After living here for more than 9 months, I have come to a most repugnant conclusion. It pains me to even think about it for I am a Chinese person who has often defended the traditions, institutions, values and dignity of the Children of Heaven. But the truth is often painful at first. I realize now that much of the problems in Chinese society, and a plethora of problems there are, are not from the Chinese government (not a surprise to me since I am a long time China watcher suspicious of the anti government rhetoric of the west). What is surprising is that the myriad problems within Chinese society comes from the behavior, values and the beliefs of its people, a people that with all their traditions of wisdom behave in the most atrocious, despicable manner towards each other today. In a sense, I’d always expected this but were perhaps too proud to admit it and needed first hand experience for verification. Now I cannot escape that basic truth.
I once remember long ago watching a documentary in the US. A Chinese man said that the problems with China is that the nation has so many “low quality people”. I remember feeling palpably shaken and offended. Angry even at these words. Surely this is racist propaganda from the west permeating a gullible if not corrupt Chinese mind. I will detail my opinions formed from my experiences and they may be offensive at first to many overseas Chinese and even some mainland Chinese but ultimately I hope for us, all of us, to reflect on the veracity of my reasons. I sincerely hope that my experiences are only representative of Beijing or other northern cities and places. Indeed, in my experience, people from the more developed South are better which you’d expect as the South is far more developed and better educated than the North. Two disclaimers: This is not to say that the media in the west isn’t racist against the Chinese. It most certainly is. In fact, Asians in general I believe are some of the most discriminated against groups in the US. Also I sincerely hope that people will put this in context, not seeing it as a rant but as social criticism and thus not react to it instinctively but as food for reflection.
The Chinese people especially in the north, display selfishness, rudeness, greed, ignorance, and pettiness the likes I have never seen before. There are too many examples from my own experience to give an illustration of all their deficiencies. But for those who are in China and who can speak passable Chinese, I’d like to offer you one experiment so that the point my be partially illustrated to yourself. Ask a sample of Chinese women what their hobbies and interests are. Take note how many of them say “shopping” and “sleeping” just to get a taste of what they are like.
Granted, this kind of shallowness shouldn’t be a demonstration of any kind of deep defect on the Chinese population of course. It’s just shallowness, partially excused by the fact that capitalism is so new to Chinese. But it is a surface of an iceberg and it is indicative of deeper problems with modern China and its people.
In my experience, many Chinese are quick to blame their government for all the problems in their society such as air pollution, traffic, corruption etc. These are all real problems. Moreover these are problems faced by almost all of the world’s developing economies and many of the developed ones too. But what is interesting in the Chinese case is that the Chinese people often do the blaming based on rumor and from an ignorant conception of themselves and the rest of the world. Take one example. I know someone in Beijing who is the CEO of a large international company. Though I can’t be sure because I don’t know him that well, he seems otherwise a gentle and kind man but he displays a kind of ignorance and hypocrisy that is common in the Chinese people. When I told him I was an American, the first thing he mentioned to me was how much he admired the American government and how defective his own government is. I was instantly curious. Why was he so approving of American style governance? What made the US government so much better in his eyes? What has the Chinese government done to deserve such opprobrium? He mentioned that the Chinese government has done little to narrow the wealth gap and made the air less polluted in Beijing.
Then I asked him what car he drives. He said he just bought a very large American style SUV. He also plans to buy an even bigger SUV and moreover already owns several other luxury cars. Surely he is aware and ashamed of his contributions to the bad air quality in Beijing? Doesn’t seem to me like he is even aware of his behavior as a contributing factor. I also asked how many houses he has. He has three. Three large houses. Again, he doesn’t seem to be aware that his behavior and that of those in his tax bracket are contributing in buying up property they don’t even use but as a mark of mere patrician vanity to the fact that so many Chinese, i.e., the 99% beneath his economic class can’t afford houses in China.
He is part of the problem. I choose this example not because it is so exceptional (rather it is typical) but it is so representative of larger problems. If the government had made stricter controls on vehicles, many Chinese like him would complain that this was “totalitarianism” in preventing people from their “right” to own a large American SUV. Indeed, the government already taxes some luxury and gas consuming vehicles so that they cost twice as much as they do in the US but that is not preventing Chinese from buying them whenever they get a chance. In Shanghai, it’s even worse. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a Maserati or a Lamborgini, cars which get even worse mileage per gallon than American SUVs. There’s no doubt in my mind that the people sitting behind the wheels of these vehicles bitch and moan all the time about how ineffective their government is at preventing air pollution completely oblivious to the fact that they are a large part of the problem. Of course, to them, the problem of bad air quality is the government’s fault never the Chinese people’s ridiculous need for ostentatious displays to garner social approval. In many Chinese people’s minds, the Chinese public is never the problem. They are the solution. And changes to the government is just the antidote to all of China’s ills. It’s difficult to run a large country with such an ignorant and uneducated population and the “solutions” many propose will make things far worse. The government has to balance growth with environmental protection and in my opinion, it has done that better than any country in history, certainly better than the US and England during comparable times of development. When will Chinese people start buying less cars, stop littering, start recycling and in general doing their share to clean up the environment, an environment they have degraded?
It’s becomes painfully obvious to me how something like the Great Leap Forward could happen in China where millions starved. When a society is built on so many layers of superficiality, bullshit and hypocrisy, and passing off responsibility to others, getting at the truth to solve real problems becomes impossible.
They are blind to their own behavior and moreover show an incredible naivete of America. Perhaps it’s because of too many rap videos or other stupid sitcom shows or even western propaganda of the western lifestyle and the “American dream” (which has always been just that, a dream) but many Chinese people see that lifestyle or at least popular images of that lifestyle in the media and probably think that that is the norm in the US. They then automatically attribute that “success” to the wondrous perfection of the US government. Rather than the real cause for America’s wealth (or at least that of its corporations and its 1%), such as the availability of resources (often obtained through aggressive and morally if not legally illicit means), of American willingness to accept new ideas, of the long hard battle by its citizens for the rule of law, etc, it is the structure of its government that is the attributed cause in many Chinese people’s minds.
I often tell people here that the US is just as economically polarized as China. I also tell them that corruption is a serious problem in the US (of course, it’s “de facto” corruption but isn’t that just as bad?) and that the president and the congress in both parties are essentially completely controlled by the corporations and the 1/10th of 1 percent, their financial lifeline, and that the US was once even more polluted than China is today. Despite the fact that all this is supported with a wealth of empirical evidence, it usually elicits incredulous stares; surely no place on earth is as polluted/corrupt/inefficient/poor as China? They are completely ignorant of all the injustices that happen in the US. Again, their ignorance runs in so many directions it’s hard to keep track.
Moreover, it’s incredible how little people know how to behave among others. Basic etiquette that all civilized societies must have (such as not cutting in line) often show little practice in China. People are routinely run down by cars running red lights. I have been hit by a car simply walking in a parking lot quite recently because the driver was oblivious to what was going on as he backed his car out of the stall, displaying no consideration for pedestrians. Luckily it was just a minor bump without any injury but many people are not so fortunate and are hit by idiotic drivers with little regard for other people’s (and perhaps their own) lives. I can’t emphasize how often this occurs and how even more incredibly, this kind of behavior is not met with any more serious reactions from others who stand by. Much of what passes as unacceptable behavior in other countries are accepted without anyone doing anything to curtail it.
The traffic problems here also stem from incredible ignorance and selfishness. People run red lights, pedestrians cross whenever they feel like it not realizing that this endangers others and moreover causes huge traffic inefficiency. The government has recently spent millions putting up fences near roads and center dividers and putting crossing guards (which in China is meant to guide adults and not children to cross the road like it is in the west) and enforcing the existent rules of the road often in ingenious ways. This is the right way to go. But I feel incredibly sympathetic to their plight of fighting such behavior in that the behavior that these improvements are fighting against is a tide of ignorance, a tide composed of a billion selfish and ignorant people all of whom thinking that they are an exception to any rule. A lack of insight that one’s own behavior has ramifications and multiplier effects within society also contributes. For example, many Chinese people reason very linearly, rationalizing their behavior by thinking that since they are not hurting anyone by crossing the road (or running a red light) they should be allowed to do it. They don’t think in nuanced and comprehensive ways. They don’t take into account that when they do things like cross in traffic, others see it and are thus encouraged to follow in like manner. This then encourages drivers to behave in dangerous ways such as weave through jay walking pedestrians and so on. The end result is a vicious cycle ending in dangers which can all be avoided.
I believe that the problem just illustrated is analogous to other problems such as corruption and many other things which plague modern China. When you have social pressure and ignorance of consequences of one’s action that all encourage things like bribes, you have at the end of a long spiraling chain which descend into the depths of a very deep shit hole. The implicit Chinese social system of guanxi puts enormous pressures to fulfill social obligations that can turn venal and it is this pressure at the root of so my corrupt practices in China today. It becomes so obvious to an outsider like myself. It is the responsibility of its citizens to take notice and change these problematic practices and values.
Public health is also a huge problem that at its very root, stems not from governmental incompetence or malfeasance but mostly from public ignorance, selfishness and superstition. People routinely spit, blow snot rockets, have their children urinate and make bowl movements, and puke on the street completely unaware of the serious health hazards this posses. Things like SARS and H7N9 and many routine flus are spread quickly in China because people’s lack of personal hygiene and responsible behavior. Hepatitis is common in China. People complain about the air quality all the time but smoking causes far more health issues than smog but so many people smoke in public that it is a far bigger threat to public safety. The common sight of someone worrying about the air then lighting up a cigarette would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that their cigarette contributes to the decline of health in others.
The ignorance and hypocrisy is merely the tip of the iceberg when detailing what is wrong today with many Chinese people. There is also incredible dishonesty. Much more so than even in American society in my opinion. In talking with many Chinese, they are well aware of this social problem (how could they not be?) but are quick to blame the fact that there are so many people in their country making it very competitive and the fact that most people receive poor education. All that may very well be the case but I have been to many countries where the people are even poorer and less educated and I don’t always have to count my change in worrying about being short changed in those countries.
For example, when I got my current apartment, I was told that it was a two bedroom apartment. That’s what was sold to me. When I moved in, I found one of the doors to a bedroom locked. I was then told completely casually by the rental agent that the family wants to use that room for storage and that I was not allowed to use it, initial promises and the lease be damned. Unfortunately for them, and unlike most Chinese people, I actually care about truth and justice and threatened to sue them. I called the cops and had a locksmith sent to my house and open the lock. Of course, since the lease clearly stipulates that the whole apartment was mine to use, they knew they didn’t have a chance in court and would lose and would have to pay my lawyer fees and storage fees; they capitulated and now I have complete use of the whole apartment. Most Chinese people have put their tails between their legs and caved under the demands of the landlord not wanting to stir up “trouble” and moreover thinking their behavior “civilized” when it is just cowardly and shortsighted. They would have swallowed their flickering sense of resentment and injustice and merely complained to their friends while doing absolutely nothing about it.
Again, this kind of dishonesty is so common in China that people are now use to it and it happens because people don’t give a damn. Lies are told as if they were greetings. There is no sense of civic responsibility either for their own behavior or in dealing with others. It happens everywhere in Beijing at least and all the time. Everyone that I know living in China has many stories just like this. Again, the police (who even gone to the great lengths of giving the senior mother of the landlord a severe tongue lashing for the behavior of her family) and the legal system, i.e., the representatives of authority and the “despotic” government, were the good guys protecting my rights while the despicable behavior are from ordinary Chinese citizens. In the US, consumer rights came at the end of long, hard battles by citizens who cared about justice. Many sacrifices were made. I am doubtful that the Chinese people today are willing to make those sacrifices and moreover, I am more worried that their lack of civic responsibility will be masked by rationalizations that attribute spurious causes such as blaming the government for problems of their own deficiencies. Much of the formal institutions to protect people’s rights are already in place in China. But how will they be put in practice if people don’t have the wisdom, personal responsibility and the sense of justice to carry out actions? They need to be exercised by a competent public to work. They don’t work by magic.
That’s not to say the government is perfect. They should have instituted many measures much earlier. But the thing is, they admit this. Take a look at the speech given by Xi and Li at the 18th congress to see such candid admissions. They take personal responsibility. In the end, I believe that at least the central PRC government is not only one of the most competent but also most moral governments in the world. It’s not just what they have done but what they have had to go against. To lift half a billion of the world’s poorest and most ignorant people from abject poverty is nothing short of miraculous. Despite the large economic inequalities that exists in China today, I believe that the positives of living a minimally decent life far outweighs the negatives of extreme inequality (perhaps that’s just my Rawlsian intuitions kicking in). In the US, the rise of inequality has not been coupled with a rise in pulling people out of poverty. In fact the opposite has happened over the last 40 years.
Also, while the Chinese government is an embodiment of a deliberative democracy, it stops short of allowing full freedom of expression and transparency. But after living here, I no longer have the faith in the Chinese people (as I once did) to be responsible with that freedom. I now quite firmly believe that that will take more time for Chinese people to be able to handle living in a fully deliberative and modern democratic state for that kind of state requires a level of wisdom and civic responsibility that the Chinese people do not currently possess. The Chinese government is right to gradually step in that direction instead jumping straight in by giving everyone full freedom of expression. It’s impossible to build a fully deliberative democracy when such large percentages of its population are concerned with nothing more than money, sleeping and shopping and shy away from any kind of deep reflection and sincere debate about issues that really matter. If the Chinese people spent as much time and energy learning about the world and publicly deliberating the problems that plague their society as they do playing video games, text messaging, watching vapid American sitcoms and shopping for trendy brands, China would already be a completely advanced country and moreover a genuinely democratic one. What’s stopping them is not their government but themselves.
The problems with China are many but they are often embodied within its people. I can’t emphasize how normal the above behavior is. You see it almost everyday. You see people obnoxiously honking their horns for minutes at someone blocking the road with their obnoxious SUVs then proceed to block the road with their own obnoxious SUVs. At one time, Chinese people looked down on foreign others as barbarians, people who did not have the social refinement, education, and virtues of the Chinese. But now it is the Chinese people who must learn to be civilized. It will take time. I have no doubt that eventually they will move in that direction but like all developed nations, it took great changes within society, within individuals, to effect change. It starts with taking personal responsibility. The last message to the Chinese people I’d like to give is that if you want to see what the causes of those problems that face you are, take a look in the mirror and you have its source.
What you have written neither surprise me nor do I disagree completely either. For someone whom have not grown up in China, but in U.S. it would have been very disorienting and maybe disappointing for facing the cultural shock and clash of expectations. I was born in China and left Shanghai in 59′ when I was 12 years old. I stayed in Hong Kong for 2 years before I came to U.S. . I faced cultural shock twice in addition to language and dialect problems. I have visited China annually for the last 4 years and understand the problems you described. It is okay to be critical of behaviors and attitudes you consider to be unethical and demeaning. Yet you have to understand the history behind them and gradually it’s been changing. To really understand China and her contrasting values and shortcomings you need to read more about Chinese history, from Confucius to Mao, Cultural Revolution and the lost generation, and the choice of growth/capitalism over everything for the last 35 years. The things you described are the warped value of capitalism, that money trumps everything, and the negative reaction to CR. I hope the new leadership is aware of the problem and gently start to correct them.
I am saddened to read through your article. Why? Because you have said exactly what I have witnessed since I have made myself to China 6+ months ago. You said it succinctly and beautifully. You hit the nail on the head on so many levels. Yes, the Chinese here in Chengdu behave much the same way as you observed in the northern part. Most of the civilized behavior that I admire in the US is absent here. It is very frustrated to see these so-called descendents of people with ‘5000 years of civilization’ behave like ‘barbarians’. It amazes me to no ends witnessing the ruthless behavior displays from the street, to restaurant, to getting into an elevator and metro. Buying anything that requires lining up in line is a test of one’s patience and civility. Whatever happens to 礼, 义，廉，耻? Surely civility has nothing to do with what form the government is nor how strong the country? Do they know these four simple words? But what disgusts me the most is the servile behavior toward foreigners from you know where.
Chinese are desperate to want to be respected, but watching these behaviors makes me want to cry. I want to cry for my dead grandfather who was so very proud of his ‘people’, while in his dying bed, admonished us grandchildren to be proud of ‘your heritages’. My Chinese heritages! What a joke! I cry for the China that I thought still has the chance to once again be the beacon of civilization; I cry for China that it seems all has been a mirage, the China that I have been trying to understand. Reading those analects, those whatever-zi’s pontificating about respecting elders, laws, societal behaviors…then compare them to what is showing in front of me, I cry. Sometimes I wonder am I in China or a look-alike and talk-alike like Chinese of long ago, but not the real 5000yearsofcontinuoushistoryandcivilaization China!?
My family is from Taiwan and this really makes me wonder what caused the cultural shift in Taiwan to make it different from the Mainland?
I know a lot of people try to point to Japan’s past colonization, but from my experiences and what I’ve been told, everything you described about China was very similar to Taiwan just 25 years ago.
Could it be economic? The poverty-wealth gap in Taiwan doesn’t seem to be as severe as it is in China. Along with full national health insurance (which didn’t come into effect until ’95) and strictly enforced garbage/recycling programs, perhaps this caused the shifts to begin?
And I should also note that just 20 years ago, almost no one in Taiwan would line up as well, but these days the people there are very conscientious in that regard.
Now my point isn’t to further the distance between Taiwanese and Mainlanders, but rather to say that both groups follow similar beliefs in Chinese culture–so if the Taiwanese can change, then I don’t think this is solely a cultural issue.
Oh, and one really interesting difference that I experienced between my local Taiwanese and Mainland friends was when I would tell them that I eventually wanted to be a vegetarian. I’ve read that almost 10% of the population in Taiwan are either vegetarians or would practice some form of it, so it was really a non-issue when I told them I was trying to 吃素 。
But to may Mainland friends, I had to explain to them the reasoning behind it. Now it’s not that the concept is foreign–since we’ve had it for centuries because of Buddhism. But rather why it was important to me. Whereas many of my local Taiwanese friends already understood.
So I feel a part of this is the general education and social values that are being taught.
“But what disgusts me the most is the servile behavior toward foreigners from you know where.”
I suggest you came off your Confucian high chair as you seem to be as obsequious to American values as you seem to condemn Chinese ones. It is easy to condemn the vulgarity, lack of culture of newly urbanized peasants and migrant workers. It’s much harder to empathize and understand them as that takes real work to read and understand history. If you have visited India and other developing countries you would not be so quick to condemn China. Consider if you lived in New York with 5 times the present population density, with half recent immigrants from Mexico, none have studied in High School not to mention Analect you would not be civilized waiting in line. Consider China has lifted over 300 million people (the total population of U.S.) out of poverty, they may not yet studied Confucian classics, but time is precious to them when they have any leisure time to enjoy after working 60 hours week, you would not have condemn them out of hand. I suggest you read “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” by Christ Hedges and Joe Sacco to find out how the underclass in U.S. really live. It described the lives of people in Pine Ridge, South Dakota; Camden, New Jersey; Welch, West Virginia; and Immokalee, Florida. I consider it’s a must read for those praising U.S., especially for those who questioned the Chinese minority policy.
“In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.” ― Sigmund Freud, Letters of Sigmund Freud.
I read this article with much interest though not full approval. Granted, the described problems do exist, and they are the more visible when one is Chinese (by apparence) oneself and speak the language better than the ordinary laowai.
As to the servile behaviour: I encountered most Chinese passionately defending their government once westerners came up with the usual propaganda. It is correct that once among themselves or people they consider friends they start scolding the government and blaming for nearly everything.
And yes, much of recent behaviour of many Chinese is rude, often selfish, all the author describes. But please mind that China underwent an economic and social transition during the last 6 decades the western countries did in about 250 years. More than half of the urban dwellers of today have been peasants or rural workers less than a generation ago, nearly 90% two generations or more ago. All their traditions and lifestyles have been lopsized in nearly no time, hard to adapt. In rural environments people have close relationship to their (wider) family, some friends and neighbours, and it is ok to consider the rest of world waidiren. In an urban environment such behaviour may become counterproductive, and result in selfishness and ruthless behaviour.
It is a matter of adaptation and education to change negative behavioural patterns. Different to the author, I well recognized tendencies towards self-criticism especially, but not only among younger people.
Btw. I have visited other countries than China, and do not consider behaviour in China, be it in street traffic (which is quite disciplined and civilized compared to India or most of Africa), or in the way people behave towards one another.
NMCheung, what you quoted from my comment and what followed don’t seem to connect.
Anyway. Getting off my Confucius high chair? Praising the US and condemning Chinese culture? Sir, I am most definitely not. I am not sure there is a ‘Chinese culture’ at this time. Not the one I am exposing to everyday, I hope. Your rebuttal to my comment seems to blame all the vile I described on the migrants or newly minted urbanites. To some extents, you are correct, but the long-time urbanites, college educated folks in Chengdu share much of the same behaviors I saw. In the office environment, for example, most of them would crowd right by the elevator doors as if there is something to be gained by being the first to get into the elevator. These are some of the fleshiest dressed people of the city of Chengdu and I don’t believe that they are migrants. Have you ever walked on the spittle-filled streets in any city in China? Tell me, does that take a college education for people not to do that? I see people from all stripes of society spit where ever they are; from elders to children, men and women, they all spit, spit, and spit anytime, anywhere…I don’t want to belittle them, but to suggest that I am blaming Chinese civilization on account of what truly is disgusting, then I want to know what is it that you are so defensive about?
