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Thread: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    So, we just passed the 22-year anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China and the 30-year anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

    https://www.apnews.com/64f11fdc4fcd4ead8428a1b302747618

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-...ted-its-people

    Pro-democracy protesters have begun to invoke British symbolism in their protests, but we need to recognise the degree of culpability Britain has in the current circumstances.

    To begin with, we knew exactly what sort of society China was when we handed over Hong Kong and despite roughly two decades of negotiation and preparation we largely failed to reform the gerrymandered Legislative Council (where most seats are not directly elected) before the end of British rule. We failed to build the most basic safeguards into Hong Kong's political system that might have stopped or at least slowed Chinese encroachment and the stripping of basic freedoms. That stripping of freedom has been happening for a decade at least but it's being thrown into sharp relief now.

    We, the British, imposed this on the people of Hong Kong without a referendum, without any real consultation and largely against their wishes. We told ourselves this was "de-colonisation" and patted ourselves on the back and the rest of Europe and the Americas nodded and agreed with us and told us how right it was for us to "give up" our colony and "return" it to China.

    Fundamentally, that view was racist - we look at the Hong Hong Chinese and the people of Mainland China and we we think that because they look the same they are the same and they "belong together" when the truth is the people of Hong Kong were people of the Commonwealth, just like the Canadian, or the Australians, or the New Zealanders and indeed like the people of the Caribbean. They had a British-style civil society and British-style legal system, the same as us, and still do. These people expect the same freedoms you and I take for granted and most of the protesters were born with those freedoms - freedoms that are now being eroded by the PRC.

    As a British citizen I am ashamed, and until the people of Hong Kong are free I will never again claim to be "Proud to be British".
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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Might makes right. The USA keeps its territories since it has more force than others. Be that its base in Cuba or the islands it has overseas.

    As I am sure you are aware, the British had both Hong Kong and some mainland territories since the end of the Opium Wars. One was permanent, the other just rented. So it was always going to come to and end.

    You're ashamed? Good for you. I take it that you're going to do nothing more than write you're ashamed about this state of affairs. And what, exactly, would Britain have done had China decided to cut off the water supply from the mainland? Build massive desalination plants?

    The Britain was and is a small power with limited ability to project beyond its shores. We could either graciously give it back or tenaciously fight against the inevitable with no treaty when China finally won.

    And let's look at the Commonwealth: Pakistan. Bangladesh. Burma. Zimbabwe. Egypt. And so on and so on. There are very few members of the commonwealth that are "proper" democracies - Canada, New Zealand, Australia being the best examples, countries of the Caribbean others and India and Malaysia aren't too bad.

    Hong Kong got shafted since a bigger, nastier power took over. A shame. Move on.

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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    There wasn't much the UK could have done about Hong Kong. Like you said, water was an issue, and had already been an issue in the past. However, there was something the UK could have done about Hong Kongers. And it did. It changed the definition of UK subjects, previously meaning both those on the mainland and in the remaining colonies, to exclude Hong Kongers, so that fleeing Chinese would not be able to move to the UK as British subjects.

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    Member Member Gilrandir's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus View Post

    We, the British, imposed this on the people of Hong Kong without a referendum, without any real consultation and largely against their wishes.
    I think that you, the British, should stay away from referendums as much as possible.
    Quote Originally Posted by Suraknar View Post
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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    Might makes right. The USA keeps its territories since it has more force than others. Be that its base in Cuba or the islands it has overseas.

    As I am sure you are aware, the British had both Hong Kong and some mainland territories since the end of the Opium Wars. One was permanent, the other just rented. So it was always going to come to and end.

    You're ashamed? Good for you. I take it that you're going to do nothing more than write you're ashamed about this state of affairs. And what, exactly, would Britain have done had China decided to cut off the water supply from the mainland? Build massive desalination plants?

    The Britain was and is a small power with limited ability to project beyond its shores. We could either graciously give it back or tenaciously fight against the inevitable with no treaty when China finally won.

    And let's look at the Commonwealth: Pakistan. Bangladesh. Burma. Zimbabwe. Egypt. And so on and so on. There are very few members of the commonwealth that are "proper" democracies - Canada, New Zealand, Australia being the best examples, countries of the Caribbean others and India and Malaysia aren't too bad.

    Hong Kong got shafted since a bigger, nastier power took over. A shame. Move on.

    This is easily the worst thing any UK Government has done in my lifetime, or yours I reckon.

    after Tiananmen Square we should at least have instituted a fully democratic government based on a parliamentary model so that power was vested in a First Minister and not a Chief Executive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    There wasn't much the UK could have done about Hong Kong. Like you said, water was an issue, and had already been an issue in the past. However, there was something the UK could have done about Hong Kongers. And it did. It changed the definition of UK subjects, previously meaning both those on the mainland and in the remaining colonies, to exclude Hong Kongers, so that fleeing Chinese would not be able to move to the UK as British subjects.
    I've previously highlighted the manifest evils committed by multiple UK governments in regards to citizenship, but you are wrong on this account. Whilst it is true that Hong Kongers were not automatically granted citizenship the British National (Overseas) status was by application and was designed to replace the British Dependent Territories Citizenship they would lose automatically when China took over.

    Was it the right thing? No. Was it the worst this? Also no.

    The worst thing was the handover, full stop. No consultation, little chance of escape.

    Now we're bleating about it as though we can do anything - and you're correct we cannot, now.

    If this doesn't worry at you like a rotten tooth, though, I suspect you have no soul.
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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    So in response to the CCP being prepared to kill people in Beijing, you think that the best thing would be to create the type of situation in Hong Kong for an even greater showdown (a showdown between the world's largest army and a groups of unarmed civilians)? And the CCP would have just said "ooooh those cunning British outplayed us! How did we not see this coming - given they announced it months / years before the handover. Well, we're screwed since international opinion is the most important thing for us..."

