This page presents various information about East Asia and the people who live there. I have culled the information from the Web and from my own head. Naturally, there's a lot of bias here; ignore it, if you must. If you're not interested in this kind of thing, you may want to go back to my main page.
The contents of this page are shown in the menu, which should be to the left.
For information about East Asian gender issues, please see my Gender page. For East Asian (okay, basically Japanese) comics and manga, please see my Manga page. For information on how to get Chinese input working in Linux, see my Linux page. I also have a few sources of East Asian music on my Music page; I have a separate page about gaming resources in Taiwan; and finally, don't forget that I also have a Chinese-language version of my site!
When I tell people I speak Mandarin, lived in Taiwan for eight years, studied in Beijing my junior year of college, etc., their eyes often kind of glaze over. "Oh, you're one of those people -- those weirdoes who couldn't just study French and let it rest at that."
So why am I interested in East Asia? When I was a kid, I was very interested in ninja and other aspects of feudal Japanese culture (probably through my earlier interest in gaming stuff). I admit that it was basically out of orientalism, stereotypes or however you want to analyze it. But my interest kept up and became a little less shallow. When I started looking for high schools, I wanted one that had Japanese available as a language. The only high school in Minneapolis that had Japanese, though, was pretty low quality and I wasn't about to forsake other things just for Japanese. The high school I did end up choosing, though, had Chinese (Mandarin). I tried it, and was soon hooked. I've been studying Chinese (or Mandarin, anyway) ever since, or about 20 years. (Don't go doing the calculations to figure out how old I am, now).
As I've studied Mandarin (and, later, Japanese), I've become more and more interested in China and Japan. In fact, when I went to college, I specifically went for East Asian Studies (a catch-all term that basically means the study of Korea, Japan and "Greater China"), and I have an MA related to East Asia. My knowledge of the region is, I think, pretty respectable for a thirty-something-year-old. It's also a big part of why I spent almost eight years in Taiwan teaching English.
Taiwan is, let me say this now, not a part of China. While the two may be inextricably linked through a common history and culture (shared language is highly arguable), they are no more unified than the US and England are. The PRC (People's Republic of China, also called Mainland China, the country whose capital is Beijing and which is ruled by the CCP or Chinese Communist Party) pretends that it is still the rightful owner of Taiwan, but this is no more fact than that the moon is made of green cheese. The CCP maintains this basically as a way of saving face, I believe; in their hearts, they know that Taiwan is independent, but they cannot admit this unless they want to admit that fifty years of Chinese rhetoric are wrong -- and in the PRC, rhetoric is everything.
Taiwan's leaders, for their part, are waking up to reality, although there are still silly people who actually talk about going back and "liberating" the "motherland." The majority of the Taiwanese people seem to want to keep the status quo; I believe most would choose independence were it a viable option, but the PRC in its current state cannot brook independence, so the people of Taiwan just want to keep their safety and not provoke the CCP. In fact, they mostly just want to get rich and have kids, two things which would certainly be put in jeopardy by a declaration of sovereignty. In any case, Taiwan's situation at present is unclear.
Taiwan, as I experienced it, seemed to be a massive collection of contradictions, all the time, constantly. People there will smile in a friendly way at you if they know you, but will easily run you over with their car if they don't. Computers and DVD players are a necessity for every home, but people still spit huge betel nut turds everywhere and don't understand the first thing about recycling (store clerks still gave me crazy looks when I said I didn't need a bag, even though unnecessary bags were outlawed). Rules are made to be ignored. Not broken, just not even paid attention to, like when the government makes parking illegal just about everywhere but continues to allow cars to be sold. Seriously, in Taibei there are more cars than parking places! And I think I could count the number of times I've seen a police officer in Taibei follow the rules on the fingers of one foot. And how many businesses in Taiwan have all the required licensing? How many times did I have to move my English classes on the days that the fire marshalls came to inspect the premises? And there are dozens more examples. The people ignore the laws, the politicians continue to pass laws they know are impossible to follow, the cycle continues.
But also, please don't start thinking that Taiwan is full of inhuman scofflaws. These people really are people, just like you or me, and though they sometimes have rather weird ideas about things, so do many Americans (for example). I have weird opinions and thoughts about Taiwan and China, but they come from long exposure. Maybe over-exposure?
Here are some links about Taiwan to check out:
Oh, and one more thing -- it's Taiwan, not Thailand! Why do I seem to need to explain that so often?
Eventually, this section will include Korean, Japanese, etc., but for now, it's just about Chinese.
