What is the Dragon Thinking?

One of the topics we keep going back and forth about is Taiwan and China and the Chinese military and what-the-Hell-is-China-up-to. I rely on StrategyPage for much of my news on this topic. For example, this recent post gave an interesting short overview of China’s current military buildup. It starts out by asserting: “China’s armed forces are undergoing a massive transformation. All of it seems directed at giving China the ability to take Taiwan by forces.” I can take that or leave it, but I have no way to confirm myself if that assessment is correct. It is consistent with my understanding and beliefs, but so are a lot of assessments which are wrong.

The most critical problems we have is the dearth of English language translations of the Chinese military material. This StrategyPage post, entitled The Warmongering Chinese Colonels , starts thus:

It’s difficult to tell exactly what military plans the Chinese leadership is cooking up. A major reason for this murkiness is the very lively, relatively censorship–free military press in China. This is something they borrowed from the late Soviet Union (where similar free-thinking constantly befuddled American Soviet-watchers throughout the Cold War). In China, as long as you don’t criticize the leadership or the party, military professional can pretty much say what they want about military matters.

I have seen numerous references to this lively Chinese military press. It would be good if there were a publicly available source of recent translations. Presumably people inside the military have access to it. But the public debate would be better informed if more of this material were available. (This 2001 run-down, entitled China’s Military Strategy Toward the U.S.A View From Open Sources , looks pretty interesting.)

One commonly cited work is Unrestricted Warfare by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, the aforementioned warmongering colonels. This is available online, as well as in a very alarmingly packaged paperback edition,. I read this short book. It struck me as a “think piece” and not a statement of doctrine. I even wondered if the assertions in it about the effectiveness of helicopters, rebutted in practice in Operation Iraqi Freedom, were not disinformation directed at the United States. Nonetheless, it is cited by Thomas X. Hammes in his excellent book The Sling and the Stone. (An essay by Hammes synopsizing the book is here.) So while the book cannot be dismissed out of hand, it is at best one bit of evidence about what the Dragon may be thinking.

More substantive-seeming books do exist. But not in English. I have seen several references in journal articles to a book on current Chinese military doctrine. For example, “Tracking China’s Security Relations: Causes for Optimism and Pessimism” Thomas J. Christensen, China Leadership Monitor, No.1., n. 23, had this reference:

The book on doctrine is Lt. General Wang Houqing, and Maj. General Zhang Xingye, eds. Zhanyi Xue [Military Campaign Studies] (Beijing: National Defense University Press, May 2000) (military circulation only). The book is available at Harvard’s Fairbank Center library … .

I contacted this library. The book is only available in Chinese. Blast.

While we are waiting for the translation, this review essay from the current Parameters, entitled Is there a Chinese Way of War? will have to hold us. The author concludes with these broad-stroke conclusions:

So, is there a Chinese way of war? This question cannot be answered definitively in this short essay. But these books under review suggest there is a distinct set of characteristics that guide how China’s strategic thinkers approach matters of war and strategy. First, geopolitical criteria rather than operational performance provide the primary basis for evaluating military success. Second, while serious thought and calculation appear to go into determining when and how military power is to be used, Chinese strategists do not demonstrate much reluctance to use force. Indeed they are prone to significant, albeit calculated, risk-taking. Third, when employing military power, the emphasis is on Chinese forces seizing and maintaining the operational initiative. Fourth, it is imperative that China leverage modern technology to gain the edge in any conflict.

That bit about risk-taking behavior is believable. The intervention in Korea being a compelling bit of evidence.

Also, nosing around, I found this article, translated from Chinese, entitled The Worrisome Situation of the South China Sea – China Facing the Stepped-up Military Infiltration by the U.S., Japan and India. The source is Outlook East Weekly [Liaowang Dongfang Zhoukan], January 12, 2004, linking to http://army.tom.com. Query: Does anybody read Chinese? What is this page? Is it in any way an official publication? (Via, after digging past a defective link via Google, the U.S. China Commission website.)

