Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, December 12, 2008

When I first came to China, I remember reading an editorial in the China Daily about how the Japanese had hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. I had never heard this expression before in relation to an entire country, and it suggested to me that China was a country with a bit of an inferiority complex. The Chinese government was still in "hate Japan" mode back then. Things have changed, now, partly because Koizumi is no longer in power, and partly, I think, because China realizes that it is in the best interest of the region for Japan and China to be on speaking terms. I don't read any more articles about Japan hurting China's feelings. But I was amused by an item in the Danwei blog that chronicles China's hurt feelings over the past half century.

China is changing. As this country matures, I think there will be less sensitivity to what everyone else thinks of China. You would not read an editorial in an American paper about the "hurt feelings" of the American people. For one thing, any media outlet that claimed to know how "the American people" feel would be openly ridiculed. I have heard politicians do it, mainly attributing to all Americans a point of view that matches their own. But these politicians are not taken very seriously. The Americans are a people with very diverse opinions. This is one big difference between Chinese and American culture. Chinese people certainly differ on matters of personal taste. But when it comes to key "hot button" issues, there is an impressive uniformity of thinking, which I notice even when I travel to the far reaches of the country (assuming the people I talk to are Han Chinese). A letter I got from my Kurdish friend some time ago expresses the stereotype like this:

Last month, a world-wide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was:

"Please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"
The survey didn’t get any results because...:

1. In Africa they didn't know what “food" means.
2. In Eastern Europe they didn't know what “honest" means.
3. In Western Europe they didn't know what "shortage" means.
4. In China they didn't know what "opinion" means.
5. In the Middle East they didn't know what "solution" means.
6. In South America they didn't know what "please" means.
7. In USA they didn't know what “the rest of the world" means.

Chinese bloggers are slowly chipping away at this uniformity. They are expressing opinions that do not necessarily agree with the official line. They have to be careful, of course, because China is a very image-conscious society. Revealing "state secrets" is a serious crime, and in China, the umbrella of "state secrets" is considerably broader than it is in the United States. Obviously it includes matters of national security. But it also includes anything that could embarrass China in the eyes of the world. That's why a school teacher who posted pictures of destroyed school buildings on the Internet after the earthquake is right now serving an extrajudicial (no trial, no right to a lawyer) sentence of "education through labor."

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