My contention is this: if 5000 years of continuous civilization cannot put ingrain into people DNA about the Do’s and Don’ts, it makes me question about a lot of things.
To suggest that I should compare China to the poor of India or elsewhere in Africa, now, may I question why?
Glad melektaus brought this topic to the fore, as clearly illustrated by the above comments, there’s much resonance.
As aquadraht and some others suggest, China’s is compressing into few decades what others took in centuries for this transition. melektaus also implicitly suggest the Chinese people will move in the right direction. I am actually extremely optimistic. For me, the lack of refinement has mostly to do with socioeconomic progress.
Few thoughts struck me:
1. I don’t find it particularly ‘bad’ that the general Chinese public give deference to Westerners. In my view, the more they are willing to absorb from abroad, from the developed Western countries in particular, the better.
I see China as a giant sponge right now. I often like to challenge my American friends to think if they know anyone searching Baidu in Chinese. Now think the number of Chinese citizens searching on Google in English.
2. Once Chinese society is sufficiently rich, their opinion of foreigners will change. That worship will cease. Just look at Chinese history and you will see the arrogance they have towards the various barbarians at the height of each dynasty.
3. Much of melektaus’ disappointment are towards the petty type in my opinion. By that, I mean the Chinese are not murdering each other at high rates, incarcerating any group of citizen at disproportionate rate, or clamoring for China to kill people abroad via wars. What melektaus observed are the types of petty lies – the small stuff.
As the Chinese public come to realize how much they have to pay when sued for hitting someone with a car or come to regret the lung cancers their loved ones get from smoking, they will slowly do away with the carelessness so seemingly rampant at the moment. Every society goes through such a transition. America polluted her water and air until things came to a boiling point. China is about there right now.
4. Towards dan’s disappointment that 5000 years of continuous civilization has not cured these types of problems – my answer is to have patience. You don’t condemn this awesome civilization for not able to tackle these ‘petty’ problems. You should think about the depth of everything this civilization has to offer. When given a sufficiently stable environment, one free from foreign invasions, the chance of such a civilization resurgent is tremendous.
The Chinese people have been treated like kindergarten children since 1949, the government making each and every decision for them. It is a bit much to suddenly expect that, the people finally having some money in their pockets, this also means they have acquired a responsible decision-making mindset. They are told what to do and they do it. If there is a problem they expect the government to fix it.
You say we cannot blame the Chinese government for pollution. But it was the Chinese government which decided to follow the failed western model of having a car-owning population when they could have gone down a different track in which mass public transport was the norm. Government officials would have their cars, of course, and we cannot blame the people for that.
The Chinese people did not decide to destroy their environment. “The masses” found their lands and rivers destroyed around them by government-driven industrialization, officialdom not asking the local farmers if they agreed or disagreed.
As for spitting in public places, this is part of 5000 years of Chinese culture. You may prefer the non-spitting western world but that makes you a capitalist running dog.
What is Li, Ye, Le, and Xiu if not Confucius gentleman reproach, or behaving not like a proper British gentleman? If you know your history you would know splitting were very much a tradition for clearing throat in China rather than to a handkerchief. Even Deng when traveled abroad were provided with a spittoon. Modern education on health and a younger generation will cure of this habit as most Chinese abroad do not spit. Confucian value place family above society, Capitalism place individual above society. Sure those fighting to get on elevators are wearing suits and ties , have you ride subway in Tokyo in rush hour where people are squashed like sardines or you don’t get on? I was a child in China in the 50′ and educated in Maoist values of serve the people, it may be propaganda but a lot of people believe in it. The fallout from Cultural Revolution and the rush to get rich may have distorted some value but I am sure the 5,000 years of civilization will prevail and I am proud of it.
Where to start? I disagree with so many things here… I will just make some random observations.
Depending on how you view things, everyone everywhere display elements of selfishness, rudeness, greed, ignorance, and pettiness. You give examples later, but in every case, I think it’s a case of glass half empty or full. It’s your choice how you view the world. The world is never pure – or rotten. You can attempt to see it pure … or rotten …. but the choice is in the eye of the beholder.
In my experience, many younger women tend to answer that – in a sheepish sort of way. But I think it can also be a legit answer. Is poetry reading – say of Edgar Alan Poe – a much better – deeper, more substantive, less superficial – hobby? Most people have to work hard just to live a modest, obscure life – what’s wrong with having the opportunity to shop … and then sleep?
The thing is that if you ask a typical American what their favorite pastime is – it is shopping, too. For an American women, that’s certainly true!
Is shopping that much more evil than say playing baseball (not that playing baseball doesn’t involve shopping – often you need uniforms, equipment, – oh yes, you need transportation, too)? If I work like a dog to live on average less $10 / day, what is to say playing baseball is less superficial than shopping or sleeping? What about shopping for grand kids? What about shopping for your spouse? Is that an act of love, bonding, caring – or flat out consumerism?
And what of consumerism? When is it actually bad? Do we really have a common metric that says – you are overconsuming – now you are not?
And even when we agree that people do “over-consume” – when does it say more about their character or the environment they live?
I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions…
Your last sentence summarizes it all for me. The problem you cite can’t be a general problem of the Chinese – it’s at best a 1% problem. When I visit Beijing, I see nice cars in some neighborhood, but in general, I don’t see expensive, luxury cars everywhere in every stone throw.
Now I do agree that there is this idea that everyone wants to own a car (or two) and house (or three) can be a challenge. We can do a simple calculation and talk about the consequences. But what of people dreaming to achieve this level of lifestyle? Surely, one person doing it per se is not a problem. I don’t know of any moral or ethical system that says that owning a car or house (or more) is intrinsically evil. In the U.S., certainly many do own multiple homes (and cars). And in the U.S., it’s not considered an ethical problem – much less a social problem (on the flipside, it’s often considered an important part of the good old American dream). If it is a problem in China, it is probably due to China’s denser population (hence need for continued implementation of one-child policy I presume). I don’t think the solution is clear one way or the other: I do hear more and more people in China discussing the problems of everyone living like kings, even as everyone wishes to live like kings. That is not per se bad.
This is a time of tremendous change and adjustment for the average Chinese. It is a process that will play out – with many internal inconsistencies playing out.
We all have different thresholds of altruism and selfishness. There are many studies on the theory behind selfish and altruistic social behavior. The short answer is that our behavior is complicated and always evolving. There is saying that in love and war, all is fair. The truth is that in work, that is often the case also. You can complain, but the truth is that people will always exihibit elements of both altruistic and selfish characteris.
About forming a line – that is an evolved etiquette, yet what of it? When I travel on flights, I can buy special passes that help me bypass the normal security check lines. I can buy fastpass to bypass queuing up at the toll booths. I can drive certain cars to drive in special lanes on highways that bypass the traffic. The point is, if forming a line seems a good solution, people will eventually gravitate toward it. If not, people will find ways to break it.
Beyond that, it’s just customs and norms. The following is a passage from a Fodors travel guide:
So some people consider whining about waiting in line bad behavior. Should that be the norm for “all civilized people” now? I actually don’t mind the line thing. I can easily swap from waiting happily in line to fight for my place in front of the line (and yes, there are etiquette to how you elbow in front of the line too). It’s all in a day’s work. I can walk to the left or right – it’s just a convention to me.
About traffic – it is a problem. But it was a problem in Taiwan when I grew up … and in many European cities today (see, e.g., this article on surviving traffic in Athens).
Traffic and the associated danger is often an issue with city design (see, e.g. http://t4america.org/docs/dangerousbydesign/dangerous_by_design.pdf). In major cities in developing countries, it is often a symptom of overtaxed infrastructure, which can also lead people to drive more aggressively.
The way you frame the problem is curious. When corruption is a problem, it should be obvious to insiders (to the average Chinese). Problems that appear to be a problem to outside – such as guanxi keeping outsiders out – may not be a real problem, and even be a feature of all societies, in the form of Old boy’s network, glass ceiling, etc. Real problems – such as taking of bribes – appears everywhere – equally in developed and developing nations, involving all races, people of all socioeconomic class, in all industries, in all governments, etc.
This is an issue I believe of rural people moving into the cities. As we all know, what is happening in China is probably the largest scale of people movement in history of mankind. Pooping on the side of the street in the countryside may be perfectly fine (and sanitary, as far as public health is concerned), but not so in a city. Spitting and blow snot rockets may also be a sanitary thing to do – if the average person doesn’t have facial tissue to waste.
I mean, if not for living in crowded space, if we all were living in the countryside, spitting and blowing snot rockets may be the sanitary and environmentally friendly thing to do. You don’t want to waste a perfectly good piece of tissue paper on just nose blowing. Just spit it out! And you don’t want to be blowing into your hands – and wipe of your shirt all the time… So, I don’t think it’s about the character of a people. It’s more about the environment – or rather, a fast-changing environment – and a people in flux…
About your story on your landlord’s dishonesty, what of it? Landlord-tenant dispute is perhaps the most common dispute in modern society. Sometimes landlords are bad (New York even has an online landlord watchlist), but other times it is the tenants that are the turds. As part of law school and as part of a law firm, I volunteered to help resolve and mediate some disputes from lower income families – and you won’t believe the stories. Yours won’t even make my top 10, not even close.
Every society has its taboos. People keep quiet for a variety of reason a lotin the U.S., too. Many tenants suck it up. Many domestic issues – including domestic violence, rape cases – are covered up.
But even on the broader issue, I cringe when I read about your take on “rule of law.” Are courts really the place to address justice? Perhaps as political theory, it sounds good. But for the ordinary folk with limited means, the court is rarely ever an effective forum to address injustice… Just because Obama made it to the presidency doesn’t mean the average black (or half black) can make it. Similarly, just because this Joe Smoe won this case against Goliath doesn’t mean the average Joe Smoe can.
Now I do agree that a society has character. It would be nice if most people play within accepted norms (less tainted milk case, for example). Unfortunately, I think in China, that norm may have been disbanded somewhat. But that has nothing to do with law. It has to do with the underlying circumstances. Many do feel it’s they for themselves in the race to get rich fast. So much is happening. China’s own version of COKE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Google, AT&T, General Electric, McDonalds, Apple, BMW will probably all be founded within one generation. With so much at stakes, some may have disbanded norms that may be treasured in more stable societies. I am sure society will have a way of correcting itself. And again this is not normal times. I see the problem, but in context, I wouldn’t make much judgement.
The consumer rights you talk about was the result of recent political struggle culminating in political actions in the 1960’s. It arose from necessity. It’s not a the work of special civic minded individuals. Also most injustices are enforced by mass class action lawsuits, not individual suits by “civic-conscious” individuals.
Now while I disagree with a lot of what you wrote, I do agree with you on one thing, the Chinese people has not found solid footing in a modern world yet. People are still adapting, evolving to new lifestyles. Their goals and aspirations will probably also keep evolving. I do believe the Chinese as a people are too materialistic – but that’s me speaking making an American wage talking about someone making on average 1/10 my wave. Many complain of this Chinese materialism, but it’s probably more about pragmatism. In Taiwan, parents often want to know how much their children are making, marriages are often based on wealth… Sounds materialistic. But I believe this is true of American society too, except it’s taboo to talk about those things too openly. People in developed societies don’t want to be seen as too materialist, but if you are pragmatic, you often are.
Truth to be told, the average concern of everyone in the U.S. is about money. Just think about everything you do: most likely most of your waking hour is concerned with doing things that are related in one way or another to making a living. That’s the bottom line. You may find some European nations where citizens may be less – but that’s because the state provides a lot of welfare. Are people unethical to care about money when it’s pragmatic to do so? I would be happy not making any money and pursue music and writing and inventing things here and full time … except I have to care about money, or else my family can’t survive. Perhaps someone from a Utopian future where no one ever has to work for a living would look down on my despicable little life with my narrow myopic focus on money. But would that contempt be morally justified? Would such contempt say more about me or them?
This isn’t cultural.
Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong are a part of Chinese civilization and still practice and hold onto the culture and yet the social behavior is different.
This is about education and socioeconomic issues.
People’s behavior is not one continuous stream, it changes based on the conditions in which people grew up. If you go to the ghettos of Europe you’ll see similar behavior. And have you ever seen how the Appalachian poor live? It’s just as despairing.
Mister Unknown says
Just a quick note about Chinese women’s favorite “hobbies” being shopping and sleeping – quite frankly, if I had to deal with the stresses of the average Chinese woman, those would probably be my favorite hobbies too, for I wouldn’t have the mental capacity and attention span to do anything more intellectually challenging.
Consider the life of your average, urban Chinese family woman – she has to raise a kid (luckily only one in most cases), she has to take care of her in-laws, and she probably works full-time on top of that. If she is lucky enough not to be working double shifts at a factory, office work is still very taxing, given the sheer number of hours the Chinese white collar world usually works. & oh yeah, the husband probably needs some attention as well.
So yeah, I’m not at all surprised that her idea of a “hobby” is sleeping in an extra hour or two on a Sunday, or simply shopping, IF she’s lucky enough to have that time to herself.
To add to N.M.Cheung’s observation, if people want to question the strength of the Chinese civilization, it should be at the end of the Qing Dynasty – when over 50% of the urban adult males were addicted to opium. It might be in 1937 …. when ordinary folks were raped and gunned down by merciless Japanese troops. Or at the height of the cultural revolution … when things went out of control.
We are a product of our environment. Culture can be a stabilizing factor, but other factors can be more dominant – at a specific point in history. The strength of culture is not in cultivating a people despite the envrionemnt, but to prepare them in response. The testimony to the Chinese culture is not end of Qing, or the conquest by Japan, or the cultural revolution – it is what it can imagine for itself in the future, how it will invent and re-invent itself.
How many people in China actually study traditional Chinese philosophy – in depth? I think as Chinese advance forward and rediscover its heritage, its strength can be glimpsed even today. Its true strength however can be told only when we look after – when China has repositioned itself as the epitome of civilization.
I do not pretend to agree or even understand everything on your post. But I applaud you for bringing up two things the western press seldom brings up (as these things probably do not serve any useful political, economical, diplomatic or even journalistic purposes).
1) Many worrying problems in China today cannot be attributed to the government. One small (but important) example: I have almost never met a single Han Chinese who would believe that all of the ethnic minority peoples of China are equally intelligent and respectable people as the Han. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot find a single dissenting voice. Nobody is willing to say a damn thing on behalf of the minorities. The silence is deafening! I am Han Chinese…I am very very ashamed of this deeply biased (perhaps racist) attitude! But whenever there are ethnic issues, the western press only reports issues with the government policies (which I am sure do have issues)…but to me, the more worrying issue is the attitude rooted in the 1.3 billion people. If the American people are still deeply racist, the government or its policy or the American legal system would not have pushed the US to what we have today when a son of an African immigrant can be elected as the president.
2) Most Chinese people equate everything good in life to possessing a large amount of money and everything bad in life to a lack of money (if you are pro government) or a lack of money plus a bad government (if you are anti government). Whenever I try to debate with people in China about simple personal hygiene issues (like spitting, using the garden of a residential complex in Shanghai as an open door toilette), the responses from my “offended” brothers/sisters in China have already been about “we do not have as much money as the Americans…but we have made great progress…our GDP has grown faster than any other major countries!”(By the way, this is a direct quote from a highly educated lady in her mid 30’s, who frequently travels overseas with senior officials of a large Chinese city, as a translator) It is maddening….I feel I am losing my sanity whenever I think about these things, like now.
You may be surprised to hear that I am 100% mainland Chinese…I grew up in China (Shanghai and Beijing)…I came to the US in the 1980’s…But to be frank, some of the problems have been in China ever since I was a child…some of the problems are relatively new…For example, when I was a young child in Shanghai…we were as poor as probably the people living in sub Sahara Africa…but nobody would use the community garden as an open door toilette. As that time, even there was a lot of ignorance about the outside world, you would NOT find this very twisted idea of directly linking everything about people lives/countries with money….Nowadays, you find so many Chinese who would like to talk about the all “economic/money problems” of the west and other countries…Try to ask someone in China how they feel about India..a lot of them would immediately say with an obvious air of despise “their GDP is NOT growing nearly as fast as ours…they are backward….they don’t have money!” How do I know? I already tested this, with many very educated people! Sad! Very sad! I told these people “your attitude is what is really backward! Your attitude is more backward than the attitude we had during the Chairman Mao’s era!” When I was a kid, we were all instructed to read Chairman Mao Little Red Book every day! One of Chairman Mao’s teachings was “The Chinese Nation Must Continue to Make Major Contributions to the Entire Human Race” （中華民族必須對全人類做出重大貢獻）。 Of course, the late Chairman’s idea of contribution may not be something we would agree today…yet, at least, that is how the late Chairman viewed the Chinese nation’s place within the human race!….I cannot find anyone in China who views the world this way today…One last thing I have to mention (in agreement with you) is that I have been to many poor areas of the world and have met many very very poor people (much poorer than the average Chinese you see on the streets of Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou etc.), but many of them are very kind and nice people (with absolutely no rude behaviors)…I was once in a very poor neighborhood of Puebla (a southern Mexican city)….I met so many kind people…I could see some of them were very curious to see me (a very typical Chinese looking Chinese)…they looked at me and tried to say a few Spanish words to see if I understand them…then it is their smiles…those sincere and innocent smiles (which have nothing to do money or GDP) that really touched me…these were smiles of human curiosity and friendship….I do not speak Spanish at all…but I felt they were saying to me “what is your name? I am so glad to see you here…” I mentioned this to many of my brothers/sisters in China…all I got back was a blank look! Now I feel like crying!
Reading this article reminds me of Singapore former Prime Minister Lee kwan Yue who once commented that he not only created first world country but must also deal and educate the population from under to developed country. Now we see Singapore Chinese are more ‘civilized’ than their cousins in Mainland .
It is a lesson to be learned. Basically, teach them the proper manner and behaviour; give some times to sink in; after that Government must fine for any violations.
Fines are considered to be an effective way to change behaviours.
If you have to pay $200 for loitering you’ll remember not to repeat it.
People behaviours are the product of their environment and culture; go to Bali you’ll find the people are very polite, smiling. Likewise in Thailand I find them very hospitable, until you reach Vietnam; Like Chinese in China they are business minded and matter of fact which one mistook it as rudeness. 30 years ago we used to say that HongKong Chinese are very rude, “ no money no talk”, “no money no honey”, remember?
It is a phase of development and adjustment, instead condemn it we, the “enlightened overseas Chinese” should show more patient and give good examples.
“The grass on the other side looks always greener” we admire China from afar until living in the country, likewise those Chinese elites look up the West until they move here.
In other words often one needs to experience it in order to know it, and that takes times.
Now, at least we know that the Western Democracy is not the remedy otherwise we will end up like India where the untouchable caste’s job is to collect faeces of the higher caste houses, talking about sanitation.
the facists are ganging up on china n closing in….
trouble in tibet
another bloodbath in xinjiang
the latest version of sars, h7n9 are getting out of control
[who is mulling a quarantine order]
jp is upping the ante in ecs
ph is agitating in scs
listening to this asso
i almost choked on my coffee
**”India shares a land border with China, and Japan has had maritime contacts (with China), but for the past 1,500 years and more there has never been a history when our relations with China went extremely smoothly,* [sic]
i come to hh to look for any insights
what i see is….
一片祥和 [hidden harmonies ;-)]
oh, there’s a debate on the
*ugly chinaman* too
[just ask bo yang ;-)]
Guo Du says
My congratulations for having vented your frustrations. I see in your poignant article the broken heart of a disappointed lover rather than the disparaging criticism of a cultural supremacist, which we see all too often in the press. Your article is charged with emotion, so it may not be as detached as you normally would have been, that’s understandable. I think most of your observations are superficially true, but your analysis is equally superficial in many areas. Please don’t take this as criticism. You were evidently super pissed off when you wrote it. Who wouldn’t be when reality is so different from a romantic vision? I hope some of the analysis in the comments, including mine here, might help to make your stay more bearable if not necessarily pleasant.
There’s so much to say. I could ramble on for pages. Fortunately, Allen (No. 11) and Yin Yang (No. 2) have saved me a lot of words with their comments. I think Allen’s comments especially deserve careful reading as much as your main post (the rule-of-law point is the best but probably least noticed). I fully agree with their analysis there, and would focus on expanding a few points.
One of your remarks surprised me. “All that may very well be the case but I have been to many countries where the people are even poorer and less educated and I don’t always have to count my change in worrying about being short changed in those countries.” My experience has been quite the opposite, and I have travelled a bit before retiring from business. For the record, I have been mugged once and pocket picked once in my life. Both happened in the States. I have also been charged exactly 100 times what the seller told me the price of about 300g of pepper was, taking advantage of my stupid confusion with the currency then. When I discovered and returned to seek refund, I was literally told to get lost, and screamed at, waving a threatening fist. That was in a street market in Barcelona, 1990.
