Tag Archives: Immigration

What Might Orwell Say About Trump’s Trip to China


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

By sheer coincidence, while President Trump and First Lady Melania were being feted by Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan at the Forbidden City, I was re-reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. It was written, of course, in 1949, the very year in which Mao Zedong brought the People’s Republic of China into existence.

Orwell’s book was and is considered a fantastic fiction of foresight so eerily prescient of current events that it feels close to prophetic. And, in fact, every time I looked up from my reading I felt and saw 1984 all around me.

In the end I don’t believe that Orwell was looking forward in time so much as he was looking back. There are many powerful themes in the book, from the permanence of a three-tiered society of the powerful, the want-to-be-powerful, and the 85% of every population that struggles in drudgery to serve the first two segments, to the need for continuous war to consume the inevitable over-production inherent to the post-industrial era.

The primary theme of the book, however, is the power and potential treachery of language and its inherent propensity to be deceptively stripped of meaning in the interest of mass oppression. It was a power that both Stalin and Hitler, who had dominated the news during much of Orwell’s own life, understood and cleverly manipulated to extreme and horrific effect.

Language, of course, is a human convention. It is not natural to the world like sunshine or the animals of the Savannah. We made it up to help us communicate. In so doing, however, we created the world’s most powerful oppressive weapon, a tool that can be turned on us as creator and master. Words have meaning but are not, by themselves, inherently truthful.

The Chinese understand this quite instinctively. In part this mirrors the inductive worldview in which personal obligation trumps everything, including language, and because they converse in a language that is, by its very nature, conceptual and pictographic.

Orwell’s warning, however, is of paramount application to Americans today, both because of our deductive world view which has given us political correctness, but also because the paramount tenets of our culture are not tangibles like filial piety, but intangible concepts, like honor, freedom, and liberty, that can only be understood proximately through words.

Never before, in fact, although I can’t believe Orwell truly foresaw this given that he penned this book forty years before the Internet, has Orwell’s warning been so relevant and so urgent. American culture, politics, and the economy turn on the importance of words more than ever before. Face to face communication among family and friends has declined greatly, our social institutions have steadily lost membership, our politicians communicate in 140 character (now 280 character) Tweets, and our economy is controlled by digital platforms driven by the two-dimensional language of algorithms and analytics.

The backbone of Orwell’s dystopia is the Thought Police, the role of which is “not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects…” Variations of the Thought Police have been around since the beginning of social organization. The difference in Orwell’s 1984 was the existence of the “telescreen,” a variation of television that supported 24/7 bidirectional communication controlled by the government.

Today, of course, we have the Internet. On the surface it is not as organized as Orwell’s Thought Police but it is equally powerful. It draws its strength from the collective consciousness of shamers, critics, and newsfeeds and content farms intent to achieve eyeballs and to disseminate their often virulent propaganda. It harnesses the hysteria of the crowd and the spite of the anonymous.

It is ironic that most Americans would equate Orwell’s dystopia more with China than with America itself. Western media coverage of China is inevitably pre-occupied with the lack of American style elections and the alleged suppression of political dissent, despite the reality that American political correctness suppresses more dissent than the Chinese censors could ever hope to.


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United States Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, both Republicans, and the Chair and Co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, issued a letter prior to Trump’s trip, which CNN entitled, US should hold China accountable on human rights. In it they complain that China “continues to strengthen the world’s most sophisticated system of internet control and press censorship and forges ahead with what it calls ‘internet sovereignty.'” (They seem particularly concerned about China’s decision to block the WhatsApp platform in anticipation of the Communist Party Congress in October.)

This criticism was leveled, of course, in the middle of a US news barrage concerning the mass murder of American citizens by other citizens armed with military assault weapons, the long-tolerated predatory and misogynist behavior of powerful US men, the opioid epidemic, widespread civil rights abuses, travel bans, the suppression of immigration, and a growing income and wealth divide that is both categorically immoral and threatens economic and social stability.

