Geography BS

Galloping eastwards: the glamour of the fertile Pannonia

While still recovering from the hectic but fruitful new year trip in Czech Republic, Hungary, and Serbia, I decided it’s time for me to write something down about this interesting trip before the memory gets blurry. The followings are some of my personal trivial observation from the trip.

We went through Brno, Czech Republic, Budapest, Hungary, Novi Sad, Serbia, and finally Belgrade, Serbia in two weeks. Eastern Europe always appeared mysterious to me because of its turbulent history and unique culture. Waves and waves of steppe nomads came and settled down there, Huns, Slavs, Avars, Magyars, Turks etc. The region with the then-most incredibly heterogeneous demography now become THE most homogeneous countries in Europe (the last one being the secession of Yugoslavia). The fertile Pannonian basin and its surroundings was intricately divided among so many different borders. For example, it is one hour drive from Brno, Czech to Vienna, Austria, and to Bratislava, Slovakia. But you could barely see the trace of any former country and culture once you cross the border, even the villages are ethnically divided in a tidy manner along the border. My land lives my people.

Moravia from the peep of Brno:

You have to give credits to the Czech people, for they have, after all, retained their distinguishing Slavic language and traditions under thousand years of Germanic dominion. One could say the same thing to Slovakia and their Magyar masters, to a lesser extent. Anyway, Czech in Moravia probably tried everything they could to dissociate themselves with the Germans, but old obelisks have still been inscribed in Germans and the Mendel’s garden still stays behind the same old church. The influence of Germany of course does not stop at the stage of mere historical monuments. After the fall of iron curtain, Germany becomes the de facto suzerain of this country. Germans came and bought their industry and made everyone work for them. Germany to Czechs are like the United States to Latinos, people speak way more German than their poor Anglicky in this landlocked country of 10 million souls. It is interesting to see that a lot of people still live in the communist project apartments that were built at least 20 years ago. This is actually the common thing shared by all the countries I visited in this trip, something I, as a Chinese, would not really be unfamiliar. Brno was not touristic at all, unlike Prague. I really like the city because of this. But I guess also unlike Prague, there is a sense of depression among the people, as they do not seem to be happy with the situation, low wage, few employment opportunities, little casinos at the corner of every street. Typical Eastern Europe under the wingspan of EU. But at least people are well behaved and the food and drinks are cheap and of good quality. May their politicians be wise enough to keep the cheap Koruna instead of the shitty Euro.

Budapest, Magyarország

Budapest is a gorgeous pearl on the Danube River. It has a glorious past but a disheartening present. Though German is still a popular languages among the Magyars, more and more young people could speak some decent English, way better than their Czech neighbors. Once going out of the old town for tourists, the scenery changed totally. There are old project apartments, rusty rail lines and mindless graffiti all over. People still prefer to stay in the past as I understood. Everyone there could easily recited their 150 years of fighting against the evil Turks and victorious defend against the Mongols, even the hipster girls (to my surprise they do have a lot blondes) on the street would point out to a foreigner on the street: “We have fought 150 years against the Turks, now you said our language sounds like Turkisk?!” To them Turks never conquered Hungary, they just flashed off and went to Vienna. Whatever makes them happy out of the current shitty economic situation. Pity I didn’t stay long there, I would be more interested to get to know more about their unique language and yummy goulash.

Serbia: from Novi Sad to Belgrade

How do I start with Serbia. Hmm… It has excellent food and wonderful women. I was told not to bring up any conversations regarding the past with the locals. I did as I was told. I now regretted that I didn’t try harder. Probably I’d get a punch on the face, but it is definitely worth knowing. Either way, the country itself is even a bit less developed than Hungary. Czech -> Hungary -> Serbia. Three different levels, one looks more underdeveloped than another. You could still see a great deal of old Yugo cars driving on the dusty roads. I assume the economic situation could not be better than that of Hungary. On the road to Novi Sad from the northern border we crossed a little town. The only English billboard on the road belongs to an English learning school. The slogan of that advertisement was unforgettable: “School of English: Money is Coming”.

Germans along with their language are clearly not on Serbian’s favor list. Instead, lots of young people speak very good English. In the streets of Novi Sad and Belgrade there are English signs for tourists everywhere, something I didn’t expect at all in Serbia. The two cities are pretty much alike. Both on the Danube river, on the same street you could easily recognize which building was built before the communist era, which was built by the communist, and which was built after the communist (plus some rubble from NATO bombing they deliberately keep). A little bit nondescript, but who am I to judge when China fucked up all old cities in the past 50 years? One interesting observation about the society there is that it appeared to me that there is a tendency among the people to get rid of the trembling past and embrace the  “promising future” with the West, which is quite disappointing for me. New signs and commercials are more likely to be written in Latin alphabets instead of Cyrillic; American style shopping malls were erected in the city with glamorous merchandises that lull people to buy. I was wearing a random shirt in a bar in Novi Sad and the logo was immediately spotted by the young Serbian girls around me. It was the first time I got noticed because of what I wear in the bar since I came to Europe. This somehow reminds me of Hong Kong, and the very reason I left that place… I thought Serbia could be immune to the suicidal cult of western liberalism but I was wrong. The country is leaning itself unconditionally towards the hand of the West. And the only nationalistic group turns to be the red-neck jogging pants gang on the street. This is something extremely lamenting.

But once again, who am I to judge? Those places all have wonderful people, excellent food and very cheap way of living compared to the West. If I could move there sometime, I wouldn’t really hesitate and even would learn their language. I do, however, hope their civilization could revive, emotionally though.

