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Chinese Tech Companies’ Dirty Secret [video] (nytimes.com)
52 points by kercker 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments



Am I the only person who sees the perhaps inherent conflict between the liberal impulse for multiculturalism and its vision of racial and gender equality, in the sense that a liberal, Western perspective on gender and race is not a culturally neutral perspective?

As a Chinese-American, I feel whipsawed when on the one hand, well-meaning generally liberal people make lofty paeans about how we should respect other cultures, but then turn right around and judge those same cultures and find them unworthy for not adhering to liberal Western cultural norms.

In this case, the position is even more tenuous, because a substantial portion of Western society does not fully agree with liberal norms for gender equality. This is basically exporting the West's own culture wars, fought since the 60s, to other societies.

There are of course tensions between the genders and sexes in China, like in any other society, but it's interesting to read the entire op-ed and not find an attempt to actually ask Chinese people what they think about the issue (the author notwithstanding), just a string of accusations with the unspoken presumption that 'if it feels wrong to us right-minded people, then it must be wrong'.

To be completely blunt, paternalism is very deeply embedded in Chinese society, and its roots go back a couple thousand years to Confucianism. I don't see anyone seriously acknowledging or discussing that fact, nor the major changes that have happened since the 50s (often under an explicitly Communist ideology, where the only allowable conflict is between the classes).

TL;DR - We respect all cultures and viewpoints, except all those which we judge wrong and sexist.


The general feminist perspective (which I find fairly sensible) is to avoid engaging in overt criticism of other societies and simply "signal boost" the voices within those societies pushing for increased equality. The author of this piece, Lijia Zhang, is such a voice.


But this is hardly unbiased. You effectively are choosing to feign cultural superiority by co-opting a native-voice that shares your criticism. Rather than sharing a non-biased perspective, your hiding your voice behind a native face. This isn't sincerity in debate, it's cowardice clothed in tolerance.


There is no such thing as a non-biased perspective, and feminism makes no claim to avoid bias; it's literally an ideology, with gender equality as one of its goals. The purpose of the signal-boosting strategy is to avoid patronizing echoes of "I know better" colonialism, not avoid bias. In this case we can listen to the many, many women in China who speak of the problems they face. In no sense are their voices co-opted.


I'm arguing that the definition of "gender equality" you are advocating for is definitely a western one. You can't argue your definition of equality while trying to feign anti-colonialist attitudes, that's a disingenuous position. I personally don't take issue with you (or anyone for that matter) arguing for their own cultural values over another (at least then we are having an honest discussion). I can't tolerate a position that tries to feign an obviously western-centric position while virtue-signaling as culturally indifferent.


Anti-colonialism doesn't require moral relativism. It's as simple as that. If you want a concrete example of how signal-boosting differs from simple pushing of Western feminist opinions, the hijab debate is worth looking into. Some feminists in the hijab-wearing regions of the world see it as a tool of oppression, others not. That's a debate for them, and not for westerners to decide.

If there's a vocal contingent of Chinese women pushing for the above-mentioned patriarchal Confucian values, well... I haven't yet seen it. All the Chinese women I've yet met (and had the opportunity to speak with on the subject) view sexism as a real problem, although granted I've only ever met Chinese women who came to America so selection bias is at play.


Very good observations, however consider that we can't even construct a system of mathematical axioms that is non-trivial, complete and consistent. Expecting something out of a culture/ideology that we know has been proven impossible to deliver in the field of math seems pretty unreasonable.

To play the game further, consider that Chinese people themselves will often look down upon other cultures for their lack of gender equality. This particular example comes to mind:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/learning-to-sp...

"He rarely says much about local culture, but once, when I asked casually what he considered to be the biggest problem in Egypt, the forcefulness of his response surprised me.

“Inequality between men and women,” he said immediately. “Here the women just stay home and sleep. If they want to develop, the first thing they need to do is solve this problem. That’s what China did after the revolution. It’s a waste of talent here. Look at my family—you see how my wife works. We couldn’t have the factory without her. And my daughter runs the shop. If they were Egyptian, they wouldn’t be doing that.”


