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Confessions of a Harvard Otaku (Ezra Vogel on what we can learn form China)

Ezra Vogel and Tu Weiming at Peking University, April 2013

Confessions of a Harvard Otaku

PEKING UNIVERSITY- Ezra Vogel, Harvard professor and author of the infamous Japan as Numer One (ironically, it was a best-selling number one in Japan) visited The Institute of Advanced Humanistic Studies (IAHS) at Peking University today, and confessed his past obsession with Japan (and now, China). Here are some quotes from his visit on April 23, 2013, that may give insights into the mind of America’s most beloved ‘otaku.’

Ezra on writing and mass audiences

“I tried to avoid intellectual jargon in all my books.”

“How to communicate with other people. We [writers] have a responsibility not only to scholarship but also to the people and to the country.”

“My works are for broad audiences.”

“I wanted people to understand Japan, and now, in my new book, to understand China.”

“I didn’t mean to say that Japan was “number one nation,” but that it was in many fields the number one, for example in manufacturing and efficiency.”

Ezra on his work for the CIA

“I worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency just for two years, and it was only during that time that I had access to classified material.”

Ezra on what we can learn from China

“What can we learn from China now? That is a good question. Central decision making that can be good for the entire population is China’s strong point. In the West it would go against individual resistances and against many lawyers.”

“In late developers, central government always played a great role: Learning how the west did it, and then to do it fast.”

Ezra on becoming an activist

“I decided to play the role of an activist: My vision is for all people: security, material gains, trying to educate the American side to work with Asia.”

“In China today there is an ongoing demonization of Japan. It should be patriotic, but it is nationalist.”

“Culture is an important factor to measure a nation’s performance. Economist without a sense of culture will often make predictions [about the future of a country] that are unreliable.”

Ezra on pushing the envelope

“Always extend your range of freedom. Always keep pushing the envelope. You will be slapped down, and if you’ve pushed to hard, you will be punished, but you will find more opportunities.”

“Taiwan was successful because in 1949 local people had experiences of voting. There was already a strong democratic basis of society. Taiwan is a steady democracy. It provides hope to the mainland because it now provides experience with democracy and voting.”

Read more on Ezra: [Japan as number One, no wait, Three] and [Joy of the biographers]