Balkan colosseum

In a colosseum gladiators were forced to fight each other or against some wild beast for the entertainment of the crowd. In Balkan, former-Yugoslavia in particular, different ethnic groups were exactly reenacting the colosseum show after 2000 years, only this time we watch the whole thing through the news program of our TV channel.

Of course there’s one big brother behind the whole show: The Western governments (or Germany in particular). Look at the political burlesque in Bosnia first. What’s the point of maintaining the country if Serbs and Bosnians, presumably share the comparable demographic size living in different regions with little overlapping settlements, never want each other in the first place? As expected, the pseudo-nationhood of Bosnia and Herzegovina never really works. If not for the carrot and the stick of the European Commission, BH wouldn’t exist in the first place (probably the term Bosnian either).

Then the stage shifts southward to Kosovo. It’s hard to convince me that the West is merely stupid and ignorant to interfere in a region that’s already messed up for decades in hope of solving those problems at once. I mean, there must be some other reasons other than a leftist scam. The situation in Kosovo is 10 times more screwed than that of Bosnia. The Albanian gangsterism is not something driven by the atrocity of Serbs in Balkan. It always has been there for years. NATO came, Serbs retreated. The next thing you know Albanian mafia runs the “country” now. If you say it’s a darn leftist scam. Then all right. Based on the principle of self-determinism, Albanians could probably get some kind of leftist legitimacy for the secession. But the implementation of the leftist principle seems to stop there, as apparently the northern Kosovo, which still remains predominantly Serbs demographically, is not allowed to rule by themselves and break away from Albanians Kosovo to join Serbia (They wouldn’t hesitate if they are allowed for a referendum). By leftist standards they are the minorities in Kosovo and therefore should be specially favored. Instead, NATO did everything they could to help the Albanians assert their authority over the Northern Serbs, over and over again. You expect the Serbs would just lay down and let them ravage over?

The most ridiculous part is, while EU find it extremely annoying to deal with the Serbs minorities in Kosovo, they simply turned shitface on Belgrade, blackmailing them if they dare to support their brothers down south they’d be forever banned from the possibility to join the mighty European Union. Well, eurocrats like to use this trick on Serbia. But do the eurocrats themselves really believe that one day Serbia would be part of the impeccable European Union (after their painful eastward expansion and economic crunch)? Unlikely. As far as I concern, they just want to nibble Serbia to the last straw, stripping off their privilege in Balkan after the fall of iron curtain. But then it leads to another question, why is EU so persistent in disintegrating the region just to screw up the Serbs? You don’t expect to tell me they do that just for the sake of many minority groups there so that they could be free from the Serbian despotism? The West never really considered Yugoslavia a major threat back in the days anyway. There must be another explanation about what they are really after in the region.

The good old days?

IQ geography in China

In one of my previous articles I briefly mentioned about the global distribution of IQ level by country. Aside from European-whites, Eastern Asians also have exceptionally high IQ level on average.

IQ by Country

The Chinese, with a population of 1.3 billion (91% Han Chinese), have a very high IQ average of 105. But little is known for the IQ level in different regions of China, whereas geographically and demographically it is simply too vast to ignore the regional discrepancy within the country itself. After an amateur scavenger hunt on the internet I actually did find some Chinese source about the IQ geography in China.

The data I found came from a website that offers self IQ tests for the Chinese netizens. Information such as age, geographical location were collected for the correlation purpose for the test result. The original statistics could be found here (in Chinese). I have constructed a series of simple diagrams for the IQ level by province in China (with the amount of participants in each province), as follows:

IQ by province in China (excluding Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) typo: Tianjian should be Tianjin (mistake in excel)

Number of participants by province (in total 63636)

There are 63,636 participants who took the IQ test on this website from all 31 provinces in mainland China. The mean IQ level of all participants is 106. This is more or less close to the figure given in Lynn’s IQ and Wealth of Nations. Considering the skewed effect of having more participants from regions with apparently higher IQ (e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, etc.), the average IQ level from the test might be slightly deviated from the actual average IQ level of China. Nevertheless, it could still give us a general idea of the IQ geography in China.

IQ level by Province (the darker color means higher IQ average)

There’s a lot to be drawn from the IQ level by province data in China. From a simple glimpse of this IQ map of China, it is evident that the highest IQ level concentrates in the Central Eastern coast of China (around Shanghai, traditionally called Jiangnan). This region in China is famous for its beautiful nature, nature resources, and most importantly, talented intellectuals and traders. This region also happens to be the locomotive of China’s soaring economy. Interestingly, 5 out of 8 Chinese Nobel prize winners (except for the lame peace award which literally means nothing but a leftist scam) come from this particular region of China.

Besides Jiangnan region, high IQ level was also observed in economic strongholds such as Beijing and Guangdong. Those regions surely attracts more smart people than elsewhere in China.

The exceptionally high IQ level of Gansu, a northwestern underdeveloped province in China, could result from the skewed sampling in the study (merely 612 participants claimed to be from Gansu). It is possible that those participants might misrepresent the actual IQ level in Gansu (given that most of Gansu still struggles from poverty and environmental hardship).

Central-south China has a relatively high IQ level (including Hunan, the province I am from). This region is known for its fertile land and mild climate. This region is considered the core of China proper with extensive historical sedimentation that nurtures the rise of Chinese civilization. (off the topic: Hunan is know for its ferocious political and military figures in modern China!).

The relatively low IQ level regions in China largely overlap with the geographical region that has high minority populations with harsh geographical and climatic environment. It is unclear, however, about the role of ethnicity profiles in this observation. This study contains no data about the ethnicity of the participants. Hence, it is inconclusive to say that minorities have a lower IQ tendency compared to Han Chinese in this study, though it is probably the case in reality (from other parameters to judge high IQ level such as level of agricultural productivity, civilization etc).

