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Don Tow's Website http://www.dontow.com Sun, 30 Jun 2019 00:56:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 U.S.-China Confrontation: Where Will It Lead To? http://www.dontow.com/2019/06/u-s-china-confrontation-where-will-it-lead-to/ http://www.dontow.com/2019/06/u-s-china-confrontation-where-will-it-lead-to/#comments Sun, 16 Jun 2019 07:00:03 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5697

In the last year or so, and especially in the last few weeks, we have heard news coverage almost on a daily basis about the trade war between the U.S. and China. Because of the large difference between the amount of U.S. imports from China as compared to the amount of U.S. exports to China, we have repeatedly heard how unfair that is, and therefore the U.S. government must impose tariffs on a large amount of Chinese products.

In this article, we offer a broader perspective on the issue between the U.S. and China.  The conclusion we come to is that the motivation behind the recent U.S. government policy toward China is because the U.S. government does not want to have its position as the world’s leading economic and political power challenged and therefore wants to thwart China’s rise before China can become an even more serious competitor.

If one reads the front page articles of newspapers like the New York Times in the last few months, one will find one or more times per week an article that is extremely critical of the Chinese government and life in China, e.g., stealing of American jobs, stealing of American trade secrets, espionage against the U.S government, creating instabilities in the South China Sea and threatening Asian neighbors, exploiting other countries through debt traps, great unrest in the Chinese populace and mistreatment of Chinese ethnic minorities. We now discuss each of these issues.

Stealing American Jobs:  Yes, China exports a much larger amount to the U.S. than it imports from the U.S.  But what is the major reason for this difference?  The major reason is due mainly to the large difference in average wage in the two countries.  In 2018, the ratio of the average wage in the U.S. over the average wage in China is about four (about $900/week in U.S. versus about $220/week in China), and 10 years earlier this ratio was probably double that because wages have been rising in China much faster than in the U.S. in the last three decades.

As China developed the capabilities in its factories and the skills in its people, it is a natural migration that more and more factory and other jobs will migrate from the U.S. to China.  Initially the jobs required little technical capabilities and skills, and then gradually require more technical capabilities and skills.  We have seen this occurring in places like Japan and Hong Kong in the 1950s-1980s, and then occurring in places like South Korea and China starting in the 1990s, and now occurring more and more in places like Vietnam and the Philippines.   In the future, this will occur more and more in places like Latin America and Africa.  Twenty or so years from now, with rising wages, China will face similar kinds of issues faced by the U.S. in the last few decades.  This is just the result of market forces at play.  It is not that China has been stealing American jobs.

Because of its higher standard of living, U.S. must move up the industrial production chain working on activities that require more and more sophisticated technical capabilities and skills.  In order to achieve that, U.S. must produce more technical and professional college graduates.     Unfortunately the graduate students in our technical departments in our colleges and universities are more and more populated by foreign students. [1,2]  We will come back to this issue near the end of this article.

Does imposing tariffs on Chinese imports help the American economy?  First, the cost from the tariffs will be passed on to the import companies and eventually passed on to the customers, which means that the American people will ultimately pay for the increased cost from the tariffs.

In response to the increased tariffs, besides imposing a tariff on American exports, China will buy less certain products from the U.S., such as soybeans and fertilizers.  In order not to hurt American farmers, U.S. government then subsidizes these farmers, to the tune of $16 billions as was announced recently, in addition to the $12 billion subsidy to farmers in 2018 [3].  This just adds to our national debt which is already astronomically high.

Furthermore, China, which controls most of the world’s rare earth elements (after taking into consideration manufacturing), can limit its sale to the U.S. of these valuable ingredients which are crucial to producing various high tech products, such as computer hard drives and screens, magnets, hybrid cars, metals in aircraft engines, missile guidance and control systems, satellite communications.  This will adversely affect U.S.’s ability to make and sell high tech industrial products, as well as utilizing them in important military applications.

Yes, imposing tariffs on Chinese imports will have adverse impacts on China, but it also has adverse impacts on the U.S.  It is not good for either country, and it is not clear in the long run which country will suffer the most.

Sometimes one also hears that China’s state-owned or partially state-owned companies provide them an unfair advantage over U.S. companies.   However, one should keep in mind that almost all the large companies in the U.S. receive all kinds of special financial subsidies from local governments, state governments, and the federal government via various tax incentives.

A recent example is Amazon, whose profits nearly doubled from $5.6 billion in 2017 to $11.2 billion in 2018, but once again Amazon paid $0 in federal tax.  As a matter of fact, it received for tax year 2018 a federal income tax rebate of $129 million. [4]  In 2018 when various cities submitted bids to Amazon for its East Coast headquarter, many of the bids included billions of dollars of tax incentives from the corresponding city and state governments.

Stealing American Trade Secrets:  One of the arguments one often hears from U.S. government officials is that China is stealing a lot of trade secrets from the U.S.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) has been investigating how well various countries protect the intellectual property of foreign companies.  In their February 2019 report [5] “U.S. Chamber International IP Index:  7th Edition,” they found that China actually scored fairly well, especially among developing nations.  China’s score was just below Mexico and Malaysia, but above countries like Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, Egypt.

Furthermore, Renjun Bian of the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law has recently investigated a publicly accessible database called China Judgements Online (CJO) of all judgments made in Chinese courts since January 1, 2014.  Her conclusion [6] is that (1) foreign patent holders were as likely to litigate as domestic patent holders, and received noticeably better results – higher win rate, injunction rate, and average damages, and (2) plaintiffs won in 80.16% of all patent infringement cases.  These findings contradict long-standing beliefs held by westerners about patent enforcement in China.

One should also look at the trend.  As China grows in terms of technical capabilities, skills, and originality, China also wants to protect her intellectual properties (IPs). Earlier in her history, perhaps even as late as 10-15 years ago, China, like other developing countries, might not have as much interest in protecting IPs.  Now, when China is among the world’s leaders in filing patents, China now has as much vested interest in protecting IPs as other advanced countries.  The discussion in the two previous paragraphs provide supportive evidence.

Another commonly heard complaint is that in order for foreign companies to come to China to do business, they are required to form joint ventures (JVs), and therefore, it is more likely that more of their IPs will be shared with their Chinese JV partners.  One should keep in mind that the foreign company has a choice:  Doing business in China via JVs or not doing business in China at all.  Many companies have decided to choose the first option, and most have continued to do that.  The reason is that these companies have concluded that it makes sense to them from a business financial perspective.  If it did not make financial sense to them, they would have stopped doing that.

Espionage Against the U.S. Government:  Again if you listen to U.S. government officials’ statements and the American mass media articles, you will conclude that China is engaging in espionage significantly more than the U.S. and other countries.  But what is the reality? The U.S. has been spying on all world leaders, including the top leaders of her most important allies, including Germany, France, and Great Britain.  The most obvious example is as revealed by Edward Snowden that the U.S.’s National Security Agency has been monitoring the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Furthermore, according to the Washington Post [7] “the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI have been tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”  The nine companies are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.

Smart assistant devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home Hub record all conversations because they need to know when you are talking to them.  However, these devices don’t delete their recordings even after it is clear that the conversations just recorded are not addressed to them.  This means that the U.S. government can work with Amazon and Google, or force Amazon and Google to work with them, to obtain all kinds of private information for the government.

Intelligence gathering to a certain extent could be explained as part of knowing your enemy or your potential enemy, but when you couple that intelligence gathering together with initiating, encouraging, supporting, and outright instigating of regime change in a legitimate government goes beyond the line of legitimate espionage.   Here is just a small partial list of legitimate governments that the U.S. has instigated regime change since 1950s:  Egypt in 1952, Iran in 1953, Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960, Dominican Republic in 1961 and 1965-66, Brazil in 1961-64, South Vietnam in 1963, Indonesia in 1965-67 and 1997-98,  Greece in 1967, Chile in 1973, Afghanistan in 1979-1989, Poland in 1980-89, Nicaragua in 1982-89, Yogoslavia in 2000, Iraq in 2003, Syria post 2005, Libya in 2011. [8]  It is frightening to learn how frequently the U.S. government has used its economic and military power to encourage, support, initiate, and instigate a regime change because the regime in power doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the policy of the U.S.

The U.S. government has accused Huawei of working with the Chinese government to provide espionage of U.S. companies and the U.S. government.  Yet, it has never offered any evidence for such accusation,  but it has forbidden Hwawei equipment from being used in U.S. business as well as its military.  It has threatened other countries with retaliatory measures if they use Huawei equipment.  Even with such threats, countries like Great Britain are still proceeding with using Huawei equipment. [9] 

Perhaps the real reason to oppose Huawei is that the U.S. government recognizes the importance of Huawei to helping China to be able to compete with the U.S. in the leading technological areas, and therefore, it wants to thwart Huawei.

Not only that the U.S. government sees security threat from the Chinese government, it has also implied there is security threat from all Chinese Americans.  In February 2018, in response to Senator Marco Rubio’s request to comment on “the counterintelligence risk posed to U.S. national security from Chinese students,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said that he “views the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat but a whole-of-society threat.”

This suggests that all Chinese Americans (even those who were born and lived all their lives in the U.S.), not just foreign students from China,  are potential security threats, thus recreating the extremism of the McCarthyism of the 1950s and the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1880s.  This ignores completely the fact that Chinese Americans also want the U.S. to be strong and prosperous, keeping in mind that they and especially their children and grand children are living and will continue to live in the U.S.  When the U.S. government adopts unfair and dangerous policy, especially completely irrational policy whose intent is to destroy China before it can become an economical and military equal to the U.S., then Chinese Americans will and should become critics of such U.S. policy. [10]

Creating Instabilities in the South China Sea and Threatening Asian Neighbors: The U.S. government has also accused China of violating international laws as specified under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that China is bullying her smaller neighbors and is posing a military threat to the world.

China is also often accused of stealing some of these islands in the South China Sea from countries near these islands.  First, by international laws, a country that is closest to an island is not necessarily the owner of the island.  Its ownership is established by other criteria, such as which country first discovered or used the island, i.e., historical rights are key to determining territorial sovereignty, which is a critical point in UNCLOS and is often ignored by China critics such as the U.S..   Historically, there are clear cut evidence that these islands are legally Chinese territories.

As to the question of whether China is abusing international laws, UNCLOS provides three procedures for settlement of disputes:

  1. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), an independent judicial body established by UNCLOS in Hamburg, Germany
  2. The International Court of Justice (ICJ),  the principal judicial organ of the UN established in The Hague, Netherlands
  3. An Arbitral Tribunal (AT) and its administrative support entity Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

What came out of UNCLOS on this issue was a decision by the Arbitral Tribunal.  However, because this dispute involves territorial sovereignty/historical rights, which as stated in UNCLOS is outside of the jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal, China from the very beginning has the right to declare in writing that it would not participate and not abide by the decision of this Arbitral Tribunal.

Since these islands belong to China, China has every right to develop the islands, including adding land fills and building air strips.  In light of the U.S.’s 7th fleet and military alliances and military bases all around China, China needs to strengthen her defenses.  China has never taken any action to block the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea; that is just a make-up charge by the U.S. to justify her own imperialistic policy.

Exploiting Other Countries Through Debt Traps:  John R. Bolton, the U.S. National Security Advisor has stated that China is making “strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.”  Let’s hear the view of one of the world’s premier experts on this subject, Dr. Deborah Bräutigam, the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of Political Economy and Director of the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, with extensive experience working in the United Nations, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the US Agency for International Development, and has advised more than a dozen governments on China-Africa relations. 

Dr. Brautigam wrote “Yes, debt is on the rise in the developing world, and Chinese overseas lending is, for the first time, a part of the story.  But a number of us academics who have studied China’s practices in detail have found scant evidence of a pattern indicating that Chinese banks, acting at the government’s behest, are deliberately over-lending or funding loss-making projects to secure strategic advantages for China.” [12]

In the CARI blog [12],  her team wrote “Once again, the Trump administration described Chinese lending as predatory: ‘the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.’ No evidence was provided for this characterization of Chinese lending.”  The blog also states “As with the administration’s overblown estimates of Chinese lending in Djibouti, we urge reporters to do their own reporting on China-Africa debt issues, and not to simply report the administration’s ‘facts’ at face value.”

Yes, for various reasons there have been failed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects.  But during the last five years, the number of BRI projects are in the hundreds which is overwhelmingly larger than the number of failed projects that have come to public attention. And some of the countries that put projects on hold in 2017 have already come back to the negotiating table. 

It is important to note that the BRI projects are designed to address some of the most critical infrastructure needs of these developing countries, and successfully addressing these needs will significantly help the future economic success of these countries.   These are difficult projects.  On the one hand,  there are always risks associated with such projects.  On the other hand, they address the critical problems facing these countries.