This brings up some very interesting question:

What exactly are human rights? Who gets to define them?

The current view of human rights and individual self-determinism is very recent and generally very local to the US, Canada, and Western Europe. For much of history, and indeed much of the world geographically, where you were born, who your parents are, and whether you were born as male or female pretty much determined the role you had in life. Your goal in life was to perform your role that you had been assigned in the great cosmic order to the best of your ability. China had that with Legalism and Confucianism. India had that with Dharma. Europe had that in the past with the Divine Rights of Kings.

Right now, it seems to me that there is no real consensus on the underpinnings of human rights other than "the UN decided this was a human right". It worked in the past, because the UN was thoroughly dominated by the West. The US, Britain, and France are 3/5 of the permanent security council members even though they are around 5% of world population. If you really put these human rights up to a vote of the entire world population, I wonder how many would pass a majority vote? Remember, everyone would be voting across China, India, the Midwest of the US, the Middle East, South Asia, etc. My guess is that these liberal values are embraced most heavily by elite westerners. Now that their influence is waning, my fear is that right now may be the high point of these values, and going forward, we will revert back to a society and culture where where, to whom, and what a person is born as will play a far larger role in shaping identity and role.


This topic reminds me of this essay on The Culture: http://sciphijournal.org/why-the-culture-wins-an-appreciatio...

It starts off describing the fictional world of The Culture, a socially-liberal post-scarcity utopia (metaphorically, the west), and the Idirans, who are more authoritarian (metaphorically, those other countries, especially religious theocracies).

> This is, I think, where Banks draws upon his most sociologically astute observation, again extrapolating from contemporary cultural trends. There are a variety of developments that are associated with modernity. One of them involves a move away from _ascribed_ toward _achieved_ sources of identity. The idea is rather simple: in traditional societies, people were defined largely by the circumstances that they were born into, or their ascribed characteristics – who your family was, what “station” in life you were born to, what gender you were, etc. There were a strict set of roles that prescribed how each person in each set of circumstances was to act, and life consisted largely of acting out the prescribed role. A modern society, by contrast, favours “choice” over “circumstances,” and indeed, considers it the height of injustice that people should be constrained or limited by their circumstances. Thus there is a move toward achieved sources of identity – what school you went to, what career you have chosen, who you decided to marry, and the lifestyle you adopt. “Getting to know someone,” in our society, involves asking them about the choices they have made in life, not the circumstances they were born into.

> There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to both arrangements. The advantages of choice, for people living in an achievement-oriented society, are too obvious to be worth enumerating. But there are disadvantages. Under the old system of ascribed statuses, people did not suffer from “identity crises,” and they did not need to spend the better part of their 20’s “finding themselves.” When everything is chosen, however, then the basis upon which one can make a choice becomes eroded. There are no more fixed points, from which different options can be evaluated. This generates the crisis of meaning that Taylor associates with the decline of strong evaluation.

> ...Because of this, there is a very powerful tendency within liberal societies for the development of precisely the type of “secular evangelism” that Banks described. It acquires a peculiar urgency, because it serves to resolve a powerful tension, indeed to resolve an identity crisis, within modern cultures. It often becomes strident, in part due to a lingering suspicion that it is not strong enough to support the weight that it is being forced to bear. Thus the Culture’s “prime directive,” as carried out by the Contact section, has a quality similar to that of the Idiran religion.18 This is why the war became so destructive – with 851.4 billion casualties, and over 91 million ships lost. Each side posed an existential threat to the other, not in the sense that it threatened physical annihilation, but because its victory would have undermined the belief that gave the other side its sense of meaningfulness or purpose in life.


Yes, these are all good points and completely true. Westerners have been exporting their own morals onto other countries since the dawn of the Age of Exploration. I don't think this tendency is necessarily bad in and of itself, since it is a natural human instinct to convince your neighbors to share your morality. But the intellectual dishonesty and self-contradiction you mentioned is indeed very insidious. If you're going to go on a moral crusade, then be upfront and talk about it honestly; don't try to hide it underneath a cover.

