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November 29, 2010


Richard J

I'm skeptical of many of these kind of pieces because they so often seem themed around "China is working - but it goes against my personal economic ideology, so it can't really be working."

cf. PJ O'Rourke's Eat The Rich, my copy of which I came across the other day (to go to the charity shop).


I get Economists and deformation professionale, but how does this manifest itself among Engineers, or programmers?

Richard J

It's a bit of a chicken vs. egg situation, but I can't help but notice that programmers/engineers seem to view complex problems from a very system-based perspective, rather than a more, well, human point of view. Charlie Stross' comments section comes as an extreme example of this at times.


See also the apparent over-representation of engineers in Creationist circles. Some engineers' quirks are down to professional training, but some are (like programming) due to the personality types attracted to the field.

(Says the former engineer.)


Richard has it pretty much on the nose; there's also a tendency to think of problems as caused by a blockage in the system, rather than arising organically from a mass of factors. This relates to China, of course, because the leadership has a very high number of engineers involved - especially hydraulic engineers, I believe, which would make Karl Wittfogel happy.

(Worryingly, I was also thinking of Charlie Stross' comments section, and frequently characters in his novels. Charlie himself both invented the gith and thanked me in the acknowledgements of THE FULLER MEMORANDUM, and so can do no wrong.)

Richard J

FWIW, fairness compels me to admit that the stereotype about accountants has a lot of truth to it, with a slight modification. It's not so much that they're boring, but that they smoothly fit into the median of cultural middle-class expectations (footie, beer, cars and gyms.)

Mind, I'm about two clichés away from saying 'it takes all sorts'.


well I wouldn't argue about the computer programmer, but isn't that true of most professions?

Richard. I've also noticed that Accountants who don't fit into that stereotype often put a lot of effort into standing out. A surprising number of accounts I've met over the years who founded avant-garde music labels, publishing concerns, were published poets, started festivals, etc. Kicking against the pricks has a lot to be said for it.


most Chinese, and especially most young Chinese, have no more idea of them than, say, young people in the 1970s in the UK did of the Second World War

Possibly a bad example, since We Won The War was one of the very few things we all knew.


I don't mean "than of what happened in the war," I mean the actual experience of the war, even as a civilian - blitz, rationing, dead relatives, the works. Young Chinese know the past was shit on an abstract level, but they don't have the experience of living through near-famine times that makes recession look easy.

Ken MacLeod

Kids these days ...

I can imagine the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch being a bit close to the knuckle in China.


Engineers, in my view, tend to fixate on favourite generic solutions and to fit everything into their preferred model, more than any other profession. Since they also tend to have the normal variation in their set of political likes and dislikes, this can often result in some funny stretches and twists to the model (cf: interminable discussions about whether open source software is more like socialism or more like free market capitalism). And they blow up civilians - I really can't be doing with that.


Young Chinese know the past was shit on an abstract level

I would be interested to hear exactly how shit they think it was. Are, for example, the famines of the 1950s common knowledge? Or is the general belief more along the "mistakes were made" line?


Or is the general belief more along the "mistakes were made" line?

Hrm - perhaps Socialist Unity is channelling their general perception...


Well, obviously it depends. I mean, TOMBSTONE's been read by a few hundred thousand people, at least, but that's a drop in the ocean.

Most everybody knows about the famines, but they're not seen as being primarily a government responsibility - they're usually blamed on the Russians withdrawing aid and China "having to pay them back." (Frank Dikotter tersely demolishes this case in MAO'S GREAT FAMINE, which I can't recommend highly enough - it's superb.)

The Cultural Revolution, on the other hand, is both widely known and considered a political disaster, even if it isn't quite discussed in polite conversation. State media can talk openly about the Cultural Revolution, even if eliding over aspects of Mao's role, but not about the political side of the Great Leap Forward.

Richard J

(Frank Dikotter tersely demolishes this case in MAO'S GREAT FAMINE, which I can't recommend highly enough - it's superb.)

Oh, great. Another book to put on the to-read pile. ;-)


四个河南人 - "You had a house? We had to eat our house!"

"I used to get up at four in the morning, be beaten by the Revolutionary Committee, go to work for an eighteen hour shift, and get back in time to stand on a chair and have it kicked from under me"

Also, I forgot to mention that the collective memory of the GLF in the countryside, going by Thaxton's account in CATASTROPHE AND CONTENTION, is much stronger.


Talking of Chinese memories of the past, I hope people haven't missed the 1948 Olympics item here.

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