    Unless the UK had somehow convinced the USA to treat Hong Kong like Taiwan and protect it we had either the options of leaving with a whimper or letting the place go up as a bang - if the UK moved all its assets around Hong Kong we would probably have been able to dissuade an invasion - leaving aside we'd have assets in Chinese waters and hence we would be against international law.

    The best case scenario would be that the Chinese left all these relics in place and then packed the courts and governments with their own people. North Korea everyone has to vote in elections. Doesn't make them free. Would this pretence of democracy and freedom allay your spirit?

    Might makes right. The British stamped out Suttee and The Tuggee cult in India since the British had the power to enforce their rules. Were the British right to do it? I'd say yes - but I also accept they were unilaterally destroying two cultural traditions that were probably thousands of years old in lands that were definitely conquered by force. So others might well say "no".

    I accept the UK's place in the world. We have a decent GDP still, and a large amount of soft power. And that's about it. Pax Britannia is 150 dead. I feel no guilt or shame for things that the UK has realistically no ability to alter. The Chinese did it - it is their doing. Whether what they did is right is as subjective as what the British did in India.

    Last edited by rory_20_uk; 07-04-2019 at 12:00.
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    I think the British have mixed feelings about the situation in Hong Kong. What especially took my attention were the British news commentators soon after the handover of Hong Kong. After the PRC's flag was raised and the British flag was lowered, the camera switched to those commentators. They looked really depressed. Nowadays, I think the younger generation is in the acceptance stage.
    Last edited by Shaka_Khan; 07-06-2019 at 01:25.
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    Ni dieu ni maître! Senior Member a completely inoffensive name's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    Whether what they did is right is as subjective as what the British did in India.
    Or how about we call both situations out as morally wrong and skip the whataboutism.
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    Or how about we call both situations out as morally wrong and skip the whataboutism.
    For clarification - Suttee is the act of murdering a man's wife (or her committing suicide) so that she can serve him in the afterlife. Thuggee is the act of ritually murdering your travelling companions, supposedly as an offering to the God Shiva, or just for profit.

    I have no problem with the British repressing those practices AND will calling out the repressive practices of the CCP.

    I don't believe in moral relativism, though. I think the British moral outlook in the 19th century was (whilst flawed) fundamentally correct whereas I feel the outlook of the leaders of the CCP is fundamentally repugnant.
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    Ni dieu ni maître! Senior Member a completely inoffensive name's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus View Post
    For clarification - Suttee is the act of murdering a man's wife (or her committing suicide) so that she can serve him in the afterlife. Thuggee is the act of ritually murdering your travelling companions, supposedly as an offering to the God Shiva, or just for profit.

    I have no problem with the British repressing those practices AND will calling out the repressive practices of the CCP.

    I don't believe in moral relativism, though. I think the British moral outlook in the 19th century was (whilst flawed) fundamentally correct whereas I feel the outlook of the leaders of the CCP is fundamentally repugnant.
    I think you might be a little too biased about your nation's history in the 16th-20th century. But in that specific case, sure that's a bad practice and should be suppressed, although given how many died in India under British control I am not sure that was the goal...

    Nevertheless, why can't we simultaneously hold both propositions that governments are not in the business of being moral institutions but we have at the same time a duty as citizens (or even as humans if you swing that way) to hold governments morally accountable.
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    I think you might be a little too biased about your nation's history in the 16th-20th century. But in that specific case, sure that's a bad practice and should be suppressed, although given how many died in India under British control I am not sure that was the goal...

    Nevertheless, why can't we simultaneously hold both propositions that governments are not in the business of being moral institutions but we have at the same time a duty as citizens (or even as humans if you swing that way) to hold governments morally accountable.
    British colonial government wasn't entirely benevolent or entirely moral, Company rule in India was particularly bad. That being said, the British interference in native Indian culture was done from a moralist standpoint, Thuggee and Suttee were suppressed and so was the practice of execution by elephant trampling.

    On the other hand, following the Sepoy Mutiny the British strapped some of the mutineers to canons and then set the canons off. On the other hand, the Sepoys indiscriminately murdered women and children in many cases.
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    Member Member Tuuvi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    While we're talking about British colonialism let's not forget that the British invaded China twice and forced them to pay huge sums of money in order to punish the Qing government for trying to crack down on opium smuggling when the Chinese population was in the midst of an addiction crisis.

    I don't know much about British colonialism in India but I feel like I can say with some confidence that European colonialism in general was a cruel, evil institution that was primarily based on greed with no regard for the sovereignty or material needs of the peoples the Europeans subjugated.

    The whole idea that the British were "civilizing" the nations they colonized was never anything more than an excuse for exploiting lands that didn't belong to them, and it was an arrogant, racist excuse at that. The British may have stamped out some evil practices during their time in India but they had no right to ever rule over India in the first place.
    Last edited by Tuuvi; 07-10-2019 at 00:10.

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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Tuuvi View Post
    While we're talking about British colonialism let's not forget that the British invaded China twice and forced them to pay huge sums of money in order to punish the Qing government for trying to crack down on opium smuggling when the Chinese population was in the midst of an addiction crisis.

    I don't know much about British colonialism in India but I feel like I can say with some confidence that European colonialism in general was a cruel, evil institution that was primarily based on greed with no regard for the sovereignty or material needs of the peoples the Europeans subjugated.