I'm not super familiar with this topic, but apparently this phenomenon happens quite frequently in African countries as well, where struggling African governments, which would prefer to build bridges and hospitals, are instead economically compelled to address moral issues that are dictated to them by westerners.


There is no real contradiction. Liberals do not entertain human rights abuses regardless of how deeply rooted they are in the culture. Slavery, pederasty, child labor, circumcision and female subjugation, animal cruelty, many such practices are culturally acceptable.

An oppressive social model should not be tolerated, lest we end up in the so called paradox of tolerance. Because liberalism means fighting for freedom, supporting the right of everyone to live their lives as they see fit in the culture they choose - not the freedom to strip others of the same rights.


That's a perfectly fine, full-throated endorsement of Western values and I'm glad you are willing to take that position.

Just remember though that under this rubric, it's very likely that you and fellow liberals in Western societies are going to be sitting in judgment of other cultures to decide the meaning of the terms 'freedom' and 'rights' — even if people in those cultures disagree with your definitions, or if even if they decide that other things are more important to them than freedom.

That sounds like a very weak form of multiculturalism, one that only accepts other cultures only if they are already compatible with the value systems of the West—which basically presumes the inherent superiority of Western value systems over all others.

That also immediately leads to the question of what gives you the moral authority to judge other peoples and societies, and finding them wanting. When the West was Christian, that question was easy to answer—Christians have access to the true faith. I'm not sure what the answer would be today.


The dichotomy between "Western values" and alternate, "cultural" values is specious - unless we are talking about traditional, Judeo-Christian values that strongly clash with liberalism.

There is only one set of basic human rights for our species. Where I do agree with you is that recognition of those rights is a political problem, and we have no normative source, we must define them in multilateral treaties with respect to cultural norms. I also agree that the main ideological driver of that effort, the western philosophical tradition, probably has strong cultural biases that need to be recognized.

That being said, there is no concrete alternate philosophic tradition that makes an argument for pedophilia or gay repression - just backward places that prefer it that way. All cultures are not created equal, and if that makes me a very weak multiculturalist, so be it. There must be a point at which tolerance must cease and accept that yes, West has the moral upper hand on some subjects; otherwise the road of infinite moral relativism leads to hell: the inability to recognize and act against even the most barbaric abuses - for fear we might break some earthly version of the First directive.

>even if people in those cultures disagree with your definitions, or if even if they decide that other things are more important to them than freedom.

Freedom, by definition, means the ability to choose what is more important for you. So there's absolutely no contradiction if the people of the world find no use for Western-analogue freedoms. The majority of westerners don't use the majority of their freedoms.


> The dichotomy between "Western values" and alternate, "cultural" values is specious

I strongly disagree, although I'm glad that you're willing to state the case so plainly. Are you saying that there are literally no cultures out there (whether modern or traditional) that disagree with the West on such fundamental questions like 'how should people be ruled?' or 'what is justice?'

One example of incompatibility would be how the Islamic tradition explicitly calls for the union of religion and state into theocratic government. This directly contradicts freedom of religion.

This goes to the crux of what I would say is the modern-day form of chauvinism—the implicit assumption that, say, all peoples throughout the world desire liberal democracy along formal Western lines. We've seen repeatedly how this naivite can result in disaster in, say, Russia, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

> All cultures are not created equal

Unless I'm misreading, you are immediately contradicting what you said above—so there are cultures that fundamentally disagree with the Western liberal order (including, perhaps, some people in the West who still call themselves Christians).

So then the question becomes, what gives you the right to judge other people? And if you are OK with judging others, then why can't they turn around and judge you and say that you are wrong instead? Are you willing to impose your values by military force in the case of disagreement?

> Freedom, by definition, means the ability to choose what is more important for you

Well, let's say China claims that their people have no use for Western-style democracy and human rights and that the Chinese civilization prefers to go its own way, plus then China does some things that the West finds objectionable (locking up dissidents?).