But Orwell, in his prescience, would not have been at all surprised that this was all happening in America were he still alive. One of the lingual weapons of the oppressors in Orwell’s dystopia is blackwhite, a powerful piece of jargon with two contradictory meanings. “Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts…But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

The blackwhite of America’s attitude toward China, of course, is that China is the oppressor and America is the guardian of liberty, justice, and the equality of all men and women. And, of course, the reality is the reverse. While the Chinese government is indeed sensitive to the negative collective impact of social disruption in a large, diverse, and heavily populated country, the Chinese have far greater freedom than Americans are allowed by the American Thought Police who control, through political groupthink, the dissemination of knowledge and truth.

As Orwell so darkly prophesized, the control of knowledge does not require censorship in an era where all thought and expression is transparent to all. Crimestop, another Orwellian addition to the oppressors’ lexicon, is simple enough to teach to children and can be used by the collective mob not to eradicate distasteful thought, but to preclude it from ever occurring in the first place. “It means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, or failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [the ruling doctrine of the Orwellian state], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

We have gone so far to promote crimestop in America, in fact, that we have created safe spaces on our campuses of higher learning so that students don’t run any risk of being forced to hear something that somehow got by the censors. Lenin himself could not have imagined such a wonderful and empowering accommodation of his ideology.

And while trigger warnings may not carry the direct impact of censorship, they can be more broadly deployed since they do not require any degree of government authority. They represent, in fact, the Thought Police writ democratic, the American mainstream stomping about in Orwell’s symbolic iron-shod boots.

And what is Orwell’s prediction for our future?

“It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called “abolition of private property” which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before; but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals.”

But is Orwell describing the future of China or the United States? The Communist Party of China or the American political, economic, and Hollywood elite?

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Immigration: The Wall No One is Talking About

The author giving a recent lecture to international business and Chinese culture students at North Central College.

If the insightful Chinese have taught me anything it is that nothing exists in isolation. For every yin there is a yang, and vice versa. Yin and yang are not opposing forces. They are complementary. One cannot exist without the other.

And so it is with immigration. With legal immigration, there is illegal immigration. Without illegal immigration, all immigration is legal. It’s pretty simple, really.

Viewing the world through our deductive lens, as we do, Americans like simple solutions. Too much illegal immigration? Build a wall. Too much violence? Promote law and order. Too many guns in the streets? Arm everyone.

It’s the kind of solution that would have warmed the hearts of the Christian Temperance Union, which gave us Prohibition. Or the parents of many a teenager growing up in the 1960’s, when marijuana first started crossing the southern border in bales.

Prohibition, of course, gave us bootleggers and speakeasies. More to the point, it gave us violence and tax evasion. The War on Drugs, while costing the US taxpayer millions, if not billions, gave us cartels, drug lords, and an obscene plethora of shallow graves.

I have no quarrel with the desire to manage immigration. The right to live within US borders is not an inalienable right of humanity. Yes, that is unfair. I was lucky enough to be born here. But I’ve come to accept that life isn’t always fair. As the Taoists might say, that’s just the way it is. Don’t waste your time trying to explain it.

No one can say with certainty what impact a wall along our Mexican border might have on illegal immigration. Walls can be scaled. You can tunnel under them. Or you can just go around them. Boats aren’t all that hard to come by. Besides, walls already exist in the most densely populated urban border areas. (The picture above is an actual wall on the Mexican border erected by the Department of Homeland Security in 2008.) Erecting a wall in the middle of the desert is a bit like building a moat around your house. A bit of overkill, if you ask me.

The Berlin Wall is a false analogy. The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, not out. And what made it effective was not the wall itself, but the soldiers with guns that were stationed all along it.

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A wall along our Mexican border certainly won’t build goodwill with our neighbors. And it will further isolate us in the court of world opinion. We may not care. As a businessman myself, however, I’m not sure President Trump has thought this through from a return on investment perspective.