Overall, this data at least shows us a general impression on the IQ level in different provinces of China. Hopefully there are more studies available for such topic in the future.

The Golden Triangle

I don’t know how popular the term “The Golden Triangle (TGT)” is in the West. Back in Asia, it is a well-known name that only associates with drugs, opium, and drug cartels. For those who have little clue on what is The Golden Triangle, it is a special term for a geographical region in the humid Southeast Asia, more specifically the upstream Mekong valley where Thai, Burmese, and Lao borders triangularly meet each other. The geographical remoteness and complicated terrains of the The Golden Triangle have made it difficult for the outreach of governments’ influence in the past. These area was historically linked to drug lords and desperadoes aimed with military weaponry. In general, it was a total danger zone.

The reason I brought this up was because recently I read a terrifying piece of news that two Chinese cargo ship were hijacked, purged and loaded with drugs on the Mekong river in this region by the drug cartels who later clashed with the Thai authority. All cargo ship crew were killed in an execution style (12 dead, 1 missing, all Chinese). I was overwhelmingly astonished when I first read this. Two ship hijacked first and then executed everyone on board, what an appalling atrocity! This immediately reminds me of another post I wrote about the deeds of the drug cartel in the Amazons. Only those people could do such thing nowadays.

Then again, I was also shocked that it did take place in this part of the region. As dangerous as TGT used to be, in recent years Lao and Thai governments have actually put up with a lot of efforts in exerting their authority in their parts of the Golden Triangle (The Burmese part is still sort of a forbidden zone like the old TGT). Opium plantations have been significantly reduced in those areas. There has actually been a bit of economic booming in the region, after the opening of the Kunming-Bangkok highway which crosses straight in this area. I was particular familiar with this part of the world as I was personally involved in a research project that allowed me to live there (Lao part of the TGT) with the locals alone for 3 months back in 2008. I remember the whole place, as much primitive as it is, was full of businessmen from China and Thailand who rushed to Northern Laos looking for either rubber plantations or goods trading. With the laid-back mentality of the locals, it is really hard for me to believe that the drug cartels are debuting a comeback after so many years in such an unbelievably high profile. This definitely has to do with something or someone from Burma, as it is the only remaining political vacuum in the region. When I was in Bokeo, Laos I heard a lot about the women/children trafficking and casino scam in the region, mostly on the other side of Mekong River in Burma. I even met some of those tough guys. But there was never anything even remotely related to the drug business from what I heard back then, not to mention the level of mercilessness in this execution.

Pondering on such things really creep me out. I guess I would feel lucky that I did not encounter or even hear of such things when I was there. Now two things are going to happen there: 1. There is going to be another governmental sweep in the region in attempt to exterminate the drug lords. This time they might actually have to reply on Burma as well; 2. Since China has already heavily invested in the region, it would demand armed presence in the trade route.

Drug cartels are vicious venom that would poison the whole region. The upstream Mekong valley is a marvelous place. It is actually one of favor places among all the places I have been to. I certainly don’t hope the laid-back lifestyle and beautiful and quiet Mekong river be broken into gunshots and blood again. (I showed here some of the pictures I took during my stay in the Golden Triangle region. And this is where the atrocity took place…)

A little hut on the hill in Northern Laos, in which i had lunch and dozed a while

The Mekong was calm and beautiful

Lao border at the Mekong is a joke, but people are laid-back anyway

Belgian Awkwardness: Historical Roots

I’ve always wanted to write an article about Belgium. Now that I just got back from Brussels, it is the perfect time to write something about this strange country.

The Belgian government has been vacant for quite some time. This is a well-known fact. A country without a national government for so long, yet the country is not in total anarchy. You can find it nowhere but Belgium. The country hasn’t had a formal government since last June in 2010, making the longest record for a country without a government, seconded by Iraq (only 249 days). Northern Dutch-speaking Flemish just can not resolve in peace with their Southern French-speaking Walloon buddies, albeit literally being the same nationality. That looks quite strange in a modern country like Belgium at first glance. But to look a step further, I’d say it’s rather pretty predictable that things would turn out to be not working in Belgium. This political complexity goes back centuries. We should had foreseen it coming long time ago.

Since the demise of Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Low Countries (including the geographical region of current Belgium) was closely associated with theFranks, the Germanic people who invaded and ruled France after the Romans. To this day, Dutch language (including Flemish Dutch) is the closest living language to the long-gone Old Frankish, which perished in France as a result of cultural assimilation to the much higher Roman culture (read the development of French language for more details here). Dutch, as a living relative to the Old Frankish, survived in Flanders and the Netherlands. Historically this was often explained as one of the profound impact ofTreaty of Verdun in 843AD among the grandsons of Charlemagne, which demarcated the Scheldt River as the border between the West and Middle Francia, what later became the territory of France and Holy Roman Empire, respectively. One could speculate that under different political influence, Northern Belgium retained their Germanic trace within the Holy Roman Empire dominion in the Medieval age, which defined the modern Flanders; whereas the South held strong ties with France, who went through the gradual assimilation  process into the Latin culture, which the Romans have brough upon Gallia since the Caesar’s Gallic Conquest in 51BC.