From the perspective of the West, it would appear to me that the choices are:

1. Outright reject that it's the legitimate will of Chinese people (the denial that other peoples can reject a Western conception of universal human rights; e.g. their people must truly desire rights but they are oppressed. This is chauvinism by definition—other people can't possibly choose something other than Western norms)

1a. ... and rectify this situation by force (we will take on the White Man's burden and free them ... from theirselves). I presume you'd find this choice distasteful.

1b. ... let things be for the sake of peace (we will lecture you on how you're wrong, but do nothing concrete).

2. Accept the legitimacy of non-liberal political systems (but if it's OK for China, then why not for other places?)

I think all of these choices are ultimately distasteful to a modern liberal.


You keep saying "Western values" as if it's a cultural artifact of the West. What I'm saying is that even if the West had a role in defining a set of universal liberal values and maybe embraced them to a greater degree than other cultures, I still support them as universal values not cultural norms (personal biases aside - and I'm not a westerner, BTW). If you want, we can debate each and every one and I will argue for it on principle, not chauvinistic conviction that the western social order is superior.

For your example, theocracy is in direct contradiction with freedom of conscience. In order for the concept of theocracy to have any practical sense, the society must contain dissenters against whom the theocratic law is formulated and applied - otherwise we would have a purely consensual society that wouldn't need such laws, just like there is no law mandating people should breathe. The logical consequence is that the theocratic society is a repressive one against some of its members - so it is, by the very cultural values of some its members, not mine, an inferior one to the liberal order, while not being better for the religious majority; unless you accept enforcement of religious norms against others (jihad) as a legitimate value theocracy provides to the majority.

You could do that, of course, being hellbent to prove the contradiction at the heart of liberal doctrine, but you would place yourself in such absolute moral relativism that it would make you unable to take any position on any political issue. A liberal might find his political options limited and distasteful, especially in the international matters. A complete moral relativist has no position and no interest.

> So then the question becomes, what gives you the right to judge other people? And if you are OK with judging others, then why can't they turn around and judge you and say that you are wrong instead? Are you willing to impose your values by military force in the case of disagreement?

Isn't any military conflict always a clash of values? The value of recovering the motherland, of imposing a master race, of plundering, of deposing a ruthless dictator. It seems cultures have no other option than to judge each other if there is to be any interaction: even such a minor thing like a commercial transaction could help, say, a militaristic nation build a nuclear device. It's irrelevant then what value the nuke has for that foreign culture - what matters is that its existence threatens our values, so we are directly and chauvinistically projecting them in international trade. The right to judge other cultures, and be judged by them, is an axiom of international relations.


>>To be completely blunt, paternalism is very deeply embedded in Chinese society, and its roots go back a couple thousand years to Confucianism. I don't see anyone seriously acknowledging or discussing that fact, nor the major changes that have happened since the 50s (often under an explicitly Communist ideology, where the only allowable conflict is between the classes).

Not sure where you're going with that... are you saying because it's part of the culture for 1000s of years it should be acceptable? Or, that because it's been around for 1000s of years some affordance should be made for it taking time to work through? I'm confused. I looked up "paternalism" on wikipedia - sure enough, there's the example of white racists using it the days of slavery to justify slavery's existence


I'm saying that feminism comes from an explicitly Western viewpoint, and many (most?) traditional cultures are explicitly patriarchal.

Culture isn't just non-white people eating exotic foods, speaking other languages, and dressing in strange ways. It goes deeper to what is important, what is meaningful, what is right and wrong.

In that case, just be honest with yourself about what you're doing: asserting that 'We (the West) are right and moral and and these values values are superior, and your values are wrong and inferior'.

If you choose to go that route, just be careful and remember that this is the same sort of cultural chauvinism that the Spanish conquistadors (the Aztecs practiced savage human sacrifice) and the English in India (some Indians would burn windows after the husband died?) used to justify their rule.

This also means that a naive and morally relativistic multiculturalism is untenable (all cultures can't be equally accepted or respected). You're being a Westerner judging non-Western peoples.


>TL;DR - We respect all cultures and viewpoints, except all those which we judge wrong and sexist.

You're constructing a strawman.