I have been travelling to the mainland very frequently for many years, and shortchanged just a few times. Everyone’s personal experience is different but my statistics keep me on the optimistic side about Chinese business conduct. (My business experience in China is also markedly different from that reported in the Apple Daily but that’s a full different story). BTW, nearly all the shortchanging that happened to me occurred in Beijing. One of them, however, taught me a lot, in a surprising way. It was again circa 1990? My wife (she’s not Chinese, which made things a bit worse) and I loved the breakfast buns at the street corner from the hotel. The vendor, a nice guy, charged us 1Yuan each. Fantastic deal. Happy. A big bun for ONE buck. When I discovered they were actually going for 30 fen, I was pissed off. Then I thought to myself: What is a fair and honest price? ONE Yuan was a fair and honest price to me, if I had not compared with others who were making MUCH less than a third of what I was making. I had regarded it a great deal all along!
BUT, was the vendor “dishonest”? Was it a matter of principle that I should defend? I asked myself.
I was in engineering. Had someone come to me for a treatment plant, and I gave him an estimate of say 10 million. If he had been happy, and gave me the contract. It would have been a fair and legit deal by “Western” business moral standard. But I might have built the same plant for 9 MILLION under insane bidding conditions. Did I just “cheat” a trusting client? No. Not by commonly accepted business interpretation.
How was I different from the guy selling steam buns? I “overcharged” someone who trusted me by ONE million, but my client was happy so everything was OK. The bun man judged correctly, and “overcharged” me 70 Fen. I was initially happy and full, then I became morally indignant over 70 fen change which I would have thrown into a bin somewhere because they used to stink. What was my lofty principle? It was a revelation, seriously.
YOUR REMARK: “do the blaming based on rumor and from an ignorant conception of themselves and the rest of the world” is true. But isn’t it true all over the world? Iraq, an entire country, was ruined based on rumours! Many still support it without an apology! I’d also borrow your words to describe HK people. An overwhelming (disturbingly so) majority of the people I know believed in fake eggs in China. I know there are fake everything in China but fake eggs? How could anyone manufacture eggs cheaper than chickens, and sell them for a few pennies each and make a profit? It was so mind-boggling I offered HK$2000 each, just to take a look. That was a few years ago. All my well-educated friends with good Western manners are witness to this offer. I still have not received a single specimen from them. Yet a few continue to believe in fake eggs. They can’t find one to shut me up because I – yes, me – am nuts. Figure that one out. You can probably still find fake eggs articles from HK in the internet.
I believe the average mainlander lives under too much daily selection pressure to be THAT stupid and naive. But then we are more advanced and prosperous in Hong Kong you see, so we can afford to be very stupid.
BUT yes, I fully agree with you that the average guy in China knows nearly NOTHING about the shortcomings of the USA. If the government would educate them a bit more in this direction, it would be anti-Western propaganda though. . .
ABOUT LINING UP AND ALL THAT
I again echo Allen and YY’s comments about the largest (and most abrupt) transition from country life to urban life. It’s even more than that. My own cousin (in his late 70’s now), a top scientist in rare earth in his days, and perfect gentleman, is my absolute No.1 favourite relative. He behaved differently in public, to my astonishment. When he took me to buy my return train ticket in Beijing in the mid-80’s, he elbowed like a maniac while I waited. He came back with the ticket in no time, a triumphant smile on his face. I was a little embarrassed. “No lining up here huh?” “Oh no. That would take forever” was his answer.
His son, a kid then, took me biking in Beijing. He told me to stare at the ground in front, keep paddling and never look up at the pedestrian. Why? “Otherwise, they’d cross in front of you and you’d be stuck forever.” He was about 13 or so at the time. We had great fun. He joined HP in Beijing after graduation, and bought an old car, then a new one. Him and I have lost touch in the last few years. He finds my outlook in life irritating.
Oh, my cousin spent eight years collecting parts from the flea markets to build his own TV (in the late 60s to early70?) It was smaller than a shoe box, with a coarse wooden frame. He actually threw it away when he eventually bought a huge colour one! I would have paid the price of his colour TV to keep his old one. But then he evidently did not have any sentimental attachment to that hardship period.
ANYWAY, more so than size, DENSITY makes a big difference in human behaviour. When one has to compete everyday with everyone for a limited supply of petty resources, be it a train ticket or parking spot or a vacancy in kindergarten or a table a the restaurant, those fit for survive would find short cuts IF they have a long and “civilised” tradition. If they don’t, they’d shoot each other. Urban Chinese have been selected to live in such a competitive environment for a LONG time. If we look at the glass as being half full rather than half empty, we’d see that it is remarkable that they can live and elbow each other or bribe themselves through the backdoor in such a non-violent manner. Like N M Cheung said above: “Consider if you lived in New York with 5 times the present population density. . . you would not be civilized waiting in line.” If you have to pick a subway line to be left alone at midnight, even given your negative experience, would you pick Beijing? or New York? or Sao Paulo?
This might all change when the Chinese have a surplus of resources to consume, so they could line up for them like English gentlemen. But I hope not. This planet is only about 8000 km in diameter so I personally wish this Chinese chaos would continue. It keeps them sharp anyway.
While on the big word “civilisation”, I might add that the treasure of human wisdom from China, or anywhere else, is the work of a tiny tiny number of individuals. And their wisdom only make sense to a very small number of lucky descendants. To think that the average guy understands and practices the highest achievement in Chinese civilisation or intellectualism is like expecting the average American to be well versed in relativity, because Einstein discovered it and he died an American citizen.
Personally, I discovered the Chinese world view of Daoism through a book by an Englishman Alan Watts, when in Canada! Then I discovered Buddhist teachings etc. They have been invaluable for me in coping with the turbulence in life, humming and whistling. I’ve been extremely lucky. Thanks karma. But many HK people I know “pray” to some kind of a Buddha for the next Mark Six lottery numbers.
Allan said enough about spitting. I assure you if Westerners would learn how to spit (in private of course, and downwind, would be preferable unless one lives in the countryside), they might live longer, with less allergies. May I add squatting? Hong Kong people with creaky knees and lower-back pain just love to deride squatting mainlanders with an idiotic sense of superiority. I suffered bad knees and back problem playing too much squash in my 30s. I have been doing yoga and squatting deeply a few times a day, a few minutes each time. These problems have . . . fingers crossed – I’d say no more. Perhaps the human body is designed to naturally eat, drink, pee, shit, spit, and squat, plus a few other immoral and disgusting things?
BTW, all the sport stars spit nonstop on TV, right at the camera, enrapturing teenage girls. I sometimes wonder if Beckhem’s spits could be collected in little vials and auctioned to the fans to reduce TB in Nigeria. But then they are cool, of course, and not Chinese peasants.
There are many points on which I could ramble. But before I made this unduly long, I’d echo Yin Yang’s Point(3) on pettiness. While petty everyday irritations hurt the most, many of the things that are driving Melektaus nuts are indeed petty. It would only be fair to underscore YY’s words there: “the Chinese are not murdering each other at high rates, incarcerating any group of citizen at disproportionate rate, or clamoring for China to kill people abroad via wars.”
Is it not ludicrous to make moral comparison between the Chinese who make daily shortcuts in order to get on with an over-crowded life, with people who have the blood of over one million innocent Iraqis on their hands (acquired through the ballot box), and their own depleted plutonium dumped on the Iraqis’ ruined country? Once we’re above the level of everyday pettiness and irritation, we might compare differently a group of people who helped selflessly during the Wenchuan earthquake (no doubt cutting lines as a matter of habit, if they could, to reach there first), and the relative savagery after Hurricane Katrina.
I really hope that your terrible acclimatisation would soon pass. If not, I hope you’d be able to get out quickly, before these real and valid daily annoyances poison your view of the bigger picture. In any event, what you have vented is very constructive, and I sincerely hope that you don’t take these alternative perspectives as rebuttals.
@N.M.Cheung in response to @dan
I thoroughly agree with you. A couple of years ago I travelled to New Delhi for work, my first visit there. Most of my team were Chinese – some mainland, some resident in Europe. Exposure to this developing-country capital was very instructional, and some of our reactions were worth noting too.
A lot of it was the same sort of “third world” shock that you might get (at different times) as an unprepared visitor to, say, Beijing. Why does the (prepaid) taxi driver blatantly try to rip me off? Why are there people picking through the trash right next to the road? Why are there NO women in this crowded metro train and this bar? (OK, that last one was very much India-specific, and it’s an area where China obviously does incredibly well by developing-world or in fact any standards). Why is this food so insanitary? Why do people behave so badly in traffic?
Of course, what we didn’t do was start attributing any of this to the Congress Party (I think they were back in power at the time). Our thoughts didn’t go much beyond “this is what it’s like round here”. Still, it was eerily reminiscent of some of my own initial reactions having relocated from the West to China.
If you’re interested, lots of people in India blame it on themselves. See for example a website called The Ugly Indian – I quote: “Look at any Indian street, we have pathetic civic standards. We tolerate an incredible amount of filth. This is not about money, knowhow, or systems. This is about attitudes. About a rooted cultural behaviour” Does this sound familiar to anyone here?
I would disagree with @Guo Du that density explains it all away. Tokyo, Osaka and to some extent Seoul show you that it’s possible for people to be quiet, polite and orderly even when living at very high population densities. Of course these places are all fairly rich.
Generally speaking I don’t have strong views on “whose fault it is”. I find myself thinking of a review I read decades ago of a Salman Rushdie book – possibly Midnight’s Children – in which the reviewer praised him for really capturing the rhythm of this completely different world (I prefer to use the label ‘developing country’ or ’emerging market’ rather than ‘Third World’ or for that matter ‘Oriental’, haha). Closer to home Yu Hua’s 十个词汇里的中国 keeps referring to how people have to be used to all sorts of absurdity — but he hasn’t lived anywhere else so maybe hasn’t realised that this might not be a specifically Chinese thing. My theory is that he’s wrong – growing up and living in a big city in a developing country profoundly shapes the way you see the world and interact with it, and it’s very, very difficult to give an accurate (comparative) picture of this in writing.
Thanks to everyone here for sharing their experiences.
“As for spitting in public places, this is part of 5000 years of Chinese culture.”
So spitting in public is a Chinese culture, oh, the horror. What about letting kids to pee and defecate on the sidewalks / parks?
‘Grandpa, grandpa, tell me more about my heritage…’ the old man struggled for his breath, then said,
‘..ur,…for one thing, you can spit anywhere you want…son…’
‘wow!…cool!… does that mean that I can go out now and …spit as far as I want, Gram…?’
The old man’s eyes bulged out with horror after hearing this, and with great effort, he spitted weakly onto his body and with his last strength, he blurred out: ‘No!…absolutely not! you…you can only spit when you are in China…!’ and with that he took his last breath….
Music of ‘xx传人‘ started serently in the back ground…..
… … …
if you inherited a house-full of treasures but knowing that there are skunks, rats, and other nasty creatures that live among the treasures, won’t you want to at least clean out the house…?
Hey, if you can show me a true communist and I will show you a true Martian.
My wife and I currently live in Shanghai and I can attest to the frustrations you have mentioned above. In fact, we experience much of what you have mentioned on a daily basis and have now grown accustomed to it as our new norm :).
I do believe however that a lot of these problems mentioned above stem from the rapid growth of urbanization from rural areas to the larger cities like Shanghai and Beijing. This relocation has brought many of these “uncivilized” mentalities along with it. As a result; snot rockets, public urination, line cutting, public smoking, and erratic driving are all daily occurrences that jeopardize the health and safety of those around you.
Please allow me to give a quick example from my own life. Over the last 6 months I have been in 2 car accidents while in taxis, hit by a car going in reverse, and have been a victim of 2 fraud schemes. In one instance a man went as far as accusing me of stabbing him with a needle which he insisted gave him aids and he now needed a blood test to prove it. He then fabricated 3 witnesses via a cell phone who falsely affirmed his claim to the police. After 4 hours in police station and a clinical blood test later the crazy was released back into public to try his con again on the next foreigner he could find in hopes of getting a quick payoff. People will also frequently smoke in bathrooms, buses, and elevators, spit anywhere they deem (inside or out), and taxis will commonly take you the “long way home” if they think they can get away with it.
But this is not the case for China as a whole. In fact, on the opposite end of the spectrum I can honestly say I have also met some of the most kind-hearted and honest people in my entire life while I have been here in Shanghai. While I spent the same 4 hours in the police station with the con artist a local friend took his time over the holiday to translate my side of the story for me while the police remained extremely helpful in sorting it all out. While some smoke in elevators I have also seen others take the cigarettes out of their mouth and put them out publicly as to set an example. In the same respect, I have even had several locals chase me down the street to return money that I had left on the table not knowing it was a tip for them personally.
So while every country has its con-artists and selfish people, China remains no different. The country has a very large population of which so many are trying to make their way by looking out for their own interests any way they can rather than caring about those around them. Unfortunately this selfish mentality can sometimes be contagious in large cities like Shanghai or Beijing which can lead others down the same path. So in my experience all you can do is be honest, straightforward, and demand the same respect you show them. I have traveled to over 20 cities in China for work and I have found that as long as you respect their cultures they will show you the same respect and make accommodations to help you in anyway that they can.
You’re making you a “goverment’s dog” or “public enemy” to some so called “Chinese citizens”, melektaus……
——Just kidding, for I got something we can share from your article.
I always said “the corruption is rooted in our hearts. As long as we believe in guanxi, we are accomplices of corruption.”
Social problems in China is resulted from bottom to top. Pity, many people still think that it’s the goverment’s fault of not offering a fair play, and they’re always victims and innocent.
Look everyone, the problem is of wealth, or lack there of. As overall wealth increases, people will feel less threatened and competitive with each other, and culture/society will gradually improve. Let’s not forget it was only 30 years ago that people were still dirt poor and needed to do anything they can to survive. As the next generations grow up, I fully expect a shift towards ever better social and cultural norms to happen. It already has with all the people who express highly moral and ethical thoughts toward social matters. It’s just a matter of time.
Conversely, what to you think was the moral fiber of the poor joes when America and other countries were when they where on this path. Let’s not take their rewritten histories at face value, they were some of thr nastiests in History.
Economic development is the key to china’s future. The ccp, warts and all, are absolutely correct on this path. We already see results. The 14 year old golfer, and another 12 year old making golf history. Soft power? With wealth, people can excel in things beyond basic survival. And they will be able to not resort to a zero sum mindset in dealing with society and others. Things are improving, and they will continue to as long as wealth continues to build.
Said another way, its easier to be generous and kind when you have some wealth and are not looking out for basic survival.
And lets not be blind to the forest from looking at the trees. There is plenty of good people in China, perhaps with some admitted variation between areas and local culture. How do you think the western media get’s all their dirt if it weren’t some concern chinese reporting said issues first? Surely you don’t think the westen media actually does any real work in reporting on china, do you? So who is bring all these issues and injustice to light? Your average chinese. And that fact should give you faith that China will continue to progress.
Charles Liu says
The stuff you don’t like might just be more prevelant in China. Another thing to remember is while America’s first world achievement is undeniable, it is built on a lot of uncivilized behaviors that caused a lot of death and deprivation that are no longer in our conciousness. Someone had commented quality of citizenship probably will go up with edication. I think I agree, that as China makes progress its people, government, society will improve.
And let me share couple examples of cultural shock I’ve witnessed. On my first trip to China, I saw two people brushing by each other, exchanging looks, then dropped their bikes and started a fist fight.
One of the first place I visted in America, Redding California, I saw truckers showering between cargo containers in public using a hose. I also saw how some of the women “worked” at the truck stop.
Should I make conclusion about China and America by focusing on these? Not realy. Society is a complex kaleidoscope of contradictions.
I see various responses to this article tell more about the individual in their reaction than about China. It’s like a mirror exposing their own inner self. I do find one person “Dan” despicable. China is evolving rapidly with all the warps and shortcomings for all to see. Consider the recent news about fake lamb meat, heavy poisonous insecticide for ginger growing for domestic consumption, not to mention previous melamine in baby formulas. I am glad that media finally have the backbone for investigating reporting and government crackdown follows. All those events would not surprise those aware of the history of Capitalism. One can cite identical events in late 19 and early 20th century in U.S. Recent fire and building collapse in Bangladesh remind me of Triangle fire in NYC. One can pick many to criticize in China from corruption to income inequality. For a phony like Dan it was spitting to show his superior Confucian upbringing, interspersed with some Chinese characters to show his contempt for common Chinese and his own refinement. I suspect he’s in Chengdu for profane money making rather than Confucian ideals.
管仲 (about 650 BC) once said: 倉廩實則知禮節，衣食足則知榮辱
That sums up human nature, long understood by the ancient. The ‘5k year’ history should be treated as a reference and cautionary tales on things that can go wrong (and right), as 以古为镜，可以见兴替.
In sum, we Chinese are no better, or worse, than anyone else. What sets us apart slightly, however, is a 3000+ yrs. worth of records of repeated human success, and failings- very worthy of reading to know where we’re from, thus where we’re going (not just the nation, but more importantly, its civilization.)
Coming from Taiwan, this is what I think:
1. The education: Since kindergarten, we were educated heavily in terms of mannerism. Whenever we see a teacher at school, we stop whatever we’re doing and bow to himher; when our teacher enters the room, the whole class stands up and take a deep bow and say “Good morning MrMs. Teacher” together; we mop our classrooms twice a day, we scrub our own toilets in school, we recycle everything, it’s very strict, we HAVE TO clean after yourself otherwise we’d have to be prepared to be called “filthy” in front of the whole class; whenever somebody hands you anything, you must receive with two hands, if you receive whatever you were given with just ONE hand, your parents WILL call you a bad boygirl; every morning the school checks to see if we have our personal napkins with us (so if we sneeze we can use it to cover our nose and mouth), we put our hands on our desk so they can see if our nails are clean… there are too many examples. At a young age, we do these things not knowing that that’s exactly how we learn to be “nice and clean”, to be a responsible person and a respectful citizen, it seems natural for us to be polite and have some civic-mindedness. I’ve never gone to schools in China, but one thing that I can point out is that I find the teaching of Confucius is still very important for Taiwanese students, we learn A LOT about morality from the Confucian Analects, whereas in China, Confucianism was destroyed by the Cultural Revolution, and all those traditional values were lost. Some people also say that Taiwan gets our politeness from Japan, but a lot of Japan’s culture were actually from China, so I don’t know what happened there….
2. The law: We all know that Singapore is super clean, they fine you for chewing gums so of course you don’t see gum craps anywhere. When I was younger, you can ride scooters in Taiwan without wearing a helmet, and you don’t really see people wearing helmets, but now if you’re not wearing a helmet, you could lose your license, and of course everyone wears helmets, at least in Taipei; in smaller cities or the country sides where no one’s watching, people still go without helmets. The fine for eating on the Taipei MRT (subway) is quite an amout, so you’d never see anyone eating or drinking there, and that’s probably why our MRT is relatively clean. When the government makes a rule and really enforce it, gradually people will be molded into better behaved individuals. If the Chinese government decides now that anyone spitting on the street will be fined 1K RMB, and they have police to walk around writing tickets, I can guarantee you in a few years you will no longer hear that disgusting aruhhhhgggggh—ppewt sound. I hate to say that but we are just like puppies, before we can learn a new trick, we need rules to be placed upon us, then we learn to obey, and then we learn to become what we were taught to become. An educated, appropriate, acceptable, cultured, civilized good old Chinese person.
When I was growing up, rat meat were routinely sold as pork to be used in sausages. It was so common my grandpa forbid us from eating street vendor sausages. Poisonous insecticide is so common that they sell insecticide detoxtant for washing vegetables. People mixed rotten fruits inside bags of good fruits placed on the outside. Dyes of various sorts were used to hide fungus infected herbal medicine.
I can go on and on…. Yet that was Taiwan just 20 years ago…
I am confused as to your explosion. Were you referring to my little satire about spitting? That hurts you so bad? And how does that make me despicable? While we are on this subject, you have not answered as to why you are so defensive about this disgusting behavior. What followed after calling me despicable does not seem to bear any relationship to what I commented either.
Care to clarify with a calmer tone?
I think you completely stated the opposite of what the problem is. The problem is that China is a ultra competitive society, with an extremely large population to resource ratio. In such a environment where resources and access to high quality resources (education, health care, etc) is scarce and the competition intense people necessarily develop an attitude and mentality that negates altruism and emphasis every possible advantage to get ahead. This may have some relation to low education levels but I highly doubt it is a primary cause. Afterall Chinese people are usually well educated up to but not including the tertiary level. You do not live actively in that society as a member. You say so yourself you are a “foreigner”, although you are ethnically Chinese.
If you made the same wage as a average laobaixing, lived their travails, suffered their hardships and cherished their dreams (this includes growing up in such an environment) I highly doubt you, or even I would be much different. It would take a superhuman effort of will to be anything more then a product of your environment. In that sense your criticism is one only an outsider could have made. Your ability to criticize to feel repulsion at the ugly Chinese behaviour is itself inherently a luxury of your relative financial and other advantages that you hold (holding a foreign passport, how much money you make, the security of being able to come and go as you please, lack of social, familial obligations).
