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East & West: China, Power & the Future
East & West: China, Power & the Future
by Christopher Patten
Edition: Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chris cross? You bet!, 10 April 2003
It was a muggy summer’s afternoon in Blackheath, Southeast London as I watched the rain soaked governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, formerly handover the last vestige of British Empire to the Chinese. Like many others in this sceptred isle, I tried to draw meaning from the television images unfolding before me, but was just confronted with questions: Was it all down hill for the UK from now on? Was this a new dawn for China and if so did it herald the start of a new global order? Was Chris Patten crying for the loss of empire or the loss of a very comfortable life as the ‘Last Governor’? Doubtless aware of this and as a self confessed ‘liberal Tory’ keen to cash in on the opportunity presented, Patten’s book East and West goes some way to answering these questions and many others with which the reader might approach this work.
The book is divided into three sections, the first section ‘Governing’ deals with Patten’s time as governor of Hong Kong. Though Patten is keen to stress from the outset that it is not a memoir, the first section of the book is exactly that, only retrospective in parts. In the first chapter ‘The Last Governor’ Patten is keen to stress how Hong Kong has prospered under British rule and free market economics. However little is provided by way of an investigation as to why the British never introduced democracy to Hong Kong until one year before the handover. One reason Patten gives is the practice of influential businessmen and their desire for direct access to influential government figures. In using this example Patten, discredits everything he says about the unique nature of Hong Kong; such practice is indeed very Asian in character and even more so Chinese. Furthermore Patten debunks his own arguments later in the book regarding the need for democracy to allow free market economics to flourish, as mentioned earlier, Hong Kong only experienced one election under British. One has to wonder whether democracy was put in place as some sort of ideological time bomb on behalf of an embittered empire.
The remainder of the first section deals with Patten’s and the UK’s dealings with the Chinese in trying to establish a good deal for Hong Kong under the control of China. However, The vitriol of Patten’s language when discussing all matters Chinese, gives his writing an overly biased view that in turn discredits the content. The Chinese, whether in business or in government are notoriously difficult for Europeans to deal with, simply because of the cultural and ideological chasm that exists. Patten is entitled to his opinion but as such a high profile figure, should have moderated his language towards China a little more.
‘The View From Hong Kong’ is the second section and it is here Patten takes a more critical look at the East West relationship. In the first part Patten analyses the hype that surrounded the tiger economies in the lead up to the ‘Asia crisis’ of 1997. Patten’s point is a simple one, in that history repeats itself and any further Asia hysteria, especially regarding to China, Should be treated with the utmost caution. The next chapter, ‘Asian values’ is the only part of the book where Patten extensively cites the words and work of others in order to give his message credence. Indeed it is in this chapter that Patten’s Oxbridge education and intellect shine through. The works of Confucius are citied to demonstrate that Confucianism is a poor excuse for autocratic government, the works of Aung San Suu Kyi, Anwar Ibrahim and George Orwell are all used to good effect. Patten uses Singapore and it’s leader Lee Kuan Yew as an example of how a system can prosper under a system of harsh, supposedly Confucian, Asian values, but laments the prosperous Singapore citizen’s lack of democracy; I refer the (once) right honourable Mr Patten to my earlier comment on democracy in Hong Kong under the British.
Surprisingly though, Patten's conclusion is not a damming indictment of ‘Asian value’ systems but is in fact quite welcoming of a system where collectivism can have its place over individualism in the success of a society. Indeed, Patten’s Lockeian call for ‘smaller government’ and ‘bigger citizens’ is one that would surely be welcomed by most tax paying citizens in any welfare state system. In the final section ‘looking to the future’ whilst providing a possible outline for the economic, political and philosophical future of the ‘East and West’ relationship I would say that it is here that Patten lets his political beliefs, but in particular his xenophobia towards China, drag him off course somewhat.
Patten’s conservative values render him almost incapable of putting forth a balanced argument as he maintains a stiffly euro centric view
on the events and those leading up to the handover. Patten is also keen
to promote Britain’s colonial role in Hong Kong, as little short of altruistic. Pattern has an almost amnesiac take on history, whilst he confesses to being glad that the days of gunboat diplomacy are over he forgets that this is how his benevolent empire acquired the territory in the first place. A strong proponent of western values such as freedom and democracy, Patten only briefly mentions the fact that the British never actually allowed elections to take place in Hong Kong citing Asian business practice as the bulwark against democratic reform. Pattern goes as far as to compare Hong Kong to the USA as a place where people can realise there dreams in a rags to riches fairy story of British inspired Asian fairy story.