The Chinese viewpoint expressed here is one of worry and fear of encirclement and an eroding position in the South China Sea. It refers to China’s claims to the “disputed regions of Spratly, Paracel (Xisha) and Huangyan Islands.” It notes continuing opposition from the local countries involved (Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia):

[T]he relevant countries have kept up their political and diplomatic offensives against China, with regard to China’s claim of sovereignty in the South China Sea. To maintain their existing interests in the South China Sea, they have strengthened military control over occupied islands, islets and other waters, and have stepped up exploration and exploitation activities with the natural resources in the region.

It is funny in a way to see China concerned about the aggression of Brunei. But everybody views the world from their own desk. The article goes on to note also that the problem is not localized:

At the same time, world powers such as the U.S., Japan and India have increased their military infiltration in the South China Sea regions, pushing the issue towards a more complicated and internationalized level. The situation allows no room for optimism.

It is noteworthy that this view precedes the recent strengthening of military ties between the United States and Japan and India, discussed here and here. The article goes on:

The U.S. is a super power that is seen to have been involved most extensively in the South China Sea affairs. Analysts believe that the US is the “behind-the-scenes” instigator of the South China Sea disputes. The issue of the South China Sea has become a new focal point in the U.S. overall strategic defense policy aimed at guarding against and containing China.

The Chinese author of this piece sees the United States as being behind the scenes in all these problems. Maybe so. But the possibility that the small countries in the area may have legitimate claims to these territories, remote from China, is not taken seriously.

It appears that the Dragon is thinking that the United States and other countries are ganging up on it, and that it is no fault of its own that this is happening. The Dragon also appears to be modernizing its military, making it smaller and more technologically advanced. It has also shown a historical predilection to high-risk use of force. Meanwhile, the disorder inside the country threatens the existence of the Communist Party’s rule, perhaps foreshadowing a revolution. This can be channeled into anti-Japanese riots for now, and perhaps in other ways tomorrow. But the domestic problems won’t go away, and a foreign war may appear to be a way to channel domestic irritation away from the ruling elite. A strong military presence and system of alliances in the region, led by the United States, will be needed to deter the Chinese leadership from taking that course when all other avenues seem closed.

The “containment” which is needed will be to keep China’s internal turmoil localized, while it makes the painful and (I fear) violent transition to post-communist rule.

All in all, this is a good time to keep our powder dry.

(Incidentally, China’s immense problems make me dubious about any immediately upcoming “Chinese Century”. They need to get over the hurdle of establishing law-abiding and orderly and accountable government, or they are not going to be able to continue to grow at a breakneck pace. I could be wrong, of course. An authoritarian China may yet dominate the world. But that seems to me unlikely for reasons which I’ll have to reserve for another post.)

UPDATE: wretchard pointed out this excellent blog about China entitled Naruwan Formosa. Check it out.

33 thoughts on “What is the Dragon Thinking?”

  1. Well, I live here, and damned if I can hazard a guess about the next ten years. The internal problems look massive if you come from an orderly, established, liberal civil society, but the Chinese seem to be able to adapt to a lot more hardship, inconvenience, disaster and so on. The air quality here would cause a revolt in the US, but it’s hardly noticed except in some notable spots.

    My first impulse was to predict an economic implosion within two years, but I’ve seen too much adaptation to change to think that way now. The Chinese hate war, but the country needs to be seen as “strong”: That’s a deep cultural drive.

    No predictions today!

  2. As I’m reading about WW1, there is remarkable similarity between China and Imperial Germany pre-WW1. Germany and China both lacked a strong navy. Both have an enemy with overwhelming sea power. Both had a booming economy catching up to its enemy. Where Germany went wrong was that it wanted world power, and Kaiser Wilhelm saw the fleet as a tool to be on even footing with England. The smart thing militarily for Germany to have done is to concentrate on being an overwhelming land power on continental Europe. You can argue the smart thing for China to do is concentrate on being an overwhelming land power in Asia.

  3. Above all, China has great demographic challenges ahead. It will get old before it gets rich as detailed in the Graying Kingdom, a .pdf that is no longer linkable. By 2020, the Chinese workforce will begin to shrink. By 2030 the percentage of China’s population over 60 will become greater than that of the U. S. And there are the 20+ million Chinese adolescent males coming of age for whom there will be no Chinese wife available. As with most demographic trends, there is nothing that can be done in the next several decades to alter these numbers, short of drastic changes in mortality.