    The whole idea that the British were "civilizing" the nations they colonized was never anything more than an excuse for exploiting lands that didn't belong to them, and it was an arrogant, racist excuse at that. The British may have stamped out some evil practices during their time in India but they had no right to ever rule over India in the first place.
    You should read more about British colonial administration - we have a lot of private letters, journals etc. it's not just the "government line."

    Different Colonial Powers conducted themselves differently - the Germans and Belgians did some truly inhuman things as a matter of course, including creating an artificial ethnic divide in Rwanda to mirror the ethnic divide in Belgium and actually CREATE racism in the natives.

    British Imperialism, on the other hand, was essentially "paternalistic" and therefore tended to be more moderate - British treatment of natives in India was objectively better than contemporary French treatment of the Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars. Indeed, British treatment of the local FRENCH was objectively better than the treatment they got from the French government under Napoleon.

    For starters, the British paid for what they took and had standing orders to hang rapists.

    Insofar as you can call all expansion of any nation "evil" you can call Imperialism "evil" but beyond that the reality is that in the case of India British rule was neither significantly better or worse than the previous "native" rule. Prior to the British many princely states were ruled by Muslim Rajas with Hindu and Sikh subjects, many of these Rajas were descended from Turks or Mongols and you could argue they had as much "right" (Right of Conquest) as the British.

    Certainly, the British saw it that way.

    Congratulations - we're now talking about history that took place long before any of us were born, rather than the plight of people our own age living today.
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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Tuuvi View Post
    While we're talking about British colonialism let's not forget that the British invaded China twice and forced them to pay huge sums of money in order to punish the Qing government for trying to crack down on opium smuggling when the Chinese population was in the midst of an addiction crisis.

    I don't know much about British colonialism in India but I feel like I can say with some confidence that European colonialism in general was a cruel, evil institution that was primarily based on greed with no regard for the sovereignty or material needs of the peoples the Europeans subjugated.

    The whole idea that the British were "civilizing" the nations they colonized was never anything more than an excuse for exploiting lands that didn't belong to them, and it was an arrogant, racist excuse at that. The British may have stamped out some evil practices during their time in India but they had no right to ever rule over India in the first place.
    That's a rather post-colonial reading of history. You can question Britain's right to rule over Indians, but you can't question Britain's right to rule over India, as there wasn't a unified India in the first place. Sovereignty wasn't an issue either. Nor arrogance and racism for that matter. Indians were ruled by an arrogant ruler before the British took over, and they were ruled over by an arrogant ruler after the British took over. There were local kingdoms, princedoms, and whatever local government entities there were. What there wasn't was an India. And in the north, where the first British military campaigns took place, the rulers weren't native either. If the British were arrogant and racist for what they did, how would you describe the Mughals whom they replaced in the north? When studying history, avoid using modern norms to assess historical practice. Pre-20th century, British rule over India was no more unusually cruel or despotic than other empires, and a great deal better than most. To say that India didn't belong to them is also a misnomer; it belonged to the British as much as any other realm belonged to their rulers. Britain's exploitation of Indians is besides the point too; British rulers exploited Indian people, Mughal rulers exploited Indian people, Indian rulers exploited Indian people. It's what rulers did in the era, and Britain mostly took over previous forms of exploitation. Britain introduced a couple of additions of malpractice: extortion, which was supporting Indian princes in return for money (until they were eventually bankrupted and the British took over direct control), and incompetence, where the British rulers did not respond sufficiently quickly or flexibly to natural disasters.

    On the opium wars: the British needed their tea.

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    Iron Fist Senior Member Husar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    These arguments for how the British were more gentle than others are just a load of whataboutism and bullhonkey.
    You make it sound like the people in power at the time didn't even know that an MO other than what they were doing was possible.
    Ideas of democracy, resistance against nobility and so on were certainly not new concepts at the time though and had been crushed by nobility to secure their own power. In the end it was just about cold power grabs as far as they could justify with their fake christian decency and the fact that others were worse because they faked less decency isn't an excuse for any of them.

    I don't walk around excusing 9/11 by saying that "a lot of people in the Middle Eeast believed that America was satan at the time, he just couldn't know any better", and if I did it would be the same bullhonkey you're spreading to excuse colonial violence. The people responsible were largely serving their own personal ambition, perhaps hiding them below "service to the nation" and maybe some of them were actually deluded enough to think they were doing the right thing, but the same could be said for the other example...I mean you don't fly into a building to get a promotion in your office job, you have to believe to be doing the right thing, because it will be the last thing you do here...

    Doesn't make it better though, or does it?


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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    If the British were arrogant and racist for what they did, how would you describe the Mughals whom they replaced in the north?
    Deflecting evaluations of one's conduct toward the conduct of another is considered unacceptable even in small children. There can be more than one bad thing in the world at a time.

    When studying history, avoid using modern norms to assess historical practice.
    This incoherent principle cannot fairly be applied without producing absurdities. It does not pass the "straight face" test. All you're communicating here is that you dislike post-colonial standards. For some reason.

    Pre-20th century, British rule over India was no more unusually cruel or despotic than other empires, and a great deal better than most.
    I'm pretty sure British colonial rule was brutal, destructive, and rapacious. You conquered people to steal their resources and labor. The fact that others - Mughals, Belgians, Americans - were doing the same is no excuse. The past was a pretty awful time; it's OK to learn from history.


    By the way, none should miss the irony of Phil denouncing "moral relativism" while trying to assure us that British crimes were "objectively better" than contemporary powers' crimes. Down with apologism (or soon you'll hear the tankie line about Stalin's methods singlehandedly elevating and rescuing Mother Russia).
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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    Deflecting evaluations of one's conduct toward the conduct of another is considered unacceptable even in small children. There can be more than one bad thing in the world at a time.