That being said I see some of what you complain about but I on the whole I see major improvements as the years go by. I don’t what you guys are all talking about but nobody has ever tried to cheat me in China.
You want to know why I was angry? Read your first post again, I will analyze it for you.
“Most of the civilized behavior that I admire in the US is absent here. It is very frustrated to see these so-called descendents of people with ‘5000 years of civilization’ behave like ‘barbarians’. It amazes me to no ends witnessing the ruthless behavior displays from the street, to restaurant, to getting into an elevator and metro. Buying anything that requires lining up in line is a test of one’s patience and civility. Whatever happens to 礼, 义，廉，耻? Surely civility has nothing to do with what form the government is nor how strong the country? Do they know these four simple words? But what disgusts me the most is the servile behavior toward foreigners from you know where.
Chinese are desperate to want to be respected, but watching these behaviors makes me want to cry. I want to cry for my dead grandfather who was so very proud of his ‘people’, while in his dying bed, admonished us grandchildren to be proud of ‘your heritages’. My Chinese heritages! What a joke! I cry for the China that I thought still has the chance to once again be the beacon of civilization; I cry for China that it seems all has been a mirage, the China that I have been trying to understand. Reading those analects, those whatever-zi’s pontificating about respecting elders, laws, societal behaviors…then compare them to what is showing in front of me, I cry. Sometimes I wonder am I in China or a look-alike and talk-alike like Chinese of long ago, but not the real 5000yearsofcontinuoushistoryandcivilaization China!?”
You maybe ethnically Chinese descend, yet you judge their behavior as “Barbarian”. To me barbarous behaviors are not spitting or even peeing in the street, those are deplorable acts which with proper education and time can be easily remedied. To me barbarous behaviors are killing millions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to maintain a dying empire. To you proper Li or rite and Confucian shame is most important for superficial appearance. To me it’s the shameful acts of predatory Wall Street bankers foreclosing families out into the street while going to the opera with bejeweled trophy wives. You said you were in Chengdu for 6 months I suspect it’s not for charity work for earthquake relief but my guess is a high level Foxcom executive making your cut for the Chinese factory there.And you ask me why I was angry?
What you said about the view on minorities are probably due to ethnocentric sense of cultural superiority. I do not agree that Hans think they are superior in intelligence to other races. In the U.S. Chinese beats all other races in SAT scores not only in math, but usually in English also despite high proportion of immigrants and English as second language. We do share the general racial biases against African-Americans because of the prevailing norm and stereotyping. In China, singers and dancers from national minorities are celebrated, of course the sense of cultural superiority are similar to what the comments here toward Chinese in mainland are. I have visited Tibet and western Sichuan (Tibetan areas) the last 2 years. There is some backlash from younger people because of the affirmative action policy of adding 20 points (10 for mixed race) on college entrance tests and the unrest there, but I think with the opening of tourism to Tibet attitude will change for the better. There is the threat to local cultures from the opening up and various planned hydroelectric projects, but I think the coming of the modernity is inevitable and the water resources cannot be neglected as Northern China is parched and will need them. Premier Wen’s hold on developing dams in Nu River is being reversed, but I think Chinese Government will protect the local cultures.
Black Pheonix says
I think part of the Japanese “politeness” comes from a historical idea that one’s “honor”/reputation is more important than one’s life.
This is not isolated to Japan. Ancient China had this too. So do many parts of Middle East and India.
The problem is, this concept may promote better manners in a society, but it can be abused in the extreme form, i.e. “honor killing.”
It’s effective to enforce social morals through some form of “honor” vs. shame system. But in many modern societies, where the population is mobile, it becomes very difficult.
*On the note about laws:
I noticed a sign inside a DC metro rail train, “It is a violation of law to consume food and drinks or spit on the train.”
That should tell you something: Yes, Americans spit too. (and I have seen them do it on streets, albeit somewhat quietly).
Some would argue that Chinese people are just more “Free”, not bound today by superficial rules, and have few laws enforcing such moral rules. (In contrast to the strict laws of Singapore).
It’s actually amazing to me that despite being perceived “rude” in reputation, Chinese people today are able to continue to deal with each other, without the society degenerating into total decline.
In essence, the Chinese people are learning to deal with each other in “give and take”, compromises.
That too is part of our Chinese adaptability.
*On the note of criticisms of Chinese manners, while I think human beings in general can be more nice toward each other, not just in symbolic superficial manners, I think too often “criticisms” of manners is just xenophobia or paranoia.
OK, so some guy from a different region or culture does some thing that you don’t expect and it annoyed you.
My neighbors don’t recycle properly.
So what? Life is too short.
I agree with your general point in your original comment, but I have a few extra responses with regard to this passage just quoted.
1. On the superficial level, I want to note that people get “ripped off” as tourists often. You hear stories of tourists travelling to London, Madrid, Paris getting their wallet stolen – or getting ripped off in any of several other ways. Yet we usually attribute it to a tourist thing – never a people, cultural, or national character thing.
2. On a deeper level, there is no such thing as a “fair” price in general. “Fairness” is whatever the two sides agree to. The seller will naturally sell at the maximum price he can find while the buyer will shop around try to get the lowest price. We generally think price is fair when there is sufficient competition, when buyer has choices of sellers to buy from, and buyer has choices of sellers to sell to.
Fairness also comes into play because we have any of several “expectations.” As tourists, we expect to pay the same as locals. So there is one metric. In many places, we also expect everyone to pay the same price for the same product, regardless of the buyer’s ability to pay. So that’s another metric. But you know, both metric are not hardset rules. As a traveler, there are restrictions on what and how much you can buy. There may also be any of several rules against taking things out of country. They may be duties and other tax. So foreigners are not treated the same as locals. As for rich and poor paying same price, that’s just a norm of the times. There is nothing wrong about a sales tax based on one’s income or wealth. I mean we already have income tax rates that change with one’s amount of income … the other is the just flip side of the same thing.
Also seller’s often play games of price discrimination, upping the price for marginal extra services / product enhancement. But at least people are paying for different things, you say?
Everything can always be discriminated some way.
About those buns you bought, perhaps it was bought at a special hour. Locals don’t usually buy buns at that hour, but he saved them especially for “tourists.” Perhaps he gave you special treatment reserved for foreigners – and charged a special price for that service. Perhaps he gave you extra service – an extra smile, an extra time at explaining? Perhaps he gave you buns with just slightly extra meat. I can go on and on… And the amount extra he can charge you doesn’t have to be in proportion to the extra cost he incurred – just as first class flights seats are not in proportion to the extra cost airliners incur over economy seats.
In the end, the price is just an agreement between you parties, as you noted already in your original comment.
Charles Liu says
I’m not sure if this is a good analogy, but as a visitor to Hawaii you often pay more as a tourist.
From institutionalized discount for local residents by municipality (greens fee is half with HI driver’s license), to pricing differences by private business (Food Pantry grocery at resort locale charges more, Sensei’s Monday half price sushi requires HI driver’s license).
Would one say these are examples of dishonesty? Somehow I think we are more willing to give ourselves a break and say they are not.
Black Pheonix says
Yes, there is a general tendency for people to blame the “outsiders” for all the problems, while considering ourselves as entitled.
Logically, that makes no sense. Local people pollute and use resources, just like visitors.
And why blame Tourists and charge them more, when they are bringing in the cash for the visit?
It’s kinda like the French criticizing “rude” Chinese tourists, when the Chinese tourists spend more money per person buying stuff.
Also like the Westerners going to China to make money and then turn around criticizing Chinese people for “rudeness”.
There is some thing fundamentally “rude” about that kind of double standard.
Oh, no problem taking money from the Chinese, but they sure are “rude”.
Reminds me of those classy snobby waiters that talk sh*t about their big tipping customers. Yeah, that’s real “classy”.
Good examples. I think the norm that tourists should pay as locals is definitely not universal – and definitely not necessarily an ethical norm.
Enough well thought out ideas have been said, will just address this:
No, you can’t ingrain a culture in people’s DNA, which for sure you know that. A culture relies on a stable and prosperous society to pass it down. All around the world, there are remnants of previously splendid cultures. In the Chinese civilization, how we’ve got to this point, have been a long trip full of peaks of troughs. More or less, at this exact moment, we’re no more than a few decades removed from a very deep trough. At some of the previous peaks, there was a civilization full of opulence and cultural wonders; and at some of the troughs there was as bad as cannibalism. You simply can’t imagine what the future peaks may be like based on in all likelihood the early phase of a rising cycle. A human life is so short, it’s very hard to imagine something beyond our personal memories — in those previous Ks years in a culture, 100Ks years in the homo sapiens history, some 4 billion years in the earth history, and some 14 billion years since the Big Bang…
Speaking of cannibalism, they recent found some strong evidence of cannibalism among the early Jamestown settlers — unlike Chinese, they didn’t have any historical record about that practice. what’s up with that? Saving face much? Anyway, who would have thunk it? Some of these great, civilized Americans you see now descend from them? By the same token, a couple of generations later, maybe the sexiest man or woman in the world may come from the family of one of those spitters annoying you so much.
Last thing: at a personal level, try to be more tolerant towards sets of behaviors that are different from the set you are used to. You will have far more fun that way. Just saying…
in Haiwii it is not only for car rental, it is also for inter-island air travel, at least when I visited all the islands there in 2000 . Most people were not aware of it, I visited a friend working for the international observatory in Hilo and he insisted renting the car for me.
same as for Malaysia, in hotels and even commercial tours in Sipadan.
The entrance fee for Taj Mahal/India was 30 Rupees for local and 30 USD for foreigners in the late 1990s, a 10x difference I think?
same as in Africa in the 1970-1980s. There are numerous occasions I have personally experienced
But this may not be what bothers melektaus or myself in China. The issue is I was not aware being singled out and charged more, or I could have walked 5 meters and paid the lower price with or without bargaining. In China, this is a tacit understanding. For me it was an annoying learning experience. Even today, I still fall prey to it, but I blame it on my laziness and aged mentality.
In other places with more ancient civilization(turkey/egypt/Iran/India/most muslimic countries), one’s patience and skill is taxed to more extreme. Time is money, this applies to bargaining as well. If you are short of time/patience/experience, you pay more.
Compared to other groups, chinese are not known to be hard bargainers. Many other groups are famed for their short arms– could never reach their pocket to pay!
One thing I have observed consistently, there is never any hard feeling with failed negotiation, they may very well still treat you with apple tea and have a nice/honest chat, it is how ones life can be enriched.
In China, before the locals had any purchasing power, the standard overcharge for taiwaness was 100%, for Hong Kongers 50%, as that was what these groups of people would likely counter offer.
In Turkey, they allow you to walk away at say 40% , knowing that would be your counter offer next door. They beat you by calling the next shop with this information, raising the offering price and getting a cut in your finalized deal.
For renter dispute, I have more horrifying stories to tell, and that happened in Toronto, in a very nice neighbourhood.
In the west, we have happy hours, boxing day, etc..
same as in china but with it spreading over numerous smaller entities.
And when you consider they can call in their friends and relatives to help at any time , and are often willing to cut down on their sleep/recreation hours, the combination and permutation of this competitive advantage of their TIME/labor against the next guy or you, at any given moment, becomes complicated.
This may well account for the price fluctuation or deals they are able to offer. It is then more a case of their cost being “hidden” from you than a dishonesty.
Mulberry Leaf says
Not your best work, Melektaus.
The fact that a lot of Chinese women like shopping and sleeping demonstrates the low quality of Chinese people? How many ordinary American women have you talked to about their interests? You don’t even need to talk to them; just walk into a mall.
And then, a rich guy expresses a desire to narrow the wealth gap and reduce pollution, but still lives a lavish lifestyle. He’s just being realistic. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were begging the federal government to levy more taxes on the rich, because they knew just donating their personal cash to charity won’t effect lasting change. That’s a job for government.
As for personal hygiene and traffic rules, this is once again a failure of the Chinese government’s security and propaganda apparatus. There’s nothing inherent in the genes of (white?) ‘Americans’ that makes them more ‘civilized’: if you don’t follow certain rules, then you don’t get a driver’s license from the DMV. If you urinate on the street, you will get arrested and put on a sex offender registry.
“Lies are told as if they were greetings”: again, I must question how many American social events that you participated in, or even how many films you watched to gauge the popular culture in this country. Lying is part of effective self-presentation and climbing the social latter in the United States; those who tell the truth all the time, such as autists, quickly find themselves out of jobs and friendships. You are idealizing America in the same way that you fault your CEO friend for.
Talking about “what’s wrong” with China raises the question: who thinks that China is “wrong” other than you; whose opinions (like James Fallow’s) are you validating? And the answer to that is, Americans! They think China is “wrong” because they’re not a liberal democracy, but even more importantly, not an ally. Indians defecate in the streets, and you will not only step on crap, but you will be beaten up simply for being Chinese on the streets of Ulan Bator. You won’t read about their crap in the Atlantic, though, because it serves no one’s geopolitical aims.
Hua-Qiao’s going to mainland China enjoy a special opportunity, the opportunity to be s^&t upon like a local. Guai-lo’s in mainland China enjoy a certain degree of kid glove treatment due to their intrinsic guai-loness.
But with your special opportunity to be dumped on, you also enjoy the opportunity to complain about your experience at length without being subject to claims that you are a racist!
Gees, this thread has gotten so much attention that even James Fallows and Richard of that Quackduck website noticed. Of course, this thread only fuels these China bashing crowds of why the Chinese are so ‘backwarded.’
You know it reminds of a time more than 10 years ago when I stayed at this place when I went out on a friday night where many pubs are open, the street are strewn with people puking their guts out and the street smells like Urine. This is not in some back alley, but in some major street where I walked on my way back to the hotel (which cost 200 pounds a night btw) No this is nowhere close to China, but it is in London. This is much worse than I experienced anywhere than in China in terms of grossness.
America has its own share of disgusting-ness also. All you have to go to a major metro and see a bunch of homeless people there stinks of urine or something else more disgusting which makes major cities like Beijing and Shanghai look like the cleanest people in the world.
What I am trying to say is that there are ill mannered and ‘unsightly’ people out there in the West and in China. Most people in both of the countries are not like that. Yes, there are country bumpkins within China who knows nothing about manners but the Chinese government has been doing something about these things that pisses people off. IE, you see police start giving out 10 yuan tickets to pedestrians who jaywalk and I hope that the local governments will do more about other things to discourage people from doing other unsightly behaviors. IE, the government should give out 10 yuan tickets to people who decides to make snot rockets or let their kids pee in the street. Oh I do think the government is partly to blame because they have no been doing it to discourage people from doing these unsightly things.
I can imagine the mental confusion of fallows and the duck at this article.
“Ha! See i told you china is bad bad bad! But wait, you’re saying its not the government’s fault?! But … But … But … “
With all reasons mentioned from comments, above all we shall not forget, it is not a free society that we are talking about, it is not a civil society that citizens have freedom of speech and their civil rights are protected by constitution. It is a socialist totalitarian society that we are talking about. The government controls major resources and power and dictates the country’s direction and people’s behavior through its gigantic government machine. It can promote, shut up or ignore anything they like just to serve its party’s agenda in the name of the country. Many issues the author raised have been the consequences of the government and party’s corruption, ignorance and self-serving interest over last sixty lawless years. Of course, it is the party and government to be blamed first and mainly. As someone mentioned, in China, people have been treated as children who have no rights and freedom, when children misbehave, who should be more responsible? Of course it is the parent. It is pretty simple facts.
I feel your pain and can see you likely never been to the poor country side in China. Let’s think about this: there is a poor peasant’s mud house surrounded by similar houses in a village , chicken are running(shitting) around inside/outside the house with only dirt ground, pigs are raised in the back yard. There is no pluming in the house or village. Toilets in very family home are just dirt holes on the ground in the yard. Sheep, horses, donkey walk by the dirt streets while dropping their waste everywhere and kids are playing nearby. It’s just such a natural thing for a 2 years old just pee next to a horse shit in the street without going back to his back yard and pee next to a pig shit. The peasant worked on his farm where behind a tree or in the grass was just his best toilet. There was no such thing called tissue paper.There was no such thing called rubbish bin in the house or village. The peasants family spit/littering in/out the house .Now, they came to the city. Virtually every mainland Chinese either themselves or their parents have been through poor peasant lives
Many years ago, My parents work unit’s grocery shop got in some watermelon ,which were rare to get back then, to sell to employees . Dad was away and I was the man who was able to carry a couple of watermelon home. So I went to the shop and hope to get a watermelon for the family. I was a good kid who behalves as what the books and school taught: staying in the queue. The queue was not long and I should get one easily. However, there were always adults cut in line. I didn’t get anything in the end and we can only try again in next summer. I felt failed to my little brother as a big brother when I got home and saw his little face with two big innocent eyes expecting the sweet watermelon he hasn’t taste much in his 8 years of life. It was just watermelon , didn’t really matter. The basic needs were also so hard to get. I am pretty sure many who were trying to feed the family didn’t think waiting in line looked like gentleman was the high priority.
For years, mum and dad worked in different part of the province. Dad and I only can visit mum and my brother in school winter holidays. We had to ride on a bus for 5 hours to get to the big city then take a train ride for another 5 hours. There were lines outside the ticket window, there were always people jump in the queue. Everyone was trying to get a ticket for the trains departure on the same day so they didn’t have to spend money on accommodation in the city or sleep on the square for the night with minus zero degree. It was just so obvious for some to cut in line: to get a ticket and go or to sleep in the frozen night on the ground.
Life was so hard for Chinese for many generations, old habits (god or bad) are not going away in a sudden. However what I see is things getting better. I always saw queues on bus stops during my latest trip back to my home city . This didn’t exist 20 years ago. Whenever we got on a bus, there was instantly someone stood up and gave the seat to my wife who can hold the 5 years old little one on a crowded bus. When I visited wildlife park I saw 20 meters long bus queue . Though most of them looked like college kids talking, reading on their phones. I guess because the middle class drove there and the poor peasants can’t afford the park ticket. This just illustrated people behave more civilized when they are better educated and better feed.
When I visited Shanghai, there were shops in tourist spot trying to rip us off after hearing my kids talking in English. There was also a cleaning lady with a rural accent and peasant’s face in the hotel we stayed returned our misplaced handbag with our $700 notes in side. China is a huge place, there are all kinds of people there.
The naivete in your comment is so thick, you can cut it with a knife.
Guo Du says
My rough estimate is that your comment has single-handedly lowered the averaged intelligence level of all the comments posted so far by about 30%.
Labeling other people and pursuing personal attack do not make you a more intelligent human being, only the opposite. Be civil if you consider yourself educated.
Guo Du says
Hmm. I normally wouldn’t bother but let this be an exception. My comment was a subjective conjecture of an undefined statistical property. Can’t see a label anywhere though, can you? And a “personal attack” usually means something very different. Oh well. Nap time.
A lot of the types of comments and criticisms so far are very predictable and knee jerk. They stem from not living here and from a injured ego rather than from objective truth. Also, they are a misreading of what I said. I never said that America was better. In many ways, America is morally far worse. It is better in some regards (such as basic manners of its people) and probably average honesty and rationality of its public (which isn’t to say that they aren’t rather poor at these as well, just better on average than the Chinese) but worse in other more morally relevant regards.
I think you need to reread my article.
Of course there are good and bad things to every society. But Why would you only focus on good things while ignoring the bad? How will that improve society? Look, we have posted many posts here, all of us, on the glass half full. But sometimes you need to look at the glass empty side as well. Just by choosing to look at some aspect of society will not change it. That’s the ostrich approach to life.
You may think shopping as equally “substantive” as say, reading philosophy or helping others or curing cancer, etc, because everything is just relative but here, we have a fundamental difference in view points. I think some activities are more noble and worthwhile than others.
When it is their only and most important concern it seems pretty bad to me. Again, maybe it’s just a fundamental difference in values. It’s a problem in the US too but it seems to be a bigger problem in the major Chinese cities among young Chinese women.
Most of the issues have nothing to do with nice cars. Granted some of the problems may be a 1%er issue but most are common people’s issues.
Who said it was “intrinsically evil”? I think you have misunderstood what I was saying. It isn’t that wanting to live in a house that’s the problem. It’s buying houses you don’t need and then complaining about people not being able to buy them thinking it is the fault of the government rather than their own greed and vanity. That is hypocrisy. You might not think hypocrisy is bad but I think it is.
Let’s not let age old bromides do our arguing, shall we.
Again, this isn’t about Europe or the US. I’ve made many posts about the greatness of Chinese civilization and how defective much of modern western society is. But why do you seem to think that Chinese society is wholly good today and deserves no criticisms? Rather, the reason why Chinese society attained such greatness in the past was precisely because Chinese society allowed self criticism which some other societies were intolerant of. See my Human Rights Revisited post.
Here, we have some agreement. That is indeed a large part of the problem. Also, a lack of basic experience, other transitional issues, and a lack of good education also has a lot to do with China’s current problems but I never denied this. I also never denied that other countries has a lot to go in these regards too.