    The recent disturbances against Japan may have served some internal purposes, but I suspect their primary purpose was to rekindle regional animosity toward Japan as an impediment to Japan’s assumption of regional military leadership as part of the U. S. led containment strategy.

    The Chinese situation has similarities to that of the Japanese in the 1930s. They need resources to support economic growth. As a maritime nation with an established and successful navy, Japan chose to attack the U. S. instead of the Soviet Union to gain access to raw materials and markets. Confronted with the same choice, China, a continental power with no blue water presence for centuries, access to the worlds largest market, and a declining Russia just across the river would be foolish not to expand to Siberia, should it find the need for foreign adventurism irresistable.

    And even in that effort success would be far from assurred.

    While the Chinese are gamblers, they know the odds on confronting the U. S. militarily are not good. The emergence of China onto the world stage is a challenge for the U. S. But no matter what its desires, for the next 25 years at a minimum, China cannot threaten the U. S. except with nuclear weapons. And in 25 years, China will be a very different nation.

  4. Lex, I think that, largely, the dragon is “winging it.” I can see a vague sustained policy of opening multiple “engagement fronts” with the Anglosphere, wherein it seeks any advantage. But I don’t see a clear, sustained strategy beyond this.

    Four fronts that leap to mind are:

    1. Low-grade arms race. This front attempts to probe our military equipment and planning weaknesses by being a continuous “thorn in our side.” The EP-3 incident, the ongoing feints towards Taiwan – replete with announced intentions and military exercises, are the visible parts of this strategy. Space-based weaponry may be their hidden wildcard.

    2. Proxy military threats. In a nutshell, this is North Korea, and Kim Jong Il’s nuclear posturing. For the most part Bush’s insistance on the Six-Party Talks has neutralized this proxy parry, but the Chinese puppetry behind Kim Jong Il is invisible only to those who can’t see.

    3. Economic engagement. China’s application and acceptance to the WTO is self-serving. The recent threat of action by the E.U. against China for its anti-competitive textile trades is just the tip of the ice-berg. China’s leaders know they need to be part of the world’s trading organizations in order to mold them to their liking.

    4. Ongoing geo-political opposition. Recent developments like China’s “hand-shake” with Chirac’s government – no friend to America, and her opposition to the enforcement of U.N. Resolution 1442, and others, convince me that the CCP is intent on “tying us down” in all geopolitical fora that we share.

    Where does all this lead. I’m not sure their policy-makers really know. They’ll wait untill our weaknesses show themselves, then capitalize on them. It is a waiting game, as we smile over our cards at eachother.

    “Must bend like reed.”

  5. Hey Lex, I’m fluent in Mandarin, so I could probably translate anything that you want.

    Tom.com is just a content-gathering site, like Yahoo! was, or MSN in English. Tom.com is actually pretty small. The big guys are Sina.com and Sohu.com. All of these sites, and every major newspaper, have their own “Military” section (they translated this to Army for some reason). There are TONS of specialized military papers and periodicals. Most of them, however, don’t talk much about current Chinese capabilities.

  6. Sean, thanks. The question I have, and you may know the answer, is what publications are considered authoritative? And are they publicly available? Is there some core of Chinese publications that could be republished in English that could enlighten us Anglophones about what the state of the debate really is? I suppose that the real decision-making is completely opaque, since it is a dictatorship. But do the factions debate in public, in writing? These kinds of things were, I think, better understood during the Cold War about the Russians. Which is too bad. Understanding what is going on in China, now, is equally important.

  7. It’s worth remebering that a takeover of Taiwan is not a huge job for a major power. And if that job is the strategic centerpiece for two generations of military planning and aquisition, consider it a done deal.

    Tom Clancy’s classic ‘Red Storm Rising’ has a chapter which details an amphibious landing by Russian forces on Iceland. That imaginary operation could well supply the template for a similar Taiwanese landing. It all hinges on a little deception…

    * Imagine a large container ship of the type that ferry wheeled or tracked vehicles in and out of China and Japan daily. A particular variant of these ships is called a “Ro-Ro”, for “Roll on, Roll off”. This ship is constructed much like a municipal parking garage. Decks are connected via a series of ramps. There are large, hydraulic fold-away ramps at the rear of the ship which allow the ship to come into dock and load/unload it’s mobile cargo. Very efficient.