Great Unrest in the Chinese Populace and Mistreatment of Chinese Ethnic Minorities:  If you listen to U.S. leaders and the Western mass media’s reporting on China, you would think that there is great dissatisfaction of the Chinese people for their lives and for the Chinese government,  In reality, the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people recognize and acknowledge that the Chinese government in less than 70 years have lifted more than 800 million Chinese people from poverty, have led China to become the world’s second largest economy, and have changed the country from being controlled by many foreign powers while living under many unequal treaties.

The Chinese people also realize that their country has many shortcomings and there are many ways that the country and their lives can be improved.  However, they want to make these changes on their own.  They don’t want to have these changes forced on them under the instigation of foreign powers who do not have the best interests of the Chinese people.

Foreign powers have a long history of taking control of other countries and exploiting them for their own benefits.  The method used in the 19th and 20th centuries was to colonize the other country.  The method used now is more subtle, via suggesting, encouraging, supporting, and outright instigating regime change.  The objective is still more and less the same, to make a change, by force if necessary, in the direction of another country to align with the interest of the foreign power.

There has also been a lot of comments about China using face recognition technology as part of achieving security in their own country.   Yes, using new technology like face recognition or other artificial intelligence (AI) technology also needs to consider possible misuse of the technology.  However, one should not be alarmed just because such technology is used by law enforcement.
If such AI technology can be used to identify potential law violators, then it should not be criticized.  For example, if it can be used to identify potential terrorists before they can strike, then it should be part of the tools for law enforcement.  There are definitely separatists and terrorists whose objective is to create havocs in the Chinese society and to split up China.  For a long time and even more so recently, the U.S. government has many covert operations designed to do just that (e.g., in Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang), i.e., to split up and weaken China so that China can no longer be a viable competitor to the U.S.  China has every right to protect its sovereignty. 
Face recognition technology is already being used in U.S. airports.  In March 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that stipulates facial recognition identification for 100 percent of all international passengers, including American citizens, in the top 20 US airports by 2021. [14]  As a matter of fact, it has already had success three days after it was introduced in the Washington, D.C. Dulles Airport. [15]
In light of the numerous cases of U.S. instigating regime changes all around the world as discussed earlier in this article, it is really naive to believe that the U.S. is not actively doing that to China, both overtly and covertly.  For example, it was just recently announced that U.S. would be selling more than $2B of military equipment to Taiwan. [16]
Contrary to what one hears from U.S. political leaders and what one reads from U.S. mass media, there is no great unrest among the Chinese people and no great dissatisfaction with the Chinese government.  There are of course many shortcomings in China, and the Chinese people and the Chinese government will need to work hard to improve on those shortcomings.
There is also no massive mistreatment of ethnic minorities, but the Chinese government and the Chinese people must pay close attention to foreign instigators of subversion and regime change, especially in light of the recent onslaught of criticisms and faked news attacking all fabrics of China, the Chinese government, and the Chinese people. 
The U.S. government is again employing double standards to criticize the Chinese goverment on the issue of human rights, when President Trump and the U.S. government officially excuse Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, of murdering and dismembering the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.  The evidence is so conclusive and the crime is so heinous, but because Saudi Arabia is an ally of the U.S., such abuse of human rights can be excused.
This is the 30-year anniversary of the June 4 incident in Tiananmen Square.  The Chinese government probably could have found a better alternative solution to that incident.  But we do not really know precisely what happened at Tiananmen.  How many people were actually killed by government troops?  Were they killed in Tiananmen Square or outside of Tiananmen Square where there were more attacks on government troops?  How many government troops were killed by the demonstrators?  How were the government troops provoked?  What was the role played by foreign instigators?  How did the six-week demonstration disrupt the operation of the government?
With respect to the recent Tiananmen commemoration demonstration in Hong Kong and the even more recent demonstration in Hong Kong related to new extradition legislation, in light of the large number of regime changes instigated by the U.S. government, it is important to take that into account, especially when there is clear evidence of organized disruption, people getting paid to attend, and instigators supplying various types of  resistance and attack tools.  The new proposed extradition legislation is triggered by the need for extradition of a murder of a Chinese girl in Taiwan by the accused boyfriend who normally resides in Hong Kong.  There are reasons for such extradition legislation.  The issue is complex, and it is very easy for outsiders to fan the fire.
However, there are legitimate economic concerns for Hong Kong residents.  Housing prices are so high in Hong Kong that it is essentially impossible for average wage earners to afford any reasonable housing.  The housing problem is almost like the situation in Northern California’s Silicon Valley except that there is no vast high tech industry to support it.  There are not enough job opportunities in Hong Kong to project a reasonable path forward for the young people in Hong Kong, thus leading to dissatisfaction and frustration with the Hong Kong government. [17]  The underlying cause for the mass turnout of the recent protest demonstrations is really economical, thus making it easier for political instigators to fan the fire.
Conclusion:  Whether it is with respect to trade imbalance, stealing of American trade secrets, security threats from Huawei, espionage against the U.S government, creating instabilities in the South China Sea and threatening Asian neighbors, exploiting other countries through debt traps, great unrest in the Chinese populace and mistreatment of Chinese ethnic minorities, there has been an onslaught of severe criticism of China from U.S. political leaders and U.S. mass media.  However, almost all of these criticisms are exaggerated, mostly unfounded, or outright lies. 

As a matter of fact, as discussed earlier in this article, the U.S. government is using double standards to criticize China while it should be the one who should be receiving those criticisms.  This is not to say that China does not have faults, because it does, but it does not deserve all the criticisms that have been levied against her.

Why is this happening?  Is it because the accusers are just uninformed?  The more likely reason is that having been the dominating power in the world for so many years, U.S. does not want to have some other country who can compete against her so that she cannot just use her economic and military power to dictate to the rest of the world.  Therefore, when China has not reached that level yet, U.S. government wants to do everything possible to isolate, divide, and weaken China.  As a matter of fact, this has been the U.S. Defense Department’s broad policy as far back as 1992:  “American’s political and military mission in the post-cold-war era will be to insure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union.” [18]
The key question that U.S. political leaders should address is not how to weaken China by any and all means, but how to improve the competitiveness of the U.S.  As discussed earlier, because of the higher standard of living in the U.S., U.S. cannot compete based on wages, but must continue to move up the industrial production chain with more technically sophisticated and creative workers.  U.S. must train more workers in the highly technical fields, including at the graduate school level.  Unfortunately, the U.S. is moving backward in this direction. [2]  U.S. must also address how to rebuild the old and crumbling infrastructures around the country, and seriously take steps to reduce its massive national debt which is a time bomb.
The onslaught of criticisms against China is not just the position of the Republican Party.  It is also the position of the Democratic Party, as evident by all the negative rhetoric about China from Democratic leaders like Senator Chuck Shumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Both parties don’t want a multi-polar world, but want a uni-polar world with the U.S. in the center.  However, there is an additional political motivation for President Trump to focus the attacks on China, because that
  1. diverts the attention on Russia interfering with the 2016 election that helped him to win
  2. focuses the country’s attention on an external enemy that will mitigate the focus on his wrong doings and potential impeachment.
It is to the benefits of the Democratic party and the American people not to blindly follow President Trump’s misguided and devious plan.
The negative attack on China has become an attack on all things related to China, including all Chinese Americans, even those who were born and live all their lives in the U.S.  While touting itself as a democratic country where people are all equal and a country based on the rule of law, the U.S. doesn’t practice what it preaches.  Chinese Americans also want the U.S. to be successful and prosperous, especially considering that their children and grand children are living and will continue to live in the U.S.  Chinese Americans like other Americans will support the U.S. government if the government is just, but just like other Americans, they will and should criticize the U.S. government if the government doesn’t even follow its own laws and constitution.
This onslaught of criticisms of China is not only not good for China and Chinese Americans, it is also not good for all Americans and the rest of the world.  Making false accusations and preaching one way to the world while acting another way, U.S. is not a government that one can trust.  Continuing such a policy, U.S. will lose its respects and followers.  It will adversely affect all Americans and its allies economically, politically, and culturally.  U.S. should live peacefully with the rest of the world, collaborating but also competing fairly.  Current U.S. policy is wrong and very dangerous, and could lead to war where everyone loses.  All should see through the travesty and take actions to change for a better world.

[1] Mary Kent, “More U.S. Scientists and Engineers Are Foreign-Born,” Population Reference Bureau (PRB), Ja5nuary 11, 2011.

[2] Elizabeth Redden, “Foreign Students and Graduate STEM Enrollment“, Inside Higher Ed, October 11, 2017.

[3] Eric Boehm, “Trump Says China Is Paying for His $16 Billion Tariff Bailout to Farmers. That’s Simply Not True,” May 24, 2019, https://reason.com/2019/05/24/trump-says-16-billion-tariff-bailout-to-farmers-is-paid-by-china-thats-simply-not-true/.

[4] “Amazon in Its Prime: Doubles Profits, Pays $0 in Federal Income Taxes,”  Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, February 13, 2019:  https://itep.org/amazon-in-its-prime-doubles-profits-pays-0-in-federal-income-taxes/.

[5] “U.S. Chamber International IP Index:  7th Edition,” U.S. Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), February 2019:  https://www.theglobalipcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/023593_GIPC_IP_Index_2019_Full_03.pdf.

[6] Renjun Bian, “Many Things You Know about Patent Infringement Litigation in China Are Wrong,” 2017, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3063566.

[7] “U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2018:   https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/us-intelligence-mining-data-from-nine-us-internet-companies-in-broad-secret-program/2013/06/06/3a0c0da8-cebf-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html?utm_term=.93e0607b63ee.

[8] “United States Involvement in Regime Change,” Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_involvement_in_regime_change.

[9] “Huawei reportedly gets the green light to participate in Britain’s 5G rollout, a would-be setback for the U.S.,” Brian Fung and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, April 25, 2019:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/04/25/huawei-gets-green-light-participate-britains-g-rollout-reversal-us/?utm_term=.a06fd90df8c0.

[10] For a discussion of more implications of such a U.S. policy, see George Koo’s excellent article “US will regret persecuting Chinese scientists,”  Asia Times, June 7, 2019:  https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/06/opinion/us-will-regret-persecuting-chinese-scientists/.

[11] “South China Sea Dispute  Abuse of World Power,” Don Tow, China-US Focus, September 15, 2016:  https://www.chinausfocus.com/foreign-policy/south-china-sea-dispute-abuse-of-world-power/.

[12] “Is China the World’s Loan Shark? – Some say Beijing lends money for infrastructue and development to pressure poor countries with debt.  Not so.” Deborah Brautigam, The New York Times, April 26, 2019:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/26/opinion/china-belt-road-initiative.html.

[13] The China-Africa Research Initiative Blog:  http://www.chinaafricarealstory.com/.

[14] “The US Government Will Be Scanning Your Face At 20 Top Airports, Documents Show,” Davey Alba, BuzzFeed News, March 11, 2019:  https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/daveyalba/these-documents-reveal-the-governments-detailed-plan-for.

[15] “US airports’ new facial recognition tech spots first imposter,” Mariella Moon, Ergadget, August 23, 2018:  https://www.engadget.com/2018/08/23/us-airport-facial-recognition-first-imposter/.

[16] “Trump Administration Plans to Sell More Than $2 Billion of Arms to Taiwan,” Edward Wong and Catie Edmonson, New York Times, June 6, 2019: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/us/politics/trump-taiwan-arms-sale.html.

[17] This was emphasized to me by a close Hong Kong friend during the mass protest demonstrations in 2014.

[18] “U.S. Strategy Plan Calls for Insuring No Rivals Develop,” Patrick E. Tyler, The New York Times, March 8, 1992:  https://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/08/world/us-strategy-plan-calls-for-insuring-no-rivals-develop.html.

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Back Pain and Taiji http://www.dontow.com/2019/06/back-pain-and-taiji/ http://www.dontow.com/2019/06/back-pain-and-taiji/#respond Sun, 16 Jun 2019 06:00:19 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5821 Taiji (also spelled Tai Chi), an ancient Chinese martial art, can be a very effective exercise to avoid and to relieve back pains. This article discusses why.

Low back pain is an extremely common problem. About 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days.

Very Common Problem: In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past 3 months. [1] Most low back pains are acute or short term lasting a few days or a few weeks, and the problem often goes away by itself with time and self care. But about 20% of people with acute low back pain develop into chronic low back pain lasting 12 weeks or longer and often recurring.

According to Reference 1, the magnitude of the burden from low back pain has grown worse in recent years. In 1990, a study ranking the most burdensome conditions in the U.S. in terms of mortality or poor health as a result of disease put low back pain in sixth place; in 2010, low back pain jumped to third place, with only ischemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ranking higher.