Belgium, along with the rest of Low Countries, began to flourish in trade with the prominence of Hanseatic League in early Medieval age around 13-14th century (mostly feud states). Since 1405AD, Flanders and later roughly the whole Belgium have been annexed into the Duchy of Burgundy via the classic way in medieval Europe politics: royal marriage. Likewise, Duchy of Burgundy was partially annexed by the legendary House of Habsburg out of a marriage, in which Belgium was transferred to the dominion of Austrian Habsburg, Spanish Habsburg, and later Austrian Habsburg again (don’t even get me start how messy the European history is)…

Anyway, some pivotal information here from this ultra-twisting history: Soon after Philip II of Habsburg, King of Spain inherited the Low Countries (known as Seventeen Provinces) from his father  Charles V of Habsburg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain in 1556AD, protestants in Low Countries (then as sort of loose fiefdom confederation), also known as Spanish Netherlands, began to revolt against their Catholic Spanish lord in the north in 1568. This resulted in the consolidation of the loose linkage among seven northern provinces in the Low Countries, a.k.a the foundation of a new nation: The Netherlands (that’s why the nation’s name is a plural form). This was later known as the Eighty Years War (combined with the more infamous Thirty Years War in the end). After the war, Spanish Habsburg was able to maintain control in what was then called “Southern Netherlands”, which was roughly the geographical region of modern Belgium. Southern Netherlands were mostly Catholic (even in Flanders!) at the time and sided with the Catholic Spanish for such crazy wars among Protestant and Catholic. So Belgium in general parted with the Netherlands proper mainly because of the religious difference stemmed in the 16th century. As a result, Netherlands proper was able to consolidate their Germanic heritage from its own newly-established government; whereas Belgium was still under foreign dominion and susceptible to foreign influence, especially France. In 1581, the foundation of Ducth Republic in the North marked the separation of history of Belgium (Southern Netherlands) and Netherlands proper (Northern Netherlands). The term “the Netherlands” became the specific term for The Northern Seven Provinces ever since.

When the Dutch Republic in the north was swamped in defending their precious independence from Catholic powers all over Europe, Belgium (then Spanish Netherlands) was not a land of peace either. The French Bourbon, especially the great Louis XIV, had longed for the rich land of Spanish Netherlands. Consequentially the French in the 17th century had initiated several military campaigns in this region. That was a real messed-up time for Europe, constantly wars among every nation, especially in Low Countries. Wars after wars, years after years. War of DevolutionFranco-Dutch WarWar of the ReunionsNine-Years War… In 1713AD Belgium along with Luxembourg were transferred to Austrian Habsburg after the War of the Spanish Succession, marking the pause of French aggression in this region. Meanwhile, it was a great time for the French culture to spread handsomely in the Southern Netherlands. Nobles all over Europe were proud to speak French rather than their own language. Southern Netherlands, like other European regions, was no exception, especially in Wallonia.

Politically, the concept of Belgium as an independent sovereignty debuted briefly in 1790. The short-lived United States of Belgium was founded as a discontent to Austria’s political reform in Southern Netherlands. Belgian states wanted to maintain their decentralized political system, both the Dutch speaking Flanders and the French speaking Wallonia. It is noted that the concept of modern nationalism, that is one country one major ethnicity one major language, the basis of modern state, was not the fashion for the sovereignty in Europe until 19th century or even early 20th century. Medieval Europe was always about the kinship of the nobility. It has absolutely nothing to do with the ethnicity, the language the region possesses. In the case of Low Countries, the decentralized loose confederation of many fiefdoms had existed since early Medieval Age and they intended to keep it that way at the time. This is the basis why United States of Belgium could be created at the time, as both Flanders and Wallonia just wanted to get rid of Austrian centralization reform and remain the medieval political system. Though the independence was short-lived after a quick repression of the Austrian troops, the concept of a united Belgium remained, or rather the concept of the continuation of the loose decentralized confederation remained.

Later on the messy history continued. Right after the French Revolution in 1789AD, Southern Netherlands revolted against Austrian Habsburg again. As the same time the French started to hassle this important crossroad once again. The French army, under the First French Republic, invaded Austrian Netherlands and successfully annexed it into France. That was a time of constant upheaval and frequent change. On one hand France was going through a drastic period of enlightenment, when the idea of modern state, the concept of being French in France, started to emerge rapidly. This had greatly facilitated the penetration of French language in Belgium, which was then occupied by France. Nobles in Belgium at the time were mostly from the South and speaking French instead of Dutch at the time, which became the major force in the Belgium Revolution against the later Dutch governance in 1830AD. On the other hand, Belgium was inspired by the French Revolution and remained strongly of his own will of independence. All Belgians, regardless of the language they use, saw the hope to strive for a united sovereignty to protect themselves from foreign power. Any attempt from the outside that aims to alter the decentralized political tradition of the Southern Netherlands (Northern Netherlands broke the tradition themselves when fighting against the Spanish over 200 years ago) would meet with fierce resistance in Belgium. The French themselves, were no exception as the unfavorable foreign power in Belgium. The forcible suppression of the use of Dutch language over French (French nationalization process), particularly in Flanders, sparked the Peasants’ War in 1798AD. Though France managed to repress the revolt, the awareness of language identity, a key concept for modern nationalism, was spreading quickly at the time, particularly the modern Flemish movement for their Dutch-speaking identity.