Of course there are lots of dishonest things in western society wrt landlords, corporations and consumers etc. In fact, I have had lots of bad experience in this area myself and experienced plenty of dishonest behavior from Americans (one woman even falsely accused me of harassing her after she hit my car in a parking lot and couldn’t produce any proof that she had insurance). So you seem to be saying that China shouldn’t look into itself and reflect and to better itself because other societies have some of these problems too. That’s ridiculous to say the least. China has these problems worse than many developed nations in my opinion and that shouldn’t be a surprise because it is rather poor and uneducated and faces some serious social problems (such as migrants having to adapt to city life etc).
And you would prefer they take to the streets and riot as they have been doing hundreds of not thousands of times every year to address grievances and injustices? I know that the Chinese government certainly doesn’t wish that to happen and sees these as serious social ills and a threat to their dream of a harmonious society. I also know that the Chinese government is in agreement with me in that they see the future of China as in need of the rule of law to settle many of societies ills (though certainly not all and it’s only part of the solution). Thus I don’t see how your suggestions are any better than what the Chinese government’s understanding of the situation is. Maybe if you had a better solution, the Chinese government would love to hear it as would I. As I said in my previous posts, I believe that ultimately China’s people need to develop virtue and society’s harmony and prosperity would depend on individual virtue rather than a focus on law but in the foreseeable future, that is a pipe dream when so many of the nations people are so poorly educated. Not even in the US where people have far more years and better quality education can you start to build such a society focused on individual virtue.
And who comprises these class actions suits? Corporations? Actually they are comprised and formed by aggrieved individuals with a sense of justice and organizations protecting people’s rights. China is only recently beginning to do some of these things and that is a good thing. It’s a beginning.
Of course it’s a problem in the US. But my point is that it is disconcerting/disapointing to see so many Chinese even more materialistic than the average American. And moreover, this isn’t about making a living. I would have no problems with people being concerned about making ends meet. It’s what they focus on in using their expendable cash that is the issue. You don’t make ends meet shopping for Apple products. That is not one of life’s necessities. Many Chinese will save two month’s salary just to buy an iphone or a Chanel bag. Do you seriously think that that is money/time/effort better spent?
Guo Du says
What an exciting exchange from just one post! I think we’re starting to repeat ourselves though, and mainly on argument points that participants who appear to be speaking from opposite sides of the issue actually do understand. Rather than going into the details again and risk being dragged off track, I wish to offer a few observations:
Melektaus is right that we cannot look at the glass as being half full all the time. Seeing it half empty keeps people on their toes. I think it is only the emotion that made us forget where he comes from. We all know Melktaus understands what the rest of the world is like, but he is going through a difficult phase adjusting to a “disappointing” reality.
It would be useful for us to reflect a bit more on this “disappointing reality”.
If I may offer a simple analogy: Family A robbed and rapped Family B, among many others, two generations ago, and got rich. His kids go to good schools, live in nice houses, and have refined manners. Some are now Chairman of International Citizens Against Rape. Members of Family B came out of the pillage looking like shit, emotionally and financially broken. His kids are dirty, illiterate, and won’t mind stealing a loaf of bread when hungry. If you were a new comer, in the kids’ generation, who would you find easier to be friends with? Offering the kids criticism without IN THE SAME BREATH noting your understanding of the unfortunate history would be negligent. Some may even see that as being insensitive.
A real life parallel is Africans who were kidnapped, chained naked at the neck, marched across marshes then shipped like cattle across the oceans to be slaves. Their kids, suppressed for generations, now show up prominently in the ethnically biased crime rate. While that situation must be corrected, well-intended criticism without due reference to the historical context might cause misunderstanding, even unfair accusation of racism.
All in all, given the situation, China is doing remarkably well IN RELATIVE TERMS, thanks to a very strong civilisation foundation, hence those of us who find distorted criticism indignant and grossly unfair. But the average Chinese will NOT behave like Confucius for a VERY long time to come, if ever. Nor is it a healthy thing for the survival of a community that everyone’s a gentleman.
Malaktaus’ other criticism is very close to my heart, and is entirely legitimate. I believe promoting consumerism in China is a HUGE tragedy, but inevitable. This is THE MAIN reason of my disgust with the Democracy-Capitalism Empire’s hypocrisy. The world order and name of the game have been very well established. China was (still is) not in a position to change that. If China becomes a consumer society, it will gain short term strength, as we have witnessed. But the long term is bleak for everyone, and major conflicts over resources will be inevitable. If China aims for a more sensible development path, it will need to be a lot more authoritarian to keep human nature restrained. It will have to stay noble but poor, and watch this noble intent demonised even more savagely by the Free Press. Even more unthinking people around the world will support this propaganda. Aiya aiya, dictator regime. No iPhone for everyone. Poor Chinese. Etc.
So, the options are: play the game, and head for disasters imminently, or do the right thing, and be consumed RIGHT NOW. It is not an easy choice. Since, Deng, China has chosen the first approach, performed miraculously, but produced a lot of despicable nouveau riches. While the Chinese people have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability under the situation, they are far from saints. Our expectations must be realistic.
This historical perspective should not become a blame game. No point blaming those who caused the situation (and turn around blinking innocent eyes, pointing accusing fingers) now. China has enough cultural strength to face this coming crisis. After that, the world may be very different, and humanity must take it from there.
Meanwhile, like-minded folks who have a rational and conscientious perspective of this challenge are humans too. We can sometimes get so pissed off, and disappointed, the feeling could verge on despair. It is not easy to live in the same house with raped and pillaged victims who for the time being work as janitors in the day time, and pick pockets in the weekend, in order to send their kids to school. To make things worse, one of the many kids is now a gangster, driving a Maserati, married to a brothel manager. Many (not all!) of the other kids look up to him because he has a nice car.
I cannot cover everything and make this unbearably long again. But I sincerely hope that like-minded folks who treasure logic and facts, with a high degree of intelligence (not something that can be taken for granted even in a forum like this) will not let a well-intentioned debate take an emotional wrong turn downward.
Should we hold Chinese government responsible for most issues mentioned in the post? The answer is yes. To explain for this, lets first review what socialism in political term is from Wikipedia: “Proponents of state socialism advocate the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange as a strategy for implementing socialism.” Here, the nationalization is the keyword. The reason we need to review that, because we should not forget, up to today, Chinese party and government still claim socialism is their principle political doctrine, so we need to hold them responsible for that they said and not let them walk away by taking the profit from state capitalization for themselves and leaving the bad consequences of state capitalization to average people: they can not tell average people now you are on your own without providing the means, opportunities and resources to climb the social ladder. Since the government has nationalized major resources, production and distribution in the society under the socialism doctrine, it also nationalize the citizens: no freedom of speech and press, no voting rights are examples of such nationalization. When we are talking about the citizen behaviors, we are actually talking about the citizenship. The growing of the citizenship greatly rely on ownership of citizens. If citizens in a society do not own anything, they don’t have much sense of ownership, therefore there is no much of citizenship as well. In modern civil society, the reason for citizenship grow and become mature because citizens have basic sense of belongings and ownership to the community and the country they live. They have freedom of speaking out their mind and doing things under the law. So they will grow sense of responsibility and use means available to fight and protect their rights and community/country as citizens. But all these are detached and not there for majority of Chinese people. They are more like a herd of sheep directed/controlled by big stick of government. Under that social and political environment, citizens hardly have any sense of ownership to the community, environment and country, the soil for growing citizenship is very poor, not to mention that government itself made numerous bad decisions with corruptions and serious consequences. The simple example in our real life is: people tends to spend their own money much wise and careful than spend other peoples’; people tend to take care better for their own properties than others. It’s reason is clearly due to the ownership of that money and assets! No ownership, no responsibility. Same to the citizenship, no citizen rights and freedom, no responsibility. In a society like China, it is the government in control of many important aspect of citizens life, for good or bad, it is a package for government and party to take, you can not get away with it. It is just simple fact as that. We should not compare apples with oranges when we talk about things happened in China versus that in other free societies. Otherwise we will miss an important point.
You sound like an ideologue, and it’s pointless to try to convince you of anything. The western critics of china are all blind ideologues, which is why nobody important outside of the west takes them seriously. They don’t have a solution for China or any other developing nation, just highly questionable ideas. And they will materialize these ideas given half a chance damn whatever risks, chaos and suffering might happen to those subjected. They have no credibility. They’ve never created a developed nation from their ideology in recent memory. How’s egypt doing for you? And while you’re at it, why not topple Saudi Arabia since it’s one of the most oppressive backward nations today.
Any honest observer of china knows there are lots of problems. There’s no denying this. No one minds genuine constructive criticism of china. Whats annoying is that these ideologues have no true understandings of the myriad dynamics of china and have no honesty or humility that much of what they preach, if actioned, may well cause more harm than good. There are some misinformed who follow the western ideology blindly, , but there are others who architected the ideology directly to cause more harm than good. Plain and simple, if you’re the lone superpower, you don’t want to lose or share your place. And I can hear the naivety of the liberals now, “that’s not true, we want freedom for you”. Their naivety and blindness to the aftermath of their various “springs” speak for themselves.
Black Pheonix says
I find it odd that some people would discuss ABSTRACT political concepts like “socialism” and then choose to use their own interpretation of such concepts to pigeon-hole others to “hold them responsible”.
So I doubt very much that your definition of “socialism” is agreed upon.
And 2nd, I also doubt very much that political concepts equate to some kind of absolute binding promise.
Even laws like Constitutions can contain “aspirational” terms, which UNFORTUNATELY, too many Westerners have come to believe as real and absolute.
Black Pheonix says
“We should not compare apples with oranges when we talk about things happened in China versus that in other free societies. Otherwise we will miss an important point.”
And yet, you are comparing your definition of “socialism” to what happens in China.
Oh well, I guess you are missing an important point of NOT comparing apples with oranges: i.e. there are LOTS of different fruits, why are you trying to convince an apple that his “apple-ness” is not responsible like a “free” orange??
Since I don’t have much more to add besides my original points, most of your responses I’ll just let readers judge for themselves. But I just want to make two points.
No – class action suits are not formed by aggrieved individuals taking justice into their own hands. They are lawyer’s pet projects. Consumers get marginal compensation, while lawyers get paid plenty. Lawyers identify the cases, do the digging, get paid the big bucks. Some may say, ok, then lawyers are the civic minded individuals. Except when you look at the facts, you will see class action law suits are taken when they are worth the money, rarely are they taken without it.
Anyways – I am actually for class action lawsuits. I myself have benefited. My point is that it’s not individual victims taking law into their own hands.
As for your general take on rule of law – I will get to it soon.
Lastly about glass empty / full bit, my point is not to live like an ostrich. But what I see is an alien worldview (from my perspective) that sees what’s full and empty in a distorted fashion. Maybe it’s just in the way we approach things. There are merits to promote public awareness of the problems made worse by jaywalking, running red lights, spitting on sidewalks, conducting honorable businesses, etc., etc. But to attribute them to the Chinese culture or character – without taking things in context – that is the basis of my problem with your viewpoint.
Just to further illustrate that all the problems is not really place the blame on the Chinese people. I thought this article about jaywalking illustrate why people in China does it. I recall while I was in Hong Kong, there are many under/over passages where pedestrians can walk thru instead of trying to walk across in the middle of the street. The Chinese government should build more of these and put up barriers to prevent pedestrians to walk thru the street. The government should also put up public service announcements to advice people against people doing this kind of stuff.
The same thing can be done about people who try to relieve themselves in the street. The government should be trying to make more public restroom available, give out small fines to people who try to relive out in the street, and public service announcements. The same thing could be done for issues for people who make snot rockets, eating in the subways, and etc…
Good vivid points. A few responses.
When I was young, I remember my Grandpa telling the story how his parents scolded him once for pooping and peeing in a neighbor’s field. Initially I understood that as a lesson to be nice to your neighbor. It’s only later – when I was 10 or so – that I came to understand that the reason was because urine and feces were considered valuable fertilizer. His wrong was not in defacing neighbor’s property, but in enhancing it! 😉
About cutting in lines, I may have a game theory based reason for why some societies accepted cutting in lines while others not. I think the fundamental reason may be scarcity. In a society of plenty, waiting in line is the right thing to do. Everyone will get his share, the important thing is to do it in an efficient way – the efficient, effective way being everyone waiting in line – in a “civilized way.” In a society with scarcity, you need to form what computer scientists call “priority queues.” In a computer, various processes and threads don’t get equal access to the cpu and memory resources – there are queues, but various interrupts and weighting schemes to ensure that the processes and threads that need the resources most get them first or get more access to them. If the line will always be too long, then people need to have some sort of signal to ensure that people who really need it have slightly higher priority than others. Some shoving and pushing (within bounds, as set by prevailing norms, of course) may constitute such signals. Of course, money too can be part of the signals – with cheaper stores having longer lines, and fancy upscale stores having short or no line (effectively you pay to avoid the line). Maybe there is something to this…
About bad habits, habits are definitely hard to change. Often you just have to wait for a new generation. In any case, many of standard things we do in the “modern” world are so disgusting, yet we continue to do them. For example, why do we allow our children to blow out candles on birthday cakes, and allow the cakes to the passed and shared. That’s a lot of germs (and viruses) that can be transmited en masse. And what is it with the protocol of shaking hands. Do you know that just a few minutes before, that same guy may have used his hand to pick his nose, pick his teeth, scratch various parts of his body crevices, touched money … which was touched by others who have just before picked their nose …. you get the picture. Also the modern sitting toilet in the public – it is truly disgusting. Squatting we know is not only more sanitary, it’s also more healthy. I can go on … but habits are hard to kill…
And why do I find so many people not washing their hands after going to the restroom … despite the signs urging people to wash their hands in the public restrooms?
It’s always good to analyze the causes. But to improve the current situation, the most important thing is to collaborate all the stakeholders, the government, the public and the private sectors. It’s never easy to bring out changes to a 3.748 million sq miles country. But it starts from everyone of Chinese or American Chinese, even people who outreach to China. Everyone’s effort, even just a talk with friends or family might help a large number of Chinese realize that life should stay beyond brands, shopping, networking etc. We should see more of the world and strive for civilization and social refinement through science and education.
Guo Du says
Can’t wait to read your general take on the rule of law. The puzzling thing is there are numerous – far too many – examples of how the rule of law is just a con game above the most basic social operations. But nobody cares. Gitmo is of course a vivd example that everyone who worships the spirit of the rule of law plays the ostrich game. Just arbitrarily picked an old one on the blatant case of “foreclosure fraud”: http://youtu.be/AqnHLDeedVg Is that what the rule of law provides for the citizens? I’m no expert in the law so will say no more than what common sense allows.
On the “half empty and half full” metaphor, I wish to add one more point. Looking at the empty side in many cases do help to identify shortcomings and promote improvement, as Melektaus rightly pointed out. But the “China in transition” case, it deserves a bit more reflection. Continuing on my previous arguments and analogy (i.e. a family of victims struggling to stand on their feet again, so the house is kind of messy, with lots of kids trying various things) some of the “kids” are doing remarkably well. They are the future. They are the one who deserves attention and encouragement. Focusing on their achievements – the water occupying half the glass – is necessary to encourage “more water into the glass”. The empty half is just emptiness for now, providing room for the expansion of water. It will hopefully shrink as more water accumulates. I think it is more constructive to focus more (not totally) on the “water” now, and encourage them to slowly rise in level, displacing the “emptiness” above. Otherwise, they might evaporate gradually, leaving the glass more than half empty.
Sorry but that is straight forwardly false.
Now lawyers, being what they are, often innitiate them for profit only but they innitiate all sorts of lawsuits for profit, not just class action ones. But it is incorrect to say that they are not on behalf and innitiated because of injustices done to individuals.
Sorry – you have patently misread my comment. I never said here anything about a “on behalf”. My point was merely to point out that class actions are not about individuals taking law into their own hands – like individual law suits, or even a collective or mass tort action against say a company for a bad drug.
Class actions are reserved for special class of claims where an attorney – an otherwise non-victim, someone who usually have no standings and someone not hired by someone with standing – now gets right to file for an entire group of people who share a special set of circumstances, damages and injuries. These lawyers are not hired by the victims. They have a fiduciary duty to the class – not to individual victims. Lawyers can bring action spontaneously to the court without any victims making a peep.
An example might include a de minimis overcharge by a credit card company where it makes no sense for any victim to sue, but makes sense for a lawyer to sue for an entire group of victims (because those overcharge add up for the class), and where each victim typically get a few cents on the dollars of their original de minimis injury (i.e. each victim gets very, very little).
Do you even know what a class action law suit involves? Do you know the procedural hurdles, the specific discovery costs, the special rules? Do you understand the context of class actions – the history, the law, the politics, the reality?
Then you have misunderstood my claim about class action suits. My claim that class action suits are partly responsible for consumer rights has nothing to do with lawyers innitiatting them. It is weakly causal. Lawyers would not file these chargers if there weren’t victims willing to testify on behalf of their own rights and moreover, victims did not have any grievances in teh first place. So yes, class actions suits are often (though not always) a result of many parties collective actions, some of which are the victims’. To say that sometimes they are innitiated only by a lawyer with the only benefit to himself is not really to advance any kind of argument against that is it?
Huh??? Now you seem to be wiggling to make a point very different from the one I caught you making. (now it is: people need to be civilized – more importantly to be taught – to know when they are personally wronged?) Or perhaps not. I don’t know.
That’s ok. Whatever the point you need to make, I am sure is made. Perhaps others will understand.
I said that class action lawsuits are “comprised” of a class of people who have had some injustice perpetrated on them and I implied that they also usually share a causal role in bringing the suit to fruition and completion. I see nothing you have said to contradict that. All you have managed to say is that it is lawyers who mainly benefit and it’s their “pet projects”. That may well be the case for some or even most class action suits but again, it doesn’t contradict what I said about class action suits.
What Melektaus describes is the human condition, but with a Chinese complexion. Perhaps this book will help put things into perspective:
Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure, written by Langdon Gilkey, a young American who was imprisoned along with 1,500 Americans and Brits in a Japanese concentration camp in 1943.
From Amazon: “This vivid diary of life in a Japanese internment camp during World War II examines the moral challenges encountered in conditions of confinement and deprivation. Langdon Gilkey was a young American teacher at Yenching University near Peking, China, when the Japanese military under wartime pressure rounded up all foreigners into an internment camp. Two and a half years later they were released. Shantung Compound is based on a journal Dr. Gilkey kept during his imprisonment.”
Here is a customer review:
This book came about because Gilkey, a young American teaching in China in 1943, was rounded up by the Japanese with 1500 other foreigners and interred in a camp for 2 1/2 years until World War II ended. Fortunately, Gilkey, a fine writer, kept a lengthy journal and has a sense of political and moral dynamics. The book, therefore, is a novelistic narrative of a sociology laboratory which is both fascinating and sobering. His opening quote is from Bertolt Brecht: “For even saintly folk will act like sinners, unless they have their customary dinners.”
Gilkey continued to be surprised that this diverse group of 1500, shut up with barely enough food and space to survive, and with the necessity of creating their own system of housing, feeding, and governing themselves, would often have difficulty doing the obviously just and fair thing. In creating technical solutions to their problems, they were ingenious; but when food and space were short, they had difficulty seeing things from the perspective of the group as a whole. The most divisive issue arises when the 200 American internees receive generous supply packages from the Red Cross. Should they share with the others?
In reflecting on democracy Gilkey remembers his teacher Reinhold Niebuhr who said that the goodness and rationality of people made the rise of democracy possible. But Gilkey observed in the camp that it was the grousing, the orneriness, and outright resentments of people that made democracy necessary.
Gilkey discovered a number of things that apply to any group, whether a small community or a nation or the world:
1) Without a degree of moral health no community can survive. Gilkey asserts: “A democratic society can possess no stronger law than the moral character of the people within it will affirm and support.” This means that some people in any group must be capable of self-sacrifice for the good of the whole. At the beginning, when the group was setting up their quarters, kitchens, and governing bodies, it seemed to Gilkey that all that was needed was the wonderful ingenuity evident in these activities. But as time went on and stress on the community increased, it became apparent that skill was less important than character. Gilkey says: “Far from being at the periphery of life, spiritual and moral matters are the foundation for all the daily work of the world.”
2) Justice as an ideal is not the same as justice in real situations. You have to do the best you can in the midst of ambiguity and it likely won’t be perfect.
3) The things the human family most longs for (e.g., peace, prosperity, long life) depend less on the latest inventions than on the ability to achieve harmony and justice among ourselves.
4) A viable community must possess force to compel compliance to its agreements (laws) and to punish serious offenders. In Gilkey’s words: “Morality can never replace force, but it must provide the deep basis for the creative use of force.”
Of the missionaries and religious of various stripes in the group, the Catholic monks, priests, and nuns were the favorites. They were willing to do the dirtiest work, made friends with everyone, and generally communicated acceptance of all. The Salvation Army people also won affection by their willingness to help others.
The fundamentalists were trying so hard to be “holy” that their compassion for others was stunted. Gilkey’s stories about all these groups are lessons – sometimes inspiring and sometimes cautionary tales.