Taiji Can Help Relieve and Avoid Low Back Pain: Taij, which is an ancient Chinese art that is good for self defense and also good for health, has turned out to be an effective exercise to relieve low back pain, as well as to avoid getting low back problems. A new Consumer Reports survey of more than 3,500 adults who’ve had back pain in the last three years confirms that Taiji helps provide relief. Nearly 90 percent of respondents who used Taiji (or yoga) for back pain found it helpful. In comparison, only 64 percent of people thought that the advice and treatment they got from a primary-care physician or orthopedic surgeon gave them relief. [2]

Why? There are three reasons why Taiji (including related stretching and Qigong exercises) can be effective for low back pain:

  1. Gives rise to better posture and balance
  2. Strengthens back muscles and stretches the spinal column structure
  3. Benefits from associated meditation aspects (relaxation and deep breathing) of Taiji.

We elaborate on each of these three reasons.

Gives Rise to Better Posture and Balance: One of the fundamental principles of Taiji is to keep the upper back of the body straight or almost straight. This means that the weight of the whole back is firmly supported by the pelvic structure and the legs and avoids putting any unnecessary stress on any part of your upper body. This is similar to the usual suggestion that when we sit, we should sit upright.

Another fundamental principle of Taiji is that we should have close to one-shoulder-width separation between the left foot and the right foot in the transverse direction (i.e., direction perpendicular to direction of motion). Then the center of gravity of your body will be between the two lines of support from your two feet. This gives rise to a very firm stance and better balance, and again avoids putting any unnecessary stress on your body. This is also why practicing Taiji can significantly reduce the probability of falling.

Strengthens Back Muscles and Stretches Spinal Column Structure: Many Taiji movements involve waist rotation. When you rotate the waist, you are strengthening the muscles surrounding your lower back spinal column. This means that when you are involved in doing various daily activities, such as turning your body, lifting an object, or bending down, your strengthened back muscles will result in less stress on your lower back spinal column. This minimizes the probability of causing a vertebrae disk to protrude and touching a nerve which will cause pain.

Waist rotation is integral to Taiji. You will find it in numerous forms, e.g., in Wild Horse Shakes Its Mane. Brush Knee and Step Forward, Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, Single Whip, Wave Hands Like Cloud, Fair Lady Works the Shuttles.

By the way, waist rotation is also very important from a martial arts perspective. When you punch with your arm or kick with your foot, rotating the waist adds more power to your punch or kick. The power from your punch or kick no longer just comes from your arm or leg, because the rotation power will be added to the power of your punch or kick. This illustrates that what is good from a health perspective is usually also good from a martial arts perspective. Conversely, what is good from a martial arts perspective is usually also good from a health perspective.

Besides doing various Taiji forms, there are also many stretching or Qigong exercises that one also practices in a Taiji class. Some of these exercises stretch the spinal vertebra column. This gives rise to more space for the disk between vertebrae, and thus avoiding disk rupture or herniated disk. An example is Item #3 “Separating Heaven and Earth” in the Eight Silk Brocade Qigong exercise that we discussed in an earlier Taiji article in this website. [3]

Benefits from Associated Meditation Aspects (Relaxation and Deep Breathing) of Taiji: Taiji is also known as Meditation in Motion. There are two components to meditation: Relaxation and deep breathing. Relaxation is for both the body and mind. You relax your whole body. That is why the Taiji movements (especially for the Yang Style) are essentially all slow and soft. The mind is also relaxed, in the sense that your mind is focused only on the current exercise, and gets rid of all extraneous thoughts from your mind.

Deep breathing refers to Lower Abdominal Breathing (also called Dantian Breathing) [4] when you breathe more slowly and during your breathing your diaphragm moves up and down, and your abdomen (both front and back) moves outward and inward. Lower Abdominal Breathing allows you to take longer breaths and take in more oxygen. Because of the movement of the diaphragm and the expansion and contraction of your lower abdomen, Lower Abdominal Breathing provides some massaging of the organs inside your abdomen. Massaging is like doing exercises with your internal organs, thus strengthening them.

Relaxation and deep breathing can get rid of stress on your body and mind. The combination also allows the blood, air, and Qi (life force in traditional Chinese medicine) to circulate more freely in your blood vessels, energy meridians, muscles, and organs, thus invigorating your body. Deep breathing also can get rid of more of the toxins that are inside your blood, resulting in healthier organs. Thus the meditation aspects of Taiji can result in a healthier body, including your lower back.

Relaxation not only is good for your health, it is also good from a martial arts perspective. When you are relaxed, you can better sense your opponent’s motion and intent. At the same time, it will be more difficult for your opponent to sense your motion and intent. This provides an advantage in combat. This provides another illustration of the earlier statement that what is good for your health is also good for martial arts, and what is good for martial arts is also good for your health.

Summary: The ancient Chinese martial art Taiji is an effective exercise to relieve low back pain, as well as to avoid getting low back pain. Low back pain is such a common health problem and it can be very painful and debilitating. Taiji is an exercise that can be easily learned.

Although depending on the circumstances, Taiji may not be the best solution or may not even be a solution at all, it is often worth to be considered to be a potential solution.

However, many people, including Chinese Americans, will seek out more expensive and more invasive remedies which may not be as effective as Taiji. This may be due to an attitude that Western scientific methods and treatments must be better than ancient Chinese practices.

As a matter of fact, I also had that attitude until almost 30 years ago, when I damaged the tendons/ligaments in my left little finger while playing soccer, my own experience has opened up my eyes and mind. [5]


[1] “Lower Back Pain Fact Sheet,” National Institute of Health:  https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet.

[2] “Consider Tai Chi for Back Pain,” Teresa Carr, Consumer Reports, March 12, 2017:  https://www.consumerreports.org/back-pain/tai-chi-for-back-pain/.

[3] “A Set of Simple Time-Tested Health Exercises: The Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦)”:  http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/a-set-of-simple-time-tested-health-exercises-the-eight-silk-brocade-%e5%85%ab%e6%ae%b5%e9%8c%a6/.

[4] For more discussion of Lower Abdominal Breathing, see, e.g., “Breathing and Taijiquan”:  http://www.dontow.com/2007/02/breathing-and-taijiquan/.

[5] “Myth or Reality”:  http://www.dontow.com/2007/06/myth-or-reality/.

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Reminiscences of Childhood in Hong Kong http://www.dontow.com/2019/06/reminiscences-of-childhood-in-hong-kong/ http://www.dontow.com/2019/06/reminiscences-of-childhood-in-hong-kong/#comments Sun, 16 Jun 2019 05:00:46 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5795

I lived in Hong Kong for six years from 1949 to 1955 when I was seven to thirteen.  Since I was too young to remember much about the earlier period before that when I lived in China, the time in Hong Kong was basically my childhood years.  Looking back, I remember fondly some of the interesting events that occurred in that period.

Learning English in Grammar School: In Hong Kong I started in second grade in a grammar school that was once a horse stable for the Japanese military during WWII, since Hong Kong was occupied by Japan beginning on Christmas day 1941.  This school started teaching its students English beginning with second grade.  Even though by the time I finished grammar school, I already had five years of English, I still essentially wasn’t able to speak any complex sentence of English, probably a reflection of both my lack of interest and the quality of my English teachers, although overall the quality of the education at this school was good.

Three Incidents in Grammar School: I remember the first time I had to give a speech in class, probably when I was in third grade.  When it was my turn, I just stood in front of the class, with my mouth opened and my right hand on my heart, but not a single sound came out.  The teacher was nice enough to just excuse me without giving me a reprimand.  However, discipline was not lax in this school, because unlike the standards in American schools today, my teachers would use plastic or wooden rulers to spank the students for misbehaving. 

I vividly remember another incident, again when I was in third grade.  One day I forgot to bring my notebook back to school.  It was on a Saturday when school was half-day from nine to twelve noon.  The punishment was that I had to stay after school to write one thousand times the Chinese word “dig”

one of the most difficult Chinese words to write, with 27 strokes.  It took me a whole hour to do that.  As usual, my older brother Danny came to pick me up after school to take me home.  He was patiently waiting outside.  When he still didn’t see me coming out by 12:30 PM, he went to the school office to inquire, and learned that I had to stay after school for my punishment for forgetting to bring my notebook to school.  The punishment was severe for such a small oversight by an eight year old, but I never forgot to bring my notebook back to school after that.

I owe Danny a lot.  We had to pay tuition to schools.  Since we had to pull up roots when we moved from Guangzhou, China to Hong Kong in 1949, my father had to start his civil engineering business (building houses, offices, and churches) from scratch.  With five children and a family of seven to support, money was tight.  So after Danny finished sixth grade, he sat out of school for one year, and during that year when I was an eight-year-old third grader, he accompanied me to and from school. 

Our mother would give us ten cents each to ride the trolley car back home after school.  But usually Danny and I would just walk home and used our twenty cents to buy from street vendors some snacks, such as peanuts, beef jerky, ginger, or dried squid.  It was such a delicious treat.  Danny was very generous, and he would often give ten cents to a beggar we ran into while walking home.  I even joked that if there were a beggars association, they would vote Danny to be their president.  We also had a lot of fun walking home, often kicking the small rocks we found on the ground as though we were kicking soccer balls.  This probably was the beginning of my interest in soccer, which became an important part of my life later on. 

Twenty-Plus People Living in A One-Bedroom Flat: During the first three years in Hong Kong, our family of seven moved into my uncle (my mother’s older brother)’s flat, the second floor of a two-story house overlooking the Hong Kong race track in Happy Valley.  With my uncle’s family of 10, my maternal grandma, another maternal aunt, and a couple of cousins, there were over 20 people living in this one big-room flat with partitions that went only partially to the ceiling partitioning the one room flat into multiple “rooms.”

It was very crowded and provided little privacy.  The flat had only one bathroom, with a single wash basin and a single toilet that the 20+ people had to share.  It was especially difficult on Sunday morning when my uncle had the habit of reading the Sunday newspaper while sitting on the toilet.

The flat also had no refrigerator.  Often walking by a department store seeing a refrigerator on display, I would imagine how refreshing it would be to get a cool bottle of soda from a refrigerator, but it was a luxury that I did not have an opportunity to enjoy until many years later. 

Compared with our lifestyle today, we couldn’t imagine how we endured and survived that period.  But that was a difficult time a few years after the end of WWII and shortly after the end of the civil war in China.  Many people, like us, had to pull up roots and started life all over again.  But everything is relative; so in a sense we considered ourselves to be fortunate with a roof over our heads, food on the table, and the opportunity to attend schools to get an education. 

We saw that many others were not as fortunate; they had to live in shacks crudely constructed on the sides of various hills in Hong Kong; there were many beggars, and many children could not afford to attend schools.  A lesson one should learn is that one should appreciate what one has, and when one has no other choice, one would find a way to endure and survive.

Since this second-floor flat overlooks the Hong Kong Race Track, on weekends from our balcony we have a front-row view of the horse racing.  During other days, the large inside grass area of the race track was open to the public.[1]  The view I remember the most is that there was this old man (I should say senior citizen, since he was no older than I am now) who rain or shine would always go there every day to practice Taiji for an hour or more.  I was impressed by his commitment and mesmerized by his slow, soft, and fluid movements.  It also did not escape me that he started as an old, frail man who after a year or two of such practices became a healthy-looking man full of vitality.  This was probably the beginning of my interest in Taiji, which also became an important part of my life later on. 

Three Other Incidents in Grammar School: I remembered these incidents as if they had happened only yesterday.  One day I found a hand grenade among the bushes on the school grounds, a left over from the days when this was a Japanese military stable.  Fortunately, it was not live and didn’t explode, and I quickly handed it over to school personnel.

Another incident was when I was in fifth or sixth grade, the school had a recitation contest of the Lord’s Prayer in Chinese (even though the school was not a religious school).  When it was my turn, I recited it, but I did make a few minor errors.  However, when the school announced that I was the winner, they also said that I had a perfect score, which I know was not true.  I guess the school wanted to convey the impression that the winner truly deserved to win.  It was ironic that they chose the Lord’s Prayer for the contest, but they did not follow the guidance in that prayer.

The trolleys in Hong Kong had two decks.  The fare for the lower deck was 10 cents, and the fare for the upper deck was 20 cents.  The entrance/exit for the lower deck was near the rear of the trolley, and the entrance/exit for the upper deck was near the front of the trolley.  We normally rode the lower deck.  One of my older teenage cousins also usually rode the lower deck, but after exiting the trolley, he would always walk to the front of the trolley giving the appearance as though he had gotten off the upper deck in case the friend(s) that he was visiting was observing his arrival.  It taught me the lesson that for some people the image of wealth is so important.  Fortunately it was not something that anyone in our family adopted.