Interestingly, after the downfall of Napoleon in Waterloo, Belgium in 1815AD, Belgium was engulfed by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands at the Congress of Vienna. This was actually the first time that all Low Countries (including Luxembourg) stood as a single independent sovereignty in history. However, after many years of resisting foreign power, Belgians no long saw themselves as part of Netherlands identity. Dutch was promoted as official and administrative language over French. The united kingdom was governed by a Protestant king at the time. These two facts very much touched the nerves of Belgian nobles, mostly French speaking from the south, and the Catholic clergy that remained influential in Belgium. So there began the Belgian Revolution in 1830AD against their “northern buddies”. It is noted that Flanders at the time was highly reluctant to side with the French-speakers and even the Catholic clergymen. The language identity for the first time overran their religious identity (Flanders being mostly Catholic) in the Belgian Revolution. However, it was again the French, who wanted Belgium so badly for so long, aided and supported the revolution against the Dutch and subdued the Flemish to subordinate in this revolution. At the same time, European powers were scared that France would annex Belgium again, which could impose profound threat to them (with the memory of Napoleon War still fresh). They soon found a German noble to be inaugurated as the king of Belgium in 1831. Nine years later, 1839AD, the Treaty of London was signed between Belgium and the Netherlands, which granted the independence of the Kingdom of Belgium.

The mistrust that snowballed over the years (Flanders to French influence and Walloon to Dutch influence) escalated even further after the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium. Flanders, in particular, was repressed and persecuted for their Dutch-speaking heritage. The newly established Belgian government was mostly controlled by the French-speaking Walloons and intended to go through a radical modern nationalization process. Eradicating the Germanic trace of Flemish population and enforcing one language (French) for Belgium was one of the key objectives for the then Belgian government. French was set as the only official language in the newly founded kingdom. Investments were heavily favored over Wallonia. Flanders, once a prosperous region, was heavily repressed culturally, economically and politically. One obvious example is that the Dutch version of Belgian Constitution did not exist until 1967AD, over 130 year years after its French version! Such mistreatment against the Flemish have greatly facilitated the growth of Flemish nationalism over French-speaking Walloon’s governance (instead of smothering Flemish identity). The tension between Flemish and Walloon went all the way through 20th century up to now. It is no surprise that after so many years of mistreatment Flanders want out of the Walloon-dominating Belgian political realm, especially when Flanders is doing much much better than Wallonia economically.

Belgium, from being the southern part of Low Countries, went through a long period of foreign occupation until its own independence. However, its independence is rather an assurance of the continuation of their decentralized feud-state confederation system. Modern nationalism in Belgium, under the odd years of various foreign occupation, did not manage to evolve a unified “Belgian” identity over the years. With the failed attempt to enforce a single language in the former city state alliance, nationalism emerged separately: the identity of Dutch-speaking Flemish first under French occupation in late 18th century; and the identity of French-speaking Walloon exerted under the Belgian Revolution against the Dutch in early 19th century. The concern over religious difference, which separated them from the Netherlands in the first place, was submerged by the Dutch and French language/culture conflict which fermented a distinguishable cultural and political dichotomy domestically (especially after years of systematic suppression of Flemish culture in Belgium). This is very odd for the development of a modern state. With the “minority” culture/language being over 50% of the total population in Belgium and its total economical superiority over majority region in the past decades, it’s a miracle that Walloon-dominant Belgian government could retain power for so long. I would not be surprised to see the failure of current Belgian political system albeit its constant reforms. In the current situation, Flanders has the advantages of almost every parameter over Wallonia. The autonomy, a trick to tame the restless minority in a modern state, clearly would not fulfill Flanders’ growing confidence and appetite. Based on its historical roots, since there’s never a single identity in the first place plus there is years of language/cultural ongoing tension, the partition would not be a drastic move to foresee, especially from Flemish point of view. After all, the existence of Belgium is a total awkwardness of a failed attempt towards a modern state. This is, however, nothing unique only to Belgium. Such examples could also be found in the dissolution of former Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia.

Belgian Coat of Arms, see how complicated it is?

Great Ming Amalgamated Map

This is the oldest world map that has been well preserved in one piece in China, dating back to 14th century, early Ming dynasty. Africa, Europe, Arabia are disproportionally represented in the west part of the map.

More details: See Da Ming Hun Yi Tu in wikipedia

P.S. I will be on a trip away for a week. The blogging progress has been significantly slowed down these days. I have so many unfinished drafts for the time being, and will definitely finish them after I get back.

The deserted Great Wall of China in Hebei

EU’s Sarajevo

I recently attended an academic colloquia on international development issues. Someone presented an interesting study on the failure of EU development policy on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here is some of the highlights in her research:

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has become an independent country on the 22nd of May 1992. In the first few years of its independency BiH was at war with Serbia and Croatia until the end of 1995. The war ended when the ‘General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ was signed. This agreement is often referred to as the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) for it was signed in the United States nearby the city Dayton. Peace negotiations were initiated and coordinated by the foreign intervening countries that tried to stop the war. In the DPA the structure and organisation of the country was designed and the ad hoc international institution the ‘Office of the High Representative (OHR) has been authorized to monitor and enforce the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA).

In Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided between two Entities and a district. The two Entities are the Republica Srpska (RS) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). The district is located in the North-East corner of BiH and is called the Brčko district. In the DPA the governing competences were distributed to the Entities and the central State government. Both Entities were assigned the same competences. The competences of the State government concern justice, law enforcement, foreign affairs, finance, asylum, refugees, immigration, air traffic control, common communication facilities and inter-Entity transportation. The Entities are in possession of the remaining competences like agriculture, education, health services and others. Brčko has become a separate area for the warring parties could not agree on who would get Brčko district, therefore the area was not divided between the Entities but instead was placed under supervision of a Deputy High Representative of the international community. The district has its own local government and the Deputy High Representative oversees the implementation of Dayton in Brčko area. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) is again divided over ten cantons that have their own governments and constitutions.

