Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hello Open World - Satyagraha 2.0 - (updated Dec 30, 2015)

I've been once drunk tossed out of a bar, 
but I aspire to get tossed from a café for my unread verse. 
It has to be said. 

That the rooster was once a leaf. 


China on its surface may glitter wealth and prosperity, but beneath the facade is a troubled nation with moral decay and spiritual voids. The rotting roots are in part created by the anchored practice in information and media censorship robbing the Chinese people of their freedom of the arts and expression; in fact robbing the people of its soul. Censorship is counterintuitive to maintaining China's national stability and advancing the Chinese characteristics in a global community. China is in desperate need of opening its society's access to information from around the world, opening civic participation in the global governance structure, opening its media to its own public as the “fourth estate” not just to account for profits, and allowing the arts to flourish to deliver the needed social commentaries reinvigorating a new era of Chinese exceptionalism.

Things are easier said than done. Since China entered the “belly of global capitalism”, the Chinese government sees social stability synonymously linked with political stability through sustained economic development. See Ching Kwan Lee & You-tien Hsing, Social activism in China, Agency and possibility, RECLAIMING CHINESE SOCIETY (Routledge, 2010). This itself is not problematic, but China's censorship renders its economic developments void of certain moral courage to do the right thing. Despite aggressive circular economy laws and political rhetoric, China's provincial political elites are leading us to a depleted world with accelerated climate changes, social unrest, and human rights violations; all the while, the central government keeps the Red Curtain over its people and make empty promises to the rest of the world. To date, the Chinese people see the authoritarianism and corporate greed as the price to pay for better lives; the world turned a blind-eye to China's problems for profits' sake. We stay silent and let the self-imposed censorship consume what's around us, detrimental to our global moral core.

A critic would gladly stop at this static view of the problem. A careful China observer, however, would see the beginning of China's peaceful and quiet transition through its uniquely linguistic leverage, connecting to the world through the Red Curtain. In China's civic environmentalism, for example, activists have created a new language master-frame of “greenspeak” directly reflecting global citizen actions (Rom, Brockmeier, and Muhlhausler 1999: 2). See Guobin Yang, Civic environmentalism, RECLAIMING CHINESE SOCIETY (Routledge, 2010).

This type of linguistic “quiet activism” (hereinafter, “Satyagraha 2.0”) is not surprising. The Chinese language itself is riddled with ancient verses and on-the-go rhythmic prose. There is a rich field of symbolism people use daily for their humor and discontent. It is one of the few ways by which the Chinese people have empowered themselves. They set the rules and influence the rhetoric. They then make positive changes in incremental and gradual ways passively disarming the bureaucracy that resists change. Poetry in particular is an even more powerful thing to be leveraged. Properly understood and directed, it is something that can rekindle the Chinese exceptionalism we desperately need.

However, Chinese poetry, like other forms of art remotely suggesting any varying opinions, is unmistakably hunted towards extinction.

To restore the Chinese moral core and fully leverage China's Satyagraha 2.0 through language and poetry, the value and dignity of the individual must be respected. The voiceless must be read and heard. In particular, Chinese poetry must be revived in the modern context and be given a global voice. Without poetry, China will not have an open society and the world will not have a future. But once the Chinese poetic exceptionalism is awaken, it is capable of great things. With one-fifth of the world's population, China's will-power aligned can transform our future for the better, or worse if we let it be.

 The choice to change is ours.


Believe in the Future 
When spider webs seal my stove without mercy 
When ember smoke sighs over sad poverty 
 I spread out the despairing ashes stubbornly 
And write with fair snowflakes 

(-Shi Zhi, translated by Michelle Yeh) 

仁 礼 誠 人 
人 必 治 法 
法 修 其 德 
德 治 其 國 

jin (2011)


(Update: I recently discovered two other posts I've written on this topic. 
(1) On Language and Games – the Wittgensteinian Fly From a Bottle; and 
(2) Imaginative Re-Colonization.  I'm sure there are more, but you will have to find those on your own. Cheers, jin.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dear China

Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.
                                              - Mahatma Gandhi (1896)

The universe has a funny way of toying with me sometimes.

A few days ago I had a conversation with someone about authenticity of “green” marketing. You can read my post here. Today, I had lunch with some friends and had an interesting discussion about China's travel obsession for buying luxury goods abroad. Some fantastic stories were told, most of them true I am sure. They all involve Chinese tourists coming to America clearing out some luxury brand store, or electronic “brick-and-mortar” such as Best Buy of their latest iPads.