    This incoherent principle cannot fairly be applied without producing absurdities. It does not pass the "straight face" test. All you're communicating here is that you dislike post-colonial standards. For some reason.



    I'm pretty sure British colonial rule was brutal, destructive, and rapacious. You conquered people to steal their resources and labor. The fact that others - Mughals, Belgians, Americans - were doing the same is no excuse. The past was a pretty awful time; it's OK to learn from history.


    By the way, none should miss the irony of Phil denouncing "moral relativism" while trying to assure us that British crimes were "objectively better" than contemporary powers' crimes. Down with apologism (or soon you'll hear the tankie line about Stalin's methods singlehandedly elevating and rescuing Mother Russia).
    When I studied history, it was always hammered into me: understand the times as much as possible from the thinking of the period. How else do you understand sources and what they say? When looking at ancient Rome, do you look at things from a modern perspective and impose that perspective onto your understanding of what's going on? Or do you try to understand how ancient Romans (or at least those sources we have) thought, and understand the sources from there?

    When I say that Tuuvi's description is post-colonialist, I mean the concept of India as a single nation state to which Britain is alien, invasive and unwanted, imposing itself on an Indian nation that would just throw off its chains given the chance. It was like that at the end, but not in the beginning. The British were one of a collection of warlords, some native, some not, some of them even European (the British took over the French possessions in the Seven Years War). The most powerful of these kingdoms was the Mughal Empire. Were the Mughals natives that the British displaced?

    When the British first took over India, democracy wasn't "a thing". It certainly hadn't attained the totem status that it has today. British rule then developed over time to take on different features. At the end it was plainly out of date, and recognised even by Westminster. But to look at the end point and apply it to the rest of its history is bad historiography.

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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    Deflecting evaluations of one's conduct toward the conduct of another is considered unacceptable even in small children. There can be more than one bad thing in the world at a time.
    We are discussing history, not the present. One does not need to like the past but one does need to understand it.

    This argument started because Rory said that the British suppression of Thuggee and Suttee was the same as the present CCP's suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. I simply made the point that the fact the British had conquered India had nothing to do with the moral rightness of supressing those cults and that, in many cases, British rule was no worse than local rule for local people in terms of outcomes.

    This incoherent principle cannot fairly be applied without producing absurdities. It does not pass the "straight face" test. All you're communicating here is that you dislike post-colonial standards. For some reason.
    No, you end up with absurdities if you try to apply modern standards. Absurdities like the belief that the religious authorities burned people at the stake because they were sadistic, or that people reported witches so that they could appropriate their land.

    That's what happens when you apply modern standards, but if you try to understand the standards of the time you can try to actually understand the psychology of those involved.

    I'm pretty sure British colonial rule was brutal, destructive, and rapacious. You conquered people to steal their resources and labor. The fact that others - Mughals, Belgians, Americans - were doing the same is no excuse. The past was a pretty awful time; it's OK to learn from history.
    Really, because I'm not "pretty sure" about anything historical? Again, you're applying a certain prism (Colonialism = evil) and then assuming you know the intentions of the British traders and administrators.

    By the way, none should miss the irony of Phil denouncing "moral relativism" while trying to assure us that British crimes were "objectively better" than contemporary powers' crimes. Down with apologism (or soon you'll hear the tankie line about Stalin's methods singlehandedly elevating and rescuing Mother Russia).
    I said nothing of "British crimes", I imagine I know more about them than you do, I spoke merely of British Colonial Administration, unless you mean all historical government is a "crime."

    Does that pass your "straight face" test?
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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Husar View Post
    These arguments for how the British were more gentle than others are just a load of whataboutism and bullhonkey.
    You make it sound like the people in power at the time didn't even know that an MO other than what they were doing was possible.
    Well, this is debatable. Did they think there was a better way of doing things? The British simply went somewhere, contested with the natives and took over, which is what everyone did everywhere at the time, including the Indians.

    Ideas of democracy, resistance against nobility and so on were certainly not new concepts at the time though and had been crushed by nobility to secure their own power. In the end it was just about cold power grabs as far as they could justify with their fake christian decency and the fact that others were worse because they faked less decency isn't an excuse for any of them.
    The EIC conquest of India was essentially completed by 1800 with the remaining local rulers reduced to vassal status. That's decades before the First Great Reform Act in 1832 - concepts like "democracy" are not, as Pan said, "really a thing" yet.

    I don't walk around excusing 9/11 by saying that "a lot of people in the Middle Eeast believed that America was satan at the time, he just couldn't know any better", and if I did it would be the same bullhonkey you're spreading to excuse colonial violence. The people responsible were largely serving their own personal ambition, perhaps hiding them below "service to the nation" and maybe some of them were actually deluded enough to think they were doing the right thing, but the same could be said for the other example...I mean you don't fly into a building to get a promotion in your office job, you have to believe to be doing the right thing, because it will be the last thing you do here...

    Doesn't make it better though, or does it?
    This is actually an important historical question, it can be applied to 9/11, revolution in Cuba, the Holocaust, the massacre at Agincourt, the murder of Jesus Christ, the Persian Invasions...

    In each case the answer depends on how the actions were seen at the time AND the intention behind them.
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Tuuvi View Post
    While we're talking about British colonialism let's not forget that the British invaded China twice and forced them to pay huge sums of money in order to punish the Qing government for trying to crack down on opium smuggling when the Chinese population was in the midst of an addiction crisis.
    Perhaps they thought it was not the Qing but the King government? After all, you can't expect them to have been good at spelling.
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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilrandir View Post
    Perhaps they thought it was not the Qing but the King government? After all, you can't expect them to have been good at spelling.
    The Wade-Giles spelling is Ching, pronounced the same as pinyin's Qing.