Present day BiH is two de-facto separated regimes. Multi-culturalism has absolutely no chance to survive in a country where things are working according to the clannish rules. Bribery is a common and widely recognized practice in the BiH politics. Mistrust among different ethnic groups, even among different clans are so evident that the chance of cooperation on a common development goal is virtually equivalent to the chance of reaching absolute zero temperature there. Therefore, in order to revive local society and economic activities, one must devise a unique plan that could well fit into this peculiar condition of BiH society. A total separation that could split different ethnic groups in different territories independently could probably work the best for the local people there. Unfortunately EU failed to recognize this power-war complex emergency situation and holds the black-white wishful thinking – that is, when the war is over there is only development right away. EU’s liberalism ignores the complex reality in BiH and pose a “make-up fantasy” in its development policy towards BiH, that is focusing on the build-up of multi-culturalism and democratic diverse society in BiH. At the same time, EU bureaucrats refer to the corruption and patronage patterns in BiH as a mere reflection of barbarism and ignorantly impose the policy based on the template of the western society. EU’s presence in BiH therefore in some sense is doomed from the very beginning.

In the integration discourse of the EU the complex emergency is not examined nor dealt with. The EU does not look into the causes, functions and roots of the problems in the Bosnia and Herzegovina. Reasons for this neglect are found in the neoliberal assumption in the integration discourse of the EU and in the possible advantages of selectively overlooking information. It could be that the EU does not want to reveal the complex emergency for this information might affect the image of the EU and of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When information about the situation selectively chosen, these consequences might be prevented. Another reason concerns the neoliberal fundaments in the integration discourse of the EU. In the neoliberal thinking development can only occur through economic and political liberalization. In the neoliberal reasoning the situation in which one intervenes is perceived to be a blank slate, because the context does not affect the outcome of the neoliberal interventions. These assumptions lead to the make-over fantasy which is also found in the integration strategies of the EU. The make-over fantasy falsely assumes that external structures and models can be implemented in a different context without addressing complex emergency. Applying the make-over fantasy limits the success of intervention and provides an explanation why the results of the EU integration process are hampered.

Chinese as a language

Chinese as a language, called 漢語 or 中文 in Chinese, is one of the four languages that successfully devised its own writing script independently (the rest being Ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Mayan). Prompted by  a recent discussion about Chinese language, I decided to construct another amateur article to elaborate the concept beyond Chinese as a language over historical and geographical scales.

Chinese writing script

Small Seal Script

Like another other language, spoken Chinese was first developed and matured among the nomadic groups that settled down in mid-stream Yellow River (黃河) in early Neolithic Age. Those group of people, considered as common ancestors for all Chinese, developed a flourishing agricultural culture. Proto-writing was developed as a result no later than 6000BC (Jiahu symbol). Based on the archaeological evidence, the first systematic writing system for Chinese is the Oracle Bone Script (甲骨文) as early as ca. 1400BC in middle Shang dynasty (商朝 ca.1600BC-1046BC). As the Oracle Bone Script is highly systemic and it is largely speculated that a mature writing system had already come in place in China way before the era of Oracle Bone Script. In Chinese mythology we credited Cang Jie (倉頡 ca. 2500BC?) as the ultimate inventor of the Chinese writing system, the Chinese logogram character. Many believe that the writing system may at least exist in the Xia dynasty (夏朝 ca.2070BC-1600BC), albeit lack of strong archaeological support yet. Chinese writing system has uninterruptedly been developed based on the Oracle Bone Script. People started to engrave words on metal vessels such as Ding (鼎) since late Shang dynasty, later Bamboo and wooden slips in Zhou Dynasty (周朝 1046BC-256BC), followed by actual papers first invented by the Chinese since late Han Dynasty (漢朝 206BC-221AD). Variations of writing scripts among different regions reached a significant level in Spring and Autumn Period and later Warring States Period (春秋戰國 770BC-221BC), when the nobility emerged as strong individual polities with the decline of Zhou imperial military might. Many different fiefdoms started to develop their own version of the script based on the early imperial Zhou Chinese Bronze inscription (籀文). Luckily this trend was cut off as soon as Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) unified the whole China proper and founded the Qin Dynasty (秦朝 221BC-206BC) in 221BC and standardized the writing script in China (書同文). The standardized script was named the Small Seal Script (小篆). At the same time the Clerical Script (隸書) was developed to be the widespread civilian writing script and later gained official recognition in the following Han Dynasty. From then on Chinese writing script has developed a couple of other variations: including Regular Script (楷書), Semi-Cursive Script (行書), and Cursive Script (草書) developed from later Jin Dynasty (晉朝 265Ad-420AD); the series of Song Typeface (宋體) that were developed based on the popularization of Printing in the Song Dynasty (宋朝 960AD-1279AD). The Regular Script was adopted as the official writing script since late Jin Dynasty and the Song Typeface was popularized with the emergence of printing books in China since Song dynasty. Modern Chinese writing script is mostly based on the Song Typeface, as they are the most standardized for the printing purpose nowadays (people rarely write these days and most of our “writing” is done by typing). Other writing scripts nowadays merely serve as different styles of Chinese calligraphy with artistic values.

In modern era, Simplified Chinese (簡體中文) was further split from the Traditional Chinese (正體中文) script which is based on the Song Typeface. Owing to the Chinese Communist Party, since the 1950s mainland China was enforced with such coarse and compelled artificial political modification of Chinese writing script that had been uninterruptedly developed since 4000 years ago. Luckily Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and most of oversea Chinese still stick to the Traditional Chinese. Just like the communist wanted to destroy Chinese culture (see cultural revolution), they forced to alter the Chinese language as well. In recent years there has been calls in mainland China to resume the use of Traditional Chinese and hopefully it would get more strides and momentum in the future. I personally have refused to use Simplified version since my early high school years (All Chinese characters here are Traditional Chinese).

