Welcome to Kan Ke


Welcome to Kan Ke (看客) or The Onlooker, the McGill International Review’s blog on the Far East.

Lu Xun, an early 20th century Chinese writer, gave up his job as a doctor to articulate his idea of the “culture of the gaze”, or kanke wenhua (看客文化). This idea emerged when he noticed the cold indifferent attitude that Chinese had when watching their fellow compatriots get dragged off for execution or subject to other injustices. Literally translated, kanke means “on-looking guest”. While Lu Xun adopted a more impersonal veneer in his pieces, this blog seeks to imagine and enshrine the analytical, detail-oriented, and objective voice of such an onlooker.

Whilst Lu Xun was frustrated with the apathy of these kan-ke, the “culture of the gaze” has now taken on a strongly positive meaning in the digital age. It has since evolved into an idea of a “surrounding gaze”, offering a new virtual space voice Chinese concerns. Hu Yong, a Peking University professor, says

“I want to stress the point that the surrounding gaze is a kind of minimal (or “bottom-line”) form of public participation (公共参与). In fact, it is very far from the process of reaching consensus through participation, or reaching the stage of policy-making and action through consensus. So, if we hold the simplistic view that by means of the surrounding gaze we can change China, this is most definitely based on a naive reading of the Chinese situation. On the other hand, we cannot for these same reasons make the mistake of underestimating the importance of the surrounding gaze online (网络围观). This is because it has lowered the threshold for action, making it possible for many people to express their positions and their demands, and these positions and demands, though small, add up to a great deal (积少成多). Taken together, they can make for a formidable show of public opinion. And there is another important aspect of the surrounding gaze. And that is that the so-called surrounding gaze enables us to see those standing across from us, and this mutual seeing is also very important.

Organized strength without organization rests on the micro-forces (微动力) arising from the voluntary engagement of masses of people (是大量人群自愿形成的微动力). Change in China today does not require a powerful revolutionary force of some kind — what it requires are this kind of micro-forces. Why are these micro-forces important? Because in the past the relationship between the many to the few was fractured. There were always small numbers of people vested with an abundance of force who advanced certain matters or causes [NOTE: such as the revolutionaries in Lu Xun’s Medicine]. But what these [energetic minorities] could never figure out was why the vast majority of people cared so little about what they were doing, even when they were fighting on behalf of this majority. And the majority would often believe that these energetic minorities were too political in their outlook, and suspect that they had their own agendas. In my view, the emergence of micro-forces will serve to build bridges across this fracture between the two sides, and this is one function micro-forces have.”


This blog thus seeks to be a part of these micro-forces here at McGill: to not only shed light on the gaps between the political majority and minority within China but also to present alternative ideas and smaller stories that may not be heard in the West. Through this, Kan Ke hopes to provide a unique lens into Eastern affairs; from an empathetic bystander who still remains invested in the integrity of the Far East and its longstanding history. At this point in time, this area can finally provide a new, more credible voice for humanist endeavors. However, if this is the case, universal standards should be applied to this area as well. Whilst China is personally my region of interest, Kan Ke aims to also give our readers some perspective on this region’s countries, with specific focus on relations between China, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, and Japan.


-Tiffany Lam