    FWIW, Tuuvi missed another British invasion of what might be called China, except that China did it too. In the British case, it happened in the early 20th century (pre-WWI), and the British commander involved did it on his own initiative without UK government sanction, and was promptly recalled and promoted upstairs and forbidden from leaving the country again on similar foreign adventures. In the Chinese case, it happened in the mid-20th century, was done with full government support (and government resources), and is maintained even today. What does Tuuvi think of the British and Chinese invasions of Tibet?

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    Member Member Tuuvi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    That's a rather post-colonial reading of history. You can question Britain's right to rule over Indians, but you can't question Britain's right to rule over India, as there wasn't a unified India in the first place.
    I meant India as a region/sub-continent, not a unified nation state. Plus my post was mostly just talking about European colonialism in general anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    Sovereignty wasn't an issue either. Nor arrogance and racism for that matter. Indians were ruled by an arrogant ruler before the British took over, and they were ruled over by an arrogant ruler after the British took over. There were local kingdoms, princedoms, and whatever local government entities there were. What there wasn't was an India. And in the north, where the first British military campaigns took place, the rulers weren't native either. If the British were arrogant and racist for what they did, how would you describe the Mughals whom they replaced in the north?
    I should have said "self-determination" instead of "sovereignty". My bad. Nothing about the statement "British imperialism was bad" implies that the pre-British rulers were good. You're creating a false dichotomy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    When studying history, avoid using modern norms to assess historical practice. Pre-20th century, British rule over India was no more unusually cruel or despotic than other empires, and a great deal better than most.
    I'm well aware that good historical research strives to be objective and to understand events from the point of view of the people who lived through them. But this forum is not an academic history conference. It's a place for casual political discussion, and in the context of politics I see nothing wrong with casting moral judgements on the institutions and practices of the past, because these judgements are directly relevant to decisions about what modern political practice should be. Should we really avoid saying stuff like "slavery was immoral" or "the Holocaust was evil" because it would be un-historical?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    To say that India didn't belong to them is also a misnomer; it belonged to the British as much as any other realm belonged to their rulers. Britain's exploitation of Indians is besides the point too; British rulers exploited Indian people, Mughal rulers exploited Indian people, Indian rulers exploited Indian people. It's what rulers did in the era, and Britain mostly took over previous forms of exploitation. Britain introduced a couple of additions of malpractice: extortion, which was supporting Indian princes in return for money (until they were eventually bankrupted and the British took over direct control), and incompetence, where the British rulers did not respond sufficiently quickly or flexibly to natural disasters.
    Again this is a false dichotomy. I never said anything about whether or not the Mughals or whoever were enlightened, benevolent rulers.

    What does Tuuvi think of the British and Chinese invasions of Tibet?
    I think invasions are bad.

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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    When I studied history, it was always hammered into me: understand the times as much as possible from the thinking of the period. How else do you understand sources and what they say? When looking at ancient Rome, do you look at things from a modern perspective and impose that perspective onto your understanding of what's going on? Or do you try to understand how ancient Romans (or at least those sources we have) thought, and understand the sources from there?
    Of course modern perspectives must be applied to the study of history, or all we could ever study would be the biographies of kings, generals, and philosophers. Because those were the perspectives afforded respect throughout history; other perspectives of course always existed, but your doctrine is one more excuse to ignore them. But I'm not even referring to historical analysis, but to the application of moral reasoning to facts. If we observe the fact that a serial killer has brutally slain a dozen indigents, it is a simple judgement to say it was a bad thing for the killer to kill a dozen indigents. The doings of a serial killer, or mercenary or whoever, at any point in history or prehistory, could similarly be labeled a Bad Thing by us for a similar set of acts. That many in the past, depending on circumstances, may not have seen the "serial kiler" the same way is useful for understanding past societies, but has no bearing on what we should think today.

    When I say that Tuuvi's description is post-colonialist, I mean the concept of India as a single nation state to which Britain is alien, invasive and unwanted, imposing itself on an Indian nation that would just throw off its chains given the chance. It was like that at the end, but not in the beginning.
    The point isn't the disposition of some construct of colonized nationhood but that what the British did was straightforwardly a bad thing to do, over hundreds of years. How cohesive Indian society was bears no relevance, any more than the tectonic qualities of the Indian plate.

    But to look at the end point and apply it to the rest of its history is bad historiography.
    We're not talking historiography, we're talking morality. Killing people and oppressing them to steal their resources and labor has always been a bad thing, whether it was done by Romans or by Nestle SA.

    Quote Originally Posted by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus View Post
    This argument started because Rory said that the British suppression of Thuggee and Suttee was the same as the present CCP's suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. I simply made the point that the fact the British had conquered India had nothing to do with the moral rightness of supressing those cults and that, in many cases, British rule was no worse than local rule for local people in terms of outcomes.
    I agree that the settee and Thugeeism were bad practices, and that British colonization had nothing to do with suppressing them.

    British rule was often worse; it shouldn't be whitewashed.

    That's what happens when you apply modern standards, but if you try to understand the standards of the time you can try to actually understand the psychology of those involved.
    Both are done in parallel.

    Really, because I'm not "pretty sure" about anything historical? Again, you're applying a certain prism (Colonialism = evil) and then assuming you know the intentions of the British traders and administrators.
    We can read about their intentions, and moreover their actions and the results of those actions are on the historical record. We can deduce colonialism was bad because we have learned that historical record, not merely as a prior commitment.

