thumbnail of Asia Society presents; 65
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The Asia Society presides. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author around the world winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. As most people will agree the culture of the Chinese people is one of the oldest in the world and one of the finest. Their interest in the arts literature. They are clear to see many things about the Chinese I think make them one of the great people of the world. Since 1949 there are a whole kind of government that which goes change from time to time during the years became a communist government. And what has happened to China that is mainland China since then. What has happened in these past twenty one twenty two years has the Maoism principle of government changed the cultural makeup of the
people. Well this is a question that many people wonder about and our guest I think is a very qualified person to answer it because of his fluent knowledge of Chinese. The fact that he is Chinese I think he will bring us some facts we might not have had in the past. His name is Victor Lee and Mr Lee I think is a man of great accomplishment. He's not yet 30 and yet he has several important degrees educational degree. He's a member of the New York bar. He's a professor at Columbia University. He specializes in his studies of communist Chinese law. And I really cannot begin to tell you all that he's accomplished in this time. He was born in Hong Kong and is now an American citizen. And I can't help but compliment you and ask you on the air how in the time of 29 30 years you have accomplished all of this educationally and intellectually is it something in your early upbringing which gave you the motivation.
Yes I suppose so much of us comes out of family atmosphere that urges education and looks upon achieving education. I tainment as one of the things you try to do so we were all the whole family were directed into the educational line and given encouragement and aid from our family when we needed it. Is this a part of the culture of the Chinese people. Or was it just the culture of a certain class in the great country of China. It's a number of things I suppose you could say it was a part of the culture of the whole people but in the past theoretically anyone could go and get an education and then take the Imperial exams and by passing various grades you get into the bureaucracy as an official at various levels of course not so that's the ideal and practice the rich get educated better than the poor. I suppose another element is being immigrants to this country that you've got to do something that. And getting a good education is a
very good way of ensuring that your children do very well. When I said it seemed to me you must have a superior intellect you said no I don't think it's that it's just that I work very hard. Is that part of your philosophy that if one works very hard he can overcome almost any obstacle. Is that a Chinese philosophy. No I guess not I guess I was thinking more in terms of that there are just vast numbers of highly capable people and that the people get directed into different things along the path some end up in one and some end up in the other. And I ended up in this one. But I don't think that you just look at the people in college now people who are students and they're just fantastically capable people and very few end up in the academic field that doesn't mean that they where the others were no good it just means that they went and did something else in some different direction which interested the more you teach. It is in your curriculum the tie that you're an assistant professor of law does that
mean you teach in Columbia Law School. That's right. Teaching students who want to become lawyers. Yes I teach Chinese law. Basically communist China and communist. Who would have occasion to study this. Well you you get an occasional person who wants to specialize in that. The bulk of the students are people. Just regular lawyers they're going to go into private practice or government I with Wall Street and that this is a way of expanding their educational horizon to give them an idea that law is not just the Internal Revenue Code that that's a problem the world wide. There are very many different ways of handling similar problems and that we haven't got the soul of a solution. Would you say there are certain fundamental differences which you could relate offhand. Briefly the differences between the Chinese concept of law and let's say the. English an American concept of law. Yeah I guess we can spend weeks on that. It's. Is there one
major difference. Well I guess the most dramatic one would be that we stress a great deal here the rule of law. That's the way things are supposed to be and that's what we're aspiring toward. But Chinese both traditionally and I think in communist China now say that's a very bad idea the rule of law. But what you want is is the rule of man you want a man running the system not just one man but all the men being conscientious hardworking careful. And that's what you are that's what you want if you can get your administrators to be like that. That's that will make society run properly. And it's having conscientious administrators who care who work hard. That's important rather than have a very lovely set of codes as we have here which probably no one except a few lawyers look at anyway. But even a person who is conscientious need some guidelines which is generally composes a set of laws.
Well it can be a set of laws although it doesn't have to be a set of laws you can issue them in a sense Chairman Mao's thought is a is a set of guidelines. They are broad. They tell you things like work hard and don't be wasteful when you care for the people and so on and their broad statements but nevertheless between Chairman Mao's thoughts and the People's Daily editorials and whatever else one reads there you can get some guidelines on what you're supposed to do. The point of this I suppose is that they are and the Ministry needs guidelines but he can get them in many forms other than through. Laws as we do here. Still laws are the basis of our daily activity and if someone breaks the law and thereby hurts us we have recourse to some kind of help or justice. So if it isn't written down in a way that someone can pass judgement. I do think we would be confused if that point to an icky.