Improving Livelihood in Hong Kong: It took about three years for my father to establish his civil engineering business in Hong Kong, mostly in building housing and church-related buildings for new refugees coming into Hong Kong. After three years, we could afford and moved into a two-bedroom apartment for our family of seven.

We could also afford to eating out once in a while. I still remember fondly those few occasions that my mom took my younger sister and me out for some shopping and stopping for a snack or dessert. It is such a small thing with our current standard of living, but it was almost a luxury at that time.


[1] It was open to the public at that time, although many years later, it was no longer opened to the public at all times.

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A Paradigm Shifting World-History Investigation http://www.dontow.com/2019/03/a-paradigm-shifting-world-history-investigation/ http://www.dontow.com/2019/03/a-paradigm-shifting-world-history-investigation/#comments Sat, 23 Mar 2019 07:00:54 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5589 Based on more than 10 years of research investigation of many classic world maps and other historical documents, Dr. Siu-Leung Lee (李兆良, of Columbus, Ohio and Hong Kong)  has concluded that the contents of a very important world map, known as Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (坤輿万国全图) dated 1602, attributed to Matteo Ricci, is not translated into Chinese from European maps.  Furthermore, this important world map was based on the surveys by Chinese before 1430, some 60 years before Columbus’ exploration

This article provides a short summary of his reasoning and the vast implications for world history. [1]

Who Was Matteo Ricci? Matteo Ricci (Chinese name 利玛窦, 1552-1610) was an Italian Jesuit priest and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China missions. He learned classical Chinese by working and living for more than 20 years in China.  Because of his scientific expertise, he became an advisor to the imperial court of the Emperor Wanli (万历皇帝).  Together with his Chinese collaborators [technical translator Li Zhizao (李之藻) and copier Zhang Wentao (张文焘)], he prepared maps and atlases for Emperor Wanli. [2]  The most famous and most important was the 1602 world map Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (坤輿万国全图).

What Was Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (坤輿万国全图)? In Chinese, this name means “Complete Geographical Map of all the Kingdoms of the World.”  For brevity, we will refer to it as the “1602 Chinese World Map.”  It was a very large woodcut map, 5 ft high and 12 ft  wide, and labeled entirely in Chinese.

File:Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (坤輿萬國全圖).jpg

It contains 1,114 place names, and was the most detailed and accurate world map of its time.  Several prints of the Kunyu Wanguo Quantu were made in 1602. Most of the original maps are now lost. Only six original copies of the map are known to exist, and only two are in good condition.

This is a map that was long thought of as based on a map by Ortelius (1570) brought to China by Ricci.  In particular, it was long thought of as the first time that the Chinese were introduced to the knowledge of the American continents.

Dr. Siu-Leung Lee’s first conclusion is about the authorship:  There are many clues showing that the “1602 Chinese World Map” was not derived from European maps of Ricci’s time.  Lee provided several reasons [3]:

  1. The Papal States Tuscany and Florence are absent, and the names of Hibernia, Lutetia are outdated Roman names for Ireland and Paris, respectively.
  2. 50% of the place names including those of the Americas have no equivalent on European drawn maps.
  3. If the information on the map of European places came directly from European sources, then the names of these places can be obtained directly from the original European sources, instead of being translated from Chinese into Italian/Latin later by the 20th century Jesuit priest Pasquale M. d’Elia (1890-1963).
  4. “The 1602 Chinese World Map” accurately labeled the oceans by the cardinal direction centered on China while the nomenclature in European maps at that time was confusing and erroneous.
  5. European maps at that time set the prime meridian inconsistently at either Canary Islands or Cape Verde Islands, whereas the “1602 Chinese World Map” set the prime meridian at near Dakar, Senegal, which as the westernmost region of Africa is a much more logical prime meridian as the beginning of the Asia-Europe-Africa land mass.
  6. The “1602 Chinese World Map” contained many names on the west coast of North America, including the state of Washington, western Canada and Alaska, but there was no prior record of any European exploration of these places until mid 1800s.  As a matter of fact, these names were not available on European maps such as Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) and Mercator’s Nova et aucta orbis terrae descriptio ad usum navigantium em (1569), which were thought to be among the blue-prints of the “1602 Chinese World Map.”
  7. The 1595 Arctic Circle map of Mercator placed California in the Arctic Circle, but the “1602 Chinese World Map” placed California at the right location. Even if Ricci had access to Mercator’s 1595 Arctic map, he could not have corrected the geography he had never seen.
  8. Hudson Bay and the Mackenzie River of Canada are shown incorrectly in the European maps, but correctly in the “1602 Chinese World Map.” In addition, these places were visited by European explorers after Ricci died in 1610.

Dr. Lee’s second conclusion is about timing:  Dr. Lee’s second conclusion is that the “1602 Chinese World Map” actually resulted from Chinese surveys completed before 1430 for the following reasons:

  1. There was a major addition in the 1594 Plancius map as compared to the 1570 Ortelius map, i.e., in the listing of cities in China, Shuntienfu (顺天府), which was the administrative area of Beijing as named by Emperor Yongle in 1403, was included.  The absence of Shuntienfu in the 1570 Ortelius map and appearance in the 1594 Plancius map shows that information of Emperor Yongle’s China was acquired by European cartographers after Ricci was in China.
  2. Comparison of the depictions of the westernmost point of South America of the 1570 Ortelius map, the 1594 Plancius map, and the “1602 Chinese World Map” clearly shows that the depiction in the latter map is much more accurate than the depiction in the first two maps. [4]  This again indicates that the “1602 Chinese World Map” did not get its geographic information from European maps on far-flung places like South America.
  3. China’s ability to map open ocean prior to European contact is supported by Martino Martini’s atlas “Novus Atlas Sinensis. Martino Martini visited China 1643-1651 and published “Novus Atlas Sinensis” in 1655 that included a very accurate map of China and Japan.  Since it was impossible for Martini to do such an accurate survey of that vast area of China (about 6,000,000 square kilometers) and Japan, not counting the open ocean between China and Japan.  That survey had to be done by the work of numerous Chinese surveys over hundreds of years.  This again indicates that European cartographers learned geographic information from China, instead of the other way around.
  4. On the “1602 Chinese World Map,” a text above Spain indicates that the map is drawn “some 70 years after the first diplomatic relationship with Europe.”  “Diplomatic relationship” here refers to Giovanni de’ Marignolli leading a Papal legation to China and staying from 1342 to 1347.  Exchange of credentials signifies the first diplomatic relationship between China and Europe.  Seventy some years later would fall in the time period several years after 1412-1417, within the great Chinese oceanic explorer Zheng He’s seven major sea explorations between 1405 and 1433 (the last exploration began in 1430 and ended in 1433).  Therefore the above mentioned text offers the most definitive dating of the map, i.e., it was prepared in the late 1420s after many of Zheng He’s expeditions, probably in preparation for his last expedition that began in 1430 (which ended in 1433).
  5. Furthermore, the inclusion in the China section of the “1602 Chinese World Map” of places only relevant to Emperor Yongle (1403-1424), such as places along his route of campaigns against residual Mongolian resistance.  The inclusion of the spot where Emperor Yongle died (in 1424) has no political or economic value in the Wanli era (1572-1620) provides another indication that this map was drawn shortly after Emperor Yongle’s death in 1424.
  6. There are more texts on the map dating the map to the period before 1430, such as the history of Japan, African kingdoms, and Vietnam.
  7. Matteo Ricci did add some names from European exploration/colonization in America and Asia, creating a delusion that the map was drawn by Europeans. However, Ricci could not have added names that were not found in European maps, nor could he know the geography not yet explored by Europeans.

That is why Dr. Lee came to his second major conclusion that the “1602 Chinese World Map” resulted from Chinese surveys that were completed before 1430. The ramification of this conclusion is that Chinese explorers had already reached and surveyed the American continents at least 60 years before Columbus’ discovery of the “new world” in 1492.

Summary: The “1602 Chinese World Map” was made in 1602 in China, the most detailed map of the world at that ime, has been wrongly attributed to Matteo Ricci and European explorers for over 400 years. The geography of the American continents has been thought as knowledge that Europeans brought to China.  However, after more than 10 years of research investigation, Dr. Siu-Leung Lee has revealed the true authorship of the map by scientific reasoning.  Ricci actually learned many of these new cartographic findings about many parts of the world, including the American continents, from cartographic information discovered and compiled by Chinese explorers over many prior years.  In particular, these new cartographic information were the result of the seven world voyages  led by the legendary Chinese explorer Zheng He between 1405 and 1433.

Unless new verifiable information about European exploration is available to explain the discrepancy revealed by the “1602 Chinese world map,” it is irrefutable that Chinese led the first global exploration and cultural exchanges, overturning 600 years of  misinterpreted history!

Before ending this article, there are two important questions that we want to address:

  1. Relation of Dr. Lee’s work and Gavin Menzies’ work as described in Menzies’ 2002 book 1421:  The Year Chinese Discovered America.  Besides that the conclusion is similar, there is  essentially no similarity between the two works in terms of materials, scientific methodology, and thoroughness.  Menzies, a retired British submarine lieutenant commander, did not provide credible scientific analysis and support to his claims, but Lee did.  Menzies does not know the Chinese language, but Lee does and did a lot of investigation and research on many related historical Chinese sources.  Menzies’ work has been considered by experts to lack sophistication and definitive proofs. Lee’s work with a meticulous scientific approach has been assessed uncontested by cartographic and history experts around the world. His first presentation of this research was at the International Zheng He Conference in Melaka, 2010 (Proceedings published in 2012). He has also presented to University of South Florida, University of West Florida, Ohio State University, Otterbein University, Academica Sinica (Taipei), Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping (Beijing), University of Foreign Affairs (Beijing), Tsinghua University, Peking  University, Renmin University, Nanjing University, and six universities in Hong Kong. Because of the sensitivity and potential explosive ramifications of his findings, it might take time for people to digest and recognize the facts.
  2. The second question is what happened to the historical findings of Zheng He’s expeditions, why the Chinese did not continue such naval expeditions, and why the Chinese did not publicize such great discoveries.  This is an extremely good and important question.  We probably will never know the real answer, but there are probably several reasons.  One is that during the latter part of Emperor Yongle’s reign (1403-1424), China was involved in a land war with the residual Mongolian forces.  More money was probably needed to fund the army.  The army commanders might have won the internal battle in this conflict of interest and power struggle, resulting in halting the maritime explorations. The rising power of rich merchants from the maritime trade posted a threat to the emperor’s families. Because of these and possibly other reasons, Emperor Hongxi, the successor to Emperor Yongle, discontinued any more naval expedition and in order to keep expeditions like Zheng He’s from being repeated, destroyed their ships. [5] Most important of all was probably the destructions and lootings of the imperial archives near the downfall of the Ming dynasty around 1644 and also later during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

The maps, original documents and cultural relics have interwoven into an irrefutable network of evidence overturning the myth of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America. European explorers might have taken much much longer to reach the western hemisphere had the Chinese world geographic information not leaked to the West. Ming Chinese should be credited as the pioneers of globalization of cultural exchange and trade. This has tremendous implications and impacts in current international affairs.   We strongly urge the world’s cartographic experts and history experts to reassess history based on Dr. Lee’s paradigm shifting research investigations. [6]

Acknowledgment:  I would like to thank Dr. Siu-Leung Lee for valuable discussions on his research investigation.

[1] Dr. Lee’s research findings are available in three Chinese books:

  • 《坤舆万国全图解密——明代测绘世界》台北:联经出版社,2012.
  • 《宣德金牌启示录——明代开拓美洲》台北:联经出版社,2013.
  • 《坤舆万国全图解密——明代中国与世界》上海:上海交通大学出版社,2017.

The third book is a simplified-font version of the first book. The second book deals with hundreds of pieces of evidence in cultural relics linking Native American culture and Chinese in Ming dynasty and more ancient time.

A series of books are in preparation for the English readers. During the past few years, Dr. Lee has published many research papers in both English and Chinese. A summary English article is  “Chinese Mapped America Before 1430” presented at the 28th International Cartographic Conference (ICC) in Washington, D.C., July 2-7, 2017.  In this paper, Chinese and European maps are compared quantitatively revealing the advance technologies of Chinese survey and cartography of the world.

Another English article “Zheng He’s Voyages revealed by Matteo Ricci’s World Map” can be found in the Proceedings of the First International Zheng He Conference held in Melaka, Malayia, 2010.  A similar article can also be found at https://www.academia.edu/7875807/Zheng_Hes_Voyages_Revealed_by_Matteo_Riccis_World_Map.

[2] Ricci was given free access to the Forbidden City but never met the reclusive Emperor Wanli, although the Emperor granted him patronage and financial support for his work.