    In each case the answer depends on how the actions were seen at the time AND the intention behind them.
    This is the absurdity I was referring to. Taken to its logical conclusion, it becomes impossible to give an account of anything because everything subject to evaluation is past, and all process of evaluation follows from "current" perspective. Who would you then be to second-guess British Hong Kong diplomacy or EU politics then? That was then, and this is now.

    "Hitler did nothing wrong" is an easy statement to reject if one knows what is right and what is wrong.
    Last edited by Montmorency; 07-11-2019 at 07:00.
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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    Of course modern perspectives must be applied to the study of history, or all we could ever study would be the biographies of kings, generals, and philosophers. Because those were the perspectives afforded respect throughout history; other perspectives of course always existed, but your doctrine is one more excuse to ignore them. But I'm not even referring to historical analysis, but to the application of moral reasoning to facts. If we observe the fact that a serial killer has brutally slain a dozen indigents, it is a simple judgement to say it was a bad thing for the killer to kill a dozen indigents. The doings of a serial killer, or mercenary or whoever, at any point in history or prehistory, could similarly be labeled a Bad Thing by us for a similar set of acts. That many in the past, depending on circumstances, may not have seen the "serial kiler" the same way is useful for understanding past societies, but has no bearing on what we should think today.

    The point isn't the disposition of some construct of colonized nationhood but that what the British did was straightforwardly a bad thing to do, over hundreds of years. How cohesive Indian society was bears no relevance, any more than the tectonic qualities of the Indian plate.

    We're not talking historiography, we're talking morality. Killing people and oppressing them to steal their resources and labor has always been a bad thing, whether it was done by Romans or by Nestle SA.
    What do you think of the practice of fighting wars and taking the possessions of the defeated?

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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    What do you think of the practice of fighting wars and taking the possessions of the defeated?
    Has someone pretended the Melian Dialogue was a debate of ethics?* It's not good.

    *If you like historiography, the common ancient distaste at internecine rapine is one theme.
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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    Of course modern perspectives must be applied to the study of history, or all we could ever study would be the biographies of kings, generals, and philosophers. Because those were the perspectives afforded respect throughout history; other perspectives of course always existed, but your doctrine is one more excuse to ignore them. But I'm not even referring to historical analysis, but to the application of moral reasoning to facts. If we observe the fact that a serial killer has brutally slain a dozen indigents, it is a simple judgement to say it was a bad thing for the killer to kill a dozen indigents. The doings of a serial killer, or mercenary or whoever, at any point in history or prehistory, could similarly be labeled a Bad Thing by us for a similar set of acts. That many in the past, depending on circumstances, may not have seen the "serial kiler" the same way is useful for understanding past societies, but has no bearing on what we should think today.
    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    Has someone pretended the Melian Dialogue was a debate of ethics?* It's not good.

    *If you like historiography, the common ancient distaste at internecine rapine is one theme.
    Ancient distaste at internecine rapine was something confined to certain of your cited elites, whom you say we should not only study. It was either accepted as a fact of life by the commonfolk, or was damn popular as a way of enrichening themselves. It may not be within reasonable living memory in the west which is all the world you know, but in some parts of the world, that attitude was within living memory. I've spoken to Hong Kongers whose previous generation had fought tribal wars over territory and influence, until the British shut down all the fun post-WWII. Ancient distaste at internecine rapine? Internecine rapine was a current thing in Hong Kong well into the 20th century. You probably didn't know that though, as mainstream history as taught in 21st century school is all you know of history.

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    Iron Fist Senior Member Husar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus View Post
    Well, this is debatable. Did they think there was a better way of doing things? The British simply went somewhere, contested with the natives and took over, which is what everyone did everywhere at the time, including the Indians.

    The EIC conquest of India was essentially completed by 1800 with the remaining local rulers reduced to vassal status. That's decades before the First Great Reform Act in 1832 - concepts like "democracy" are not, as Pan said, "really a thing" yet.
    Well, the French had a revolution in 1789, Germany had peasant rebellions during the reformation, there were plenty of other peasant rebellions here and there, England had the bill of rights and that other important bill from medieval times. So I think it is quite silly to say that the nobility of England in 1800 was not aware that humans don't like to be subjugated. I don't know about Indian rulers, but they probably had similar knowledge and just because they were also good at ignoring the problems of their subjects that doesn't mean anyone else was a good person.


    Quote Originally Posted by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus View Post
    This is actually an important historical question, it can be applied to 9/11, revolution in Cuba, the Holocaust, the massacre at Agincourt, the murder of Jesus Christ, the Persian Invasions...

    In each case the answer depends on how the actions were seen at the time AND the intention behind them.
    Yes, and the fact that quite a few of the ten commandments are still encoded in law today mmight be a hint that certain morals haven't changed a whole lot over time, there were just times when the ruling class found workable excuses to ignore them. Such as declaring foreign people chattel or animals. You can't tell me that noble families tried to trace their ancestry back to Adam and Eve but were oblivious to the thought that forcing others to do things was not a nice thing to do. Possible that they developed some forms of collective delusion, but I'm pretty sure that they knew deep inside that it was wrong or at least saw plenty of signs that could have led them to that conclusion and chose to ignore them for their own benefit. This still happens today as well, it hasn't really changed, just like the morals that this behavior ignores.


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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    I agree that the settee and Thugeeism were bad practices, and that British colonization had nothing to do with suppressing them.
    Sorry, "nothing to do with" looks like a grammatical mistake here.

    In any case, the British are responsible for suppressing those practices, there's no way to know if or when they would have been suppressed otherwise.

    The British would also ultimately be responsible for abolishing slavery throughout their Empire, though this was slow to come to India.

