April 10, 2006

My Podcast Interview Is Up

My podcast interview with the guys at The Speculist is now up. Radius-of-trust, China, space travel, and various other topics. Check it out.

Posted by James C. Bennett at April 10, 2006 09:12 AM

It's very good.

Posted by: Jonathan at April 10, 2006 06:00 PM

It is a good interview. Some points about China that I would like you to expand on, though..

There is a corresponding concept of Sinosphere in the Chinese-language circles for quite some time. I remember reading them in Chinese-language papers just after the Cold War was over, and long preceded any talk of the modern concept of the Anglosphere. In Chinese it is usually considered a network of nations and regions unified by the use of Chinese characters in their written languages and influence of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. In other words, it includes the greater China, Korea (North and South), Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, and Chinese in other Southeast Asian countries.

For more details, see this draft Wikipedia article about Sinosphere that I helped contributed. I'm wondering what your take on the Sinosphere is?


Thanks and your answer will be very appreciated.

Posted by: Joel at April 10, 2006 07:14 PM


I think that's a very useful article, unlike some on Wikipedia. I would elaborate a bit further, primarily in that I don't see these cultural-linguistic spheres as either homogenous or mutually exclusive. Every one of them has an attenuated outer sphere, in which influence is diffuse and almost always overlapping other spheres. Thus Singapore is in a sort of intersection of the Anglosphere and Sinosphere, an intersection which the Singaporeans consciously play to their own advantage. Los Angeles has become a sort of intersection of the Anglosphere, Hispanosphere, Sinosphere, and some further number of spheres -- most of the big world cities have some degree of this overlap.

The difference between my use of the term Sinosphere and the common Chinese usages you report would be what I would call "core Sinosphere" (my usage of "Sinosphere") versus "extended Sinosphere" (their usage.) I have to say, though, their inclusion of Japan really stretches the concept, and I think many Japanese would be uneasy at being conscripted into the new Sino-Co-Prosperity-Sphere. I think there is a sharp break between China proper and Korea and Vietnam, and a further sharp break between those three civilizations and Japan.

It would be interesting to get a discussion going at Far Outliers or Language Hat on exactly how much commonalty the use of kanji gives to China and Japan, because you would get far more educated commentors that I could ever be on that point. But my understanding is that although kanji (Chinese-derived characters) allows a Chinese reader to gather some sense of the subject matter of a Japanese article, unless you knew hiragana and katakana (and substantial Japanese vocabulary) you couldn't really follow it with any usefulness.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at April 11, 2006 03:00 PM

Many thanks for your take on this Mr Bennett. The Sinosphere article at this stage is rather incomplete because most sources are not in English and not a not of Westerners understand Chinese that can independently verify the accuracy of what I and other have written. It is quite a shame because what Sinosphere proponents promote can serve as some radical contrasts with the Anglosphere.

To expand on your point, there appears to be two visions of the Sinosphere: one is a network commonwealth similar to how you describe the Anglosphere is going to turn up, and the other is a consolidation of East Asian region into one single socio-economic-political bloc with China and Japan as the leading nations.

There is an article in Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao by a proponent of the Sinosphere that reiterates and expands on a lot of what we talked about. Unfortunately the article is only in Chinese. I will try to provide translations of the snapshots:


The author lists four definitions of Sinosphere in the article:

1) An economic sphere encompassing southern China's Guangdong and Fujian provinces, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan
2) mainland Chine, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan
3) A network commonwealth of every ethnic Chinese in the world, including the greater China of definition 2 and every overseas and transnational Chinese living in the rest of the world
4) A network commonwealth including Sinosphere under definition 3 plus all non-Chinese businesspeople, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and academics who have an intellectual interest in China and trying to bring their concept of China back to their own spheres.

The author sees that the Sinosphere will have progressively more influence on the outside world just as the economic development of China continues. He sees it as developing in similar fashion as the historical British influence in the world (Joel note: literal translation. I suspect he wanted to say the Anglosphere but not being aware of the concept) that Chinese cultural infliuence will cover the mainland first (innermost circle), expanded to the "greater China" region such as Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan (second circle), and then to countries which had Chinese cultural influence in the past such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand (third circle), and then the fourth circle, which includes overseas Chinese and non-Chinese that have extensive business and cultural ties with China.