    * Now imagine five or ten of these ships, each capable of carrying an armored division, putting out to sea several days in advance of an attack, and each appearing perfectly innocuous. They’d seem to be just another group of cargo ships around the Straits of Formosa, raising not an eyebrow.

    * On the day of attack, hundreds – possibly thousands – of cruise missiles are fired across the Straits impacting command and control nodes across Taiwan, as well as naval bases, air bases, government buildings, etc. Chaos and shock would be the result. Chinese “Shock and Awe”, writ large.

    * Medium range attack planes, what we would call fighter-bombers, sortie out along with the cruise missiles. Their target: the Taiwanese Navy. The attack planes launch sea-skimming anti-ship missiles by the hundreds on cruisers and destroyers and frigates; all those ships which might impede later landing and supply operations. Chinese subs are tasked to pick off any surviving surface combatants.

    * Chinese helicopter forces, possibly along with parachute regiments, seize key airfields and docks, clearing the for the docking and unloading of multiple armored divisions of PLA.

    Everything I just described could be executed in less than 24 hours. By the time we picked our collective jaw up off the floor and had a few meetings of the JCS, the PLA would effectively be in possession and control Taiwan.

    Then what?

  8. Michael, “Then what?”
    A humanitarian nightmare would ensue: peaceful protesters in Tai Pei gunned down a la Tian an men Square. This will rally the Western world by bringing the “do-gooders” to boiling point, and with them the MSM, not to mention the blogs.

    Next, look for a blockade of China’s major ports by the Yanks, Aussies and Japanese. This will be a Naval war. Essential crude oil deliveries will be effectively shut down. China’s inland and coastal export-dependant economies will wither on the vine.

    To the South of China, look out for major ethnic riots in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand that target the Chinese mercantile classes that dominate those countries’ economies. The ethnic and class differences, now simmering, will erupt. And to the East and North, Tibet and Mongolia may jump ship. And, (surprise, surprise) quiet, over-populated India may make a grab for the contested lands between her and China. China’s modern territories will thus become transigent.

    Then, if China does not withdraw from Taiwan (reminiscences of Iraq and its “16th province,” Kuwait) perhaps, the U.S., Australia and Japan will launch strikes within China’s territory, too. They will target energy, and communications networks, as well as rail and dreyage routes. But always with an eye to preserving the infrastructure crucial to the resurrection of the Southern Regions.

    As the Chinese economy shrivels, and popular dissent gains a voice in the midst of this chaos, look for a split along the Yellow River, as the Southern regions say “enough is enough.” All the recent immigrants who relocated from the rural inland to the Southern coastal cities will be a loud voice for the status quo ante bellum.

    In time, then, our naval blockade of Taiwan coupled with a new “Berlin Air-lift” will sustain our allies and starve the mainland invader forces of armaments and staples.

    The result of this expansionist venture will be the complete embarrassment of the CCP, the institution of a free press and contested elections in the newly-split Southern Regions, and a newly democratized Nan Fan (Southern region), with Taiwan an integral and modern part of the liberated Southern export powerhouse.

    Good try, Michael! ;-)

  9. I agree with Steve, with this caveat: If there is a Republican president. If there is a D president, his only priority will be to “prevent the violence from spreading”, which means he will surrender and demand that Taiwan surrender. He’ll have the president of China and the puppet head of Taiwan selected by the Chicoms come to the White House for a photo op and a treaty signing on the lawn where Taiwan goes into the cage once and for all.

    Also, I hope this is wrong “peaceful protesters in Tai Pei”. I hope there is an island-wide armed resistance with the images sent out over the Internet. I hope the Taiwanese will adopt the Swiss model and prepare for popular resistance. Make the Chicoms bleed for every meter, day in and day out, until the Allied USA-Japan-Aus (+ROK? UK? India?)invasion liberates the place.

  10. There is still another possibility: the apparently subdued and humble Chinese aren’t strangers to social horror and there is certainly some potential for revolution with Communist political rule riding the tiger of full-speed capitalist development. It reminds me of one the best novels ever, André Malraux’s La Condition Humaine.