Promotion of multiculturalism does not and has not meant absolute, uncritical acceptance of anything anyone does. Human rights abuses are still denounced. Mistreatment of women or other minorities is still denounced.

> but it's interesting to read the entire op-ed and not find an attempt to actually ask Chinese people what they think about the issue (the author notwithstanding), just a string of accusations with the unspoken presumption that 'if it feels wrong to us right-minded people, then it must be wrong'

What's interesting is that to you the author, a Chinese writer who has written on this topic for years (and who, among other things, had to quit school and work in a factory for a decade where she taught herself English, lest you counter that she's some sheltered elite who doesn't know the "TRUE" China) apparently doesn't count as a valid Chinese person. Characterizing her point as 'if it feels wrong to us right-minded people, then it must be wrong' is deeply disingenuous to the point of dishonesty, not to mention that, as you yourself paradoxically note above, promotion of gender equality is an explicit commitment of the CCP (for example, full gender equality is specifically granted in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China).

Mistreatment of women is a violation of both established international standards and agreements (agreements, as the video notes, that China has signed), and China's own supposed commitment as embodied in the slogan "women hold up half the sky". Yet this "it's just Westerners imposing their views!" nonsense is trotted out every time this comes up. That Western countries also fail to live up to their own commitments and ideals regarding gender equality is a testament to the reality that everyone has a ways to go when it comes to the treatment of women, not that the concept has no value. It's a goal to strive for, not one absolutely achieved.

It's telling that you even bring up the West, as nowhere in the OP-ED does the author make this comparison, or declare the superiority of the West in this area.

"But it's a different culture!" has long been used by tyrants and abusers to avoid having to address serious human rights violations.

>TL;DR - You're attacking a position no one actually has in defense of practices China itself has officially denounced


Agreed. China is an economic and societal rival though, so it makes sense to fight against 'their way' of doing things. In this specific case as well, it's pretty easy to argue that using female employees as advertisement isn't treating them equal at all.


Why does it make sense to fight? Why not peacefully coexist — China can do things their own way?


It's a two way street. If China can do things their own way, and we do things our way, and these are incompatible, who should be the one to compromise? If we do, why couldn't they?


In what ways is China attempting to suggest changes to Western culture?


It’s a dark forest problem. If one group has nothing, but peaceful intentions, then the group with other intentions can just crush them out of existence. It takes tolerate each other, otherwise you’re just talking about abject surrender. I can’t think of too many countries that would be satisfied with a life and let live pattern of behavior, and certsinly not China.

Co-existence requires the “co” not a unilateral decision.


How have you extended cultural norms about gender roles into one group (China) “crushing the other out of existence?”


I think the formula is really simple for me. Never dismiss another culture's practices and beliefs simply because they are unfamiliar. Judge them on their merits. Setting New Year's in February and lighting fireworks is unfamiliar to me, but perfectly fine. Subjugating women is not.

More salient would be liberals pleading for respect and understanding of Islam and Islamic Americans, but still rejecting terrorism or female circumcision.


My experience with the view on modern liberals is that many of them try to be accepting of other cultures but are intolerant of views that they think are hurting other people. Many people who aren't liberal themselves don't seem to realize that the tolerance is generally conditional. I would argue that this view is a good one overall but it leads to a lot of issues because what is harmful or not harmful can be unclear and neither people inside a culture nor people outside a culture can generally see it clearly.


TL;DR - We respect all cultures and viewpoints, except all those which we judge wrong and sexist.

Disagree. Your values are universal, or they're not. Are you saying you're better because you subject yourself to values you consider superior, and yet don't expect others to do the same, because they won't be able, or they won't comprehend?


> TL;DR - We respect all cultures and viewpoints, except all those which we judge wrong and sexist.

I see nothing wrong with accepting this statement, assuming "wrong" and "sexist" are defined correctly.


Well said. I think this is the source of much eye rolling for people who have lived in the West and East.

When I lived in China, I was floored when I found out people put their picture on their CV. But that was the tip of the iceberg of unsavory business practices there.