The rest of the article was quite similar to what I read and contributed to the stub at Wikipedia: "Japan is an economic superpower, and it had had extensive Chinese cultural influence, and still using kanjis." etc.

The author lists the attraction of the Sinosphere as "the third circle countries in general inherit from Confucianism (the mainstream of Chinese culture) and due to the magnetic attraction of China, if countries like Japan and others don't use this opportunity to become co-operative partners, they will be marginalized" and "Countries that are next to China realize that the rapid development of Chinese economy is a trend that will not be stopped so Asian countries' governments promote investments in China and hopefully finding economic partners in mainland China in order to maintain economic developments. This inevitably leads to the third circle of the Sinosphere." In my opinion it reads more like a syrupy outline of China similar to what Euroist write on the European Union.

Overall speaking, what the article strikes me is how centralized the notion of Sinosphere is (centred in China itself) even if superficially it shares with your vision of the Anglosphere as a network commonwealth - the Anglosphere concept envisions a very decentralized grouping connected with interconnective networks. The level of understanding a network commonwealth on the part of Sinosphere proponents seems to remain at the historic 19th/early 20th century Anglosphere, with its nexus in London. In otehr words, "Every road leads to China". Given their conceptions, even though I'm ethnically Chinese myself I doubt whether the Sinosphere can really compete effectively with the Anglosphere, with its highly dispersed network nature, not to mention comparing the notion of civil society and high/low trust nature (which are not covered anywhere in the Sinosphere proponent article) in the two spheres.

Posted by: Joel at April 11, 2006 04:30 PM

Japan is an interesting case. I believe many of the language's conceptural nouns were written in kanjis but katakana is used to translate most of new vocabularies. If China ever leads the world in inventions of new technologies, discoveries in science, or cultural arenas we will once again see new nouns in kanjis but the question is if not even when. Even many of their kanji nouns are incomprehensible to ordinary Chinese. For instance, their kanji for free (free of charge) is 無料 which in my native Cantonese is an informal word to describe a person is "shallow/not well read/no wit". So there is a lot of things in Japanese that even kanjis won't help us understand what they write.

I also have to agree with you that the use of kanjis and even Confucianism are not sufficient criteria for saying Japan is inside the Sinosphere. South Korea is almost half Christian and Sinospherists will obviously object to claims that Korea is Anglosphere. I think your characterization of Japan in one of your old UPI article as "outliers that don't particular belong to which one cultural sphere" is probably the best descriptions of the nation. It is a singularity but with extensive historical contacts with the Sinosphere and contemporary interactions with the Anglosphere.

Posted by: Joel at April 11, 2006 04:57 PM

Of course as I define the Anglosphere, it couldn't really have existed much before the present era, as the phenomenon depends upon disintermediation and falttening of geographical transaction costs. So the English-speaking world of 1890-1914 that was constructing itself, exploring institutional forms, and struggling to define the relative positions of the British Empire and the USA ("World War Zero" in the jargon of this site) was at best a proto-Anglosphere, and in fact the tasks of defining a conventional English-speaking power bloc proved to be insuperable. A Network Commowealth approach may be an easier task fo the Anglosphere today. China may discover that the problems of contracting a conventional power bloc based on their idea of a Sinosphere may be harder than they imagine as well -- the dispartiy of power between the PRC and RoC is much greater than between Britain and the USA in 1900, but they haven't resolved that issue yet. (Perhaps the very disparity stands in the way of resolution.) They might be advised to give the Network Commonwealth concept a closer look in regard to their own needs.

The radius-of-trust question is particularly relevant to the question of a wider Sinosphere including Japan. Francis Fukuyama's discussion of Japanese-Chinese radius-of-trust differences in his book Trust is worth reading in this regard. I have mused a bit over the fact that just about every part of the Sinosphere that has been industrially significant, up to the beginning of the new boom, had been under the heavy influence of a high-radius-of-trust culture (either Britain or Japan) for key parts of the past century: Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manchuria, and North China. How much of a factor this has been in all cases is a matter of debate. Certainly in the Hong Kong and Singaporean cases it has been critical.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at April 11, 2006 04:58 PM

I am currently reading Alan Macfarlane's Savage Wars of Peace which is a historical/anthropological study of England and Japan as two exceptional cultures offshore from their respective continental cultures. Fascinating similarities and differences -- anybody interested in English and/or Japanese exceptionalism should read it forthwith.

