Friday, July 30, 2010

Can't We All Just be Chinese?

You may know that there is a guy who claims that the Chinese came to North America in 1421. Certainly there are people who disagree with him, but it is an intriguing notion. I mean, had the Chinese had colonial designs in North America (as opposed to "Greater China," but more on that later), maybe we would all be Chinese now.

Speaking of Chinese colonialism, the Economist had an interesting article on the issues in Tibet and Xinjiang. The article talks about the Chinese plan for eventually pacifying both regions. Tibet has been swamped with Han Chinese, and China appears to be just waiting for the Dalai Lama to die and take the wind out of the Tibetan sails. In Xinjiang there is no international rock star like the Dalai Lama, which is good for China. It makes it easier to change the demographics on the ground, so that the region is now something like 41% Han Chinese. Again, the Chinese are moving more Han Chinese in and waiting to just overwhelm the locals.

I recognize that this sort of demographic competition has happened before, including in North America. The United States signed innumerable treaties with the Native Americans on the fringes of the United States until enough white people had moved to the area to push for a new, more favorable treaty. However, it appears that the Chinese might not need to do this. Some evidence suggests that the Tibetans and Han were one people until about 2,750 years ago. Remarkably, this theory requires that a particular gene that helps avoid altitude sickness present in roughly 10% of Han became common (over 90% present) in the Tibetans. It seems like that the only way that could happen would be for a lot of immigrants to die quickly, but the survivors to stick it out and reproduce like mad. In any case, this may indicate that the Chinese should spend their time welcoming the Tibetans "home" on ethnic grounds, instead of trying to bludgeon the country into submission just because the Qing Dynasty sometimes had suzerainty or sovereignty over Tibet at different times.

Just think. The Tibetans are about to become "Chinese" and with a little effort, all of North America could have been Chinese . . .

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Buffeted Outre French

The French have an interesting relationship with the French-speaking world. Thankfully, they have not followed the German example of the interwar (actually interwar plus, you know, the entire Hitler regime) period of gathering all of their linguistic compatriots under one polity. However, they do have the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, which is sort of funky. However, two articles in the New York Times in the last few days show two instances where French speakers (or potentially forms thereof) are getting a raw deal. Where's your Francophonie now?

First, we have the always odd state of Belgium. Had Belgium existed in Shakespeare's time, it would have been entirely appropriate to declare that something is rotten in the state of Belgium. While some Belgians would certainly dispute this, the country is sort of a country that is not needed. You know how "C" either makes an "S" sound or a "K" sound, and is therefore largely superfluous? Well, Belgians are (mostly) either Catholic Dutch, or . . . French. Being a Catholic Dutchman was a big deal in the 1830s, but probably not so much today. Being a Walloon (a French Belgian), as opposed to French, is mostly an accident of history. In other words, Belgium is the "C" of Europe.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The Times reports on the never-ending language battles in the suburbs of Brussels. Brussels is officially bilingual. They have these awesome street signs that say things like Rue du Lombard Straat. Anyway, areas are legally designated as French or Flemish (aka Dutch) speaking areas, and there may not be public political or cultural utterances in the other language. Thus, in overwhelmingly French-speaking suburbs that are designated Flemish, some politicians are not being seated after winning races because they campaigned in French. While this is sort of understandable given that the Flemish half of Belgium is far richer now than the French, and that the French have historically been richer and treated the Flemish poorly, it seems a little absurd. If you are wondering why the Belgians don't just split a la the Czechoslovaks . . . well, it's complicated. Brussels is essentially a French-speaking island in the Flemish region. Neither side is willing to give Brussels up in order to be a state. It's almost like another intractable, sometimes silly, sadly deadly conflict . . .

The other French group getting a raw deal has gotten a raw deal for quite a while. Their tale is made into poetry, but the Acadians certainly were ill-treated by the English. Call it "ethnic cleansing" if you want to make it feel more modern. The Acadians (mostly) migrated to then-Spanish Louisiana, and preserved their culture in the bayous. Was that last link mean? Anyway, the Times reports that with the BP oil spill destroying the shrimping and other industries that have sustained the community to this point, the Acadians may be on the move again. That would be a sad cultural loss and would render lots of the "Frenchness" of places in southern Louisiana and Mississippi merely historical (Brett Favre excepted).

So, yeah. Maybe France should do something about this, or something.