Posts tagged ‘civilization’

I visited Soong Ching-Ling’s memorial home today, and inside, her writings made me think about all the dreams and hopes she and her husband had for China. Would they be happy to see what it had become today? Or would they be rolling in their grave? Was this the China they had worked so hard for? All those lives sacrificed in the countless revolutionary uprisings from Guangzhou to Beijing, were they really worth the China it is right now? And then you look around, you see the new generation of Chinese kids, those born after the 90s, and you see a lost generation. A generation that doesn’t know what the future holds, rejects the past, and is only absorbed with their own individual pleasures. This isn’t necessarily a judgment, but it’s definitely an observation.

Revolution means so many different things to so many different people. To some, it is only a change in government. To Madame Soong, it was a change in the people and how they saw themselves, how they defined themselves, ideologically and socially. Perhaps it should be renamed Social Revolution, because very often governments change but the people don’t, and everything remains the same even though the ‘packaging’ is different. The question is, did Madame Soong’s Social Revolution succeed? Has the Chinese people changed their perception of China and of themselves as a nation and a civilization?

Now, I’m not interested in going into the details about Mao and his cultural revolution and whether that had anything to do with preventing true social revolution from happening, but I’m going to talk about things as they are, without assigning blame to anyone or to any entity. The fact is that China is far too complex a civilization to assign blame to just one party; it will always be a combination of factors, whether internal or external.

So, what is the state of the Chinese people now?

If you ask outsiders, they will tell you their impressions of most mainland Chinese as sometimes rude, not knowing basic manners, not understanding social etiquette, and not very polite. Of course, this is a general statement and does not apply to everyone in mainland China, but here we are dealing with a general impression and a large sample size within this huge population. Does this have to do with poverty? You do see a lot of rich Chinese businessmen who are a little loud and rough. In fact a lot of them can be quite rude in their mannerisms, and quite selfish and inconsiderate in their daily actions. So that rules out money as a factor. How is it that you can have so many people not feeling disgusted about spitting in public, and not feeling bad about cutting queue, and not feeling impolite to push and shove someone else in public if they are in your way? Why is this decline in social behaviour so apparent in mainland China, even though people are starting to become well-off and they have been opened to the outside world for about 20 years now?

You can’t say the Communists didn’t try to create good behaviour among their citizens. There have been countless of red banners with doctrines of good behaviour plastered all around China for centuries. But people tend to ignore them as noise no one ever really pays attention to them. It has become government propaganda now, instead of a good-will service to its people. So what is it? Is this actually the stubbornness of Chinese culture, which has prevented them from being brainwashed by countless different dynasties and different cultures and allowed them to withstand any sort of cultural invasion to preserve their own identity and values? Does this mean the Chinese people have always been rude? Now, let’s not jump to conclusions yet, as all these are still hypothetical, but they are possibilities.

And yet, China was the civilization that created the culture of politeness and rituals, thanks to Confucius, which became adopted by so many other cultures, such as Japan and Korea. How has Japan succeeded in creating good social behaviour? Why have they succeeded when China has failed, or should I say, not yet succeeded (if they are even trying in the first place)? I believe a big part of it lies in the education, although once again, there are many other factors, such as the social framework and the acceptance of bad behavior, or should I say, the lack of awareness of it. I am aware that this might start to sound like ‘the white man’s burden’ sort of thing, but for one, I am not white, and two, I believe the Chinese people themselves consider it as bad behaviour too, just that they put up with it and ignore it over time.

Did the revolutionary leader accidentally leave out this detail in their painful struggles for China? I know Sun Yatsen was all about how the people should be governed, and the freedom to vote for your own government. And when Mao came, he seemed to be more concerned about mobilizing the farmers and the workers, and distributing food and resources, and building the country up industrially. Then when Deng Xiaoping came, he seemed only concerned to let China became rich and powerful, increasing the opportunities in financial growth of the whole nation. Every step was essential, and you needed them to get to the next stage of progress. But what of the country culturally and socially? I believe Lu Xun was one of the few that actually cared about the country’s moral illness, which was why he put down his scalpel and took up his pen to try to cure it. But was it enough?

It is more than obvious that the next stage of Chinese revolution, if you want to call it a revolution to continue the pattern over the past century, would be a cultural one. Not like Mao’s cultural revolution, which I’d rather call a cultural destruction. But a revolution that would awake the Chinese people’s hearts and minds and make them realize what they have been missing all those years, and how they have been living blindly without any sense of social etiquette. That would be a true revolution, and a good one without causing the deaths of any, but a cultural renaissance, as Daniel likes to put it, where the arts would flourish and the people respected by foreigners as the upholders of the origin of civility.

Even when you look at Chinese calligraphy, it attempts to teach one how to live a proper and balanced life of good morals and social etiquette by walking up straight and not with a slanted back, which is translated through writing upright and visually balanced characters. This is embedded within Chinese writing and calligraphy although I’m not sure how much of that is still taught and believed in schools today.