Having read ‘East and West it comes as no surprise that Rupert Murdoch’s publishing company, Harper Collins eventually refused to publish it. Though vilified by many sections of the media Murdock is a businessman looking to do more business in China, surely Mr Patten should realise this given his championing of free market economics. Patten is also keen to point out that China should not be treated differently in Foreign policy terms than any other nation, to Mr Patten I say, not every key fits every door. It is possible to conclude that Mr Patten's acerbic language towards China is partly due to the ‘humiliations’ that he suffered when visiting the Chinese capital. This loss of face has seemingly coloured his opinion of China, as such Mr Patten may have more in common with his Chinese counterparts than he cares to admit.
Patten’s writing is authoritative and brave and as such he comes across as a likeable person. He should have been more careful with his use of quotations from the Analects which at times seem over used and out of place. I would also question the use of George Kennan (one time US foreign policy guru and architect of the cold war) when talking about issues of freedom. Patten’s view of the history of Anglo-Sino relations is also jaundiced and by devoting a mere 9 lines to the historical injustices carried out by the British against China he risks being labelled a revisionist.
Despite the criticisms listed by this writer, East and West IS a good read. It provides a good starting point for anyone trying to understand the difference in mindsets between the west and Asian countries, in particular those, heavily influenced by Confucian or neo Confucian philosophy. I would recommend this book to any one studying China or EU/Asia relations but would suggest that it IS approached with an open mind and treated as personal set of memoirs as opposed to an academic text.
As for my questions on that summer’s afternoon, it certainly was a new era for China, which has since secured the Olympics in 2008, the world trade fair in 2010 and has now become the world’s number one destination for FDI. As for the UK, well it was the end of ‘Great Britain’ and its empire but I doubt the end of the UK. And Mr Patten’s tears? I honestly believe he was crying for...


Red Azalea: Life and Love in China
Red Azalea: Life and Love in China
by Anchee Min
Edition: Paperback

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mixed up feelings in mixed up times, 8 Mar. 2003
Set during the confusion of the Cultural Revolution in communist China; Red Azalea is the true story of the author's rise through the echelons of the Red Guard and Chinese society. Her story is one of deprivation, love and the dichotomy between feelings and duty in a politically charged environment of fear and paranoia difficult to perceive from the contemporary western experience.
Min's story begins in 1957 when she was born into the death throw years of Mao's 'Great Leap Forward'. The eldest of four children, Min learned the meaning of duty raising her brother and two sisters whilst her parents worked continually in a struggle to survive. This dedication to duty came to fruition when in her early years at school Min was made leader of the 'little red guard' and so began her love hate relationship with the communist party. Her journey takes her to the Red Fire Farm where she is assigned to life as a peasant. It is here that she enters a world of betrayal and awakening sexuality, which are the key themes of the book. Condemned to a enforced world of single sexed sterility, she witnesses a friends spiral into insanity and suicide, following her 'capture' in the act of love with a man. From this point Min struggles to juxtapose her sexual feelings with the demands of the party and it is these feelings that start to dismantle her political beliefs.
She finds solace in the arms of Yan, the Party secretary and commander of her work company and so begins a furtive lesbian relationship under the constant watch of Comrade Lu, who seeks Yan's position of power. The affair ends in tragedy and sacrifice when Min is awarded a chance to compete for the role of Red Azalea, a communist party film being produced in Shanghai. Believing this to be her ticket away from betrayal, Min finds herself in a microcosm of her life on the farm. As one of five young women competing for the role, Min spends every waking moment walking a political tightrope, whilst longing for her lost love on the farm. Min's journey finally takes her to within touching distance of Jian Qing (Madame Mao), but her story and the production are brought to an abrupt end with the death of Chairman Mao and the overthrow of the Gang of Four.
Red Azalea is an accessible book with wide appeal. The language used is simple as English is not the author's first language; this however gives the book a raw feel, helping to both capture the feel of the times and the author's stunted emotions during them. The affair with Yan is treated with a care and tenderness that belies the environment in which it took place. During the Cultural Revolution femininity was discouraged among women, thoughts were directed to the ongoing revolution and the overthrow of class enemies. This created what Jung Chang, in her book Wild Swans, calls 'Militant Puritans' (Chang, 1993, p422), young girls denouncing the interest of young men on purely political grounds. This gave rise to a proliferation of homosexuality both male and female in China, as same sex relationships provided the only sanctuary from political denunciation.
