‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 23
"In China, everyday rules are there to be ignored. Bicycles and mopeds ride on the pavement. Pedestrians jaywalk, even on the highways. Subway passengers push on to carriages before those inside get off. Queues deteriorate into melees of pushing and shoving as more and more people simply jump to the front. Customers negotiate purchases without receipts, meaning neither party pays tax, and street-corner touts hand out fliers for all manner of illegal services from satellite dishes to fake diplomas.
Ignoring the rules is so pervasive that it has simply become a part of life. It is accepted and even tolerated, and hardly ever directly challenged by the police or other authorities. In many ways China is a freer country than you might have imagined. Not all Chinese people, of course, ignore the rules, but quite often the option is there should the inspiration hit you.
Not surprisingly, because people have no respect for the rules, they also have little respect for the sometime guardians of the rules. Every roadside altercation in China, from a minor dispute between two pedestrians to a collision between two cars, results in a crowd of eager watchers and usually the intervention of a policeman. As the policeman tries to sort out the arguments, those involved shout and even curse the police officer, at times jabbing an angry finger to dent the shirt on his chest. In a nation like America, even a raised voice to a law enforcement officer would bring the threat of arrest. In China, on-the-job abuse is apparently part of the job description.
For China today, ignoring the rules is a rule for life itself."
Conformism. Indeed that’s the curse that afflicts the China I know. A sameness of opinion, word and deed. The individual with individual ideas – that’s what’s hard to find. I’ve met a few, a rare few, in my years in China.
Mostly it’s conformism all the way. Again I will use an example from my life as a teacher – in which, now I think about it, perhaps I am rather the conformist too, given that my lessons are themselves settled and seldom-changing.
One part of the stuff I teach involves students giving a one or two minute presentation on a set topic. This is generally simple stuff, such as a favorite restaurant or sport, a trip somewhere, a close friend and the like.
With some questions, such as the best friend, there is necessarily a range of different answers. But when it comes to the favorite film or book question, or an admired hero, then the range of answers I get is tiny.
For the film question, far and away the most common answer is ‘Titanic,’ an excruciatingly bad piece of dross. Five out of ten students will always offer this answer, even this many years after the wretched film came out. Following this, the next most common answer is Forrest Gump, another dreadful film, and then Gone With The Wind (after reading the first badly-written sentence of that novel, I gave up on my plan of reading it). Next up it’s Harry Potter (also dreadfully-written tosh) and then Braveheart. After this there’s a smattering of whatever the latest blockbuster is (Transformers was very popular for a while). And that, more or less, is it. Perhaps five percent of students will pick a film other than these.
Perhaps half a percent of students will pick a Chinese film.
As for books, the range is much smaller. Top choice is Jane Eyre, and then, of course, Jane Austen. She is always identified as a writer of love stories, and students are surprised when I explain she is not a romance writer at all. And after Jane, the next big choice is Harry cunting Potter, again. Now, most of the students take the class to prepare for an English exam which assesses their readiness for university study in an English-speaking country. So at this stage of the class I’ll usually say ‘So… you’re having an interview to test your readiness for university, and you want to speak about a children’s book. What do you think that says about you?’
And for an admired hero? Top of the list, it’s Bill Gates. That’s for cupidity. Second, it’s Yao Ming. In the China sports scene, you’re no-one until you’ve got to the top. Trying doesn’t count. Heart doesn’t count. Only success matters, and if, as in the case of Yao, that success is found abroad, then worship is legitimized at home. It’s almost as if you’re no-one in China until the West says you’re someone. And third, it’s Michael Jordan, followed by Li Ka-shing – there’s the greed factor again. Everyone wants to be a billionaire.
The students I teach are among China’s best, the cream of the cream – they’re the ones who aim at big-shot universities abroad, they’re the tiny percentage of Chinese society with the money and the plans.
And if such students cannot be original even in something as trivial as ‘What’s your favorite film?’ how can they ever be original when they begin working life? How can they ever be anything but conformists?
‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 24
"Ignoring the rules is, often, a socially trivial matter, certainly when it is accepted by the masses. But breaking the rules is a very different matter from ignoring the rules. Breaking the rules takes bravery. It requires great courage to stand up in China today and say ‘Stop. This is wrong. I protest.’ And doing that, in China, is dangerous.
The lack of those citizens with the courage to stand up and say ‘I protest’ is today the weakest link in the connection between China and greatness. Those few who do stand up suffer perils beyond imagination.
China has its dissidents, but they do not have a tradition of dissent and struggle in which to orient themselves, at least not a Chinese one. Their idols and role-models are also foreigners, such as Lech Walesa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel. And the dreamer, Martin Luther King.
Brave Chinese dissidents are very much a minority, and they are almost totally ignored by Chinese society. There are no parades calling for the freeing of China’s prisoners of conscience. How can there be? Most Chinese people are not allowed to know such prisoners exist, and of those who do know, many simply do not care enough to raise their voice, possibly to suffer a similar fate.
Think of William Wilberforce, who did so much to end slavery at the beginning of the 19th Century. Think of Emmeline Pankhurst, who fought to get women the vote in the early 20th century. Think of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ sparked off the global environmental movement.
These are people who did not just ignore the rules. They broke them, and allowed their countries to grow positively and dynamically freer. It is not that such people do not exist in China, it is that they will not raise their head above the parapet. Today, Chinese culture and society stresses conformity and consensus above all else. There is conformity in ignoring the rules, and conformity in refusing to break them.
When Chinese people feel fear, the fear that comes when they see their country is not changing, not developing its political liberties, then and only then will the charge be led over the parapets and into the firing line"
It's coming up soon -- the Olympics. Don't forget, if you have the chance to be on camera -- make a 'T" sign for Tibet and an 'X' sign for Xinjiang.