[3] More information can be found in Ref. 1.

[4] You can see copies of these maps in Ref. 1.

[5] Zheng He’s naval fleet was huge by the standard of its time.  E.g., Columbus’ Santa Maria was only 18 meters in length, whereas some of Zheng He’s ships were as long as 140 meters.  Columbus’ fleet consisted of three ships, and Zheng He’s fleet 200-300.

[6] Here is a little more information about Dr. Lee’s biography.  He is a biochemist by training, with a B.S. in Biology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Purdue University.   He has academic and industrial experience in his career at Yale University, Texas A&M university, Corning Inc., and Battelle Memorial Institute before becoming the Associate Director of the Hong Kong Institute of Biotechnology and General Manager of HKIB-Syntex Inc.  In 1993 he founded Asiawind.com.  He has been involved in the research investigation of cultural links between China and America since 2006.  He is the President of the Zheng He Society of the Americas, Washington, D.C.   Versatile in classical Chinese literature, music and other areas.  Dr. Lee is a noted calligrapher, and was commissioned in 2005 to write the calligraphy “Taihang Baquanxia, Eight-Spring Gorge” (太行八泉峽) for the main entrance gate to the Taihangshan National Forest Park in Shanxi Province in China.

For further information, please contact Dr. Siu-Leung Lee at sllee19@gmail.com.

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Effect of Taiji Versus Aerobic Exercise for Fibromyalgia http://www.dontow.com/2019/03/effect-of-taiji-versus-aerobic-exercise-for-fibromyalgia/ http://www.dontow.com/2019/03/effect-of-taiji-versus-aerobic-exercise-for-fibromyalgia/#comments Sat, 23 Mar 2019 06:00:57 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5656 A recently published research investigation compares Taiji exercise with aerobic exercise for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. This research concluded that participants of either exercise routine show improvements after practicing twice a week for 24 weeks, and participants of the Taiji exercise routine show more improvements than participants of the aerobic exercise routine.

What Is Fibromyalgia? Fibromyalgia [1] is a condition that causes pain all over the body. The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are

  • Pain and stiffness all over the body.
  • Fatigue and tiredness.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration.
  • Headaches, including migraines.

It affects about 4 million adults in the U.S., or about 2% of the U.S. population, with women twice more likely than men.

Fibromyalgia should be treated by a doctor or team of healthcare professionals who specialize in the treatment of fibromyalgia and other types of arthritis, called rheumatologists.

Fibromyalgia is usually treated with medication (pain relievers and anti-depression medicines), aerobic exercises, and often with addition of stress management techniques (such as meditation, yoga, massage, and better sleeping habits), and behavior therapy to treat any underlying depression.

Why The Need for This Study? Since use of pain relievers and anti-depression medicines could have serious side effects, such as addiction and adverse mood changes, some people prefer to rely on treatment with only aerobic exercise. This leads to the importance of this research, whether doing Taiji exercise can be an alternative to aerobic exercise.

Description of Recent Research Investigation: A recent research investigation was published in the March 21, 2018 issue of the medical journal BMJ [2]. This involves a randomized, 52 week, single blind comparative effectiveness trial involving 226 adults with fibromyalgia (as defined by the American College of Rheumatology 1990 and 2010 criteria). The trial was performed at the Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. The 226 participants were randomly assigned, with 115 being assigned to one of four Taiji groups (12 or 24 weeks, once or twice weekly) and 75 to an aerobic exercise group (twice weekly for 24 weeks). The average pain duration of the participants was 9 years. Roughly about 2/3 of the participants were also taking pain relievers to treat their fibromyalgia. The trial did not change or recommend changes in medical therapy. The mean age of the participants was 52, and 92% were females, and 61% were of the white race. Participants were evaluated at the end of 12 weeks, 24 weeks, and 52 weeks.

The aerobic exercise consisted of several components of an active warm-up including low intensity movements and dynamic stretching, choreographed aerobic training, progressing gradually from low to moderate intensity, and cool down exercises. The Taiji exercise consisted of warm-up and stretching exercises, meditative movements, breathing techniques, various relaxation methods, and doing Taiji forms [3]. There were three Taiji instructors.

The participants were assessed via the Revised Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQR) [4], as well as other assessment tools, such as the patient’s global assessment and the hospital anxiety and depression scale [5]. The FIQR is a series of questions about the degree of difficulty of doing various daily tasks.

Results of Research Investigation: The FIQR scores improved for all five groups: (1) Taiji group meeting twice per week for 24 weeks, (2) Taiji group meeting once per week for 24 weeks, (3) Taiji group meeting twice per week for only 12 weeks, (4) Taiji group meeting once per week for only 12 weeks, and (5) aerobic exercise group meeting twice per week for 24 weeks.

There were 4 major results:

  1. The improvements for the Taiji group that met twice weekly for 24 weeks (Group 1) and the Taiji group that met once per week for 24 weeks (Group 2) were statistically significantly more than the aerobic group (Group 5). An improvement by 8.1 points in the FIQR score (0-100) is statistically significant. This research study shows that Groups 1/2 showed an improvement of 16.2 points as compared to Group 5.
  2. The Taiji groups who met for 24 weeks (Groups 1 and 2) show greater improvement than the Taiji groups who met for only 12 weeks (Groups 3 and 4).
  3. There was no significant difference between the improvements between the Taiji group meeting twice per week for 24 weeks (Group 1) and once per week for 24 weeks (Group 2), or between the Taiji group meeting twice per week for 12 weeks (Group 3) and once per week for 12 weeks (Group 4).
  4. The results for the Taiji participants did not depend on the Taiji instructor.

Result 3 that concludes that meeting twice per week did not show more improvement than meeting once per week may seem puzzling. However, we need to keep in mind that the participants were told by the instructors to practice daily. So this means that most likely the participants in various Taiji groups during the trial were already practicing several times per week independent of whether they had formal practices twice per week or only once per week.

The reason that there was a significant difference between Groups 1/2 and Groups 3/4 is because the participants in Groups 3/4 are less likely to continue practicing Taiji when their official lessons were finished after 12 weeks.

Result 4 means that the positive results of the Taiji groups were due to Taiji, and not to the specific Taiji instructor.

Implication and Significance: Traditionally medication and aerobic exercise are often combined as the main treatment method for people inflicted with fibromyalgia. However, since medicines such as pain relievers and anti-depression medicines may have potential serious side effects such as addiction and adverse mood changes, often aerobic exercise may be the major treatment for many fibromyalgia patients. Since some people may not be able or may not want to do some of the aerobic exercise, having Taiji exercise as an alternative treatment option, especially when it may even be a better treatment option than aerobic exercise, is a significant medical finding.

The trial also showed that the Taiji participants as a whole attended 62% of possible classes, whlle the aerobic exercise participants as a whole attended only 40% of possible classes. This suggests that a Taiji program may be able to retain more of the fibromyalgia patients than a aerobic exercise program.

[1] Fibromyalgia, Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm.[2] C. Wang, et. al., “Effects of tai chi versus aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia: comparative effectiveness randomized controlled trial,” March 21, 2018, BMJ journal: https://doi.org/101136/bmj.k851. BMJ used to stand for British Medical Journal, but now only the acronym is used. The pdf file for this article can be downloaded at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323938961_Effect_of_tai_chi_versus_aerobic_exercise_for_fibromyalgia_Comparative_effectiveness_randomized_controlled_trial

[3] The paper did not identify the specific Taiji forms that were performed. My guess is that they were simple Yang-style forms.

[4] The Revised Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQR) can be found at: https://fiqrinfo.ipage.com/FIQR%20FORM.pdf.

[5] See reference 2 for a description of other assessment tools and other findings at 52 weeks.

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An Important New Book on the 1945 Battle for Manila http://www.dontow.com/2019/03/an-important-new-book-on-the-1945-battle-for-manila/ http://www.dontow.com/2019/03/an-important-new-book-on-the-1945-battle-for-manila/#respond Sat, 23 Mar 2019 05:00:38 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5629

A new book Rampage:  MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila was recently published (October 30, 2018, W. W. Norton) by James M. Scott.  It tells about the retaking of the Philippines in 1945 by the American troops and the horrific atrocities committed by the Japanese troops.  The author was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor (2015, W. W. Norton). [1]

This article provides excerpts from the book review posted on November 4, 2018 in the Los Angeles Times by Bob Drogin, who was the Los Angeles Times’ bureau chief in Manila from 1989 to 1993.  All quotes below are from Drogin’s book review.

Retelling this part of history is long overdue.  “It is hard to imagine that a major monthlong battle from WWII – one that devastated a large city, caused more than 100,000 civilian deaths and led to both a historic war crimes trial and a Supreme Court decision – should have escaped scrutiny until now.”  This new book by James M. Scott has removed that gap.

The book begins in March 1942 by describing how “General Douglas MacArthur, the egotistical military commander of the U.S. colony in the Philippines, was caught woefully unprepared when the war began. Japanese bombers destroyed his planes on the ground and American and Philippine forces were soon overwhelmed.  MacArthur famously vowed to return as he was evacuated to Australia.

Three years later, the tide of the war changed, and the U.S. and her allies were winning the war.  “Most commanders saw ‘no need to risk American lives on a costly invasion of the Philippines’ when the fall of Japan appeared imminent.” 

“But MacArthur insisted, and by early 1945 his troops were closing on Manila. … Convinced the Japanese would abandon Manila, just as he had, MacArthur ordered up a massive victory parade to welcome himself home.”

“On Feb. 6, 1945, MacArthur preemptively announced the city’s liberation, claiming credit in grandiose terms.  Congratulations poured in from Washington, London, and elsewhere.  But the 29-day battle had only just begun.” 

What followed was a month-long battle, which resulted in the death of over 100,000 Filipino civilians, the complete destruction of the beautiful city of Manila, the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theatre, and the deaths of over 1,000 and the wounded of over 5,500 American soldiers.

The Japanese commander, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, was ordered “to bog MacArthur’s forces down in the Philippines and give Japan time to prepare for the expected U.S. invasion (of Japan mainland).  He ordered subordinates to destroy Manila’s bridges and port and then to follow him to the mountains.  Once Yamashita withdrew, however, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi instead ordered his marines to fight to the last man.  They methodically dynamited Manila’s business, government and religious landmarks, obliterating the city’s cultural heritage, and torched thousands of wooden homes, sparking deadly firestorm  Worse, they cruelly tortured and killed thousands of men, women and children.”

Scott’s book was based on his research using “war crimes records, after-action military reports and other primary sources for the agonizing testimony of Philippine survivors and witnesses of more than two dozen major Japanese atrocities.” 

“The frenzy of Japanese massacres defies imagination.  Countless women were raped and tortured, their babies tossed in the air and bayoneted.  Patients and doctors were stabbed at hospitals, nuns and priests hanged at churches, children tossed into pits with grenades.  Marauding Japanese troops burned people alive in convents, schools and prisons.  They simply buried others alive.”

“Military orders later found by investigators stated that ‘all people on the battlefield… will be put to death.’ The battlefield was the entire city.”

“Against them was a U.S. force unprepared for urban warfare.  They fired 155-millimeter howitzers at point-blank range to dislodge the enemy and used tanks, flamethrowers and bazookas to kill the rest.  They fought block by block, house by house, room by room, leveling hundreds of city blocks.” 

“It was hard to tell who had done more damage – the Japanese defenders or the American liberators.”

After the war in the fall of 1945, General Yamashita was tried in an American military tribunal in Manila for war crimes committed by troops under his command during the Japanese defense of the occupied Philippines. In a controversial decision, Yamashita was found guilty of his troops’ atrocities, although there was no evidence that he approved or even knew of them, and furthermore, many of the atrocities were committed by troops not actually under his command. 

This decision – holding the commander responsible for his or her subordinates’ war crimes as long as the commander did not attempt to discover and stop them from occurring – came to be known as the Yamashita standard.   Yamashita’s American legal defense team appealed the decision to the Philippines Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, but both courts declined to review the verdict.  The legitimacy of the hasty trial was questioned at the time, including by the American Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, who protested various procedural issues, the inclusion of hearsay evidence, and the general lack of professional conduct by the prosecuting officers. Evidence that Yamashita did not have ultimate command responsibility over all military units in the Philippines was not admitted in court.

Yamashita was sentenced to death and executed by hanging in 1946.  The Yamashita standard was added to the Geneva Conventions and was applied to dozens of trials in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  It has also been adopted by the International Criminal Court established in 2002.

There is now finally a scholarly book on this important part of neglected history.


[1] I want to thank the person who several months ago sent me this book review article. However, I do not remember who sent me the article.