Anyone wishing to study gender issues in China could do a lot worse than start with Red Azalea. Though confined to a single era in the long history of China, it was however a formative one. Feelings of fear and eroticism are well conveyed through the simple dialect, as are power relations. The issue of power in the book highlights some of the contradictions of the Cultural Revolution and communism in general. The issue of equality is offset by peoples desire to obtain status within the society where power is the only currency. These contradictions are developed further when Min witnesses first hand the bourgeois lifestyle indulged by the staff of the Shanghai film studio. This causes the author much confusion, as do her feelings for a high-ranking male party official.
At times it appears that Min herself may have used her sexuality to better herself and work her way up the party and social ladder; at other times there is evidence of 'sour grapes' in the book when things don't work out for her with an undercurrent of denunciation of something she once believed in so heavily and her ethnicity. This emerges at the start of the book when she anglicises the names of her family and peers, this does not work, and results in a loss of ambience and credibility within the text. It would have been enough to explain their meanings initially and then continued using the Pinyin system. By doing this it seems Min is carrying out a betrayal of her own, whether this is intentional or not is for the reader to decide.
Red Azalea compares favourably with Jung Chang's epic Wild Swans; again though chronologically limited by comparison it is a useful insight into the female experience in China. Both books deal with issues of betrayal in the Cultural Revolution with an insiders view into the intricacies of the party mechanism. One criticism of Red Azalea is that Min fails to capitalise on her surroundings at the farm to enhance her writing. Her brief forays into the enormity and beauty surrounding her are screaming out to be expanded. On the few occasions this does happen you can almost smell the sea air blowing in from the west or hear the People's Daily slogans and the strains of revolutionary songs emanating from the loud speakers positioned around the farm. Another point is that the book ends too abruptly, leaving the remaining six years of her life in China condensed into a three quarter page epilogue. This leaves the reader feeling short changed and wanting more. This may be deliberate with a second part of her autobiography; however, with eight years having passed since publication of Red Azalea a sequel now seems unlikely.


The New Rulers of the World
The New Rulers of the World
by John Pilger
Edition: Hardcover

81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the Name of Freedom, 2 Feb. 2003
I first heard about John Pilger in 1993, the book I was recommended was entitled Heroes, a trans global account of the struggles of ordinary working people in the face of economic and political oppression. Since then the size of the subject matter Pilger tackles has grown commensurate with his profile. Times have changed considerably since I first heard of Pilger; these days a globalised (many argue an Americanised) culture preaches individualism and consumption from every advertising hoarding, TV screen and computer monitor. The net result is that today's youth increasingly find their individuality in conformity, whether it is in apparel or opinion. In such times writers such as John Pilger play an increasingly important role. In his most recent book The New Rulers Of The World (NRW) Pilger lifts the lid on the illusion of globalisation.
NRW is a collection of four essays researched and written by Pilger; the first two The Model Pupil [of globalisation] and Paying The Price are based on Pilger's documentaries in Indonesia and Iraq respectively. The Model Pupil traces the dubious involvement of western business and government in post-Sukarno Indonesia to the present day. Paying The Price deals with the effects of post gulf war sanctions on the people of Iraq. The Great Game is the main essay and approaches the rocky territory of America's quest for geo-political and economic control of the globe, in particular southern Asia and Eurasia. The final essay The Chosen Ones sees Pilger return to his native Australia to deal with the thorny issue of the rights of the aboriginal peoples.
The essays encapsulate the experiences of individuals whose sufferings have been caused by the (not so) invisible hand of economics and global power play, if the two are separable from each other. In The Model Pupil we are taken on a tour of the export processing zones that surround Jakarta; here we encounter what Pilger refers to as the Hobbesian working and living conditions of globalisation's un-people who make the products of Nike and Gap; they don't earn enough in a month to buy the laces of the trainers that they make. Pilger juxtaposes this with a visit to the Shangri la hotel in Jakarta (construction paid for by a $86 million World Bank loan) where he attends a wedding reception costing $120,000. In attendance are the 'cronies' of the deposed president Suharto and World Bank officials. Pilger points out that the World Bank's raison d'etre in Indonesia is that of 'poverty reduction' and 'reaching out to the poor'. Shortly after the wedding most of the hotel workers were fired for striking for a living wage. If it wasn't so tragic it would be laughable, and this is what Pilger does so well in highlighting the grotesque anomalies of neo-liberal economics gone mad in the hands of a powerful few.