It is undoubtedly true that some immigrants take advantage of government benefits funded with taxpayer money. It’s also true, however, that many undocumented immigrants actually pay taxes. And many immigrants, most likely documented, contribute vital knowledge and expertise to the companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere that fuel the world’s largest modern economy.

Many an American university, moreover, would undoubtedly face financial hardship if the foreign students all stayed home. University pricing, as you may know, is highly variable, and the foreign students typically pay top dollar. Those dollars, in the end, help to fund university programs that benefit all students, including those on scholarship or those enjoying the material discounts of instate residence.

What I find most perplexing about this whole discussion on immigration, however, is that no one is talking about just how difficult it is to obtain legal immigration status. It is, to put it simply, infinitely more difficult than trying to decipher the US tax code.

I lived in China for nine years as an American ex-patriate working for a US multi-national. Our Chinese plant existed to serve the Asian market and exported almost nothing to the US. And my company and I paid a whole lot in federal and state taxes, even though I didn’t reside here, I didn’t have kids in the US school system, and I didn’t own any property here. And that was okay with me.

During my time abroad, however, I married a Chinese woman. She is my wife. So when I returned to the US I wanted her to accompany me. I, of course, as a US citizen, was clearly entitled to that. (If you think that shouldn’t be the case; well, I have nothing to say.) But for that she needed a green card. Fair enough. As I said in the beginning, I’m all for managing immigration.

What never gets discussed, however, is just how difficult and expensive it is to get a green card, even when you are lawfully entitled to one. There are forms, forms, and more forms. Most of them are unintelligible. Redundancy is rampant. The supporting documentation required is not lying around your house. And the process takes months, if not years.

I consider myself a fairly bright fellow. I have a college education. I actually graduated cum laude, with honors. But I finally hired an immigration attorney to help. Not because we were attempting to do something outside the law; not because we had any intent to rob or rape anyone; but because it was all so damn confusing and burdensome.

There are multiple government agencies involved. There is the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, of course. And the Department of Homeland Security. There was the US Embassy in Beijing. And the US Consulate in Guangzhou. And to a person the individuals handling our case were professional and polite. I can’t imagine a more thankless job, but they were all efficient and courteous. I dip my hat to them all.

But they have to work within the same processes and regulations the applicant does. They don’t have the autonomy you might expect and that would make a whole lot of sense. Their hands are as tied by the bureaucracy as are those simply trying to find their way, for whatever reason, to our shores.

I have to admit that there were many times in the process when I thought to myself that if I were a poor Latino with relatively little education, and I had the choice of navigating the bureaucratic no man’s land of legal immigration and hiking across a swath of desert, I might lace up my boots. (Before you go reporting me to Immigration, I am speaking figuratively. I am just making a point.)

Which, in the inductive fashion of the circular Chinese worldview, brings me back to where I began. It may be that Americans collectively decide that we want to make immigration as difficult as possible. I think that’s a bad bet financially. And I think it betrays who we are as a nation. And, of course, it’s a barbaric way to treat our fellow humans. But it is nonetheless our prerogative.

Should we choose that route, however, we will have illegal immigrants. In fact, as long as there is hunger in the world, and it’s a fair bet it will be with us for the foreseeable future, we will have a lot of illegal immigrants. As Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), the American psychologist who gave us the Human Hierarchy of Needs would surely remind us, as long as people fear for their safety and yearn to fill their stomachs, they will find a way. A wall will not stop them.

On the other hand, should we open our borders to any and all that wish to come, even if it is to hurt us, as some seem to advocate, we will eliminate illegal immigration, but we will pay a steep price as a society.

Like everything in life, I believe, the optimal solution will be a balanced solution. That, however, will be a holistic solution that doesn’t isolate the components of the issue into individual components – like walls and law and order – that appear to offer simple solutions.

Yin and yang. Nothing exists in isolation.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.