From what I'm hearing, the Chinese these days are all about touring and visiting not for culture's sake. Instead, their travels are more about buying the latest or the greatest of brands for the cheaper prices. (China puts a heavy tax on luxury goods to curb its corruptions.) This trend, I'm guessing, is all about China's struggle for its value and identity in the post-Mao consumer world. As my generation (30-40 year-olds) of Chinese were raised in the money-for-money's-sake era, the youth today is attempting at a existential emergence with the money they inherited.

I left lunch in disrepair. Is there really no hope for China's future besides consumption?

I went to the inter-web to find solace. This Huffington Post article brought some sense of relief:

"Brands take heed: in order to win over Chinese youth, you must stand for something. Youth crave values, and fancy brand names don't stand for much but exclusivity, elitism, and in the worst case, corruption. In their time of need and self-exploration, how will you guide them?"

But the question remains: what must a brand stand for to guide the China's tomorrow?

On the one hand, China represents the largest consumption market and companies stand to make a lot of money from its future. On the other hand, China represents a great will power that can transform how goods are sold and how businesses are done to promote our global sustainability goals in the future. While the China youth today is half trapped by the money-for-money's-sake mentality, and slowly finding their identity in the “small luxuries” of indulgences in things crafty and sentimental, western brands holds immense power over the future fate of our common human experience.

What a challenge indeed. How would China recognize and be guided by the authentic brands? 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dear "Mr. Macy" - A Challenge

Someone asked me the other day: How does a corporation stay authentic in an ever more green-washed market place?

Fair question. My immediate response is to say: don't market anything. Because that's not what we do. Marketing intrinsically means selling something your customers don't need. That's why people are inherently suspicious of marketing regardless of how true the content may be. But the big open secret is that customers will indeed buy based on marketing, so it is easy to get tempted. Some corporations try to use the sustainability movement as a marketing opportunity, ruining the playing field for the rest of us.

So, how a corporation approaches their marketing (philosophically, fundamentally, and responsibly) is very important. In this way, corporate social responsibility achieves authenticity and not mere window dressing.

Recently the movie “Miracle on 34 Street” has been on TV. It is a movie about Macy's and all advertising points to the other scheduled show times, sponsored by Macy's

Fair enough, it's a good movie; but one scene struck me in particular: there was an 'apparent' angry customer stopping Shellhammer to rant about Kris Kringle (“Santa”) directing Macy's customers to other stores. Shellhammer was shocked to find out the customer wasn't angry at all but praised Macy for the Christmas spirit to do the good deed. The dramatic dialogue ended with this customer pledging to be a loyal returning customer and Mr. Macy's advent approval to extend the practice beyond just Christmas.

And there you have it, an authentic moment on the silver screen.

Being the ever optimist, I assume a corporation sells widgets or service that customers actually need. But that's the hard part, isn't it? Corporations are so focused on selling more that they forget there is more than one way to sustain a brand and a business. So when competition gets fierce, corporations think they will have to race to the bottom. A tragedy of the commons.

But the simpler truth and escape is just as Mr. Macy (in the movie) pointed out: something authentic must be authentic. You can't fake it because it will never make it.

So I stand by my recommendation then and now: the right path is to look at this as an exercise of actual engagement. Yes, you the corporation must engage your stakeholders.

Get to know them, understand them within the framework of sustainability. What are their social and environmental problems? What are their goals? What can they do to then contribute? What are the barriers to change and what are the benefits to change? How do you initiate change? How do you test and measure for improvements?

From there, the engagement then becomes a community based action. Based on the maximum effective solution possible and stakeholder engagement, a corporation can find a new path to create new models of doing business. This is the only way to make the business responsible and sustainable to its community. This is also the only way to authentically continue your corporate brand.

As I said before in an another post, this process based approach is slow and painful. It is incremental. It requires trust and collaboration which we Americans seem to lack these days. I therefore remain doubtful that any corporation is willing to embrace the challenge.

Or perhaps this is my challenge to all the corporations: MAKE A CHANGE. STOP MARKETING AND START CARING.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays. 

- jin [Challenge issued to "Mr. Macy" in particular. Cheers.]