These anomalies are perhaps best highlighted in Paying The Price. In Iraq it is children who have borne the brunt of sanctions instituted by the UN in an attempt to destabilize the Iraqi regime. Pilger quotes Madeleine Albright in a TV interview in 1996; when asked if the reported figure of half a million Iraqi infant deaths was a price worth paying for sanctions, she replied 'I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it.' This statement repeatedly rings in the readers head like a funeral bell as Pilger personally charts the travails of doctors struggling to cope with a wave of infant cancers that Pilger is perhaps a little too quick too blame on the use of depleted uranium munitions during the Gulf war. One thing that is for sure is that the wrong people are suffering through sanctions. Denis Halliday, former UN coordinator for humanitarian relief in Iraq, accompanies Pilger on his journey through Iraq. Halliday makes the observation that the UN charter and declaration of human rights are flouted as war is effectively waged on the children of Iraq, with 'results that you do not expect to see in a war under the Geneva convention.' The credibility of Pilger's work is often enhanced by the strength of such contacts and eyewitness accounts, though at times Pilger should be more careful in his use of these. Later in Paying The Price Pilger uses third hand eyewitness evidence to back up a claims made by an unnamed former Iraqi rebel leader. In 1991 as the Gulf war ended he makes a claim that forces loyal to Saddam Hussein poured kerosene from helicopters onto him and his troops. He goes onto claim that it was then set alight by tracer fire as US planes circled overhead taking photographs. These are startling observations from a man on the ground that is about to be burnt alive. Certainly the plausibility of such an act is not beyond doubt, especially after one has read the third essay The Great Game.
The Great Game is essentially a documentation of how the United States has used its government, military and the institutions of the Bretton Woods agreement to perpetuate living space for the US dollar. From the days when Vietnam was still Indochina to the bombing of Afghanistan in October 2001, Pilger demonstrates how the US has systematically avoided peace and opted for war, to keep it's own economy ticking over. This is cleverly done as Pilger contrasts his own first hand experiences of US bombing campaigns in Vietnam with those in 'modern' day Afghanistan. The irony that it is carried out by the very same B-52's is not lost on the reader, as the suffering of innocents is lost in a world of Orwellian newspeak and doublethink. The Great Game is littered with eye opening facts and figures: 20% of humanity controls 80% of the world's wealth. The US foreign aid bill (2000) for the poorest countries totalled less then the cost of a B-52 bomber. UK overseas aid minister Clare Short's promise of providing clean water to third world countries was conditional on the privatisation of their water supplies; or that during the 1989 US incursion into Panama to 'arrest' General Noriega (former friend of George Bush Snr in his CIA days) upwards of 8000 civilians were killed by us troops. It is a string of stomach churning evidence such as this that continually confronts the reader. The natural conclusion is that the oilmen and women incumbent in the Whitehouse are acting on behalf of US oil giants in order to secure the world's energy supplies. Most notably in Afghanistan, which now looks set to have, an oil pipeline built across it from the Caspian to the deep-water ports of Pakistan. No stone is left unturned in The Great Game, whatever your political viewpoint, one cannot but admire the startling array of evidence amassed and worked into a wonderfully synthesised polemic on the post 9/11 new imperialism and neo-McCarthyism that appears to be on the ascendancy.
The Chosen Ones sees Pilger return to his homeland, to deal with the injustices suffered by Australia's aboriginal population. This essay doesn't really fit in with the subject matter of the previous three, though it's content is no less important, it is slightly out of kilter with the rest of the book. It seems its inclusion may well be Pilger's way of presenting an issue that is close to his heart to as wide an audience as possible. The chosen ones demonstrates the paradoxes of Australian identity, a fusion of white and aboriginal black promoted at the 2000 Olympics; and the reality of politically endorsed racial oppression leading to world record levels of illness and disease. The Chosen Ones is a well-deserved self-indulgence for Pilger, bearing in mind the enormity of the previous works.
Pilger is a true proponent journalism, compiling evidence and getting behind the rhetoric of government and supra national organisations. NRW is a natural successor to Naomi Klein's no logo in a post 9/11 world. Pilger's writing is engaging as it moves through the corridors of power and transcends time and place, to vividly illustrate how the abuse of power and information can lead to suffering. As such, NRW forces us to re-evaluate our own identities whether it be national or individual, our consumer choices directly affect the lives of others. This is the beauty of NRW that it offers no prescriptive advice, but simply prompts one to cogitate on the evidence presented and then make informed choices. Pilger does well to keep his work from becoming a diatribe although he is prone to occasional Marxist outbursts. In calling governments 'crypto-fascist regimes' or referring to leaders as 'murderers' or inferring that the International Olympic Committee is inherently fascist Pilger lowers his own tone, but this is also evidence of his retention of youthful idealism. John Pilger will never be Noam Chomsky, but with a dearth of current tangible work from Chomsky NRW plays a vital role and does it well. NRW is a must read for anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of what is being done in the far (and not so far) flung corners of the world, in the name of 'freedom' and 'civilisation'.
Simon W Farnham
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