Immigration

I lived in China for nine years as an immigrant. I was a fairly well off immigrant, for sure, but I was an immigrant nonetheless. I faced all of the hurdles that immigrants coming to the US face in reverse.

And I returned to the US with my Chinese wife, of course, in the middle of a surreal presidential election that has put immigration on the front page. And it hasn’t been a very pretty picture that has been painted.

As I watch the Rio Olympics, however, and the US domination of the medal count, I have to wonder how powerful we would be on the international sports stage if we had closed our borders to immigration for the last century or so. We have obviously attracted some of the top athletes from around the world to make their home within our borders.

And they, in turn, have helped to cement our reputation around the world as being a strong and powerful nation. People around the world expect us to be at the top of the leader board. If we were perennially fifth or sixth in international athletic competitions I dare say our image would suffer. And with that strong image comes all sorts of direct and indirect benefits. It feeds on itself and whether we know it or not, we all benefit.

The Washington Post recently ran an article profiling Chen Aiwu, 64, and her husband, Wang Dongsheng, 66, two very average Chinese retirees who recently completed a 19-day, 4,850-mile drive around the western United States. (Chinese women never take the husband’s family name in marriage. They retain the family name of their own father.)

Chen and Wang speak little English so their trials and tribulations began even before they landed, when they had to fill out a US Customs form that is only in English. I felt their pain. While speaking a foreign language is challenge enough, reading a foreign language is an even greater challenge. (When taking the exam for a Chinese driver’s license, I was allowed to take the test in English.)

My wife is learning first hand. We live just outside the Motor City so, of course, there is virtually no public transportation. I have yet to even see a taxi on the road. Yet the test required to obtain her learner’s permit is not offered in Chinese or spoken English, despite the fact that according to the 2010 census there were 3.8 million Chinese living in the US and I’m sure the number has doubled since then. You see Chinese people everywhere in Metropolitan Detroit.

And we should be glad they’re here. It is common knowledge that Asian Americans score much higher than their native counterparts on standardized tests used in the public education system. And at least one Asian American professor has attributed this to tough (spelled ‘better’, in her book) Asian parenting.

The reality is, however, that the Asians who are living in America have gone through a double selection process to get here. They aren’t representative of the Asian population as a whole. The children of American ex-patriates living in China would probably score quite high compared to the average Chinese as well. Asian parenting may or may not be superior, but it doesn’t explain the higher test scores.

Not all immigrants are highly educated, of course. My wife recently asked me if Americans were legally prohibited from holding jobs in the landscape and gardening industries, noting that none of the men laying sod or performing landscaping services in our new subdivision appeared to be Caucasian Americans.

That’s not to say that American men and women have not been hurt by immigration and global trade. In the case of the latter, they clearly have. But the real issue, I believe, is not immigration or even trade; it is the fact that large corporations are allowed to treat workers as disposable assets and there is no one (i.e. the government) there to pick these workers up once they are jettisoned in the name of corporate profits.

Overall, however, the experience of helping my Chinese wife immigrate to the US has renewed my faith and pride in America. There are some Americans who are prejudice against the Chinese, just as there are some Chinese who are prejudice against Americans. Overall, however, I have found that despite the confrontational rhetoric displayed in this year’s presidential election, the vast majority of Americans remain polite, cordial, and genuinely kind. (Chen and Wang marveled at this as well.) It is our most redeeming quality and, in my opinion, one of the primary reasons we remain a world leader on so many fronts.

Immigration into any foreign country is a daunting process. It is not for the meek. There are barriers at every turn, often invisible to those who grew up there. Those who succeed deserve our respect and our help, not our contempt.

Let’s hope we have the collective resolve not to let others talk us out of showing the human kindness that defines us as the global leader that we are.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com

Lisa Comes to Mei Guo II

As regular readers know, my Chinese wife and I recently moved back to the US, to the state of Michigan. So one reader suggested that I turn my lens around and share some of her observations of her new home. It sounded like a fun idea.