Spoken Chinese

Spoken Chinese (口語), contrary to the popular myth, was never officially standardized until early 20th Century. Little is know about the phonology of spoken Chinese in Xia Dynasty and Shang Dynasty. It was understood that from ancient literature, as early as Zhou Dynasty Chinese nobles were using the spoken language used by the Zhou imperial court (capital dialect). Such spoken tone was only used for official diplomatic purpose among the nobles and states. In the time of Confucius (551BC-479BC) it was known that such spoken tone was called “Ya (雅)”. However, Ya as a spoken lingua franca in China was downplayed along with the demise of Zhou’s polity since Spring and Autumn Period, when different fiefdoms started to regulate their own official languages based on the Chinese dialects they spoke in the region. Such trend ceased when Qin managed to unify all states in 221BC, though Qin never intended to imply the standardization of spoken language all over China. Neither did any of following dynasties and emperors in China up to 1912 when the last dynasty Qing (清朝 1644AD-1912AD) exited the stage of Chinese history. Since Qin Dynasty, the official spoken tone used by officials all over China and the imperial court (官話) in each dynasty was always associated to the spoken dialect of responding capitals (with some exceptions when dynasty preserved former capital dialect after moving to a new one, e.g. Nanjing tone in Ming Dynasty, 明朝1368AD-1644AD, and Chang’an tone in Song Dynasty). Meanwhile, various tones were developed all over China proper independently, especially in the mountainous Southern China. Historically spoken Chinese (official spoken tone used by the elites) went through four major phase: Old Chinese (上古漢語 ?-4th century), spoken from Xia dynasty until late Han and Jin dynasty; Middle Chinese (中古漢語 4th century-12th century), spoken from Jin dynasty to Song dynasty; Proto-Modern Chinese (近代漢語 12th century-early 20th century) from Song Dynasty to early Republic era; Modern Chinese (現代漢語 early 20th century – now). Geographically, at present there are generally seven major Chinese dialects in China proper. There are: Mandarin Chinese (官話), the official spoken tone that is widely shared by virtually all Northern China in addition to Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Hubei (though accents vary from region to region); Wu Chinese (吳語) mainly spoken in southern Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai; Hakka Chinese (客語) mostly used by Hakka Chinese in southern Jiangxi, eastern Guangdong, western Fujian, and Taiwan; Min Chinese (閩語) that is mostly heard in Fujiang, Taiwan, and Hainan; Cantonese Chinese (粵語) used mostly in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macau; Xiang Chinese (湘語), my mother tongue, spoken mostly in Hunan; Gan Chinese (贛語) used in Jiangxi. Even as late as early 20th century it is impossible to directly communicate between a Northern Chinese from Beijing and a Southern Chinese from Guangdong. Moreover, different sub-dialects under one major dialect region may also be mutually intelligible, e.g. the case with Min Bei Dialect (閩北方言) and Min Nan Dialect (閩南方言) in Min Chinese. In general spoken Chinese is a total mess and the only reason that all different parts of China proper did not split into different “languages” is because the consistency of written Chinese, and the logogram nature of Chinese writing (spelling independent of different pronunciations). Nevertheless, since early 20th century Chinese polity in China proper (including Taiwan as well) started to artificially regulate and promote Mandarin as the official tone. Mandarin thus now becomes the standard Chinese that is widely spoken and shared all over China Proper, and is the Chinese that you are learning from all those language learning courses all over the world.

Written Chinese

Thousand Character Classic

Written Chinese (書面語), different from spoken Chinese, has always been consistent since late Zhou dynasty. Written Chinese has evolved to a stable format in late Zhou dynasty (770BC to 256BC) from simpler styles in Shang dynasty and early Zhou dynasty. Such written format is called Classic Chinese (文言文), which is mostly based on the then vernacular spoken Chinese in Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (770BC-221BC). Even though the official spoken tone for the regime altered from time to time, the written Chinese remain highly consistent and unaffected from the change of way of speaking historically and geographically in China. Classic Chinese was adopted as the widespread only standard written Chinese in China and even other countries in sinosphere for thousands of years. In some sense, written Chinese was independent of the everyday spoken language in China after the disappearance of Old Chinese since the 4th century (though still somewhat related). The secret that written Chinese could stay intact from the colloquial erosion lies in the core of the consistent Chinese culture and education system (unfortunately discontinued in early 20th century). The emphasis on Confucianism requires all Chinese elites to directly read and well comprehend those Chinese classics (典籍), which were mostly written before 2th century BC. Since those books were written in the then vernacular format, which is based on the Old Chinese, elites were encouraged to follow their style in Chinese writing in their time as a sign of classicism. This trend was further reinforced by the centralized polity that China always experienced in history, which enforced the Imperial Exam system (科舉) based on the Classic Chinese learning and writing all over China. It is therefore easy to understand why written Chinese stood the test of time and the change of spoken tones over thousands of years. Only until very recently in the early 20th century that Vernacular Chinese (白話文), devised from modern vernacular Mandarin Chinese, was adopted and replacing Classic Chinese as the current standard format of written Chinese. As a result, nowadays there has been a convergent trend towards the spoken Chinese language, as it is witnessed in many other languages such as English, French etc. It is a pity that a normal educated Chinese now may quote more from Shakespeare or Hugo but couldn’t well understand the ancient Chinese literature written in Classic Chinese. In general, vernacular Chinese is the official standard written form along with Mandarin as the spoken tone. In between those two written format, though Classic Chinese could no longer serve our daily use, its beauty and concision are simply beyond any other written language. Classic Chinese IS always the written Chinese for me.