I believe most of the basic kanji came into Japanese by 1000 AD; not surprising that their should be some semantic divergence since then.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at April 11, 2006 09:23 PM

From a first hand experience, I think Chinese tend to overemphasise the continuity of Japanese from Chinese culture. Often appearance can be deceiving as many famous Japanese people did have knowledge of Chinese classics (eg Tojo, Fukuzawa) and Japanese use chopsticks to eat. I'm not familiar with Japan myself but if what you say about Japan as being of a higher trust society than China (from Fukuyama) is true then this is one big difference between Japan and Chinese societies.

During the Meiji Restoration/Reformation period, Japan independently coined many new names for Western concepts and things using kanjis. Chinese only encountered them later and they decided to adopt these back into Chinese itself. For instance, the Chinese translations for economics, hygiene/health, Communist Party, telephone, freedom were all loan words borrowed back from Japanese. Dr Sun Yat-sun once said that the contributors of Chinese revolutions that toppled the Qing dynasty were 1) Overseas Chinese (many of them lived in the Anglosphere), 2) Chinese overseas students (most studied in the Anglosphere and, importantly, Japan - only a minority in Germany or France), and 3) Japanese sympathizers of Chinese revolutions. There is a deep impact of Japan back onto China after Japan modernized, and much of the fruitsof modernization is from the Anglosphere influence on Japan. (Of course the legal system and military are two things China and pre-WWII Japan did not learn from the Anglosphere. They were from Prussia/Germany instead)

There is a code of conduct in Confucianism governing human relationships. The more traditional a Chinese is, the more he will adhre to this:

(from most important/critical to least)

1) Emperor/king/leader - subject
2) father - son
3) older brother - younger brother
4) husband - wife
5) friends

Note that peer relationships are always listed the least in importance. In other words, the mroe tarditional a Chinese is, the more often he would have minded of the importance of unequal relationships and the more incapable he is of forming peer relationships. A network of relationships on an equal basis is essential for a high trust society to function. I have observed it is quite bad in Hong Kong, and it is worse in the case of Taiwan or Southeast Asian Chinese where most Chinese businesspeople would not be content to give up a majority of his publicly-listed company to outsiders. For instance, Li Ka-shing is the richest Chinese in the world. And who's he going to leave the task of running his business? His elder son (his younger son made a fortune on his own independently and owns the largest telco company in HK).

This low trust issue is not due to Communism or authoritarianism, but rather, traditional Chinese culture. And I'm afraid it is going to bite back at the Sinosphere.

Posted by: Joel at April 12, 2006 12:36 AM

The chapters on Fukuzawa in Macfarlane's Making of the Modern World are also relevant to this discussion; his Marriage and Love in England (on the antiquity of "individualist" "nuclear" families in England) provides an interesting contrast to the Confucian family doctrine.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at April 12, 2006 09:20 AM

I will try to grab hold of the Macfarlane book for more readings. Thanks for the information.

BTW, There are plenty of published works about Sinosphere, but they tend to be scattered around among books with themes on China, overseas Chinese, or Southeast Asia. The closest I could find that could be said to be the Sinospheric counterpart to your work The Anglosphere Challenge is this book A Discussion on the Current Stage of Chinese Culture by Yu Yaojun (in Chinese). He is the current Communist Mayor of Shenzhen:


If you are interested about works on the Sinosphere by proponents of that side, put it on your bookshelf and see if anyone is willing to translate it into English for you.

Also found this editorial ("Export of Chinese Culture and Balance of Power in the World") that was published on the Chinese official People's Daily on 30 March this year. Notice what the Sinospherist proponent remarked about the West:


"...we have become mediocre in absorbing other cultures. We never really learned the good things from the Western culture like the high trust nature, risk-taking, and creativity, but rather passive/negative aspects like worshipping money, utilitarianism, sexual-obsession, seeking pleasures, and individualism. We lack an awareness of how we define our heritage when we opened to external factors..."

I think he is specifically talking about the Anglosphere, but again most Chinese would not care to differentiate between the Anglosphere and Hispanosphere, Germanosphere, Francosphere. To them, everything is simply "the West". I think they are starting to aware how desperate they want to catch up with the Anglosphere but don't really "get the real crux".

Posted by: Joel at April 12, 2006 04:39 PM
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