Chinese is quite an interesting language. Or rather, I should say, languages. Chinese is no more a single language than the Latin-based languages or the Germanic languages are; Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese (or Min, which it is a part of) and the other "dialects" are all at least as separate as, say, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish are. They have significantly different grammars, vastly different phonetics and quite different vocabularies. The tendency in English to call them all one "language" is probably an artifact of the Chinese tendency to see a unity among themselves; ever since the Qin dynasty's unification of the Chinese languages, Chinese people have had a pretty strong sense of nationalism. There seems to be some sort of deep-seated desire to show that all Chinese people are the same "race," thereby making themselves different and therefore better than other folks. I know it's a taboo, but this kind of thinking really does remind me of Nazism.
Or perhaps it's because foreigners have tended to put the whole mess into a single big pot called "Chinese," as a consequence of their unwillingness to deal with the complexity of the situation. Foreigners seem to have the same project in mind, just for different purposes; an awful lot of Westerners want to prove that Chinese people are somehow different in order to show how bad they all are. Whichever way you go, there's a lot of racism and messy ideologies splattered all over the idea of Chinese being a single language.
In any case, trust me: "Chinese" is a misnomer.
There's a lot of information about Chinese languages available out there, and a bit available in here, as well. Without further ado, let me introduce some of it.
This is mainly just an excuse to link to my page about teaching English in Taiwan.
When I lived in Taiwan, I usually didn't care too much about the news. The stories are all basically the same -- roughly 50% government scandals, 20% general accusations, 10% police crackdowns (which are almost always only for a duration of about two days), 10% coverage of mainland China and 10% other stuff. Predicting the news in Taiwan is not hard at all. The main reason I read the news was to see what was going on elsewhere.
But now that I'm back in the States, I won't be able to get any real news about Taiwan at all. (Maybe one small story a week in the local paper, if I'm lucky.) So, without further ado, I'll list some places to find news about East Asia. Note that most of these sites are just the web presences of real-world newspapers. Few other sites seem to stay around long enough to be worth indexing.
Sites in English
Sites in Pseudo-English
The three main English newspapers in Taiwan, the Taipei Times, China Post and Taiwan News, are all pretty terrible. Their news are typically just copied and (badly) translated from other newspapers -- meaning that they're all about 24 hours late -- and their English is frequently unreliable. Many times, my students have come to me holding one of the local rags, and asked "Why can you say this in English? I thought this grammar was supposed to be wrong." Invariably, the student was right; the newspaper's English was in fact wrong. And don't even get me started about their transliterations. At one time, I had great hopes for the Taipei Times, but it has now slid down to the level of the others; I'd say it maintains a tiny edge, but not one worth noticing.
Sites in Chinese (Mandarin)
I got my MA in the History of Asian Religions (whatever that means). I have long been interested in the various beliefs of East Asia. To list them, though, requires using -isms, which are always oversimplifications; but then, language always is. So I can say, perhaps, that the beliefs which really interest me are, in order of interest, Zhuangzi (莊子, my favorite philosopher); Daoism in general; and Buddhism, especially Zen but also just plain old straight-from-Gautama-type Buddhism, if such can be said to exist. I have studied Confucianism (儒家, Ruism) and Neo-Confucianism (理學, Lixue), but the reason I studied it was never because it particularly captured my attention, but that it was very amenable to study. I personally find the actual study of Zen or Daoism or similarly antinomian beliefs to be at least useless, and at most downright offensive. Of course, to the extent that they make themselves worldly (either through argument, or monasticism, or whatever else), they do open themselves up to scholarship; I, however, am very very uninterested in the study of monasticism.
I am also opposed to cloying, mystified uses of Daoism, Buddhism and other East Asian "isms." All too often, Westerners seem to think that the "exotic East" somehow got philosophy right while the West was going the wrong direction. The number of goofballs who've approached me about a supposed interest in "oriental religions" is alarmingly high. Remember, these are real beliefs, with real people involved -- and that means real constraints, and real foibles. I like Zhuangzi more than any other philosopher, but that doesn't mean that I approach Zhuangzi's beliefs without a critical eye, and in fact I disagree with a large amount of what the author of that difficult book seems to mean. Actually, now that I think about it, I disagree with a very large portion of the common beliefs and moral practices of many people in Taiwan, and as far as I understand them, also of people from other places in East Asia. This is not to say that I'm anti-East Asian; I just try to maintain a critical neutrality about it all. Please try to remember that as you peruse the pages I've referenced below.
One of my true loves about East Asia is some of the art which is produced there. My favorites are the landscape paintings of Song-dynasty China, the woodblock prints of Hiroshige and Buddhist images. I'm also very interested in East Asian temple architecture, and in lots of other things in general.