Well we can approach this problem from both ends. Doing it from the American Society side. That's true. We have laws and if you break them we we know when theoretically what you are not supposed to do and what will happen to you if you do break the law. But it also seems to me in practice this just isn't so that we. Are doing just the criminal law side starting from the beginning that whether a policeman when he sees something he take it to double parked car or not. He breaks up a fight in a bar and sends the couple fighters home. Or you hose them in for disorderly conduct and battery first degree assault and battery. There's a great deal of chance that's left there. Again whether the prosecutor decides to prosecute or not that he decides not to prosecute there's hardly anything you can do about it except vote him out of office three years hence. And again the uncertainties when you get into court the uncertainties in sentencing when the
for a felony you can get you know zero to 15 years now that strikes me as being highly vague. The point of that being that even with some very finely codified laws that we have it doesn't necessarily lead to greater clarity from the Chinese and there aren't these finely drafted laws but it it's theoretically possible to have a great deal of clarity. For example if today's people's daily editorial says. We are going to have a new way of planting rice shoots this year and you going to plant it this way rather than that way and you use this technology rather than that. And this is your quote. And that and then the quotas are broken down into smaller regions and then in our little farming group of 10 or 12 of us 100 of us would sit down and we would discuss the editorial What is the new farming method. Why you plant shoots this direction and that. What's our production code are we going to work hard at the end of this. The people taking part in the discussion may know very very well
exactly what they're supposed to do exactly what will happen to them if they don't do it. And what's expected of them. Now there is and there's no law there but there could be a lot of clarity. I don't mean this that that happens all the time that. That is again the Chinese ideal just as the rule of law is our ideal here and that practice often will deviate from that but at least in theory it's possible to have a great deal of clarity without having loss but if we go back to your example of the people the group who read how to plant the rice and and they discuss why this method is good and what is expected of them and then you did say. I think you added and they know what will happen to them if they do not do it in this manner. Now why will something happen to them unless there is some written law explaining to them what the punishment is what I can do YOU CAN you don't necessarily have to have a law to tell them what the punishment is the Qadri leading the discussion can say subtly or less subtly like the quote or here
is a hundred bushels for this field. And if you don't produce a hundred bushels because the various possible dire consequences are going to be visited on you. But if it that's not written as a law. A person doesn't have too much defense if he's accused. He doesn't know what he's accused of except through their will that's right. And isn't he in a more precarious situation than if there's a law which he can use to defend himself. Well it's both again yes and no. No in the sense that this is where it started I was talking about the rule of law or the rule of man. If you had a contrail the man who was telling you what the consequences will be to be a capable conscientious hard working man who really is trying to do his best. That is some degree of protection for you. You can attack him for not being a conscientious Qadri. The Chinese call that be a rock critism or subjectivism or command ism. All sorts of isms
where Qadri is not acting like a decent country. And that your protection is a that he is supposed to be a decent Godrej and be your small social group takes it upon each other. Each man in that group takes it upon himself to make sure that the cadres acting properly and if it's not they get up there and say to him look you're not doing this thing right. You're being unfair you're being overly lenient overly harsh from the American side again. We have these laws but how strictly are they enforced that. You know sometimes you almost think that the American system. I don't mean to just limited the American system to a system of formalized laws is a place where it's like a game. That everyone has to play this game of law and if you play well you can do well and if you play poorly you're in trouble. But it's a game that the rules basically are secret.
The members of the bar know in a few clever criminal and criminals know it. The administrators of the legal system know it but the public I really think on the whole don't know what and are not capable of knowing it without paying a fee. What other secrets they don't know the secrets are there. I suppose I can do your income tax better than you can for you and that it's hard for you to find out that again that I can work my way if you get arrested for some reason or another. The chances of my being able to get you out are much better than yours or a friend of yours. Layman Yes because you are better informed. Your education along those lines is more thorough. So we look to you. Resistance as we would look to a physician for assistance if we were ill professionals can be of help. I don't think that's particularly insidious but the insidious part of it is that what we have really is looking to professionals for help. On the other hand we I think were claiming that. Law is doing more than that but it's actually
reaching the individual the individual the protection is not that I as your lawyer will protect you but that law itself will protect you as the law. Sitting up on a chair as an entity in itself that will protect you in and of itself and that somehow you can get to it. I think that one thing the second part of that is and getting to it is we get into economic factors yet those who can't afford a professional of course can get the professional help those who can't are limited to legal aid which in itself is a fairly recent phenomenon. Still there are many lawyers who take very little or no fee out of the their idealism and wish to help because there are many S.O.S in this country. Yes and that's certainly undeniable but I still I guess it's undeniable that for people who are not financially well-off that they have. A very hard time trying to get legal services. I'm sure you're right that this time you have a more difficult time than other people.