This character "徐" is in Small Seal Script, as displayed in my profile page

The Best part of this unique Chinese language system is, as the writing scripts have been standardized with little variation and we have preserved well (and I studied well) the Classic Chinese which was used literally for over 3000 years, I have the privilege for direct access to the original sources people wrote 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago, or even 3000 years ago in China. Most of my articles regarding Chinese history are mostly based on my original source study. This is something that other amateur dabblers couldn’t do in studying the history of other great civilizations such as Greek history, Egyptian history, and Mesopotamian history etc. (provided that English is the only working language for your study).

In the end, I have written another verbose article. I don’t know how many of you have the patience to read up to this point. If you do, here I provide you with some very useful tools in studying Chinese and Chinese culture:

Database of etymology of major languages (including Chinese character) ; “Chinese Text Project” for Classic Chinese philosophy literature (both English and Chinese version) ; “漢典” Online Chinese character dictionary (in Chinese, but with Chinese-English interpretation)

Funny trivia about flags

After a week’s intense project on country profiles and information compilation, I finally got some free time to write something. I decided to share some of the interesting findings about national flags that came across in my work:

  • My flag is your flag! almost..

That means your flag is my flag as well. However, it doesn’t really mean that my people is your people. I guess it would be fine for the Netherlands and Luxmerbourg to sawp citizens equally, I doubt if Romania, Ireland, and Manaco would ever want to bring the people under the “same” flag to their countries from Chad, Ivory coast, and Indonesia, respectively.

Imagine in a gymnastics competition in the Olympic games (where Romania is pretty good at), a Romanian girl has to compete with a surprisingly good Chadian athlete (let’s say this half Chadian half Romanian girl was raised in Romania but somehow decided to represent Chad to compete in the gymnastics, a sport game where you virtually don’t see blacks at all). In the final round the Chadian unexpectedly overran the Romanian champion and took over the first place by slightly 0.01 point advantage… Then the national anthem of Chad was playing around the stadium (majority of the audiences in their home wouldn’t detect a single difference between Romanian and Chadian anthems anyway, if they would have any impression on either of these two countries). Meantime, both Chadian and Romanian flags were raised up in the air, with the former one slighter higher than the latter one. Momentarily there was a special visual switch to the raising flags in the stadium and then gradually faded into the picture of the crying Chadian and Romanian girls on the platform, I bet some audience would immediately get electrocuted out of their lethargic boredom and shout out loud: “Look at that flag, one white and a black!”
After all, my flag is indeed your flag as well, if you happen to hold the citizenship of those countries.
  • My flag is REALLY just my flag! totally…

As Romanians were still in deep sorrow about their loss in another Romanian flag in the Olympic gymnastics, others would hurry to proclaim the uniqueness of their national flags – that my flag is really JUST my flag! A Nepalese would proudly shout out loud into the sky: “Only Nepal has the double triangle flag in the world!”.

Flag of Nepal

Qaddafi royalists would deride on the Nepalese irregular weird-shaped flag and think all green flag in the world represents Libya. Too bad Formula One did not adopt the green flag as the winning flag for the racers in the last lap, otherwise Gaddafi could claim that Libyan as well.

Flag of Libya

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, fellow countrymen of Paraguay couldn’t help snorting to exert their contempt with the amateur pennon or the green rectangular flag. They would flip over their national flag and show others how prestigious their flag is, so prestigious that it is designed differently for the observe and reverse side.

“What’s the use of prestige anyway?” The Liberation Front of Mozambique begs to differ. They kicked away all those “prestigious” white Portuguese “with love from Russia”. They would rather put those practical lovely AK-47 on their national flag in memory of these babes that helped them sweep away the colonists.

Flag of Mozambique

The Northern Alliance of Afghanistan would never agree with the former black rebels in Africa about how they should decorate the flag. After years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan with only Shahada on the blank flag, the new rulers of Afghanistan can’t wait to switch the flag back to their good old black-red-green stripes with the classic Afghan emblem – a mosque with its mihrab facing Mecca, which was first adopted by the Emirate of Afghanistan over a hundred years ago. Classicism is all what’s it about. They just couldn’t get enough of their good old fashion three-color-stripes on their flag, and therefore decided to add two more mini Afghanistan national flags in the emblem that was placed in the center of the flag to show their passion and admiration for the classic time.

Speaking of passion for classicism, there is nothing more passionate and respectable than putting the totem you have worshiped for thousands of years. That is the case for Bhutan, the only country who put a DARN dragon on its flag. You eagle, lion, tiger lame worshipers, there’s nothing more awesome than a darn dragon, not even if dinosaur were still alive! We Chinese would be the first one to exclaim up into the sky, “Alas, our dragon is now in the flag of that petty princedom of Bhutan. Not to mention the first modern national flag of China is nothing but a giant dragon!” Koreans would be the second one to sign, though secretly, “Alas, if only we didn’t listen to China in 1882, we would have got that giant dragon in our flag instead of this Yin-Yan scam…” Well, now it’s pointless; Bhutan got the pure awesomeness. The darn small tiny mountain state of Bhutan.

Flag of Bhutan

  • My flag is no longer my flag! epic fail…

Some respect culture and tradition, some don’t. Some just likes to change their national flags once in a while to confuse everybody, if everybody cares at all. This certainly troubles the organization I worked for, who has to constantly keep an eye on those new changes all the time to avoid political controversies from displaying the old flags. In the past 5 years, there are six countries that have deliberately changed their flags to complicate my work. There are Republic of Malawi (2010), Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2010), Republic of Iraq (2008), Democratic Republic of Congo (2006, by the way, only dictators like to emphasize their countries being ‘democratic’), Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (2006), and Kingdom of Lesotho (2006).