Gilkey’s final words about the camp include this statement: “The unwanted is often creative rather than destructive. No one wished to go to Weihsien camp. Yet such an experience, resisted and abhorred, had within it the seeds of new insight and thus of new life for many of us. Almost because of its discomfort, its turmoil, and its boredom, it eventually became the source of certainties and of convictions with which life could henceforth be more creatively faced. This is a common mystery of life, an aspect, if you will, of common grace: out of apparent evil new creativity can arise if the meaning and possibilities latent within the new situation are grasped with courage and with faith.”
I am hopeful then that the situation in which China and the Chinese people find themselves now will generate new ways of dealing with problems and with each other.
Another Amazon customer reviewer, Smallchief, is more blunt, and calls Shandong Compound “A Kinder, Gentler ‘Lord of the Flies’ “:
“For even saintly folk will act like sinners, Unless they have their customary dinners.”
That’s the theme of “Shantung Compound.” It’s the best sociology laboratory one can imagine. Take a diverse group of 1,500 Brits and Americans, shut them up in close quarters for two and one-half years in an internment camp, feed them barely enough to survive, let them rule themselves, and see what happens. That’s what happened to the foreigners in the Japanese-controlled parts of China in World War II.
The situation at the internment camp in Shantung starts hopefully as the foreign internees elect a government, set up hospitals and kitchens, allocate space (9 feet by 4 and one-half feet per person), and establish a thriving black market. After that things go downhill. Some people won’t work; others steal; and the community can’t find any way to impose its will on the offenders. Missionaries comprise a large number of the internees but they are as lazy, morally obtuse, and uncooperative as many of the less savory members of the group. The most interesting and divisive moral issue comes up when the Americans internees receive food packages from the Red Cross. Should they share with the British or not? Another good story concerns the sex lives of the teenagers in the camp which became, to put it mildly, scandalous.
The author is a theologian and looks at both the moral and material issues. The book is not all bleak. The moral lapses and disputes of the internees do not destroy the community — although one suspects than another year of internment would have seen that happen. One of the positive notes of the book is the character of Eric Liddell, the Olympic champion runner portrayed in “Chariot of the Gods” — who is one of the few human beings in the book to come through as wholesomely good. (The author changes the names of all the internees mentions in the book but Liddell is easy to identify.) “Shantung Compound” is a classic of its kind and is perhaps the best book I have read on the behavior of human beings under stress.”
Hong Konger says
I was in a Hong Kong mall when I saw a group of mainland tourists squatting on the floor right in the center of a pedestrian area. I saw an obese mainland boy squatting in middle of the doorway of a clothing shop, one ice cream in each hand, stuffing his face, no parent or guardian in sight, dripping goo on the floor. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen Chinese tourists encouraing their kids to pee / poo in our otherwise clean subways, or spitting, littering, hogging elevators reserved for the handicapped / elderly / pregnant, etc. Also cutting in line, and screaming obscenities at staff or security guards who politely ask them to stop.
This is not just about appearances (though it does look terrible). It’s about basic decency — the inability to sympathize or care about the society around you.
When you squat in the middle of a busy passageway, you block other people. When you leave your kid to drip goo all over the floor — instead of just sitting him down at the ice cream parlor — it creates a slippery mess for other shoppers. When you relieve yourself in a public place (or spit or throw old food on the ground) it means you don’t care if you’ve made the place stinky or unhygienic for others. When you treat working-class guards or salesgirls like your servants, it means you care nothing for their jobs or their feelings.
This is the same broad mentality that causes so many modern Chinese to, say, screw someone on an apartment lease agreement, or own a bunch of gas-guzzling cars while complaining about the pollution. This is the milder manifestations of what happens when a certain segement of society turns greedy and corrupt. For whatever reason, some basic ethical sense was lost in the last generation or two.
And to answer some of the questions in the post.
1. It’s not just northerners. Most of the worst visitors we get are government cadres / industrialists / factory- or mine- or business owners from the boomtowns of southern or southwestern China.
2. It’s not about money. Those who come to HK for shopping and tourism tend to be rich. Money doesn’t buy decency or empathy for others.
3. It’s not about “new money.” Right now, we are already on the 2nd or even 3rd generation of “princelings.” They’ve traveled the world and gone to good schools. There’s no excuse.
4. It’s not all Chinese people, obviously. I have wonderful friends from the mainland. And most migrants to HK (meaning regular students, middle-class professionals, etc) are totally fine. It’s just the obnoxious ones who get all the attention.
The irony is that I was with my Filipina helper. She and her friends here – whom we’ve also befriended — come from areas far poorer and more remote than these Chinese shoppers. Some of the women who travel to HK to be maids, waitresses, spa workers — from the Philippines, Indonesia, now Bangladesh — might not even be familiar with all the electronic appliances of a modern home. And yet, you don’t see these women exhibiting these selfish behaviors.
They might not be sophisticated, but they are kind, clean and considerate. They give seats up on the MTR. They use the toilets. They pick up their litter. Even though most have no place to go on their days off — and end up sitting on highway overpasses or parks — they don’t hog spaces in the middle of busy areas.
Any reasonable person will forgive rough manners from someone who genuinely grew up poor and ignorant. When I travel to the Chinese countryside, I am not turned off by a farmer relieving himself on the edge of a field — what else is he going to do? And if he ever had the chance to visit a big city, I’d try to show him the bathroom. We get all sorts in HK. And the mostly mainland women who come to work as cleaners or nannies — while a bit rough-mannered — tend to be really decent people.
I think what Melektaus is referring to is rude, poor, unethical or corrupt behavior by those who really should know better. I have to say that big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are cesspools or terrible behavior.
Crash into someone in your new car? The first thing to do — instead of calling the ambulence — is making sure you’re friendly with the policeman so you won’t be liable for a big fine. Want your kid to do better in school? Send a bribe to the teacher. Want to cut in the line at the state-run hospital? Pull strings with your connection at the health department, even if it means depriving a more grievously ill or injured patient of medical care.
I don’t see this post as a broad criticism of all Chinese, but an honest assessment with some of the daily problems in modern Chinese life.
Please, Hong kong is hardly the place to use as a reference for high morals and ideals. True story. Some freinds visited and were treated rudely by the waitress at a dinner cause she thought they where mainlanders. When the waitress discovered they were Americans, her attitude changed from disdain to worship. She asked “My brother visited the US and he said the government gives free baby formula, is it true?” To which one of them replied wittingly and honestly , “Yes, for low income people”.
If I weren’t more informed, i’d think that most hong kongers were shallow, bigoted and of a self hate slave mentality from this incident.
There are lots of problems in China, and constructive criticism is needed, but if people just keep bashing without any real solutions or ideals, or understanding of why things are the way they are, they’re just showing themself to be an arrogant @ssholes.
Sorry. After living and traveling in China for nearly seven years, I choked on the following sentence. ‘In the end, I believe that at least the central PRC government is not only one of the most competent but also most moral governments in the world.’
Utter nonsense doubly damned.
Corruption goes to the very top of the Chinese government and guarantees that nothing works on a ‘…competent but also most moral…’ basis. Nothing about the Chinese government is competent or moral. From the cop on the street you can see, to the ten you cannot see, to the Chairman himself, almost everyone is on the take. That fact is what gives the vast majority in the country license to be crooked. Many citizens know what ethics are and practice them, but always with their eyes over their shoulder watching for the corrupt Communist Party Secretary, Dean, President, Mayor, Cop, or neighbor, and there is an army of them.
Black Pheonix says
“Nothing about the Chinese government is competent or moral. From the cop on the street you can see, to the ten you cannot see, to the Chairman himself, almost everyone is on the take.”
Interesting, especially when there has NOT been a “chairman” of the party since 1982.
Oh, the invisible corrupt “chairman” of the party, eh?!
Choking on your “nearly seven years”.
Black Pheonix says
“I think what Melektaus is referring to is rude, poor, unethical or corrupt behavior by those who really should know better. I have to say that big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are cesspools or terrible behavior.”
I think you are generalizing a bit far.
I have heard similar generalizations made about “rude people” in HK.
“3. It’s not about “new money.” Right now, we are already on the 2nd or even 3rd generation of “princelings.” They’ve traveled the world and gone to good schools. There’s no excuse.”
Interesting on the timeline of hypothetically when good behavior should have set in, but I have an equivalence question:
How long after HK being in British control did “good behavior” set in in HK?
After only 1 generation??
I would hate to agree or disagree without some reference of comparison on timelines.
*And BTW, I have been to Manila Philippines, it’s pretty dirty in some of that city too. So I might have to disagree on some of your generalizations.
And I have been to HK, and those Filipino ladies congregare en masse on Sundays, and SIT on the walkways of the subway stations and obstruct pedestrian traffic!! (At least they used to).
And regularly, HK people complain about it in SCMP: http://www.scmp.com/article/248200/appalling
I don’t necessarily agree with the complaints of HK people directed at the Filipinos maids. However, existence of such complaints are quite numerous in HK.
So, NO. I don’t think they are particularly more considerate.
Ive known ex pats that’s been here for 5 years and the only Chinese they know is how to order kung pao chicken. Just because you’ve lived in China doesn’t mean you know diddly squat.
Guo Du says
Having lived in different places, travelled quite a bit (including China, of course), and lived a multi-racial and multi-cultural personal life most of my life, I have yet to observe a more superficial place than my birthplace and current home Hong Kong. Yes, I have already included the USA in this comparison. I wish to post a more thoughtful “psychoanalysis” of Hong Kong people one day. But for now, just to add a few playful words to this perpetual discussion on Malaktaus’ post. I’d be generalising too, of course, but based on a few decades of observation.
Hongkongers as an example of good behaviour? This baffling delusion is becoming common among HKers for some reason. When I went to study in Canada in the 70’s, my first plane trip was a hugely embarrassing experience. My fellow HKers yelled nonstop across the isles to each other throughout the very long journey (it took many stops back then), and the stewardesses had to negotiate with nearly everyone at the end of EACH meal to get the cutlery back. In the library on campus, HK students were by far the loudest, most discourteous (never held the door for the next guy, for e.g. Many still don’t as of 2013!) and obnoxious users. It aroused racist remarks and treatment, naturally, which upset me; but I could not argue with facts. All that has improved, but only marginally.
By comparison, students at Beijing and Fu Dan Universities (two campuses I have had observed a little more closely) are generally pleasant, intellectually keen, and much more independent young scholars. A different calibre altogether. Beijing and Shanghai 10 years ago were no more “developed” than Hong Kong in the 70s.
Sucking up to foreigners? Oh Hong Kong sucks and slurps hard if you’re a “Westerner”. Adopt a blond baby and push him through a park if you crave adulation. Otherwise, a Eurasian baby might do. I think the slavish DNA of worshiping anything “Western”: politics, religion, fashion, look, odour, everything good, bad and ugly, could be the result of one and a half centuries of colonial selection so they do have an excuse there.
Unfortunately, HK seems to have a genetic inability to learn the true strengths of Western cultures properly, just their superficial customs and slogans, whatever can be picked up from CNN, BBC, and Apple Daily. By now, the average HK university graduate can’t even use English as well as mainland elites. But then HK never look at the elites in China, just its ugliest and dirtiest.
Folks from poor countries often look up to more affluent “Westerners” who know how to print money, that’s natural. But HK should have long passed that stage. Furthermore, even the most obvious and undeniable strengths and achievements of China are twisted and disparaged wholesale; but Chinese weaknesses are exaggerated to grotesque proportions. It has nothing to do with “constructive criticism.” According to HK statistical skills, one desperate mainland child peeing on the MTR represents 1.3 billion. An American commuter taking a dump or masturbating on the subway is just a “crazy gweilo, hee hee.” And they would never equate thousands of football hooligans to an entire nation of just 60 million.
Perhaps due to the state of HK’s Free Press, the average person knows next to nothing about the deeply disturbing social ills of America, and turns a blind eye to its war and financial crimes. He yaps about democracy reflexively. But try to start a sensible discussion on the subject, and he wouldn’t last five minutes before running out of cliches. (Ironically, you’d have a much better chance of finding someone more knowledgeable in the expat community). Every bad news about China is believed without having first bothered his felicitous cerebra, including fake eggs.
But if you don’t mind stupidity and extreme superficiality, this is actually a good place to work and live, especially if you know English. HK still enjoys a historical and geographic leverage, and the competition, though hyperactive, are quite dumb 🙂
Black Pheonix says
India, and HK (2 former British colonies) ranked among the most “racially intolerant”.
I am a new reader of this blog. I came upon it last month through a link to this post and have been thinking about the article and all the responses. I have lived in China for eight of the past twelve years. While I am very proud for the massive scale of progress, I have doubts about whether the country is on the “right track”, and I have been thinking about these issues for while now. Sometimes I think that, the US must have looked very ugly indeed during the late 1800’s, in “civilized” people’s eyes. But on the other hand, I also think that that is a very simplistic argument to make. Anyway, I will not waste much time with my opinions (which by the way are neither here nor there), since I fear that in this medium the risk of misunderstood intentions is quite high. But I want to contribute a short anecdote. I witnessed that a few days ago while traveling back to the US from China, and it seems to me that it relates in more than one ways to this post.
I was at Narita airport en route to the US from Shanghai. Narita has an extra security screening for transfer passengers (I guess the Japanese feel that the security in incoming flights is not up to their standards, but that is another matter..). The setting was typical: Two screening stations, and a single queue splitting into two shorter queues in front of two x-ray machines. I suppose many people have experienced this: when a single line splits like that, many people have the urge to get to one of the two shorter queues as soon as possible, although the sensible thing to do is to wait for the station that empties first. A woman in front of the long queue was being sensible (waiting for one of the two queues to get shorter), when a person (I think he was fifth in line) just cut the line and walked into one of the two shorter queues. The person behind the woman up front said with a loud but calm voice: “What do you think you are doing ? Do you think that you are the smartest person here ? Go back please”. The person who cut the line apologized with something like “Sorry, I just made a mistake. I did not mean to cut the line” and went back to his position. He looked very embarrassed.
A few minutes later, down the stairs from the security checkpoint, I saw them talking. They parted ways after they smiled and shook hands. They both looked like people who easily could get into a fight or a shouting match. However they had managed to diffuse the situation, and talk about it smiling and shaking hands in the end. I usually just observe these situations and do not get involved. This time I approached the second guy, who was still rearranging his backpack. I thanked him jokingly for being the “line enforcer”, and asked him if he did not mind to tell me what they talked about afterwards. He first apologized for “creating a commotion”. He said that the other guy approached him and apologized again for cutting the line. He said that he was a bit embarrassed for “yelling” but he was happy that the other guy was a “decent person” and “just needed a reminder”. He said that he apologized to the other guy for “yelling” (by the way I do not think he yelled at all). He also said that he told the other guy that the reason he “yelled” is that he was a bit on the edge after being in China for two weeks and experiencing “too much pushing and shoving and duplicitous behavior”. He then, paused for a moment and he said “Excuse me. I should not have said that.”. Obviously he thought he had crossed a line of civility since I am Chinese.
I told him that I did not mind what he said, and that I understand very well what he meant. I thanked him again for what he did shook his hand and walked to my gate. Maybe I should have told him about this post but I did not. Since then I have thought a few times about that episode and talked about it with my friends about how it relates to this post. In all my years in China I have seen a lot of “line-cutting” and rude behavior. It has been getting a bit better, but still the best one can hope is that no-one cuts the line. Even in places where one would expect more refined “harmonious” behavior (e.g. theater or university campuses), line cutting still happens and episodes like these always result in anywhere from indifference, to shouting matches or even sometimes in brawls. The question for me is not really whether line cutting happens, but what happens when someone cuts the line. And that extends way beyond behavior in cutting the line in the airport or stampedes in the subway. The issue is really what happens when rules of civility or laws are broken and almost no one stands up. The episode I witnessed made me think again about this article, and the differences between China, the US (and incidentally) Japan (since the reaction of the Narita staff was very interesting in its own way – they bowed nervously at both foreigners, said some things in Japanese and looked very perplexed).
I think the differences are not just individual refinement or economic and social status. Both persons involved looked like regular people – I am quite sure the person who cut the line was in the US military (I am guessing from the bag he was carrying that he was stationed in South Korea). The man I talked to afterwards was likely a foreign born US citizen (he was holding a US passport but I think he was probably from Eastern Europe judging by his accent). They were both average “Americans” going through an airport in Japan. Two stereotypical “laowais” (tall, athletic, short hair, perfectly capable of getting into a verbal or physical fight) . However, their behavior was something one can rarely or never observe in China (even among foreigners). There was no superficiality and they were assertive, efficient, polite, and unceremonious. I have never seen that in China – I am sure that it happens there too, but I think if it does it would be the exception rather than the rule. The question is why..
I do not know whether the reason is the people, the culture, the government or something else. I thought I would share what I observed since it is relevant and made me think (again) about this post.
Black Pheonix says
I personally find that “civility” is often overrated, pumped up hot air used by petit aristocrat wanna-be’s who throw around “manners” to make up for their lack of class.
As the old saying goes, Money doesn’t buy Class. Similarly, “civility” doesn’t buy class either.
When I see some guy give a loud sneeze without covering up, I don’t think “bad manners”, I think hey, he should perhaps see a doctor about that, and perhaps he needs a paper towel.
There is honesty in a loud sneeze.
That’s much preferred than some whimpering held down weird sounding sneeze practiced by some folks. (I doubt holding it down like that cuts down on germs).
*I recommend the British Comedy series “The Wright Way”, which showcases some of the ridiculous extremes of pursuing safety (and civil manners).
I also have an anecdote:
A friend of mine got married to this very nice guy who was a Hispanic contractor. They moved down to Florida.
A few years later, I caught up to her and asked her about her husband. She said they got divorced.
I asked why?
She said he couldn’t stand living in Florida any more, because he would get pulled over by the cops, while he bicycled to/from work, once every few days.
I asked, did they rough him up?
No, she said, but it was just quite racist.
the point of the story is:
Some concerns/suspicions are really racist, because of who they are targetting (via what bias).
I find honesty in the rough “uncivilized” crowd in China. Foreigners will find no exception to it. That’s the ultimate equalizer.
It’s better than racist profiling you in a most “civilized” manner.
Some “niceties” are just for show, to hide the UNCIVILITY that’s attached.
*For me, I rather deal with the guy who spits on the ground, than some other guy who want to lecture me about “civility”.
The problem with the guys who lectures about “civility”, (as is with some who criticize China and Chinese people), There is just no pleasing them. Nothing would ever satisfy them.
And I have traveled around the world. I have seen Uncivil people everywhere. So What? People are not here to satisfy my (or any one else’s) standard of “civility”.
UNCIVIL is the way that some folks would make up/adopt personal standards to look down on others.
Uhhh you find these guys civil?
I find the second guy you talk to offensive. The words used sound offensive. If he had said that to me in a tone I think he used, I would have ignored him. And if he came up to me, I might have smacked him, depending on his body language.
A polite hmmm hmm, I am in line would have done. And if someone is really in a hurry, I would have let him go forward.
I don’t see anything civil about what you wrote. There are many factors in play. Circumstances dictate. And yes everything depends…
And personal preferences don’t define civility to me. You may have liked his style … his way of resolving things. Fine. But don’t elevate that to civility.
Black Pheonix says
If that 2nd guy really wants to be “civil”, he should have just GAVE UP his position in the line to the 1st guy (who was supposedly a US military?).
Whatever happened to appreciating the military servicemen??
But NO, he had to give a lecture loudly in public.
I agree with Allen, there was nothing Civil about what that 2nd guy did.
Civil is about caring for others. That 2nd guy was just concerned about himself.
This is an interesting little anecdote. But to extrapolate from a single interaction between two individuals to generalize a “truth” about countries with as many people as China and the USA . . . I think this tale tells us less about the general behavior of Chinese and Americans and more about the stereotypes and assumptions jfwu holds about China and the USA.
In this case jfwu noted an incident where someone spoke up to a line jumper, and the parties appeared to be American men. And after observing this incident, jfwu wrote:
“However, their behavior was something one can rarely or never observe in China (even among foreigners). There was no superficiality and they were assertive, efficient, polite, and unceremonious. I have never seen that in China – I am sure that it happens there too, but I think if it does it would be the exception rather than the rule. The question is why..”
15 Styles of Distorted Thinking
Avoid cognitive distortions that may skew the perception of your self, your relationships and your world
“Overgeneralization: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence.”
“Global Labeling: You generalize one or two qualities (in yourself or others) into a negative global judgment. Global labeling ignores all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that can be stereotyped and one-dimensional. Labeling yourself can have a negative and insidious impact upon your self-esteem; while labeling others can lead to snap-judgments, relationship problems, and prejudice.”
There are a lot of instances on this and other sites about Chinese and line jumping.
But google “line cutting” or “line jumping” and you can see that it happens all over the world.
Social science research conducted by Stanley Milgram, found that people complain about line jumpers only about half the time.
There are some other perspectives here.
Social norms in waiting lines: Waiting or Cutting?