That may very well be. This is so fascinating but I have a few perhaps I should try to lead us back to our other topic which I'm sure is also fascinating and that is I guess we have to begin there by asking you professionally. How much knowledge you have of mainland China at this point is it entirely through reading. It's through a number of sources. One is was reading how the Chinese publish things. There are number of people who work in the area who publish things. You can also get it through interviewing refugees in Hong Kong. Granted the source is a really fairly limited particularly if one tries to be very currently you know what happened in Peking last week. That I I think would be terribly hard to know if you're willing to settle back and say well I'll do the 1950s and we'll leave the 60s to
later then I think that we have a much better idea of what's going on. Well that's why. It's important to have some idea of this because if we talk about how the family is in China these days compared to how it was before on the takeover what can we say. Can you say can you do any comparison. In broad terms I think that comparisons can be drawn. Part of the problem I suppose is that in comparing we're trying to compare the family now to what it was before and it's not exactly clear in my mind what it was before. There's a great deal of myth that attaches that to the traditional system as well so that that makes comparisons doubly difficult. I think some of the comparisons that can be made is. Well maybe not with the family to begin with but more broadly that
whatever Chinese culture and tradition wise it was something and it's been there an awful long time and you just can't come in and change it by theone and say Now all of that is out and we're going to have a brand new system but rather the leaders have to chip away at it and in some areas you can chip away better and in some other areas you cannot chip away as well. The family was one area I think where the communist leadership put particular emphasis. But there again depending on what one's view of the traditional family was that there were probably a great deal of abuses husbands over wives and generation over the younger generation rich relatives against poor relatives. A whole series of abuses. And I think that the Communists were very anxious to one correct these abuses as they saw them. And that secondly
to remove the family as a source of opposition to the government. Why would the family necessarily oppose the government. Well in the US not in the family in the sense of a husband and the wife and two children but that if they're gathered into large clans of thousands of families and these clans hold a great deal of economic power then you've got little centers of power least potential centers of power scattered all over the country. This in turn may lead to dividing a man's allegiance but you have an allegiance to your larger family clan group as well as competing with the allegiance to the national entity. And I suppose that the national leadership just found a pipe that was potentially too risky. The national leadership of the state feels that it must have complete loyalty to what it is doing otherwise it won't succeed. It's not the idea. Yes and that
phrase that negatively would be that. If there are little pockets of power sitting around the country that these potentially can. Can increase coalesce. And then and do cars become very serious political opposition for the for the national leadership. Why would groups oppose the national leadership. It's about purpose has been to improve the lot of people in China well because I suppose there's a disagreement on how one improves the lot in any and sort of a broad sense it would be for example in this county how much grain should we take for taxes and for local people I assume would like very little taxes so that they can keep what they grow. The national leadership if you don't get a lot of taxes there's going to be no guns no consumer goods are all sorts of other things that they do at the national level. So there is a disagreement on priorities here. There's also a disagreement on how what the shape of society should be. If the national leadership says
that that they fear the shape of society should be that there should not be rich people and poor people in terribly oversimplified and everybody should be the same. Then presumably those who are who were then Rich would be very much against that and means being cut down. Would you say that the what you read and the interviews you've conducted that it's so hard I know to generalize this is foolish question for me to ask but still. You get the impression that the majority of people who have remained in China have not gone to Taiwan or gone to some other place are satisfied with the government. I would guess so. Again that's you know that's a very broad question we're talking about lots of people and we're also talking about different layers of satisfaction that in looking at why a man might be satisfied but I think that they've pretty
much wiped out firemen that I would imagine that if I were a peasant avows in years ago or 500 years ago I would be pretty sure that at some time of not in my lifetime than in my son's lifetime that will start because floods and droughts come and when they come you get it. I think that the. But that's just not along the case that the the society has been able to manage distribution production of goods and distribution so that even in bad times you don't starve. Now I think that means a great deal. What I was means a great deal is 20 years of peace. But the Chinese have been fighting everybody in sight since 1895. And the country continually overrun in civil war and foreign war and 20 years of peace mean a great deal. In terms of again reasserting China as a power that that the Chinese can be very proud of his country which. In the early part of the century I think he could not have been right. So there are things that makes a man satisfied you can also