    British rule was often worse; it shouldn't be whitewashed.
    This is the sort of thing people say without any actual empirical evidence, and also - worse that what? British rule in Ireland? American rule then vs American rule now?

    Both are done in parallel.
    I disagree, you first have to understand the past (or try to) and only then can you ask questions such as whether the past was better or worse.

    We can read about their intentions, and moreover their actions and the results of those actions are on the historical record. We can deduce colonialism was bad because we have learned that historical record, not merely as a prior commitment.
    But why is Colonialism bad?

    This is the absurdity I was referring to. Taken to its logical conclusion, it becomes impossible to give an account of anything because everything subject to evaluation is past, and all process of evaluation follows from "current" perspective. Who would you then be to second-guess British Hong Kong diplomacy or EU politics then? That was then, and this is now.

    "Hitler did nothing wrong" is an easy statement to reject if one knows what is right and what is wrong.
    Let's leave Hitler aside, he's a bit too recent.

    Let's consider the Protestant Reformation when both sides fiercely suppressed each other up to and including burning at the stake. Today we consider this wrong because we consider the free flow of ideas to be pretty much paramount - except when we don't. In fact, today we lock people up, fine them, sack them from their jobs and exclude them from public life if they don't toe a particular line, we just don't torture or kill them.

    During the Reformation ideas, heretical ideas, were considered more dangerous than anything else because those people valued their souls more than their bodies or their property. In that context, absolute suppression of heresy by all methods becomes a moral imperative.

    The point is precisely that their morals, their concept of Right and Wrong, was different from ours.

    Now, you can, if you wish, judge them as evil for believing differently to you, or you can judge them as misguided.

    I take the second view, which means that British Imperialism was misguided, but I will not apply words like "brutal" or "evil" unless the actual acts at the time were evil or brutal.
    Last edited by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus; 07-14-2019 at 16:22.
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Pannonian View Post
    Ancient distaste at internecine rapine was something confined to certain of your cited elites, whom you say we should not only study. It was either accepted as a fact of life by the commonfolk, or was damn popular as a way of enrichening themselves. It may not be within reasonable living memory in the west which is all the world you know, but in some parts of the world, that attitude was within living memory. I've spoken to Hong Kongers whose previous generation had fought tribal wars over territory and influence, until the British shut down all the fun post-WWII. Ancient distaste at internecine rapine? Internecine rapine was a current thing in Hong Kong well into the 20th century. You probably didn't know that though, as mainstream history as taught in 21st century school is all you know of history.
    So you're on to anthropology? I can't say I'm impressed by your alleged (undocumented) knowledge of the mindset of the average Athenian on the street or the bulk of the population of Hong Kong. Civil strife and elite competition is not something invented in post-war Hong Kong, by the way; lol @ "tribal wars." We had those in American cities throughout the same time period, waged by swarthy migrant tribes from Europa called "Mafia." Something outside the bounds of a history class might be that millions of Westerners to this day are thirsty for the blood of foreigners (and impure countrymen). As it turns out societies, like individuals, are permeated with multiple attitudes and belief systems.

    Quote Originally Posted by Philippus Flavius Homovallumus View Post
    Sorry, "nothing to do with" looks like a grammatical mistake here.
    ??

    This is the sort of thing people say without any actual empirical evidence
    Defenders of colonialism don't seem too bothered about advancing empirical evidence of benefits. There's quite a lot of evidence for negative

    Late Victorian Holocausts
    Resource drain
    Colonial economy
    Long-term consequences

    You know how the history of the WWII Holocaust is sufficiently documented that we can denounce "denialism" and the fabrication of history excusing atrocity?

    I disagree, you first have to understand the past (or try to) and only then can you ask questions such as whether the past was better or worse.
    First of all, why? Second of all, how does this impinge on what I said? Assigning moral valence to a historical practice or event is different than comparing how good life was in the past versus the present, which I am utterly uninterested in doing here (I'm pretty sure we're better off nowadays FWIW, reactionary mileage may vary).

    But why is Colonialism bad?
    See above. Murdering and exploiting people to steal their resources and labor is also bad in itself regardless of its guise. Like when the French maintained slavery by proxy in Mali well into the Belle Epoque. It is disconcerting that I should need to explain this. It's like having me respond to "Why is it wrong for me to eat you alive?" Like, OK Mr. Lecter, but the cops are on the way.

    Let's leave Hitler aside, he's a bit too recent.
    Why? The history of living memory is not subject to any qualitatively different conditions than the study of history beyond it, just the availability of materials. Ultimately the methods of archaeology, osteology, and gathering of documentary evidence are as relevant for 2000 BC as for 2000 CE.

    Let's consider the Protestant Reformation when both sides fiercely suppressed each other up to and including burning at the stake. Today we consider this wrong because we consider the free flow of ideas to be pretty much paramount - except when we don't. In fact, today we lock people up, fine them, sack them from their jobs and exclude them from public life if they don't toe a particular line, we just don't torture or kill them.
    Holy shit, we consider this wrong because they murdered each other in an orgy of political violence.

    If you want someone extolling the value of free press - though not on exactly the same terms as speech absolutists today - we have John Milton. Obviously the Puritans disagreed. Others did agree. Similarly today we have a variety of views among individuals, groups, and within different national legal regimes. The question is, what is the question?

    During the Reformation ideas, heretical ideas, were considered more dangerous than anything else because those people valued their souls more than their bodies or their property. In that context, absolute suppression of heresy by all methods becomes a moral imperative.
    As I said, that was a specific viewpoint held by a subset of certain sociopolitical groups. Other groups and subsets may held overlapping views for different (e.g. secular) reasons. They may have held them to differing intensities. Some might have opposed them but gone along out of expedience or cowardice. Various commoners may or may not have held sophisticated viewpoints on the matter, or to differing extents been swayed by elite signalling. It is possible to study all of this.