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Implications of Trump’s Presidency for the U.S. and the World: Part I http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/implications-of-trumps-presidency-for-the-u-s-and-the-world/ http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/implications-of-trumps-presidency-for-the-u-s-and-the-world/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2018 08:00:06 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5345

Donald Trump has been the President of the U.S. for only less than two years, but the consequences of his presidency for our country and the world could be profound and scary.  From the perspective of the environment, harmony with others, economy, American competitiveness, tax cuts and budget deficit/national debt, world stability/democracy/rule of law, his impacts have been grave and significant.

This article is in two parts.  Both parts are posted in this same December 2018 release.  Part I is posted in the “Political/Social Commentary” page.  Part II is  posted in the “Other” page.

The article has six sections:

I.   Environment

II.  Harmony with Others

III. Economy

IV. American Competitiveness

V.  Tax Cuts, Budget Deficit and National Debt

VI. Summary – World Stability/Democracy/Rule of Law

Sections I-III are in Part I, and Sections IV-VI are in Part II.

I.  Environment: One of the most urgent problems that will adversely affect the livelihood of our children and grandchildren is global warming.  In spite of what the Trump administration claims that it is not a problem and the problem is not due to human activities, the worldwide scientific community for more than 30 years has agreed that global warming is a real problem [1] and it is man-made. [2]  That was why the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015 adopted by consensus (by close to 200 countries) the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels (the current temperature is about 1°C above pre-industrial levels) in order to avoid problems such as rising sea level, less ice and snow, droughts, heat waves, and extreme weather incidents.  The temperature in 2017 was approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels), and increasing at 0.2°C per decade, giving us to approximately 2067 to reach the 2°C.

However, a major report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” was just released on October 8, 2018 by the UN’s “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC) based on inputs from 6,000 scientific references and the contributions of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide. [3]  This massive study concludes that significant global adverse impacts will already be occurring by 2040 when the temperature reaches 1.5°C.  These impacts include a world of worsening food shortages, wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs (important because coral reefs protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms. and provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms), resulting in damages at a cost of $54 billion.  The adverse impacts of global warming apparently are occurring faster than what people thought as recently as just a few years ago, as exemplified by the following quote from Bill Hare, an author of previous IPCC reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization:  “The report is quite a shock and quite concerning … We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” [4]

The report pointed out that although the required rapid technical changes to avoid such disasters could be doable, but unfortunately it may be politically unlikely.  President Trump in June 2017 already announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement at its earliest allowed date of November 2020.  Just like in other areas, Trump is just ignoring the truth and following the wishes of his oil and coal industry supporters.  This is just another example of Trump’s priority, which is to himself, his family, his financial empire, and his financial supporters. What is important to the people of the U.S., the people of the world, or the health of the whole planet is really not important to him.

II. Harmony With Others:  Not only that Trump is ignoring the truths, he is criticizing any criticism of him no matter how much evidence that exists to support the criticism, and labeling that evidence as fake news.  He then creates his own fake news and expects his staff and congressional leaders to push his fake news.  Although Hilary Clinton should not have used her non-secured private email server during her presidential campaign, her deeds were far less unlawful (and damaging) than the numerous illegal acts that Trump committed during his presidential campaign with respect to collusion with Russia, payments to hush publicity about extramarital affairs, dealings leading to potential personal financial gains, numerous lies, etc.  Yet, he continues and constantly yells out slogans like “lock her up.”

He has lied literally thousands of times, even when there is obvious evidence that he is lying.  [5]  Trump’s handling of the whole special prosecutor investigation provides plenty of additional information on his trying to cover up the truths. Another thing to consider is the large number of people in Trump’s staff who have either resigned from their positions or have been released of their positions, often due to conflict of opinions on how to do their job lawfully and to the best of their ability, instead of just blindly following Trump’s directives.  A generation or two ago, just a subset of deeds similar to Trump’s if performed by a presidential candidate or by the President of the U.S. would have caused him/her to drop out of the presidential race or landed him/her in impeachment proceedings.  One of Trump’s legacies is how far we have lowered the moral and legal standard in assessing our presidential candidates or our President.

Domestically, Trump has polarized the American people and the American congress into two opposing camps so that the two sides seldom discuss and try to reach any compromises.  Trump’s positions, public comments, and actions toward sexual harassment and racial inequalities have also negated progress that have been made in the last generation and more.

Internationally, Trump has alienated our allies, including allies such as Canada, Great Britain, France, and Germany.  Whatever trusts that have been built in more than half a century have greatly evaporated.  Because of his flip-flop on many issues, international allies can no longer trust Trump on any important issue, and other international leaders can not trust Trump in negotiations.  This creates divisions with our allies and makes it difficult in negotiations with other world leaders.  The end result is heightened tension both domestically and internationally, and increased conflicts and probability of wars, in times that the world can no longer afford more conflicts and wars.

Trump’s ambiguous position on the recent Jamal Khashoggi murder has raised serious question on his moral integrity and honesty, when he is ignoring the findings of his own intelligence organizations that there is solid evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly involved in ordering the murder and dismembering of Khashoggi.  Instead, he looks at the large weapon sales contract by Saudi Arabia and his own financial gains from Mohammed bin Salman.  It proves once again that money is the dominant factor in Trump’s thinking.

How hard does Trump work?  He has spent more vacation days than any previous president.  For example, when Trump was at 437 days in office, he had spent 140 days at Trump properties, and 105 days at golf properties, and during his first seven months in office to the end of August 2017, he had spent 53 days on vacation and played 33 rounds of golf, as compared to 15 days of vacation and 17 rounds of golf for Obama. [6]  When he is on vacation, he often spends it at his own properties, such as in Florida, Washington, D.C., or New Jersey, incurring for his accompanying staff and secret service agents large expenses paid for by tax payers and resulting in income for Trump.  Although it is difficult to calculate the cost of these vacations away from the White House, it is most likely of the order of tens of millions. [7]  When a lot of Americans are trying hard to meet their needs, the president is spending extravagantly with the people’s money.

III. Economy:  Trump has often pointed to the economic boom in the last two years to support his own boasting and political agenda.  Let’s analyze more carefully various economic indicators, and discuss whether the economic improvements during the Trump presidency is a continuation of the progress made during the Obama presidency, since during Obama’s eight years of presidency, the economic situation improved significantly from the serious recession of 2008.  We also need to address the question of short-term gains versus potential long-term losses.

For the economic indicators and the comparison of the Obama period versus the Trump period, we use the statistics and analysis in a recent article in The Washington Post [8].

A.  Jobs:    Trump claims that a lot of jobs were created after Trump became president.  True, but the economy added more jobs in every year of Obama’s second term than it did in Trump’s first year as indicated in the table below.

Year (Feb.-Jan.) Average Monthly Job Growth
2013 189,000
2014 254,000
2015 217,000
2016 208,000
2017 175,000

As a matter of fact, the average monthly job growth in 2014 was about 45% more than the average monthly job growth in 2017!  This really raises doubts on the claim that the increased job growth was due mostly to Trump.  However, Trump’s supporters would claim that the economy performed during Trump’s presidency better than what the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had projected at the start of 2017.  Since the country was already near full employment at the end of 2016, CBO projected that the economy would slow down in 2017 and 2018, so their projections for the monthly job growth would be around 140,000 for 2017 and only 94,000 for the first six months of 2018, but the actual monthly job growth was 175,000 for 2017 and 218,000 for the first six months of 2018.   So the growth during Trump’s second year in office was significantly better than the CBO’s projection.  We will discuss more on this later in Section V “Tax Cuts, Budget Deficit and National Debt.”

B.  Unemployment Rate:  Trump claims that the unemployment rate is the best it has been in a decade.  In February 2017 shortly after Trump took office, the unemployment rate was 4.7%, and it has held steady at 3.9% since August 2018.  However, one should note that the unemployment rate reached a peak of 10% in October 2009 nine months after Obama took office, and in the next 5-6 years it dropped by more than 5% to a range of 4.6-5.0% starting in August 2015.  Therefore, Obama should get a lot of credit for reducing the unemployment rate.  It is true that the unemployment rate has dropped during the Trump period faster than what the CBO had predicted at the beginning of Trump’s term.  In Section V “Tax Cuts, Budget Deficit and National Debt,” we will also revisit this issue.

With the low unemployment, one might expect that the average wage has gone up.  But that is not the case at all.  The real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago, and whatever wage gains that exist, it is mostly for the highest-paid workers. [9]  This implies that the companies doing the hiring may not have faith in the longer-term economy; otherwise, the average wage should be going up.

C.  Stock Market: Trump always points to the performance of the stock market as proof that his policy is good for the country.  Let’s examine more carefully the performance of the U.S. stock market during the last 10 years. Below is a table showing the performance of the S&P 500 for the last 16 years. [10] [11]  The left column shows the year-end date, and the right column shows the S&P 500 index at closing on that date.  We have put in bold four lines:  2009 corresponding to first year of Obama’s first term, 2013 corresponding to the first year of Obama’s second term, 2017 and 2018 corresponding to the first two years of Trump’s presidency.

Data for this Date Range S&P 500 Index
Dec. 31, 2018 -6.2%
Dec. 31, 2017 21.83%
Dec. 31, 2016 11.96%
Dec. 31, 2015 1.38%
Dec. 31, 2014 13.69%
Dec. 31, 2013 32.39%
Dec. 31, 2012 16.00%
Dec. 31, 2011 2.11%
Dec. 31, 2010 15.06%
Dec. 31, 2009 26.46%
Dec. 31, 2008 -37.00%
Dec. 31, 2007 5.49%
Dec. 31, 2006 15.79%
Dec. 31, 2005 4.91%
Dec. 31, 2004 10.88%
Dec. 31, 2003 28.68%

It is true that the stock market did very well in 2017, first year of Trump’s presidency, with a gain of 21.83%.  But the stock market did even better in 2013, first year of Obama’s second term, with a gain of 32.39%, and in 2009, first year of Obama’s first term, with a gain of 26.46%.  After the great recession around 2008, the stock market has been rising for the last 9 years to 2017.  However, in 2018, the 2nd year of Trump’s presidency, it did drop by 6.2%, making it the worst year since 2008.  This may indicate that the longer-term economy may not be as rosy as what 2017 suggested.  Later in Section 5 “Tax Cuts, Federal Deficit and National Debt,” we will discuss more the future implications of Trump’s economic policy.

Continued in Part II for Sections IV – VI.


[1] “Environmental Problems:  Global Disasters Waiting to Happen

[2] “Is Global Warming Due Mostly to Human Activities?

[3] The IPCC Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C”:  https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

[4] “Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040” by Coral Davenport, New York Times, October 7, 2018:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate

[5] Chris Cillizza, “President Trump lied more than 3,000 times in 466 days,” CNN, 5/9/2018.

[6] Kelsey Goeres, “Which President Takes More Vacation Days: Barack Obama or Donald Trump?” CheatSheet, April 23, 2018.

[7] Eric Schaal, “Trump’s $56 Million in Golf Trips, Cost by Extravagant Cost,” CheatSheet, April 23, 2018.

[8] Meg Kelly, “The ‘Trump economy’ vs. the ‘Obama economy’,” The Washington Post, September 18, 2018.

[9] Drew DeSilver, “For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades,” Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018.

[10] S&P 500 Annual Total Return Historical Data.  I also included the 2018 year-end closing data.

[11] “US stocks post worst year in a decade as the S&P 500 falls more than 6% in 2018,” CNBC, December 31, 2018.

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A Set of Simple Time-Tested Health Exercises: The Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦) http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/a-set-of-simple-time-tested-health-exercises-the-eight-silk-brocade-%e5%85%ab%e6%ae%b5%e9%8c%a6/ http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/a-set-of-simple-time-tested-health-exercises-the-eight-silk-brocade-%e5%85%ab%e6%ae%b5%e9%8c%a6/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2018 07:00:00 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5444 There is a simple set of eight exercises that is good for health and can be performed by most people.  This set of exercises has been around for a long time, about 1,000 years; so it has been well time-tested.  It is called Eight Silk Brocade or 八段錦 in Chinese.  It belongs to the category of Qigong exercises, which are stretching, breathing, and meditation exercises.  It is often used as part of the warm-up exercises in a Taiji class.  The exercises can relax you, stretch different parts of your body, and strengthen your muscles.  It is relatively simple, takes only a few minutes to do the set (the length of time of course depends on the number of repetitions for each form).  If you have not tried it, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

The part of the name “silk brocade” may come from the fact that the exercises involve a lot of soft continuous motions, partially resembling the motion when pulling a thread of silk from a silkworm cocoon to make a silk fabric or brocade.  To pull a thread of silk from a silk cocoon, on the one hand one needs to pull the thread with a continuous and soft force, otherwise the thread will not come out.  On the other hand the force cannot be too strong or jerky; otherwise the thread will break.  The word “eight” in the name comes from eight exercises in the set.