be while you are satisfied terribly dissatisfied. You may not. You may think you're being not paid enough or you like a better job and you're not getting it or that you like to speak out on something and you can't. You're afraid to so that a man is a bundle of satisfactions and dissatisfactions. What would you say that you or the family areas would you mention that of the domineering attitude of the husband towards the wife and of the overbearing attitude of the older people towards the younger people do you think these have changed have been corrected is the government set out to do. I think it's changed I don't think it's completely cured again. The government's been in there 21 years which is a very short span of time and it's going to take an awfully long time to to change the whole country's mind about a particular item. I think that in terms of how much the older may oppress the young girl the husband may
oppress the wives. I'm fairly sure in fact I think I'm like I am sure that that has decreased dramatically. But I don't think by the same token it's been wiped out. Would you mind my asking you how you happen to be born in Hong Kong. Did your parents originally come from China and then they decided to leave. Well we were this was I was born still during the Second World War and that we went to Hong Kong because the hospitals were better there. And then after I was bombed we went back to the main do the main line and then you came to United States six seven years later. Yes. Did your parents feel that they might not be as happy remaining in China under the new form of government. Well we left in January of 1047 for the governess in fact at that point the Nationalist government looked like it was in such good shape that one could have imagined that two years hence they would no longer be pushed off the main line. The idea was to bring us here my father came for medical
treatment and they were going to leave the children here for education and they were going back. They did go back for a brief period and then left again. Do you feel sometimes if you were not an American citizen at this point that it might be exciting to go back to China. Oh yes I mean absolutely no i was there and become part of the new society. Well I dont think I can to be realistic about it. Having grown up here. It's I don't think it's possible you may look Chinese but that's just not how you can there's been too much American cultural influences. What I really like to do I suppose to go back and just see it there's a there's maybe a psychological homing instinct to go back there at this place where you came from and look at it. There's also a more professional interest designed I'm studying this thing I don't know what it looks like. And that may be I don't know of it helps any but make me certain they will make me feel better if at some point I can eyeball a Chinese cart then I would feel as though I knew what I was talking about
discussing it here. Yes you have a great deal of information some of it practical. Much of the theoretical but I know you'd like to see it in person. It's like hearing about a beautiful mountain for years but no photograph will do to get it right. That's right. Would you say that the hallmarks are Chinese people and most of us have heard and I personally know because I have a number of wonderful India Chinese friends is a great courtesy and to see it. You think that's true. Is that a Chinese characteristic and if so is it disappearing in the new society. Yes I think it's a it's a Chinese characteristic maybe it's a Chinese characteristic because when you've got seven eight hundred million people living on top of each other they better be terribly cruel. So they'll fight all the time. And therefore the phenomenon may not be a Chinese phenomenon but I crowded phenomena. I wonder if it does seem very much a part of your upbringing to say thank you and to be thoughtful remembered days and all of the let's write which are just lovely.
Well I could be that a lot of the time you know as these social customs were developed that if you didn't maintain these nice amenities that you would get into a great deal of conflict and so the society can sort of weirded that out by teaching people you say thank you when you even if you don't like them you smile at them no more fight that way. They soon lose daily living I just wondered if Maoism returning to our topic has made a difference in this daily behavior. That's something I could tell better if I could go back that a lot more I would guess. Yes and now its place is still crowded you still have to go and live with each other. Their customary habits are still existent So that would keep people courteous but they people may also be more strident now that once discovered truth in Moxon Maoism that you want to assert it when you see something that you think is untruthful. And I hope that you have a chance to visit your native land although you were born in Hong Kong. One of these days and come back and give us another report I find. Thank you for the
moment I thank you very much for being here. And I guessed vacantly is assistant professor of law at Columbia University and I decided percents program has been very happy to welcome him as a guest. Thank you and goodbye. Thank you. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham let's hear ease comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a nod to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Asia Society presents
Episode Number
Producing Organization
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-h12v840f).
Other Description
Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
Talk Show
Global Affairs
Race and Ethnicity
Media type
Host: Graham, Leigh
Producing Organization: WNYC
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-6-65 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:28
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Asia Society presents; 65,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 17, 2022,
MLA: “Asia Society presents; 65.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 17, 2022. <>.
APA: Asia Society presents; 65. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from