    The point is precisely that their morals, their concept of Right and Wrong, was different from ours.
    You're engaging in convenient anachronism, not truly study of the past. To study intellectual history you should not assign sweeping ideologies this way.

    I take the second view, which means that British Imperialism was misguided, but I will not apply words like "brutal" or "evil" unless the actual acts at the time were evil or brutal.
    Why would you view it as misguided? Your logic says that if you don't believe British colonizers viewed colonialism as misguided - which some did indeed, but keeping to your understanding - then you can't either. What allows you to evaluate in terms of "misguided" but not good or bad? Don't you see how thoroughgoing the absurdity is? The same limitation you impose on me would, for example, prevent you from judging the political or military efficacy of the reported decisions of statesmen and generals. All those nerds scrutinizing Waterloo must be full of shit.

    Even on your own terms as regards the intellectual or cultural sphere you would have to demonstrate that no one viewed given acts as evil or brutal. In fact you couldn't. If even a single person at any point in time thought 'We should somewhat improve things' or 'Violence is bad' or 'I wish my community had more control over its affairs', the doctrine collapses on its own terms.

    As I said, to apply this fairly would produce an absurd and incoherent vision of history, assigning uniform viewpoints to both past and present people and engaging in the moral relativism of refusing to evaluate concrete actions within a cultural context not intimate to one's own. But it is typically applied only selectively, in a self-serving way. I'm not sure which is worse.


    There is a sense in which a historical interpreter's personal beliefs get in the way of accurately analyzing or understanding history, but this isn't what you stand opposed to. Here are some examples and how to avert them:

    1. Many African, Asian, and Latin American people after WW2 embraced Marxist ideologies in the form of their national and transnational struggles of the time. A naive contemporary interpretation might be that they were all true utopians or dialectical materialists somehow. Learning the colonial histories of those continents and the process of post-war decolonization reveals that the Marxist revolutionaries were not so much persuaded by ideological exegesis as attached to a political consciousness and intellectual network that seemingly linked them to a relatable and cohesive transnational struggle to strike back at European or American influence and control, an ideology that afforded them equal status to white men. Also, the hope for Soviet sponsorship.
    2. Abortion has been pretty common throughout recorded history. But if one looks through printed materials from the 19th or 18th centuries, or through diaries, letters, or medical literature of the time for the words "abortion" or "birth control", one might get the impression that these concepts did not exist at the time. But with some thought, one can figure out they used different, often euphemistic, terminology than what we recognize today.
    3. A lot of neo-Medieval films portray premodern combat in strange ways. For example, the most recent Robin Hood adaptation opened with a small unit of crusaders stalking the city streets of [city] with a tactical posture like they were fighting insurgents in modern Fallujah, complete with flanking maneuvers against a machine-gun repeating crossbow nest. The neo-Medieval aesthetics of stone masonry, sword and bow, etc. were all there, but the modernization was reckless. There's modernization of an old story, and then there's grafting on modern tropes and iconography.
    4. The idea of Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires and locus of irregular resistance unfamiliar to civilized Europeans is often assumed to be accurate and timeless, one stretching back to the invasion of Alexander the Great. However, in ancient times the people in what is modern Afghanistan practiced fairly conventional warfare, such as would have been recognizable to Alexander the Great from his campaigns against Thracians. This elaborate interpretation entered British academic and popular consciousness following the Victorian-era defeat of the British in the First Anglo-Afghan war, sort of constructed to rationalize the imperial setback. We can discover this first by studying the available primary histories of Alexander's campaigns, and second by comparing how pre-Victorian and later classical histories narrated the same events. The meme endured for generations and lately was reactivated/repurposed by the Americans after 9/11 to slot into their counter-insurgency doctrine, a similar sort of rationalization.
    [I actually learned the last specifically from one excellent essay.]

    It is absolutely correct to caution that events distant or current cannot be completely understood solely through the parochial lens of personal context or semiotics, and that ideas and modes of living have differed across time and place. If your caution were such, we would have no disagreement...
    Last edited by Montmorency; 07-14-2019 at 08:40.
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    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hong Kong: Britain's 22-year shame

    Quote Originally Posted by Montmorency View Post
    So you're on to anthropology? I can't say I'm impressed by your alleged (undocumented) knowledge of the mindset of the average Athenian on the street or the bulk of the population of Hong Kong. Civil strife and elite competition is not something invented in post-war Hong Kong, by the way; lol @ "tribal wars." We had those in American cities throughout the same time period, waged by swarthy migrant tribes from Europa called "Mafia." Something outside the bounds of a history class might be that millions of Westerners to this day are thirsty for the blood of foreigners (and impure countrymen). As it turns out societies, like individuals, are permeated with multiple attitudes and belief systems.
    Look up Ping Shan. It, and other villages in the New Territories, was involved in a war against the British in 1899 (I bet you didn't know that). What was notable about that conflict is that, in one short war, more villagers were killed than in a century of inter-village warfare. Was this oppression of native villagers by the British? Not for the villages themselves, for whom this was an ill-advised fight against professional soldiers. But what is relevant about the above point is that there were centuries of inter-village warfare before this, and decades of inter-village warfare after this. The Hong Kong-British war is documented in published histories, while the inter-village warfare is present in folk histories (such as records of alliances between different villages, and celebrations of these alliances), and referenced in these published histories.

    What do you know of Hong Kong, that you feel confident in dismissing the above?

    PS. If you have difficulty getting your head around small-scale inter-village warfare, read about the early history of Rome.

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