  11. Val, I think you are right. In fact, I have been thinking that my one minimalist summary of what I hope will happen in China is this: That the revolution comes before a war starts.

  12. of course there’s a third option – where the Taiwanese Nationalist Party elects to reunite and there’s a civil war with those wanting to remain independent.

    China obviously assists one side – but would the US feel comfortable backing the other? I doubt the US electorate would be happy about it entering a Taiwan civil war.

    and so rather than invasion, I suspect that China will ferment a civil war and then intervene to impose peace.

    First step “Taiwan opposition leader Lien Chan arrived in China for a historic visit”

  13. Giles, your observation has lots of merit.

    But one weakness. If the CCP is currently barely in control of its mainland capitalist whirlwind, as Val suggests above, can it peacefully convince a majority of Westernized Taiwanese to vote its proxy candidates into power?

    I don’t think so. Leaving aside the long history of animosity between the CCP and Chiang Kai Shek’s Guo Min Tang (Nationalist Party), the CCP is fast becoming a hollow shell. Under Deng Xiao Ping it began the official dilution of the party’s Stalinist message. Once the party accepted the need to deregiment the farming industry, and went on to encourage capitalism in the country side and coastal cities, its message got further blurred.

    Now, all it is left with are a few oppressive vestiges of Maoism that function only to guarantee its monopoly over all political discourse: its bans on independent trade unions, free religious expression, the free press, and political parties, and in its back pocket, drummed-up fear of the Japanese.

    The call for reuniting under the CCP seems to be, “Reunite so we can control you, and protect you from Japan.” This is not much of a platform to run on in a largely Christian, democratized and cosmopolitan society, whose Evergreen Shipping line makes regular port calls in Japan, I think.

  14. Johnathan, and Chicagoboyz webmasters,
    Whenever I use the word “social_sm” in a comment, I get the following error message:

    We rejected your submission due to the following content: c-i-a-l-i-s-m (dashes inserted to allow publication).

    Seems there’s a filter on your comments host that blocks that root/suffix construct. Just a heads up.

    Note: many Latin plant names contain the root for seed, “sperma” (ie. Juniperus monosperma) and so some overly protective filters disallow related taxonomic searches because they deem the latin root profane. Crazy huh?

  15. There is a filter. The terms you tried to use are in the filter’s DB because they’re associated with spam. I will look into deleting terms from the filter to make it possible to post the term you were trying to post, but in the meantime you’ll have to work around it.

  16. Steve

    There is obviously a long history of animosity between the CCP and Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Party.

    But to my mind the CCP has increasingly come to resemble Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Party – its no longer really communist – its just an authoritarian nationalistic party – just like Kai Shek. And both parties believe strongly in “one china”. Given that the income difference between the countries is diminishing and trade and travel increasing there is I think a great potential for surprise alliance here.

  17. Giles, very interesting. I’ve lost touch with my Taiwanese friends from my International Studies days at the U. of Washington, so I can’t check with them for a voter’s opinion of your idea.

    I think we in the West counted on a quiet revolution in China that would lead to exactly the political convergence you describe. But we democrats in the West hoped it would be along pluralistic lines. Could it be that both have converged to form anti-democratic Nationalist, monolithic blocks?

    A scary idea indeed, and I wonder where the average Taiwanese opinion falls on the question. Would they willingly discard their multiparty democratic system for an oligarchy?

  18. “their multiparty democratic system for an oligarchy?”

    Its worth remebering tha Taiwan was run as a sort of General’s oligarochy for the last 50 years and that the Nationalist by 1990 had assets of something like 6 billion! A bit like the CCP today – run by the generals and accumlating assets like mad.

    I doubt that there’s widespread popular support for a return to the old Kommitung days but I’m sure that there’s some nostalgia for a return to the good old days amongst some of the wealthy and powerful in Taiwan. Enough at least to support some sort of coup/incident that lets china in through the back door.

    Its also worth bearing in mind that the CCP is run on a regional basis – so they wouldnt object to the Nats running the Taiwan region under the CCP umbrella.

  19. Richard, is this the PDF you were thinking of?

    As for the “peaceful protesters” bit, that won’t happen. Taiwan will immediately become like pre-Vichy France, with a lot of internal debate about what to do. More people will be thinking about how to escape than how to fight back.