Wait your turn: Good rule in kindergarten, good rule now
Many adults seem to have forgotten how to line up
Standing Still and Cutting in Line
The Culture of the Queue in India
Cutting in Line: Social Norms in Queues
“While the norm in many retail banks is to serve customers on a first-come-first-served basis, some customers try to cut the line, usually by providing an excuse for their urgency. In other queues, however, this behavior is considered unacceptable and is aggressively banned. In all of these cases, customer exhibit strategies that have not yet been explored in the operations literature: they choose whether or not to cut the line and must also decide whether to accept or reject such intrusions by others. This paper derives conditions for the emergence of such behavior in equilibrium among the customers themselves, i.e. when the queue manager is not involved in granting priorities and the customers have to use community enforcement to sustain such equilibria.”
Why do the French like to cut in line?
Line Cutting in Europe
Hey, no cutting in line!
Seattle Police officers Lyndell Jones and Jeff Rodgers carry out a unique mission: They’re the only cops in the state who can bust drivers…
How to Prevent People From Cutting In Line In Front Of You
“There is honesty in a loud sneeze.
That’s much preferred than some whimpering held down weird sounding sneeze practiced by some folks. (I doubt holding it down like that cuts down on germs).”
I can’t really decide whether you really mean what you wrote above, or whether you are joking. Seems that you are being serious, so I have a few questions:
Given that the health departments everywhere including China suggest covering ones mouth and nose when sneezing to prevent disease, wouldn’t you rather leave subjective definitions of honesty aside and protect public health ? Maybe you do not care about public health, but what about *your health* ?
And while you are at it. Do you also think that it is just an expression of honesty if you mow down some pedestrians while running a red light in a hurry ? You are in a hurry after all and for each one of us our self is the center of the universe. So killing someone if you are in a hurry is just honest. Isn’t hat honesty much more preferable than the American hypocrisy who lectures us about “civility” and traffic laws, while their government drones kill people in Afghanistan ?
And while we are at it why not also label the corrupt local official who needs bribes to do his job as simply honest ? He is not doing anything more than trying to advance himself in a competitive economic environment .
I hope that really is not your worldview. If it indeed is then you have gone way down the slippery slope and you better start climbing back. Unless of course you are joking. In that case, I apologize for my rhetorical questions, but I would also suggest to be a bit more explicit with the disclaimers when you are trying to make a joke.
As for your anecdote. What struck me really is that you seem to have bought the excuse given to you by your female friend. She said police racism caused her divorce and you believed it.
Did you bother to ask whether she considered moving along with her husband in a place with higher proportion of Latinos ? I assume that the incident might have happened in North Florida, so all they had to do was to move down to Miami-Dade where more than half the police force is latino and there is plenty of construction work for the husband to do. Did you ask that question ? Probably not. I would attribute your naivete to you being male. No woman would ever buy that argument as a reason for getting a divorce from an otherwise “really nice guy”. I also think your female friend would never bring up “racism” as the reason, if she was talking to one of her female friends. But you are male (seems so from your bio) and seemingly obsessed with “racism” in the US. So, not only you believed the excuse, but you also use it as a counter-anecdote in a public forum discussion about Chinese lack of civility.
Excuse me if I appear to be jumping to conclusions but all I have to go with is your bio and some of your writings – you seem to be jumping quickly to conclusions in those writings , so I hope you won’t mind if I do too.
“I find the second guy you talk to offensive. The words used sound offensive. If he had said that to me in a tone I think he used, I would have ignored him. And if he came up to me, I might have smacked him, depending on his body language. ”
Believe me. You would not want to ignore or “smack” any of these two guys unless you were really well trained in martial arts – then again if you were really trained in traditional martial arts your would not have resorted to violence just because of “body language”. Anyway, I have no photos to prove it but I can assure you that both of these guys looked like people you would not want to mess with. That is why I was quite impressed by their “civil” behavior. I would have expected these two to get into a fight very easily.
In addition, even if the second person looked less imposing, smacking him in a foreign airport would be quite stupid. You studied in the west from what I see in your bio so I trust I do not need to explain how ridiculous your boasting about “smacking” sounds under the circumstances (airport, plenty of witnesses, security guards, cameras etc).
But anyway, thank you for your response. It explains very nicely why these situations always devolve to indifference or brawls among us Chinese people. My *personal* interpretation of the event is that it was edgy and civil at the same time – and that is why it impressed me. The “line enforcer” used some edgy words. It was his right anyway. And as I found out by briefly talking to him later he had his reasons (which relate to melektaus’ poignant post) and he seemed like a considerate and nice person. The “line cutter” suffered an insult to his dignity. He lost face but that was ultimately his fault. And he was man enough to swallow his pride and apologize both in public and in private – surprisingly his military background would make him the stereotypical aggressor. Maybe though his military discipline prevailed – but that is just my conjecture. You in contrast, with heart of a Chinese, the education of a Westerner, claim that you would have been more polite if you were the enforcer (“hmm hmm I am in line”), but you would ignore or even smack the other person if you were the “line cutter”. In other words you would have been more pretentious (or passive) if you were “right”, and more rude if you were “wrong”. You have just illustrated very nicely one of the problems of modern Chinese mindset – no harmony or moderation here, just bipolar and hollow extremes. That is really sad…
I just wrote that the episode *made me think* about melektaus’ post, and mentioned my experience of not having witnessed similar behavior in China in my eight years there. I also said that I am sure such behavior exists in China but it is much more rare. In your reply you are listing a bunch of google results about western line cutting (“hey they do it too”). FYI, I know about line cutting in the West – I grew up in the US> More importantly you link to some University article and imply that I somehow fell victim to distorted thinking. Thank you very much for the benefit of the doubt. I really admire your scientific methods.
I might as well have been thinking negatively but you are too quick to judge me That is really sad. And what is sadder is that that “stereotypes” and negative thinking exist because they are based in some kernel of (maybe distorted or exaggerated) truth. But what humanism and baisc decency teaches us though is to not throw out the baby with the bathwater, despite cultural stereotypes.
Let me explain why I wrote my comment in the first place. In a sense that is also an answer to the ridiculous argument on the “honesty” of the “loud sneeze” posed by Black Phoenix. I am American Born Chinese. I am very proud of my heritage. I studied medicine and I chose to work in public health in China. At times I have struggled with my choice but I have not given up yet, despite all the disappointments. I would also encourage melektaus to not give up. There is decency and honor among the Chinese people and even among some Chinese govt. officials. It is just drowned out by the difficult conditions and by too much myopia, hypocrisy, jingoism and patronizing pseudo-scientific attitudes – just like yours. As an example, can you imagine how hypocritical I would be if I were advocating that people with the flu should not wear a face mask, just because the Japanese do it ? I have heard that in China. It looks ridiculous to most Americans (that is changing though), and in China it is mostly done by healthy people when there are rumours of an epidemic. Objectively speaking compared to what happens in Japan (where sick people tend to use the mask) the American attitude is ignorant of the cramped conditions in Asia, and the Chinese norm is selfish and hypohondriac. Should I just dismiss the issue because of the despicable Japanese behavior from more than 60 years ago ? Should I also just cynically dismiss the kindness of the British doctor who works for the rural poor in Hubei, as something that would never repay the damage done by the unequal treaties. I have heard that in China too, from an “educated” upper class Shanghainese acquaintance who is more preoccupied with buying expensive outfits and pities me for not wearing makeup and for my “unfeminine” and “unfashionable” clothes ?
That is the stuff melektaus’ post and the episode I witnessed made me think about, and that is why your responses made me really sad. And I am not stereotyping here. I am just going by my life experiences, which by the way have not made me change my opinions about China the US and humanity in general, one bit.
The saddest thing though is that many here have the same China-centric, self-centric attitude, while living in the resource rich west. Judging from their bios, they must live a comparatively comfortable life and have access to a lot of information but they selectively filter it. Most everything in the West seems evil to them and there is always an excuse for anything Chinese . I wonder whether Allen’s and Phoenix’s reactions to the anecdote would have been the same if the participants were Chinese..
Anyway, I wrote a lot on this because it struck a chord… All I have to say is that the migrant workers or the Shanghai bimbos have more than a dozen reasons for their attitudes and behavior. What I do not know though, is what are the reasons for the reactions of the posters here – they have to figure those reasons out on their own..
Black Pheonix says
“what is sadder is that that “stereotypes” and negative thinking exist because they are based in some kernel of (maybe distorted or exaggerated) truth.”
And I think you just gave the classic racist brainwashed logic line of argument. “Distorted or Exaggerated” is precisely what “truth” is NOT. “Distorted or Exaggerated” is euphemism for LIES.
Black Pheonix says
“Given that the health departments everywhere including China suggest covering ones mouth and nose when sneezing to prevent disease, wouldn’t you rather leave subjective definitions of honesty aside and protect public health ? Maybe you do not care about public health, but what about *your health* ?”
A Sneeze done is spilled milk. I’m not going to put it back in someone’s nose.
“Do you also think that it is just an expression of honesty if you mow down some pedestrians while running a red light in a hurry ? You are in a hurry after all and for each one of us our self is the center of the universe. So killing someone if you are in a hurry is just honest. Isn’t hat honesty much more preferable than the American hypocrisy who lectures us about “civility” and traffic laws, while their government drones kill people in Afghanistan ?”
There are LAWS for that. No need for busy bodies lecturing “civility”.
And you are making ridiculous strawman arguments.
“And while we are at it why not also label the corrupt local official who needs bribes to do his job as simply honest ? He is not doing anything more than trying to advance himself in a competitive economic environment .”
ODDLY enough, in US, they do, by LEGALIZING bribes as “campaign contributions”. So I guess China SHOULD follow that example.
“As for your anecdote. What struck me really is that you seem to have bought the excuse given to you by your female friend. She said police racism caused her divorce and you believed it.
Did you bother to ask whether she considered moving along with her husband in a place with higher proportion of Latinos ? I assume that the incident might have happened in North Florida, so all they had to do was to move down to Miami-Dade where more than half the police force is latino and there is plenty of construction work for the husband to do. Did you ask that question ? Probably not. I would attribute your naivete to you being male. No woman would ever buy that argument as a reason for getting a divorce from an otherwise “really nice guy”. I also think your female friend would never bring up “racism” as the reason, if she was talking to one of her female friends. But you are male (seems so from your bio) and seemingly obsessed with “racism” in the US. So, not only you believed the excuse, but you also use it as a counter-anecdote in a public forum discussion about Chinese lack of civility.”
Why should my friend consider working around RACISM when it’s plain and obvious?
Well, it’s my anecdote, and Racism is her reason, according to her.
Why do I have to challenge my FRIEND’s assumptions/conclusions? When you are so willing to take the words of total strangers at airports??!!
Which one of us is MORE naive?
I’m “obsessed” with racism?! You who say “stereotypes are based on some kernel of truth”?
Black Pheonix says
I think the whole stereotype “based on kernel of truth” bit has gone far too long enough.
While not necessarily wholly rejecting the idea that stereotypes are false
or misleading, it is nevertheless sometimes said that stereotypes have a
‘kernel (or grain) of truth’. I think this expression muddies the waters
about the bad of stereotypes,’ and the matter deserves some attention.
Some say that the stereotype jews are cheap’ has a kernel of truth
because some J.ews are cheap. But on that reasoning, every ethnic group
could be stereotyped as cheap, since some members of every ethnic
group are cheap. But stereotypes imply that, if XS are Y (e.g., Jews are
cheap), this is something distinctive about XS (there being Y, e.g., Jews
being cheap). If there is to be a kernel of truth in the stereotype, it will
have to preserve this distinctiveness. So, if it turns out that, on the
proposed kernel of truth formulation (‘some Xs are Y’), many, or even
alm’ost every, group is also Y, this proposed formulation can not be
accepted as preserving a kernel of truth. 8
A second, related, reason that ‘some XS are Y’ can not be a kernel of
truth in ‘Xs are Y’ is that ‘some Xs are Y’ is entirely compatible with most
XS not being Y (most Jews are not avaricious, most Hispanics care about
education, and so on). But the truth-even a kernel of it-in the
stereotype Xs are Y can not be compatible with most Xs not being Y.
In other words, “stereotypes” implies a trend/pattern where none exists. If Westerners also cut lines, then there nothing uniquely Chinese about such behavior. Then, there is NO POINT in discussing “Chinese bad manners,” as a unique separate thing, because there is no distinction.
As for the “whether the reason is the people, the culture, the government or something else” question posed by some folks, IT’s a BS question based on an erroneous assumption of a distinction.
Why “stereotype” exists? NOT because of “kernel of TRUTH”, but because those who hold it don’t bother to see the WHOLE TRUTH.
Instead, they reach for the smallest “kernel” that justifies and amplifies their distorted views, AKA “stereotype” (sometimes doing so while admitting doing it).
Line-cutting primarily is due to perceived scarcity of some sort (time, slots, stuffs, etc.) by line cutters, or in my mom’s case, unawareness of the personal space. You see, my mom is the nicest old lady you will ever meet, yet she is totally unaware of the personal space difference in another culture. In travel, she often cuts in front of other people in line who gives a bit too much frontal space, assuming the line ends at her. For a long while, it was an embarrassment to me; but as you age and you mature, you realize that, hey, it’s actually kind of cute.
As to perceived scarcity, it reminds me of my childhood. I grew up at the tail-end of the era when everything in China was sold with ration coupons. Each person’s monthly meat (pork) allotment, depending on the region and time, ranged from 0.25 kg to as high as 1 kg, which translates to 1/30 to 1/8 of today’s meat consumption. Even with the ration coupons, there was no assurance that you would get yours because everything was scarce. In short, you’d better get to the market early, because sometimes within an hour after the market was opened, everything was gone.
So on most Sundays, I woke up like 5 am and went to the market. The market only opened at 7 am. The line I queued up for was the line for a spot to get into the market when the door was opened. To go from your spot of the line outside of the door to a spot of the line inside of the market, is a special mad dash that requires agility and strength. My dad would come before 7 to replace me. Once he overslept and didn’t come until the door was already opened, and I lost my spot in that special dash. Well that was one of my earliest sad memories.
The closest in America for that is the Black Friday lines, but nobody I knew in China then ever used deadly forces, or died from the process…
China isn’t that far from the era. Even those who are too young to remember that fear of starvation or malnutrition, probably learn that fear from their parents subconsciously.
(moderated for personal comments) You write:
“Why should my friend consider working around RACISM when it’s plain and obvious?
Well, it’s my anecdote, and Racism is her reason, according to her. ”
Well, (moderated for personal comments), because by divorcing an otherwise “really nice Hispanic guy” due to police profiling, she certainly did upset and even destroyed her life and let the “racists” win. And after that all she did was to blame racism and not her unwillingness to even “work around” (never mind fight for) her chance in happiness. She simply refused to do that thing which in Yankee-speak is codified as “pursuit of happiness” . (moderated for personal comments) On the other hand you are so quick to blame something else (i.e. US government, racism, the west, the weather, you name it) for everything.
(moderated for personal comments). But that kind of (moderated for personal comments) excuse fits perfectly with your (moderated for personal comments) attitude. (moderated for personal comments). And that, “Black Phoenix”, is why stereotypes exist. You are such a perfect embodiment of one of them..
I think I am done with this site. (moderated for personal comments)
Black Pheonix says
BTW, I may have forgotten to mention that the friend in my story was what is typically termed White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP), who actually grew up in the South.
Black Pheonix says
That reminded me of my childhood experiences, which were similar to yours.
And it does bring up a good point.
In US, perhaps the closest situation would be when there is a hurricane coming, some areas would experience blackouts, and people there would sometimes scramble to the stores in mad dash to get supplies of every kind. (Mad Dash).
And Scarcity definitely plays into the factor.
When there is an abundance of things, if people get impatient with 1 store, they would likely go to another one to get the same thing. (I have done that. If I see the line too long, I just drop the stuff and go to another store, or just wait until another day to pick up the same item. Because I’m not worried about stores running out of stuff).
In such a situation, one would be much less likely to cut the LINE, (AND less likely to complain if some one else cut the line).
*And that’s another side of it: PEOPLE tend to REACT less generally when people (occasionally) cut the line, WHEN there is an abundance.
Consider why some Westerners REACT more negatively when encountering line-cutting in China? (as opposed to line-cutting in the West, which does happen).
The reason can only be that the Westerners sense/perceive the same urgency of “lack of abundance” that they sense when there is a “Mad Dash” in the stores.
WHY? There are more people in China, waiting in lines (and they do have lines).
In the cities (even small ones) in China, MOST lines are long as WalMart lines for Black Fridays.
To ordinary Chinese, it’s normal. To Westerners, on 1st sight, they are nearly always intimidated. Instinctively, they think there is “not enough”.
In such a situation, any line-cutting becomes a major offense.
Yes, it’s relative perception.
On top of it, there is the feeling of “Odd man out”.
If you are a foreigner in China, and you are waiting in line, and all you see are Chinese people around you, and 1 Chinese person cuts the line, No one complains. You feel like “THEY” (the Chinese) just ganged up on you, because you are foreigner (and no one is sympathizing).
The outrage is intensified psychologically by xenophobia.
Thus, you feel like the entire Chinese culture somehow find the line-cutting acceptable, (and thus “rude” by nature).
On the other hand, if some Chinese people in line DID complain about the line-cutting, you may feel a sense of sympathy and less alienation.
However, as I hypothesized, GENERALLY, when there is abundance, people don’t REACT very easily to line-cutting.
My story: The other day I was in WalMart, waiting in a line (very short one too). A couple cut in front of me. 3 other people were behind me and saw the line-cutting. NONE of us said anything!
I can tell you the 3 things that ran across my mind as I did not react:
(1) the couple probably didn’t see the line. (Walmart lines can be a little disorganized sometimes).
(2) So, I’m 1 position behind, what’s the big deal?
(3) other people are not complaining, why should I make a big fuss? (for 1 position ahead?)
Other people in line probably thought the similar thoughts, as they also did not complain.
*Illustratively, there is an unmistakable cultural bias at the REACTIONS illustrated.
Particularly noted for James Fallows’ generalizations about Chinese airport lines in Shanghai and in Beijing, I have been to both airports (and also the OLD much more crowded Shanghai airport, Hongqiao), and it was not nearly as bad as James Fallows described it.
*It only goes to a point:
“PERCEPTION is NOT reality. IT only illustrates the Bias of the Perceiver.” (Which is why psychologists analyze people’s mental state by asking them what they SEE in ink blobs).
jfwu thank you for your response. I’m not sure my comment deserved the derisiveness that you heaped on it. I’m rereading it to see if I put anything offensive in it. If I did, I apologize. It certainly was not my intention to disparage you or your opinions. But I did see a logical inconsistency in what you wrote, and it made me wonder if you might not want to think about that further.
I was reading these words you wrote very carefully:
“However, their behavior was something one can rarely or never observe in China (even among foreigners). There was no superficiality and they were assertive, efficient, polite, and unceremonious. I have never seen that in China – I am sure that it happens there too, but I think if it does it would be the exception rather than the rule. The question is why.”
I understood your words to mean this:
1. You witnessed a line cutting incident involving two men at Narita airport.
2. You questioned one of the men afterwords about the incident.
3. You had a reaction to it and it made you think.
4. You wrote your description of your recollection of the incident above.
5. You opined that the two men’s behavior was not superficial, and they were assertive, efficient, polite, and unceremonious.
6. You have never observed this kind of behavior in China
7. You believe that their behavior was something one can rarely or never observe in China, even among foreigners.
8. Logically you think this behavior must exist somewhere in China.
9. This type of behavior must be rare and exceptional.
9. Why is this, you wonder.
I look at your words, and find myself scratching my head as to why you made the logical leap in 7 and 9. Despite recognizing that 8 must be logically true, you nonetheless believe that such behavior is rare and exceptional in China.
Each of your statements in 1-6 expresses your observation and opinion. But when you extrapolate from your personal experience of a few and generalize to the whole about people from an entire community, that’s stereotyping.
And you ask the question “why is behavior like you observed rare in China”.
I think what happens you you ask questions like that is you will get the answer you are looking for – a confirmation of generalized beliefs.
It’s quite normal thing to do. But our tendency to stereotype really needs to be tempered by recognizing that one’s own experiences are limited.
When one lets stereotypes dominate one’s thinking, preconceptions harden and one only sees the world through the this filter.
It’s admirable that you went to China with the desire to help people there. I wish you good experiences.
This jfwu is quite a piece of work. Let’s dismantle her comment in #92.
“Well, (moderated for personal comments), because by divorcing an otherwise “really nice Hispanic guy” due to police profiling, she certainly did upset and even destroyed her life and let the “racists” win. And after that all she did was to blame racism and not her unwillingness to even “work around” (never mind fight for) her chance in happiness.”
How do you know that “all she did” was to blame racism and not do anything else to salvage her relationship? Jumping to conclusions is a symptom of one who indulges in stereotypes.
But let’s say she decides to fight the racists. Historical precedents in the US does not look good when it comes to racists who do not “win”. The American Civil War was an armed struggle fought by many. The Civil Rights Movement saw plenty of violent escalations en masse. I doubt she has the firepower to “win” against the racists. And I use “win” because even today racism in America has not been eradicated, merely driven underground. So she has an uphill task. And so if China needs a role model for “civilised” behaviour, she should look away from the US. Her own rich history is a good point of reference enough.