Because Eight Silk Brocade has been practiced for so long by so many people, there are many variations of the exercises, as you can see by doing a search on the web.  In this article, I describe a set that I personally like, and which I use as part of the warm-up exercises in my Taiji classes.  Each exercise should be done slowly and in a relaxed manner, while breathing slowly and deeply.  The mind should be free of extraneous thoughts and should focus on the exercise that you are performing.  I now briefly explain each of the eight exercises.  A detailed description of each of the eight exercises can be found by clicking on Eight Silk Brocade-2018-12-18.xls.  Ideally, there should be a video of each of the eight exercises for one to learn the exercise.  Unfortunately, for the set that I like and have chosen as described in the above link, I haven’t been able to find a readily available video in the public web, although there are videos for other sets of the Eight Silk Brocade.  In the future, I will make a video of this particular set and make it available to my students.

I.  Pressing Heaven with Two Hands: This is a stretching exercise that stretches your body vertically.  It also stretches your waist muscles by bending your upper body to the left and right.  This, together with Exercises III and VI, are good exercises to avoid or reduce back problems

II.  Drawing Bow and Letting the Arrow Fly:  This is a stretching exercise that stretches your arms to the left and the right, while simultaneously stretches your crotch/groin muscles during the sitting downward part of the exercise.  It also stretches your neck muscles by turning your head to the left and right.

III.  Separating Heaven and Earth:  This is an extremely good exercise for back problems, either helping you to avoid back problems or reduce your back problems.  By pushing one hand upward and the other hand downward with both hands moving in the vertical plane right in front of the center of your body, you are stretching your spinal vertebrae to allow more space above and below your discs to avoid or reduce the negative effects of herniated discs.  It is important to have your hands in the middle part of your body while pressing them up and down, because this provides maximum stretching of your spinal vertebrae.  Exercises I, III, and VI (as well as V) are all good for back problems, and in my opinion, Exercise III is the best.

IV.  Wise Owl Gazing Backward:  This is an exercise that mainly exercises your neck muscles by turning your head to the left and right while looking slightly backward.

V.  Big Bear Turning from Side to Side: This exercises your side waist muscles as well as the abdominal, lower back, and buttock muscles.  These muscles are crucial in supporting and stabilizing your lower back and pelvis.

VI.  Opening the Spine: By reaching forward while bending your back helps to stretch and strengthen your back muscles.  The beginning of this exercise is identical to the beginning of Exercise I and so also stretches your body vertically.  Although this exercise can help strengthen your back muscles, if you already have back problems and if doing the bending forward part of this exercise gives rise to pain, then you should skip that part of this exercise,

VII.  Punching with Tiger Eyes:  This exercise is performed in a position like sitting on a stool; so it strengthens your leg muscles, as well as your waist and pelvis muscles.  The punching motion also strengthens your arm muscles.

VIII.  Bouncing on the Heels:  This exercise massages, stretches, and strengthens your feet and ankles.  It also serves as a cool-down exercise to end this set of eight exercises.

The Eight Silk Brocade is a simple set of exercises that has been time tested to provide health benefits to all kinds of people, men and women, old and young, and even people with minor physical or mental disabilities.  It should be doable by most people.  If you are new to the exercise and you are not fit to begin with, you may experience some soreness when you first begin.  That is ok.  However, if you experience pain, not just soreness, while doing any particular exercise or a particular part of an exercise, then you should just skip that exercise or that part of the exercise.

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Implications of Trump’s Presidency for the U.S. and the World: Part II http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/implications-of-trumps-presidency-for-the-u-s-and-world-part-ii/ http://www.dontow.com/2018/12/implications-of-trumps-presidency-for-the-u-s-and-world-part-ii/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2018 06:00:43 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5486 Donald Trump has been the President of the U.S. for only less than two years, but the consequences of his presidency for our country and the world could be profound and scary.  From the perspective of the environment, harmony with others, economy, American competitiveness, tax cuts and budget deficit/national debt, world stability/democracy/rule of law, his impacts have been grave and significant.

This article is in two parts.  Both parts are posted in this same December 2018 release.  Part I is posted in the “Political/Social Commentary” page.  Part II is this article posted in the “Other” page.

The article has six sections:

I.   Environment

II.  Harmony with Others

III. Economy

IV. American Competitiveness

V.  Tax Cuts, Budget Deficit and National Debt

VI. Summary – World Stability/Democracy/Rule of Law

Sections I-III are in Part I, and Sections IV-VI are in Part II.


IV. American Competitiveness:  American competitiveness relative to the rest of the world is really the crux of the matter.  To be the world’s economic leader, a country needs to be at the top in terms of several important categories, such as:

  • New ideas and new products
  • Efficient production/manufacturing/distribution processes
  • Educated work force to generate new ideas and produce the products
  • Government leaders who can provide a vision and the ability to implement that vision

Starting with the beginning of the 20th century and continue for several decades after the end of WWII, our country has been the world’s economic leader because we were able to lead, or at least share in the lead, in the above categories.

Our country has been the most innovative in terms of technological inventions, such as airplane, automobile, telecommunications, transistors, computers, search engines, etc.  We have also been among the leaders in developing efficient production/manufacturing/distribution processes, such as the assembly line [12], transportation infrastructure like the national network of highways, and online shopping [13].  Since the end of WWII, the U.S. greatly expanded its higher education system by establishing many good state colleges and universities in addition to the many well-known established private universities, as well as community colleges, producing a large number of educated work force.  It also attracted the top foreign students for colleges or graduate schools, thus infusing the best young talents from the world to our country.  This massive education system has produced the large number of scientists, engineers, business professionals, doctors, teachers, as well as many other professions that staff the backbone of our economy.  This was a key reason for the U.S. becoming the leading economic power in the world in the second half of the 20th century.  Complementing that, we also had competent and dedicated government leaders to provide a vision and the ability to implement that vision on projects such as the Manhattan project, the national transportation infrastructure of highways, airlines, and ports, the space program, and the massive expansion of higher educational systems.

However, perhaps with success, we have been complacent.  Not only that a lot of our manufacturing is now done overseas, the talent that leads to innovations is slowing down significantly.  For example, according to a 2011 Population Reference Bureau (PRB) report [14], in 1994 there were 6.2 U.S.-born workers for every foreign-born worker in science and engineering occupations.  By 2006 only 12 years later, the ratio was 3.1.  Furthermore, this report says that more than 60 percent of foreign-born scientists and engineers in the U.S. in 2009 were from Asia, and nearly one-fourth were from India, with another one-fifth from China, the Philippines, and Taiwan.  This shift to dependency on foreign-born talent is so obviously reflected in the percentage of Americans as compared to foreign students who are in our graduate school engineering and science programs.  As a matter of fact, the statistics are downright frightening.  Here are the data from a 2017 Inside Higher Ed report [15]:

Field of Study Percent International Number of Full-Time International Graduate Students in 2015 Number of Full-Time U.S. Graduate Students in 2015
Electrical Engineering 81% 32,736 7,783
Petroleum Engineering 81% 1,258 302
Computer Science 79% 45,790 12,539
Industrial Engineering 75% 7,676 2,539
Statistics 69% 4,321 1,966
Economics 63% 7,770 4,492
Mechanical Engineering 62% 12,676 7,644
Civil Engineering 59% 9,159 6,284
Chemical Engineering 57% 5,001 3,834
Pharmaceutical Sciences 56% 1,931 1,502
Metallurgical/Materials Engineering 55% 3,723 3,103
Agricultural Engineering 53% 726 654
Agricultural Economics 53% 881 796

For example, the percentages of international graduate students in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2015 are respectively 81% and 79%!  If we don’t do anything to change this, it will not be long before the U.S. becomes a second-tier player in innovations leading to new ideas and new products.

We also need to keep in mind that the living standard and cost of living in the U.S. are significantly higher than other countries outside of Europe.  This means that the U.S. needs to constantly move up in the product “food chain” because we cannot compete based on labor cost.  That is why the statistics just presented are so frightening because it means that we are moving down the product “food chain.”

We agree that more products should be made in the U.S. and more U.S. workers should be hired to produce these products, and the U.S. should be exporting more of our own products and import less of the foreign-made products.  However, we also live in a competitive world.  We cannot just dictate this to other countries of the world.  We have to make it so that it makes economic sense for the other countries, as well as for the U.S., for that to happen.  In order to achieve that objective, we have to reverse the trend and produce more of our own innovators, a highly educated work force, more efficient and cost-competitive production, manufacturing, and distribution processes, and government leaders who can provide a vision and the ability to implement that vision.  Trump is not providing that vision and leadership, but just issuing orders both domestically and internationally with wishful thinking that things will change for the better.  As a matter of fact, Trump has not shown any signs that he even understands the problem.

V. Tax Cuts, Budget Deficit and National Debt:  One of Trump’s signature acts as president was the tax cut act that was passed on December 22, 2017.  It generally reduces personal income taxes, at least until 2025, but the reduction will be significantly more for higher income than for lower income.  For example, a household earning $1 million or more would get an average tax reduction of $69,660, equivalent to 3.3% income increase, while a household earning $50,000 To $75,000 would get a tax reduction of $870, equivalent to 1.6% income increase. [16]  For corporations, the maximum corporate tax rate is reduced from 35% to 21%, the lowest since 1939.  Furthermore, some of the individual tax reductions are only temporary and will be removed after 2015, but the corporate tax reductions are permanent.  It is clear that the Trump tax cut was aimed to benefit the rich and especially the corporations.

What are the implications of this December 2017 tax cut?  The most obvious and most important consequence is that the federal deficit will increase, and it has.  The federal deficits from the year of the last great recession, i.e., fiscal year 2008 (a fiscal year is from the previous October 1 to the year’s September 30) to fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2018) are shown in the chart below. [17]

Deficits in billions
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
$458 $1,413 $1,294 $1,295 $1,087 $679 $485 $438 $585 $665 $779

The federal deficit for the just completed fiscal year 2018 was $779 billion, or 3.9% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which is $114 billion more than 2017.  To understand the significance of this, it is important to note that the federal deficit was $458 billion for 2008.  Because of the great recession around 2008, the federal deficit increased drastically to $1,413 billion in 2009.  Then during most of Obama’s presidency, it dropped significantly during the next six years, to $438 billion for 2015 before increasing to $585 billion for 2016.  Our government cannot keep on spending more than it receives; we must reduce the federal deficit.  However, the federal deficit has increased during Trump’s presidency for 2017 (although he is responsible for only eight months of fiscal year 2017) and for 2018.  The federal deficit for fiscal year 2019 is estimated to be $984 billion, an increase of over $200 billion over 2018!

In Sections III.A and III.B we mentioned that in 2018,  job growth was significantly better than what the Congressional Budget Office had projected and the unemployment rate dropped below 4%.  These results could be due to more people having more money to spend and corporations having more money to invest as a result of Trump’s tax cuts.  However, these positive results most likely will be only temporary because the tax cuts also led to significantly higher budget deficit and dangerous rapidly climbing national debt.  The fact that the stock market has cooled down significantly, and ending 2018 with a 6.2% loss, making it the worst year in a decade (as discussed in Section III.C) may already be an indication that people and corporations may not be that optimistic about the longer-term health of our economy.

Besides the federal deficit, we should also look at the cumulative consequence of federal deficits, i.e., the national debt.  The national debts over the last 19 years are shown in the table below [18]

Date National Debt ($)
09/30/2018 21,516,058,183,180.23
09/30/2017 20,244,900,016,053.51
09/30/2016 19,573,444,713,936.79
09/30/2015 18,150,617,666,484.33
09/30/2014 17,824,071,380,733.82
09/30/2013 16,738,183,526,697.32
09/30/2012 16,066,241,407,385.89
09/30/2011 14,790,340,328,557.15
09/30/2010 13,561,623,030,891.79
09/30/2009 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

Note that it has continued to increase during these 19 years, with higher increases shortly after the great recession around 2008.  To understand the significance of these national debt numbers, it is useful to look at the ratio of the national debt over GDP (Gross Domestic Product, i.e., the total value of everything produced in the country).  This ratio was 55% in 2000, 68% in 2008.  It jumped to 83% in 2009 and 90% in 2010 during the great recession around 2008, and continued to increase to 103% in 2017 and 104% in 2018.  This means that the amount of money we owe now is more than what the country can produce in a whole year!  Politicians like to promise to reduce the budget deficit or the national debt.  But Trump went completely over the cliff when in a March 31, 2016 interview with The Washington Post, he promised that he will eliminate our country’s national debt (not just the budget deficit) of $19 trillion in eight years! [19]  Of course no one believed him, including Trump himself.  This is just another example that Trump’s promises are often completely meaningless, and many times he really doesn’t know what he is talking about.