    As I covered here, the martial spirit is not doing very well in Taiwan (or in China really, but the mainland has, or will have, as Richard noted, a surplus of fighting-age single men with nothing to live for). It will be interesting, however, to see what the response of Taiwanese-Americans would be. By that I mean the generation that includes myself and my brother. I would think that the more Americanized ones, especially, would be more willing to join an organized resistance. Even my old man has said before that, even though we’re Americans now, if Taiwan were ever attacked, he would drop everything and go back to fight.

  20. Bruce, you found the weakest point in my analysis. Comfortable members of affluent societies usually seek the easy way out, like a jumbo-jet ride to Singapore. And risking one’s college-educated life to protest in the face of an armed, invading force would require a mix of courage and stupidity.

    One ray of hope: I recall that Hong Kong’s resident’s stood up to the new CCP government in peaceful, popular protests. And I can’t forget “Tank Man’s” stand against a column of tanks.
    Qing wen: is there an English/Mandarin unicode dictionary that will enable a direct translation from English to unicode Mandarin fonts?

  21. “Comfortable members of affluent societies usually seek the easy way out …”

    That is not categorically true. The American Founders were rich men in their day. They put it all on the table and some died in the war and some were ruined. The people who organized regiments in the American Civil War were usually affluent “leading men” in their communities, but they went to war and many did not come back. Some wealthy people in Britain wanted to cut a deal with Hitler, but many did not and many volunteered to serve and died. George Bush, Sr. was a typical Ivy League kid of his day, who immediately went off to World War II and flew in combat and got shot down — he survived, many did not. If this country were in immediate danger, many people would respond.

    It is a mistake to assume that people in a democratic society will walk away from it in time of danger.

    I don’t know Taiwan at all. Never been there. But I don’t it is wise to assume that citizens of a country that has stood up to tyranny all these years, when it is in mortal peril, will just walk away from it. But, perhaps people who know Taiwan well will say that cynicism is the accurate view.

  22. OK, Bruce, I read your post — after having shot my mouth off in ignorance. (The link didn’t work, but I fixed it.) Your point is convincing as to Taiwan. There is another Anglospheric martial element other than hunting culture, which is the idea that it is good and noble to perform public service more or less selflessly. This is not something which happens all the time but it is a real ideal that many people hold to and believe in. I think this is far less common in the Sinosphere. What might be done to give Taiwanese people more of a belief in the value of military service? Is it possible, or is the Chinese root-culture too strong? It is an interesting problem since the credibility of any defense is ultimately more about the hearts beating beneath the tunics, the will and belief and desire to fight and defend and persevere, than about the weapons being carried. If an attacker knows that even well-equipped defenders really want to put up a brief “fight” for honor’s sake and then give up, their planning is going to be totally different than if they are going to face an army of lion-hearted warriors, no matter how ill-armed.

    This is a dimension of the problem I have not seen discussed elsewhere.

  23. Second point is that if Taiwan is going to only put up an ambivalent fight, then the US (and Japanese?) guarantee of security looks odd and hence less credible.

    The situation begins to look like the Sudetenlands? And once China has Taiwan without a fight, where next?

  24. Lex, I just spoke to my father to make sure I didn’t take him out of context. He says that my quote about his criticism of the Taiwanese reserves was slightly inaccurate on the details, but got the point down. He agrees with my analysis of Chinese (and thus Taiwanese) culture as being biased in favor of the literary arts. I don’t have XP on this computer, but the term is zhong4wen2 qing1wu3: “heavy on literary arts, light on martial arts”.

    I think the root culture may just be too strong. Taiwan is the one place that has most preserved a continuous flow of Chinese civilization. This is not to say that it’s impossible to change this, but it would be very difficult.

    Excellent point you bring up about the civic mentality. Anyone who has spent time in Taiwanese traffic can see the lack of civic pride. The mayors of Taipei have done a lot over the past decade to change this, but fundamental respect for the “commons” is severely lacking, and without this sense of community, and thus of community service, and faced with the overwhelming pressure to keep up with the Chens, it’s not looking good for Taiwan at this moment.

