Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Souls of China

The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After MaoThe Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by Ian Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Recent surveys indicate that Chinese hold beliefs, but don’t claim to follow a religion.

The Souls of China by Ian Johnson focuses far too much on ritual (particularly funeral ritual) and too little on Chinese thought. If you want to learn about Chinese thought, then enroll in the edX online course on Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought once it has been archived.

Readers will be surprised to learn about Xi Jinping's patronage of the Buddhist Linji Temple, where the monk Linji Yixuan founded the Linji School of Chan (Zen) Buddhism.

Johnson organizes his stories by seasons/months of the Chinese calendar, but in his afterword, he says that tian (heaven) is the aspiration of the people he followed for the book. Perhaps tian would have been a better way to organize this book. He says that tian suggests a sense of justice and respect and something higher than any one government. Tian might be a non-translatable, an ineffable concept.

For further reading, the Indian magazine Swarajya has an article Maoism Marries Confucianism - How China's Communists Are Appropriating Confucius. Appropriation serves Chinese nationalism, or what the article calls "Chineseness". I also think that Chinese leaders are concerned about materialism, consumerism, and the need for a moral compass.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

PRI: Which version of Indian history do American school students learn? | Public Radio International

I listened to the segment on the California textbook controversy on PRI's The World (May 2, 2017) and found it very biased and reductive, as it pertains to caste.

A few years ago, the Hindu American Foundation put out a report on caste.  Rajiv Malhotra, a prominent Hindu intellectual, said that the report provided ammunition to anti-Hindu groups.  HAF's Director of Government told me that when HAF made the rounds in DC to talk about hate crimes against Hindus (notably in Pakistan and Bangladesh), people shot back with "what about the caste system?"  That is why HAF put out its report on caste.

I disagree with Suhag Shukla that caste is a thing of the past.  Here are a few salient points about caste:

  • Caste discrimination and caste-based violence is outlawed in India. Social attitudes, however, die hard.
  • Reservations (affirmative action) provide minorities access to seats in the various legislatures, government jobs, and enrollment in higher educational institutions. 
  • Caste did not enter in as an issue in the 2014 elections in India.  PM Narendra Modi is from a lowly caste.
  • With regards to Thomas Blom Hansen's remarks that the caste system is "justified in the Hindu scriptures," the only allusion to caste in the Vedas is the Cosmic Man.  

'via Blog this'

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review of Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History

Best use of Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History (read my review):

The meaning of April 14

April 14 is not only Bengali New Year, but also New Year in other parts of India: Odisha (Pana Sankranti), Tamil Nadu (Puthandu), Kerala (Vishu), Assam (Bihu), and Vaisakhi (Punjab). In Punjab, it also commemorates the formation of the Khalsa, or Sikh community, by Guru Gobind Singh.

Formation of the Khalsa

April 14 is Mesha Sankranti, the day that the sun transits into Aries. The picture below shows a painted relief of Zodiac symbols on the terrace of a Gopuram at Kanipakam Lord Shiva temple in Andhra Pradesh. 

By Adityamadhav83 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
April 14 is also New Year in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, parts of Vietnam, and Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China (borders Thailand).  These New Years are collectively referred to as Songkran (Songkran = Sankranti).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Red River Delta

Cross-border riverine issues have long been of interest to me. In 1995, my husband and I visited Assam and even took a rafting trip on one of the Brahmputra's tributaries. In 1998, I had the privilege of going to Tibet, where I traveled along the Yarlung Tsangpo River, as the river is known in its upper reaches.

Last month, the East-West Center in Washington, DC hosted a seminar on The Upstream Superpower: China’s Transboundary River Policies, presented by Dr. Selina Ho of the National University of Singapore. The entire seminar is presented below (apologies for the video quality, but that’s what E-W Center provided):

An audience member raised the issue of the Red River, which flows through China and Vietnam. Naturally, I had to launch ArcMap to create a map. You may see the map of the Red River Delta and find information about how I created the map on the Bahu of Bengal Facebook page.

UNESCO has designated the Red River Delta as a biosphere reserve notable for mangroves and intertidal habitats.