As a counterpoint to the apparent sexism of the Chinese workplace, women were integrated in the work place by the communist party much sooner than in the West. Women there have been able to hold professional white collar-ish jobs for quite a long time.


I’ve lived in China and speak Mandarin too. I’ve always hated the fact you need a photo, but I was truly disturbed when I went with my girlfriend (Chinese) to have hers done. Even she was uncomfortable with the level of photoshop used. It looked like a different person, and she complained to have that amount of editing reduced. It’s just such an obvious point of discrimination.

While anecdotal, in every in depth discussion with Chinese women about their perception of women’s equality in the workplace, none of them felt it was fair. It doesn’t help that there’s still a strong expectation that women should have a “stable” but lower paying job (1/10th or lower) in comparison to their partner.

There’s a definite difficulty with progressing in your career that arises due to a culture that has a strong emphasis on guanxi and male dominance. If you don’t have connections and you’re not a man, there’s a strong chance that you’ll experience huge resistance when trying to climb the ladder.


> TL;DR - We respect all cultures and viewpoints, except all those which we judge wrong and sexist.

I don't think we "respect" other cultures. I believe there is guilt towards cultures associated with victimhood, and those cultures get a pass. China has graduated from victim status, therefore it is getting called out.


Here are some other dirty "secrets" about China:

* No free and fair elections.

* No freedom of speech and of the press

* One party rule

* People imprisoned for their political and religious beliefs

* Nobel Peace Prize winner died in Chinese custody

* Freedom of travel can be fairly restrictive, especially if you are trying to leave the countryside

China embraces the open market purely from a utilitarian perspective as to what will help them become and stay a superpower. There really is no big commitment to an individual "rights" based foundation for society. Because of that, it is not surprising that they discriminate against women.


> One party rule

pretty well straight up dictatorship now.


It’s not a secret. The general discrepancy — of differing cultural norms — is also not unique to China.

Amazing how many people fantisize about a globalist utopia, accepting of all cultures, except the “offensive” cultures.


In China, man pays for everything in a relationship...... and wives manage family account..


Given all the public job postings, how does it become a secret?


reminds me of some bay area job postings


They would be breaking the law if they did. Unlike China, sex discrimination is illegal in the USA and would be resolved very quickly in court if they decided to put out a job posting like that (likely with a huge civil settlement).


When I worked in IT, the standard technique Western employers used to practise discrimination was to use independent recruiters to place job adverts and vet candidates before they were forwarded to the employer. When the recruiter and employer had an informal conversation a little later, perhaps over lunch, the employer would casually let slip that "if the new employee could speak another language, she would be able to interact easier with prospective clients", which the recruiter took mental note of before changing the subject.

But perhaps things are different nowadays.


If jobs ads were as blatant as they were in China, then they would definitely get sued.

But there are many ways to game the system in rather legally safe ways where subjective decisions are involved.


insidious and subtle discrimination is the name of the game in the US. it's definitely worse in that it's far harder to fight against.


> companies like Alibaba have published recruitment ads promising applicants “beautiful girls” as co-workers, labeling them “late night benefits.” While tech companies tout themselves as progressive to the rest of the world, these disturbing recruitment strategies show how deeply entrenched discrimination against women remains in China.

How is promising that the work environment is full of girls an example of discrimination against women? If they promised that girls were rare, that would presumably be an improvement?


>How is promising that the work environment is full of girls an example of discrimination against women?

If, as the author asserts, the women are being hired merely as rewards for the male workers while not really being given actual opportunities at their work.


Being hired into a do-nothing job is usually considered a perk.


How is promising that the economy is full of slaves an example of discrimination against slaves? If they promised that slaves were rare, that would presumably be an improvement?


> How is promising that the economy is full of slaves an example of discrimination against slaves?

Pretty clearly, it isn't. Can you describe some sense in which it is?

> If they promised that slaves were rare, that would presumably be an improvement?

This would be an improvement to the extent that you are morally opposed to the concept of slavery. Very few people are opposed to the concept of women.

Whether slaves becoming rare is a benefit to the slaves depends on how it's accomplished.




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