  25. Bruce, thanks for the follow-up. Maybe we need to rotate the entire ROC Army through American, British and Australian training facilities. Or rotate all their officers through for training and lectures on the civic value of military service in a constitutional democracy.

    On this point, I just finished a superb book called On Combat by Dave Grossman. I will write more about it on the blog as soon as I can. Grossman’s focus is mostly on the psychology and physiology of training and engaging in dealing with the aftermath of “deadly force encounters”. But a subtext of the book is the idea of selfless public service, where “wariors” act not as “wolves” but as “sheepdogs” who protect the innocent. As Grossman describes it, police officers and soldiers go into lethal danger, taking the unnatural action of running toward gunfire out of a sense of duty to a higher calling. It is a very moving, actually, since he is talking about people in many cases who die or are badly injured.

    It is an under-appreciated fact that the success of the Anglosphere countries rests in large part on notions like this, and that finding and training and arming the warriors among us to protect the community and not prey on it has been one of the many things we have done well for centuries.

    The book should be translated into Chinese and distributed to the Taiwanese army.

  26. Bruce, I read your post and came back thinking.

    I always thought that the key to inculcating a warrior spirit in any citizenry was allowing them to own property that was worth defending. As an American, I would bear arms to defend my nation because our constitution guarantees my property rights, and I own land, a family and a home that I would fight to the death to preserve.

    Here, I hoped that the Taiwanese democratic, free-enterprise economy would generate the same will to fight.

    Lex, point well taken. I was too entranced by recent memories of Manhattan elites scared of a “quagmire” in Afghanistan, and didn’t peer back far enough into our own nation’s robust history.

  27. Interesting discussion about military service. I’ve met many Taiwanese of military age, who were about to go into the military, or were in the military. There is a prevailing theme that most saw the compulsory 2 year service as just that, compulsory. Idealists will say that it’s considered a right of passage, but reality always tend to be not as ideal as could be. Many are just counting down the days until they get out, many who are about to enter try to find ways to delay or avoid service. Bruce is correct in that it may be an extension of the Chinese culture’s traditional emphasis on education. This has produced a well educated population who rather not waste their education, notably parents who don’t want their children to waste their education. I think the West’s notion of civic duty is an extension of its Judeo-Christian foundations. Bruce is also right that civic duty is much less a factor in Taiwan. There is something to be said for the West’s fostering of a warrior class throughout its history. There is less so in Taiwanese culture.

  28. Steve, excellent point about property rights. It strikes me as an interesting correlation that the American urban elites are generally also as uninterested in defense as the Taiwanese. Note that most of Manhattan’s cops and firefighters live in other boros, and many in a different state altogether. Perhaps there is a correlation worth exploring there.

    This would also go a long way toward explaining why Chinese revolutions tend to be started by the peasantry rather than by the urban elites. As Chinese demographics have for many centuries included dense urban populations, there may be something to this. And this may also have had a counterbalancing effect to the traditional clannishness of Chinese society, which in less dense societies (such as the Scots and the Arabs) have produced fiercer warriors.

  29. Lex: “what publications are considered authoritative?”

    Ooh. To be honest, I don’t know. Anything “Authoritative” tends to sell really badly here. You can’t even find the People’s Daily on any newsstands (I’ve only seen it in a few hotels). If you mean “dependable”, I think most of it is. If you want “informative”, you’re gonna have to wade through a lot.

    Sam: “I’m almost surprised it’s not blocked over here.”

    Actually, I haven’t found any problems getting to English-only servers. It’s when material is provided in Chinese that they get blocked. (Hint: don’t use Chinese on chicagoboyz.net!) BBC is blocked because they have Chinese translations for Asian news. Blogger is blocked because some BAD THINGS were said in Chinese.

    Steve: “is there an English/Mandarin unicode dictionary that will enable a direct translation from English to unicode Mandarin fonts?”

    Mandarin Tools has a Unicode dictionary, or at least has a link to one. Let me know if it works for you.

    As far as these “Chinese Revolution” therories go, I don’t think there’s much to them. The students are completely cowed. The workers are relatively happy, and are making more money each year. I hear a lot of “Our press isn’t as free as America’s” comments, but it always sounds resigned. Revolution’s not impossible, but it won’t happen before the decade’s over. Can’t say the same for the Taiwan issue.

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