Having never left China before she came here with some trepidation. All she knew of America came from American movies and Hollywood doesn’t generally paint a very flattering picture of life here. She expected nothing but drugs and violence.

In the end, however, she was pleasantly surprised by what she found here. The fresh air clearly tops her list of positives. And she has taken a liking to the food although the portions are colossal by Chinese standards.

She does wonder where all the people are since even in a congested area most people are in their cars and largely invisible. There isn’t a lot of hustle/bustle on the streets except in major cities like New York and Chicago.

She also laments the lack of public transportation since she has never driven a car. She can get a driver’s license here but they only provide the booklet and the test in English, and while her conversational English is pretty good, reading a foreign language is another matter. (As one friend noted, “You would think they would want foreigners to read the rules in their native tongue to make sure they really understand them.” Fair point.)

She does think that Americans are generally bored, which is her explanation for the number of churches here. And she still doesn’t understand why the clerks at national retail chains won’t haggle on the price or skip the sales tax if she’s willing to pay cash.

Ironically, however, her overall impression of America is that we have too many rules. The irony, of course, comes from the fact that she has lived in China all of her life, a country that most Americans assume is an authoritarian police state.

I do see her point. It took us almost nine months to get her green card and although it is the most official of official documents for an immigrant, most people who want to see ID here in the US want to see a driver’s license, not a green card. And they do enforce the traffic laws pretty strictly here. On the roads of China, anarchy reigns supreme, although the rules of the road are pretty much the same on paper.

And if you don’t think the government has done enough to combat the threat of terrorism here in the US, you should be an immigrant and try to open a bank account or obtain a state ID card. There is a very specific and exhaustive list of documents you must provide and there are no exceptions. (Part of that, of course, is the fact that everything is automated and despite all of the talk of empowering employees to improve customer service, the people on the front lines have been virtually stripped of any discretion whatsoever in the name of automation and risk management.)

If you need to prove your residence, for example, they will accept a utility bill that has your name on it but they won’t accept an actual deed to the property. Which is a bit disingenuous since if I was inclined to do bad things I might willingly add your name to my phone bill, but I probably won’t be willing to deed you half of my house.

One observation that I’ve been struck with is how little most Americans know about China. When we had dinner with a couple she hadn’t met before recently, the hostess began questioning her about the number of children she has. Of course she has one. (The hostess has four.) And when she explained the one child policy to her, the woman was aghast and exclaimed that she had never heard of such over-reaching government control. (That’s true and not. If they hadn’t done anything to control population growth they would be in a very different place today. Still, I think it’s time to re-think the policy, as they are. The cost of raising a child in China will probably have the same impact the policy does.)

We were reminded of this disconnect again last night while watching the Summer Olympics in Rio. Michael Phelps, the superstar of the pool, had obviously had cupping on his shoulder recently. This is a common practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine and virtually everyone in China undergoes it with some regularity. The explanation offered by the American commentators, however, was very over-simplified, at best, and quite literally inaccurate. Perhaps they were trying to keep it simple but they didn’t do much to help Americans understand the Chinese perspective on health and healing.

The one observation she has had that even I wasn’t expecting came recently in regard to the new subdivision where our townhome is located. The developers obviously put considerable effort into avoiding the visual repetition of a 1950’s suburb. The buildings, each housing 4-6 townhomes, are positioned so as to maximize privacy and to provide the sense of being in an old European village, with lots of turns and windy roads.

She claims, however, that it hurts her eyes. “It looks like a mess. Why don’t they just line the buildings up in neat rows so that it looks more professional?”

Go figure. There is obviously more to the row after row of apartment buildings you find in the newly developed areas of China than just cost or the lack of artistic sensitivity. They apparently like it that way.

She has, however, had no problems finding Chinese people to chat with in her native tongue. We even get a Chinese newspaper. And while I know a lot of Americans won’t agree with me, I think that’s a good thing for America. Whether we like it or not, we’re part of a much larger world now and we should learn as much as can about it.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com