From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (9)—Opinion

[a] Cracked armor RF
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.

[b] Swept RF
Continuing the theme from my previous note (entries 7-9 are part of a series), I ramp up the "opinion" and "reflection" a little in my first—tenuous and unsuccessful—steps toward "reflexive" analysis. Twenty-six years later, I would call it neither reflexive nor analytical. On the other hand, if I were reading these notes as a teacher, I would tell "the student" that s/he must channel this reflection toward deeper understanding of the cultural situation s/he is studying. Like that hypothetical student, I was eventually able to learn from these clumsy first steps. Most important, I learned to see such opportunities for reflection less as autobiographical and more as interpretive.

Various background items that might serve as context for these notes include Jesse Helms, Hedrick Smith, and apartheid (it was 1985, and the situation in South Africa was, let us say, very different from today).

16 May 1985

Butterfield's book, in my opinion, is an honest description of the People’s Republic of China during 1979-1980, when he served as the New York Times bureau chief. It is written from the vantage point of a moderate to liberal journalist who wrote what he saw and interpreted what he was told. (He's no Jesse Helms; he, along with Hedrick Smith and three others, published the Pentagon Papers in the Times in the early-1970s). 

To condemn a person for writing the truth as he honestly sees it is in itself dishonest. Worse, it damages everyone's integrity, including the accuser's. I have tried to imagine this in a setting other than China, weighed down, as it is, with the loaded “Taiwan question.” For example, if I went to South Africa, would I report conflict between blacks, as well as conflict between blacks and whites? Of course I would, even though my sympathies in this case are firmly with the former. If I saw “communist” (I can’t help thinking about the China/Taiwan situation, even here, I guess) influence among black factions, would I report that? Again, of course I would. It wouldn't make me a right-winger, just an honest reporter. 

When ideological conflict gets too hot, however, intellectual integrity is the first thing to be tossed out the window. A recent example is the man who wrote to the Minneapolis Tribune in March, canceling his subscription because the paper printed a story on violence inflicted on blacks, by other blacks, in South Africa. "And to think that you call yourselves a liberal paper", he wrote. The Tribune didn't bother to reply.

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