There are several reasons that it is extremely important to eliminate or reduce the budget deficit, and especially to reduce the national debt. [20]   One is that “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare benefits will be at risk if the national debt continues to rise. [21]  This is because entitlement programs now already comprise about 14% of the federal spending.  Another reason is that other countries will stop buying our debt and the stock and bond markets will lose confidence in our fiscal policy causing prices to plunge.  Spending money now and asking our children and grandchildren to pay for it is just wrong and not workable because if we cannot solve the problem now, it will be even less likely for them to solve the problem since the problem will become bigger and bigger as we continue to accumulate debt.  We should also keep in mind that they will have to pay for rebuilding many of our outdated national infrastructures and many of them will also have to pay off their large college loans.

Therefore, we should address this problem as soon as possible.  Both parties must be willing to compromise to address this most critical problem.  We don’t want to run into an impasse as mentioned partially jokingly by the author of the referenced Forbes article [20] “Republicans haven’t met a defense budget they couldn’t increase and Democrats insist on comparable increases in domestic spending.”  It will be impossible to reduce the national debt if the defense budget and entitlement programs are allowed to continue to grow.  It is critical that the two sides must be willing to listen to each other and compromise for the long-term good of our country.  This is where we must have courageous leaders with a vision and ability to implement that vision.

VI.. Summary – World Stability/Democracy/Rule of Law:  The world has been changing with many formerly colonized or under-developed countries emerging to become competent competitors to the U.S. and other Western powers.  If the U.S, wants to remain to be the world’s economic leader, it also must change.  It must lead the world in innovations with new ideas, new products, and new processes.  This requires a highly educated workforce to create, produce, distribute, and market.  It also requires experienced, dedicated, and hard working government leaders who have vision, the ability to mobilize the nation to implement that vision, and the heart for the welfare of the people.

Unfortunately, as far as a highly educated workforce, as we discussed in Section IV “American Competitiveness,” we are actually moving backwards.  This is especially important because our cost of living is higher than almost all of our competitors, so we must move up the product “food chain.”  Our national debt has skyrocketed so high that just paying off the interest owed on our national debt will take a significant bite out of our national income.  Furthermore, what we now have in power are President Trump and his team who look at the world with their own make-up “facts,” govern by dictates and strong arms, do not understand the issues (and often do not even try to understand the issues), and cannot work with others whose opinions are not the same as theirs.  Our country is so polarized; there is so much mistrust on both sides that it is almost impossible to compromise and move forward in a positive way.  In addition, President Trump has alienated long-time allies, and created mistrusts with other world leaders because of his “my-way-or-the-highway” tactics and his ever-changing positions.

If we don’t change course quickly, there will be more instability in the world, more tensions, and the probability of war will increase.  The world cannot afford more wars, especially a war involving nuclear powers.  There is no winner in a nuclear war.  Our country prides ourselves as a democracy and a country ruled by law.  However, our president acts as though he is above the law, and there is not enough wisdom and courage to take him to task on this critical and fundamental issue that no one is above the law.  We should take to heart the conclusion reached by Christopher R. Browning, one of the world’s authorities on the history of the Holocaust and the author of the books The Origins of the Final Solution:  The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (2004) and Ordinary Men:  Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (2017).  In this latter book, he discussed how ordinary men were transformed psychologically into active participants in the most monstrous crime in human history.  With Trump’s intolerance, his high evaluation of himself, and his belief that he is above the law, our country could also be transformed into a dictatorship.

Since the large majority of evangelical Christians are strong supporters of Trump, and it was this strong support that sent Trump to the White House, it is important that evangelical Christians seriously reassess whether Trump’s behaviors and his policies are consistent with Christian teaching, and if not, then they should not only stop supporting Trump, but should work hard to get him out of office.  The future of our country, especially the future of our children and grandchildren, is in the balance.


[12] Contrary to common belief, the automobile assembly line was not invented by Henry Ford, but the originator was another American Ransom Eli Olds, originator of the Oldsmobile, who invented the automobile assembly line in 1901, two years before Henry Ford.

[13] Although online shopping was invented by Michael Aldrick in United Kingdom in 1979. its boom is normally associated with Amazon.com, founded by the American Jeff Bezos in 1994.

[14] Mary Kent, “More U.S. Scientists and Engineers Are Foreign-Born,” Population Reference Bureau (PRB), January 11, 2011.

[15] Elizabeth Redden, “Foreign Students and Graduate STEM Enrollment“, Inside Higher Ed, October 11, 2017.

[16] Danielle Kurtzleben, “CHARTS:  See How Much of GOP Tax Cuts Will Go to the Middle Class,” NPR report, December 19, 2017.

[17] U.S. federal deficit chart.

[18] U.S. national debt.

[19] See, e.g., Manuela Tobias, PolitiFact, October 20, 2017, or Paul Brandus, MarketWatch, February 9, 2018.

[20] David Davenport, “Five Reasons Why You Should Worry About the National Debt,” Forbes, February 28, 2018.

[21] One may object to referring to Social Security as an entitlement program because the employee and the employer contribute to Social Security.  So it is not a handout from the federal government.

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History and Tales of Alhambra (Granada, Spain) http://www.dontow.com/2018/09/history-and-tales-of-alhambra-granada-spain/ http://www.dontow.com/2018/09/history-and-tales-of-alhambra-granada-spain/#respond Mon, 24 Sep 2018 08:00:52 +0000 http://www.dontow.com/?p=5217 During July 25-27, 2018, I participated at the 13th International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of Granada in Granada, Spain.  The theme of the conference was “Autonomy in Times of Turmoil:  What to Make of the Social?”  I presented a talk titled “10,000 Cries for Justice” (to see the Powerpoint presentation, click here).  The day before the conference I joined a tour of Alhambra, the famous palace and fortress whose history spanned about a thousand years involving Arab Muslims, Christians, Spanish, French, and Roman kingdoms, and it is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.

Palace-Fortress of Alhambra (by Jebulon). Click on picture to get a larger photo.

This article provides a short description of some of the history and tales of Alhambra.  Its popularity was partially due to the writing of Washington Irving (1783-1859), one of the first American writers getting acclaim in Europe, and is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820), and his historical books on Christopher Columbus (1828), [1] Mahomet (or Muhammad) (1850), and George Washington (5 volumes, 1855-1859).  He was also the American ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846, and he lived inside the Alhambra palace/fortress for several months in 1829, and published the book Tales of the Alhambra (1832).

Historical Highlights of Alhambra:  Alhambra is situated in Granada in the Andalusia region in the southern coast of Spain, with Seville as the capital, and Gibraltar and Malaga as other important cities of that region.  It was under Moorish rule from the 8th-15th centuries.  The Moors were the Arab Muslims who originally came from northwest Africa (e.g., Morocco, Algeria, Libra, etc.) and the Iberian Peninsula in the southwest corner of Europe (mostly Portugal and Spain).  The Nasrid dynasty was the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Iberia, ruling the Emirate of Granada from 1230 until 1491.

  • Originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 built on the remains of Roman fortifications.
  • Then neglected and fallen into ruins during the next 400 years.
  • Renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. [2]
  • In 1333, it was converted into a royal palace by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.
  • After almost 800 years of Muslim rule and after many battles, Spain including the Andalusia region finally fell to Christian rule with the Christian Reconquista in 1491. [3]  When the troops of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain laid siege to Granada in 1492, Boabdil, the then and last Nasrid ruler of the Emirate of Granada, decided to surrender.  Speculation is that part of the reason he gave up without a fight was to avoid the destruction of his precious Alhambra.
  • Then Alhambra became the Royal Court of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and it was here where Christopher Columbus received their royal endorsement for his expedition. [1]  The palace’s architecture was partially altered in the Renaissance style.
  • In 1526 when Spain, Italy, as well as many parts of Europe were under the rule of the Roman Emperor Charles V, he commissioned a new Renaissance palace at Alhambra befitting the Holy Roman Emperor.  However, the new palace was never completed due to various rebellions in Granada.
  • Then Alhambra fell into disrepair for centuries, and the buildings were occupied by squatters.
  • When Napoleon’s troops conquered Granada in 1808, he intended to blow up the palace.  The story is that his plans were hampered by a wounded soldier who had been left behind in the palace, who then succeeded single-handedly in diffusing the intended explosion, and thus saved the beautiful palace for posterity.
  • Alhambra was rediscovered by British and other European travelers.  Here one can find Spain’s most significant and well-known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden additions. [4]  Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra helped to popularize it and Alhambra has become one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.

Courtyard of the Palace of Charles V (by Ra-smit)


Court of the Lions (by comakut)

Court of the Lions (by comakut)


Honeycomb in the Hall (by jvwpe)


Pools in the Palacio de Generalife (by Berthold Werner)


Panoroma of the Alhambra (by Slaunger)


Night View of Alhambra (by Anjad Sheikh)


Interesting Facts and Tales of Alhambra:  Besides offering beautiful architectural buildings and gardens, Alhambra also has many interesting facts and tales.  Here we describe a few.

  • To provide drinking water for the people, including the rulers and their families, living inside the palace, an aqueduct was constructed from outside of the palace to lead to inside the palace.  In order to assure that the water is safe to drink, they placed turtles in the aqueduct inside the palace.  If the turtles were alive, then the water was safe to drink.  To provide added assurance, they asked the soldiers inside the palace to drink the water first.
  • Granada means pomegranate in Spanish.  So Granada was named after the fruit pomegranate.
  • There are 613 seeds in the pomegranate, and there are 613 Mosaic laws in the Old Testament.
  • There are a lot of orange trees inside the gardens of Alhambra.  They are called mandarin because they were thought to be native and imported trees from China.
  • The general theme of a traditional Islamic garden is water and shade, not surprisingly since Islam usually came from a hot and arid climate. Unlike English gardens, which are often designed for walking, Islamic gardens are intended for rest and contemplation. For this reason, Islamic gardens usually include places for sitting, and is quieter for contemplation.
  • There are two types of water fountains in the gardens in Alhambra:  A quieter type that typifies a Muslim garden, and a louder type with water pump that typifies an English garden.
  • There is a story that Catholics take a bath only once a year, because they believe that the body’s dirt helps to prevent infection.
  • This is one of the tales told by Washington Irving in his book Tales of the Alhambra.  The story revolves around a poor mason and a rich priest.  The priest wanted to build a safe deep inside his house to keep his bags of gold in a secret place.  So he hired this poor mason and blindfolded him to take him to his house, and didn’t remove the blindfold from the mason until they were inside the house in a room with a fountain.  Then the priest asked the mason to build a burial vault, and asked him to help carry the bags of gold and put inside the vault.   Then the priest blindfolded the mason again and took him home.  Later the priest died, but didn’t leave any money with anyone.  The person who was taken care of the old decaying house of the priest asked the mason if he was willing to take the job with little pay to fix up the house so he can rent it out.  When the mason was shown the house and saw the room with the fountain, he immediately agreed to do the job and only asked as his compensation to live free in the house while he was doing the repair.  Since he asked for such small compensation, he immediately got the job.  So the mason took apart the burial vault and took away the gold.  The poor mason became very rich.  People frequently heard the sound of clinking of gold coins coming from the pockets of the mason, whereas in the old days of the priest they often heard the sound of clinking of gold coins from inside the house of the priest.

Other tales of Alhambra can be found in Washington Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra.  If you are ever in this part of Spain, I highly recommend that you visit and take a tour of Alhambra.

[1] Washington Irving actually contributed to the fictional story which is still widely believed even today that medieval Europeans (including scientists and church leaders) believed that the earth was flat, which was not true, because the predominant belief for many centuries before and during the Middle Ages (5th century-15th century) of historians, scientists, and church leaders was that the earth was round.  Irving’s writing A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus is romanticized biography and is a mixture of history and fiction.  He gave a largely fictional account of the meetings of a commission established by the Spanish sovereigns to examine Columbus’s proposals. One of his fictional stories was that the ignorant and bigoted members on the commission meeting in Granada had raised scriptural objections to Columbus’s assertions that the Earth was spherical.

[2] The Nasrid dynasty was the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Iberia, ruling the Emirate of Granada from 1230 until 1491. The word “emir” means a Muslim ruler or a Muslim military commander of a region of land known as his emirate.  But an emir is usually lower rank than a sultan.  A sultan is like the king of a region of land, and an emir is like a military commander of that region of land or a ruler of a part of the sultan’s territory.

[3] The Christian Reconquista refers to the period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula of about 780 years between 711 when Muslims first ruled all of Iberia and the fall of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada to the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1491.

[4] Many more beautiful photos of Alhambra can be found in the book “Reading The Alhambra:  A visual guide to the Alhambra through its inscriptions.

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