Some good places to look for East Asian art on the Web are:
There are lots and lots of good sites out there for getting Chinese working on your Windows system. I don't use Windows much anymore, so my focus is now on getting Chinese working under Linux. for that reason, this section of this page is getting increasingly out of date.
If you're looking for some way to figure out what all those goofy little scribbles in my pages are, you may be looking for a way to equip your browser to read Chinese characters. You may have noticed that there are basically two ways you can view Chinese characters:
If you've got the former, you probably don't have a problem. If you've got the latter, then you're going to need a viewing program. A couple different programs like this exist. One is the NJWin Viewer, which is available as a shareware download. It's pretty nifty and can easily handle almost any form of Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Another is the viewer made by TwinBridge, but for reasons which I enumerate ad nauseam below, I seriously don't recommend anything by that %$#^&*&ing company.
Another thing that's maybe even harder to find than a good Chinese search engine is a decent Chinese input system. Chinese, naturally, cannot be input into a computer in the same way as English, as most keyboards are designed with the Latin alphabet in mind and Chinese uses this alphabet in a tertiary way at best. Thus, those who have a computer and want to create documents in Chinese must also use an input system.
Actually, there are a huge number of such systems, based on Zhuyin Fuhao (the phonetic system used to teach Mandarin to children in Taiwan), Pinyin, radicals (the parts from which Chinese characters are composed, you might say) and other things. However, the good ones for Windows are all based on Chinese versions of Windows. That is, if you want a decent Chinese input system, you must also have a 'puter running Windows in Chinese.
I, on the other hand, bought a computer that only has Windows in English. For this reason, I have had to get the next best thing, an input system that runs on an English system. The one I got is the most famous system around, called TwinBridge.
For all these reasons, I have to make a clear recommendation: if you are considering buying a computer, and need Chinese-input capabilities, buy Windows in Chinese and then buy a decent, original-language input system. Please,
do not buy TwinBridge.
I've heard that, while Chinese-Windows-based programs will not work in English Windows, English Windows programs will run fine in Chinese Windows. In other words, if you buy Windows in Chinese, you'll be able to use everything you normally can, plus Chinese apps. If only I'd known all this when I bought my system...
Update, 2004: TwinBridge seems to be going the way of the dodo, because it appears that recent versions of Windows (Windows 2000, etc.) now allow use of Chinese IME's (input methods) without the whole system being Chinese. If your system is older, though, you have another option: go to Linux. This is what I did. I wanted to access a Chinese (Big5) BBS, and English Windows 98 + Twinbridge was far shy of the task. I am now happily running Mandrake Linux in Mandarin. There are of course complaints (there always are, with me): some of the system information is in Mandarin and therefore somewhat confusing, but it was confusing anyway; the Mandarin input systems still aren't perfect, but then they're free. Maybe most importantly, I've learned that it's apparently possible to do Chinese input under English Linux.
If your computer is already equipped with the English version of Windows and you have no access to the Chinese one, well, I feel your pain. You might want to try one of NJStar's products. I don't know if they're any good, but they can hardly be any worse than TwinBridge's.
When I first got into East Asian stuff, and later into real East Asian studies, I must admit that my reasoning was largely due to the "mystery" of it all. Ooh, the "exotic" "east." But as time went by, and especially once I had gone to Beijing and lived there for a while, I realized that East Asian folks are, indeed, pretty much like Western folks. They eat, they sleep, they shit, they dream.
Unfortunately, altogether too many Western people still look at the "mysterious, exotic East" as somehow being in another continuum from that of normal reality. I am reminded of this every time a Western person who can pronounce Russian or French or even Polish names with ease mispronounces a Chinese or even Japanese name, and every time a Westerner nods their head in a discomprehending resignation to ignorance when they hear about some slightly different aspect of East Asian cultures. I especially see this in Westerners who think that Chinese culture consists of fortune cookies, Bruce Lee and fat little buddhas, and worship it as such, or in malignorant people who violently resist attempts to educate them about the differences between (for example) Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures, and insist on lumping them all together. This sort of belief -- the tendency to view the "East" as some sort of essential, mysterious, exotic whole -- is often called Orientalism, and it is a very strong current in Western culture.
Well, hopefully I can help to put a stop to that. There are differences between, for example, Taiwanese culture and American culture -- big ones -- but they very rarely lie where the stereotyping Westerner thinks. I'm not going to say for now what I think the real differences are, because as with anything so large-scale as this, it is very hard to be objective, much less concrete. For now, please just think about it -- people in East Asia don't have the mysteries of life figured out any better than anyone in the US, and they also aren't all some kind of yellow plague waiting to invade our shores. They're real humans, and they have real lives.