

Letter from China

[image, unknown] Dainty and silent
Women, said Mao, hold up half the sky. Sue Robson looks at sexual equality in changing China.

It's Women's Day today,' the local restaurant proprietor leant over me. 'Did you know?' I did. Colleagues were busy organizing women's inter-department tug-of-war teams and distributing free cinema and dance tickets. These were for women only - though each woman got a second one for her partner.

It was a surprise, however, when the restaurateur produced a complimentary bottle of beer. 'Happy Women's Day!' he said. Then he stuck his head into the cooking alcove to bring out one delicious dish after another - all for free.

'But what about your wife?' I asked, pointing to the curtained alcove. 'If it's Women's Day why don't you do the cooking?' He grinned 'Oh, I can't. Relax .Eat slowly .Happy Women's Day.'

China is a country where almost everyone is acutely aware of the issue of women's equality, but locked into what are described as 'feudal habits'. Male students will tell you how far Chinese women have come since since the pre-Liberation days of entrapment in the home. Yet those same male students appreciate a bit of female help when it comes to washing the sheets and still view bright girls who speak out in class as distinctly 'unfeminine'. Silence was a female virtue before Liberation - and still is. In today's lonely hearts columns women describe themselves as 'dainty and silent' as they advertise for rich and powerful husbands.

While new China has vastly improved women's position by training them to become teachers, doctors, bus drivers and bicycle menders, it remains harder for Chinese women to find jobs than men. When they do, they often have to accept a lower salary. There are other inequalities. Women workers will often leave work an hour before the regular lunchbreak - to go home and cook. Chinese meals may take half an hour to eat, but they usually take two hours to prepare. Now, if a man were to leave work early to prepare an elaborate lunch he would be ridiculed.

Some women I know are enraged by common proverbs such as 'Men can do anything better'. Others tamely accept the lesser role complete with the frilly, impractical dress style typical of the new city woman. But for every woman teetering on high heels there is one clad in sexually undifferentiated work clothes, spattered with oil mud or paint. Women may be thought of as weak but they are also required to be strong.

Culturally and politically women still have a low profile in Chinese society. Women's calligraphy, art or even literature is relatively rare. When a painting is by a woman, the sign often points this out carefully - underlining the sense that this is an unusual occurrence. There are few women leaders, few women politicians and questions about feminist groups are met with incomprehension. Protest here is institutionalized - the party does it for you.

But, compared with most countries in the world - my own included - the position of Chinese women is in many ways pretty good. Kindergarten facilities are excellent. Maternity leave is often generous, up to 18 months in many cases. Compared with China's feudal past, the change is remarkable. The country's new economic policies, however, may be threatening the benefits its women have gained.

Under the brigade system a woman could work part of the time in the fields and look after young children and the couple's elderly parents for the rest of the day. But as China adopts the 'responsibility system' with payment for work actually done, men are moving off the land to set up their own businesses in the cities. Many women are left behind to work the family's small plot of land, keeping home, caring for children and elderly parents, mending tools and in some cases boosting the family income by doing an evening job as well.

Today more women are following their husbands to the cities - often illegally. Without urban residence permits they find low-paid jobs in privately run restaurants or in the new family-managed sweatshops. Or they do piecework at home. Hundreds work as nannies and housemaids, for little more than their keep. Women, as Chairman Mao said, hold up half the sky - or perhaps, as Chinese society changes again, rather more than half.

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

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