“On the other hand you are so quick to blame something else (i.e. US government, racism, the west, the weather, you name it) for everything.”
I don’t see Black Phoenix blaming the weather for “everything”. We don’t have the resources to cover “everything” here. Again, making unsubstantiated generalisations is stereotyping.
“But that kind of (moderated for personal comments) excuse fits perfectly with your (moderated for personal comments) attitude. (moderated for personal comments). And that, “Black Phoenix”, is why stereotypes exist.”
What excuse? Black Phoenix provided an anecdote by way of illustration to show how bias-derived condecension and persecution can hide in “civilised” behaviour. He showed how his friend attributed racism to her divorce. Then suddenly it becomes an “excuse” for his “attitude”. I don’t see him showing any attitude, merely sharing his insights. There is no logical link here. Your crude indictment of Black Phoenix speaks more about YOU and your inherent bias than him.
“You are such a perfect embodiment of one of them..”
Thank you for proving you have no qualms in suscribing to stereotypes. My advice to you: Don’t let prejudice corrupt your faculty of logical thinking and affect your judgement.
“I think I am done with this site.”
Yah, good riddance.
About Black Fridays, here is a recent article on black friday accidents.
Of course, no one ever attributed this to the fault, to character flaws of the people – or the culture.
This is a perceptive little essay:
The Other Pole of Human Existence: Western Representations of China between the 13th and 18th Centuries
“In China, patterns of change are said to occur in cycles that repeat throughout history. Western perceptions of China also follow a cyclical pattern, which fluctuates between positive and negative representations of China as ‘the other pole of human existence’. One such cycle of Western representations occurred between the 13th and 18th centuries, and consisted of four distinct stages. These include: the early explorers’ awe, the Jesuit missionaries praise and documentation of Chinese culture, a philosophical idealisation of Confucianism, and, finally, a disillusionment with China’s changelessness. It is the intention of this essay to argue that Western representations of China follow a cyclical pattern, which is principally determined by three factors: information, experience and expectations. However, regardless of the stage of the cycle, China is always a symbol of the “Other”. This essay will also explore the reasons for the Western emphasis on the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Early Western explorers’ first impression of China in the 13th and 14th centuries laid the foundations for the representation of China as “the Other”. In the mid 14th century, China was undeniably the most advanced nation in the world. It had reached a peak of advancement in various fields, including the arts, society, entertainment, political institutionalisation and technology.1 China’s military strength and cultural advancement were also unparalleled and it had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.2 This reality was in stark contrast to Western views at the time, which characterised Europe as a superior civilisation among a myriad of ‘barbarian’ nations.3 Hence, the early explorers in China were shocked to find a civilisation that was more advanced and populous than Europe. The unexpected advancement of Chinese civilisation and the explorers’ lack of understanding of its socio-cultural situation resulted in an exaggerated representation of China as an exotic and mythical utopia.4 Thus, awe, and a lack of understanding, perpetuated the early explorers’ depiction of China ‘as if we had arrived in another world’,5 and consequently its “otherness”.
The most prominent early explorer to visit China in the late 13th century was Marco Polo, who emphasised the differences between Western and Chinese civilisations. Polo claimed that China had extensive prosperity that was unmatched in the West, making it the world’s richest nation.6 As a witness to the court of the Great Khan, Marco Polo was also privy to displays of luxury that surpassed his wildest dreams and any of the splendour that thirteenth century Europe had to offer. For example, he stated that ‘[t]he walls of the Palace are all covered with gold and silver’, and ‘the building is altogether so vast, so rich, and so beautiful, that no man on earth could design anything superior to it’.7 Hence, colourful and utopian representations of China became prevalent in medieval Europe.8 This was a distinct contrast to Europe at the time, which, due to its economic, trade and population growth, was struggling with overcrowded cities that lacked sewerage and were rampant with disease. Despite the questionable validity of Polo’s journeys, his memoire, The Travels of Marco Polo, was widely popular in Europe and helped shape European perceptions of China at the time.9 Polo’s was one of the first textual engagements with Asia and without evidence to the contrary, many Westerners based their perceptions of China on this text alone. Thus, Polo’s travel book and its popularity provide a relatively accurate insight into Western thinking in relation to China and the extent to which the awe of the exotic “other” was widespread.
Chinese products and goods brought back to Europe further perpetuated China’s ”otherness”. Early explorers to China collected an array of unusual Chinese products during their travels, which included silk fabrics, porcelain objects, fans, wallpaper, and gold fish.10 The unique and extravagant style of these items captured Europe’s imagination and became fashionable in the West. These products emphasised China’s exoticness and resulted in China being widely represented as a mysterious and majestic dreamland. For example, China came to resemble a ‘fairy-land, floating in the clouds, and the Chinese, dainty, cute and fairy-like, not to say strange, fantastic and whimsical’.11 Such objects led the West to distort their perceptions of China even more, as well as moving “China” further from reality and closer to being defined by its difference to the West.
Jesuit missionaries were the principle authorities on China and important contributors to Western representations of Chinese civilisation until the 18th century. The Jesuits were the wave of people who followed the early explorers to China. Their effort to convert people to Christianity and the consequent need to understand China drove the Jesuits to have an extensive amount of cultural contact with the Chinese.12 The Jesuits also produced a range of materials that explained these experiences of Chinese civilisation. These texts were spread throughout the Western world as part of the Jesuit’s endeavour to gain financial support from Western patrons for their expensive missions.13 Hence, descriptions of China focused on China’s high level of civilisation despite the absence of Christianity within their society. Similar to the explorers before them, the Jesuits admired China for its vastness, arts, social organisation, unique products, order, and governance. Western praise of China in a sense created a rivalry between the two civilisations, as despite their differences, China was seen as the West’s equal. Therefore, China was used as a mirror to highlight the shortcomings of the West.14 Michel de Montaigne described 16th century China as a nation that made him realise ‘how much wider and more various the world is than either the ancients or ourselves have discovered’.15 As a result, China’s “otherness” began to act as a foil to the West.
Matteo Ricci was one of the founding missionaries in China in the late period of the 16th century. He offered balanced insights into the inner workings of Chinese civilisation and drew comparisons between European and Chinese values. Notably, Ricci observed that despite its military prowess China did not seem to share the Western desire to explore and conquer the world. For example, Ricci’s asserted that:
While the nations of the West seem to be entirely
consumed with the idea of supreme domination,
they cannot even preserve what their ancestors
have bequeathed them, as the Chinese have done
through a period of come thousands of years.16
In addition, Ricci was impressed by the fact that philosophers, known as the ‘Order of the Learned’, administered China. This directly contrasted with Western philosophers who mainly worked in academic and scholarly capacities.17 These two differences demonstrate the way in which the Jesuit missionaries, particularly Ricci, used China’s “otherness” as a mirror to analyse the West.
The Jesuit missionaries created a credible knowledge-base from which Western scholars could explore Chinese civilisation. The Jesuit missionaries also added a greater depth of understanding to Western perceptions of China and Chinese cultural practises. For example, the debaucheries of Chinese society were explored, including prostitution, infanticide, and the ‘sexual immorality’ of Buddhist and Daoist monks.18 The result was greater insight into the realities of Chinese civilisation. Two bodies of thought emerged with this increase in knowledge of China in the 18th century: enlightenment philosophers’ identification with Confucianism, and scholarly disillusionment with the changelessness of Chinese civilisation. These bodies make up the final stages of the Western representations cycle, and show the transition from positive to negative depictions of China.
The enlightenment period’s philosophers continued the cycle of Western positive portrayals of China. The philosophers characterised China as having a model government, which used Confucianism’s rational values to achieve effective morality, without Christianity.19 The rationality and wisdom that the West associated with China is shown by the image that was widely used to depict China at the time: the learned Confucius in a library surrounded by books.20 Many philosophers saw elements of Confucianism in the enlightenment’s ideals and as a result, the period’s patron saint was Confucius.21 Yet despite the many similarities, China was seen as an ideal not an actuality and therefore maintained its symbolic role of the unattainable “Other”.
The enlightenment philosophers’ interests in China were primarily moulded by their own reformist philosophical agendas. Consequently, a biased view of China emerged that ignored many of the subtleties of Confucianism that did not fit in with enlightenment thinking.22 This is because their understanding of China stemmed from a desire to use China rather than learn more about it. The philosophers’ interpretations were plagued with distortions, which riddled perceptions of China with superficialities. These distortions initiated Western disillusionment with China.
During the 18th century, Europe underwent a period of rapid development and growth that highlighted the changelessness of Chinese civilisation. Thus, the final stage of the cycle began as the West started to become disenchanted with China. The positive depiction and idealisation of China by the early explorers and Jesuit missionaries was unsustainable, and so it was gradually replaced. The reason for the change in portrayal was consistent with the social change occurring in England.23 The change in representation was not so much concerned with China, but the fact that as the West evolved, so did its perceptions. For example, China’s history as the world’s longest continuing civilisation changed from being understood as a token of the nation’s strength and stability, to a sign of its being static. The same shift of perception involved the myth that China was a homogenous Confucian nation.
The representation of China as being stuck in an ‘eternal standstill’ was a prominent feature in 18th century English literature.24 Goldsmith’s text, The Citizen of the World, refers to China as ‘an empire which has thus continued invariably the same for such a long succession of ages’.25 The perception of Chinese stagnation also contained connotations of rigid traditions and backwardness, and Confucianism seemed to be a relic of times past. Suddenly China was a target of ridicule and seen as lacking individual and unique thought. This is illustrated in George Anson’s memoirs of the 1740s in which he commented on Chinese creative talents and asserted that they were ‘incapable of rivalling the mechanic dexterity of the Europeans…their principal excellency seems to be imitation’.26 This demonstrates the way that Western depictions of China were manipulated to emphasise the difference between the two civilisations, developing a sense of “us” and “them”.
Changing Western depictions of the physical characteristics of the Chinese during the 18th century also highlighted ideas of “otherness” and the transformation in Western perceptions of China. Generally, Westerners who admired the Chinese, or who considered China their equals referred to their skin as white. Thus, texts from the 16th and 17th centuries primarily portrayed the Chinese as white, while in the eighteenth century their colour progressively changed to yellow.27 Moreover, in the 1730s scholars examined the Chinese head-shape’s conic nature and classified them as ‘homo monstrosus’ rather than as ‘homo sapiens’, a title reserved for Westerners.28 The end of the 18th century was also marked by a change in the primary image associated with China—from the scholarly Confucius, to the stereotype of ‘John Chinaman’. ‘John Chinaman’ was an uncivilised and a ferocious Chinese man with a long ponytail and nails. In one of the most famous depictions, he stands over a teapot filled with European men, ready to eat them.29 Thus, the cycle completed its full circle from admiration to understanding and ending in disillusionment and contempt.
In conclusion, Western representations of China move in a cycle that shifts between positive and negative portrayals of China as the ‘other pole of human existence’. By looking at one such cycle, namely that between the 13th and 18th centuries, this pattern can be seen as driven by Western information, experience and expectations. The reason that China is always depicted as the “Other” is not that there are profound differences between China and the West. Rather that they are seen as rival civilisations, in which China has acted as a mirror through which the West can analyse itself. Such comparisons emphasise the dissimilarities between China and the West, and perpetuate the idea of otherness. It is a problem that we faced in the 13th century and still do today, and without moving beyond such superficiality in perception, China will never truly be understood by the West.”
Note that the rise of the picture of “contempt” towards China starting in the end of the 1700’s historically coincided with the rise of the British Empire and its agenda of demonizing those that it hoped to defeat and exploit.
Black Pheonix says
Speaking of Chinese “manners”, rarely ever discussed is how much Chinese traditions being practiced regularly in China that we Chinese consider as “good manners” in every day life, such as at meals or addressing one’s elders respectfully by familial relations, even if not related (never by name).
1 important part:
“Most Chinese manners apply only if you are Chinese, but if you are not your efforts will be seen as a compliment.”
Yes, if a non-Chinese do not observe Chinese manners, we Chinese don’t take offense to it, and we appreciate when non-Chinese try.
But perhaps we should take a hint and start to pass judgment of “rudeness” (make up stereotypes) based upon whether someone observes Chinese manners.
You know, thinking back, some Westerners are quite a rude bunch.
For one, what’s with those girls in weird para-military uniforms selling cookies, particularly knocking on my door on weekends when I’m trying to catch some sleep??!!
No, I don’t need cookies. I can buy them myself at the stores.
And where are your parents?? Why are they letting you do this??
for a “good cause” or trying to embarrass me for saying NO to cookies from a bunch of dressed up kids??
Then, there is this: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jan/16/say-no-to-girl-scout-cookies/?page=all.
I don’t want to agree with some conservatives about political agendas/conspiracies. But it’s all pretty weird stuff, from both side.
So, all and all, it’s pretty “RUDE” for parents in US to push their politics around (pro or against) using kids selling cookies in weird uniforms.
*Most of all, come to think of it, it’s pretty “RUDE” in general for some Westerners to be constantly pushing their political/social/moral agendas all over the world using their media 24/7. (That includes the self-styled expat China bloggers).
They just can’t take a “NO” for an answer. Worse than the Girl Scouts and the Jehovah’s Witness!!
“Line-cutting primarily is due to perceived scarcity of some sort (time, slots, stuffs, etc.) ”
This is naive and silly. Many of the line cutting occur for resources without any perceived shortage such as subway rides. The subways runs from early morning to late at night. Yet people cut in line all the time. I see people jumping fences to cut in front of others. Again, you clearly don’t live in Beijing. Many of the other line jumping also occur for effectively infinite resources.
You assume that they perceive finite resources and offer no evidence. It’s more plausible that they are cutting in line because of selfish disregard for others.
Also, many resources are not infinite in the US as well or other rich countries and yet I see far fewer line cutters. Again, which isn’t to say they don’t exist but we’re talking about their surprising occurrence in China.
Even if line cutting is a result of perceived resource limits that still doesn’t excuse line cutting. How would you propose we measure and practice a priority queue for humans?
The suggestion that the kinds of line cutting I described is non harmful or even beneficial for society is naive at best and I won’t say what at worst. First of all, a priority queue depends on priority being an objective measurable factor. The assumption that those who cut in line are the most needy is unsubstantiated. In fact, those who cut in line are not the most needy but likely the most selfish, aggressive, or impatient. So you are really encouraging those behaviors. So the suggestion that this kind of line cutting satisfies some kind of need/incentive optimization equilibrium really is for all practical purposes rubbish and harmful. It probably has the opposite effect of making things far less optimal and inefficient and even cause chaos.
Black Pheonix says
““Line-cutting primarily is due to perceived scarcity of some sort (time, slots, stuffs, etc.) ”
This is naive and silly. Many of the line cutting occur for resources without any perceived shortage such as subway rides. The subways runs from early morning to late at night. Yet people cut in line all the time. I see people jumping fences to cut in front of others. Again, you clearly don’t live in Beijing. Many of the other line jumping also occur for effectively infinite resources.”
I have to disagree with you a bit on this one.
subways themselves may be relatively infinite resource. Time is not. What they are rushing to obtain at their destination may not be either.
But I would also argue that sometimes when the resources are REALLY scarce, it also promotes enforcement of lines.
For example, when iPhone went on sale in China, people lined up for the few units available, and line cutting was rare. (if one cuts lines for the iPhone, one might get beaten up by the crowd). And the stores also helped to enforce the lines, threatening to refuse to sell to anyone who cut lines.
On the other hand, it promoted “hired standins”. People, mostly migrant workers, hired to hold places in the line. (which can also be found in the West, when there is a scarcity and a long line).
Thus, when incentives are placed in the line system, some would inevitably try to game the system, for example, by exploiting the incentive to gain profits, which reduces the incentive, and may cause the line cutting to resume. (For example, what if someone paid the “standins” MORE money to let them cut lines?)
I think there is no perfect LINE system.
Scarcity, long lines, and other incentives/deterrents naturally cause individuals to trying to out game each other. So there is no easy solution.
**I don’t mean any of these as “excuses”.
But I would prefer to weight the problem against the cost of trying to fix it, and the negative reactions.
I.e. is the Problem really needing to be fixed? Or is the potential solution worse?
** I do agree that SOME cut lines because they are aggressive, impatient, etc.
But I can’t brush everyone who cut lines with the same generalization. (Not for Chinese, not for non-Chinese).
May be you and I have different experiences. (I have been to Beijing and Shanghai, and I have seen line cutters, but not to the extent that’s been portrayed by some).
“subways themselves may be relatively infinite resource. Time is not. What they are rushing to obtain at their destination may not be either.”
This is implausible once one reflects that time, though relative in an inertial reference frame sense, is not relative according to culture or country. Thus it’s implausible that those in the west should have more time than those in China. Those in the capitalist west are just as strapped for time if not more so yet there is in my experience less line cutting.
Black Pheonix says
Ah, but time is relatively more scarce, if the LINES themselves are long, Delays drain away time.
In Chinese cities, because arguably there are more people waiting in the lines, even though the subways do come regularly, the waiting time is still quite long.
I do recall that commute in Shanghai can be quite long, even with subways.
*On that, I compare the rush hour commute in DC, where there are very disorganized lines and line cutting, (Especially at transfer stations), more prevalent than non-rush hour in DC, even when rush hours there are more frequent metro rail trains.
One would think that with the fewer trains in non-rush hour, people would have more wait and less time. YET, the more frequent trains during rush hour does not provide much relief, apparently.
Hence, more wait time, even in rush hour, causing scarcity in time, and more likelihood of chaos and line cutting.
Though, I would say that part of it is again, due to perception.
People perceive from amount of crowd waiting in line, and FEEL that the anticipated wait time would be long, (even if that’s not true).
That’s completely natural (but unfortunately unscientific perception). I feel it in the rush hour. (along with the irrational fear that somehow, because of the crowd waiting, I might miss a train. Even when I have never missed a train).
In China, I suspect that feeling / perception is massively amplified.
Again, it’s the PERCEPTION of scarcity of resources/time, that would cause the “mad dash” effect in crowds.
Similar kinds of feeling may also cause a crowd to stampede out of a theater, to possible signs of fire. (It’s irrational, but completely predictable. Hence, we punish people for yelling Fire in a crowded theater.)
Black Pheonix says
relatedly, I noticed that DC (ranked one of the cities having the worst traffic in US) has a lot of instances of aggressive (and rude) driving, where people cut each other off in traffic, even when the overall traffic is hardly moving.
I have seen similar aggressive driving in other bad traffic cities like LA.
Analogous to “line cutting”, aggressive driving are similarly influenced by the volume/ amount of people/automobiles in traffic lines.
Afterall, a multi-lane traffic jam is just REALLY long waiting lines of automobiles!
(Well, analogy wise, China has lots of people, and US has lots of Cars. Naturally, if there is a big waiting line in US, it would be a traffic jam of cars!)
So, in view of the kind of aggressive driving in US traffic jams, I think it is comparable to “line cutting” in China.
Perception of long lines give rise to perception of scarcity of time, and causes more likelihood of “line cutting”.
Black Pheonix says
Of course, traffic jams are worse in some Chinese cities, and consequently, more dangerous aggressive driving.
Which is quantitatively relative and proportional.
While I consider myself a very calm and low stress person, I must confess that I noticed myself get angry at other drivers in DC area (but never resorting to aggressive driving myself).
Once not long ago, I saw this terrible and dangerous encounter between 2 vehicles (both large SUV’s). The 2 vehicles were both on the on-ramp to get on a major highway. The 2 lanes of the on-ramp were short and merging into 1 lane.
While there were traffic, there were no vehicles near the 2 SUV’s, in front or behind. The SUV on the right lane sees merge and the left SUV, and decides to speed up (in the very short merge), and drives almost into left lane, aggressively trying to force the left SUV to yield. The left SUV see the aggressive move, and counters by also speeding up, and refusing to yield.
The 2 SUV’s literally played chicken against each other speeding down toward the bottleneck, both honking horns at each other. (I was driving behind them, but decided to slow down to keep a safe distance from them, after they decided to play Mad Max on testosterone high way.)
In the end, 1 of them finally yielded at the last few meters, driving with 1/2 of his SUV off the road on the shoulder of the high way (extremely dangerous).
But that story is only an example. That stuff goes on in DC every day.
People here are mostly transient types, moved in from other parts of US, and will likely leave in a few years. (I’m one of the transients).
But people just accept bad traffic and bad drivers in DC, as a matter of life. I would even dare to say that People let DC traffic change their driving habits for the worse.
But there is no huge moral outrage of “rude drivers” in DC. It’s just fact of life in a big city.
Instead, people complain about the “cause”: Not wide enough high ways, not enough mass transit, etc.
Why? Because people here believe that it’s not “manners”, but environmental factors.
Not some “cultural” characteristics, but blames lie elsewhere.
(Until you get to some specific racial biases/stereotypes, which places blames on “bad Asian lady drivers”, or “bad Hispanic drivers”)
Black Pheonix says
Here is what I am talking about for DC drivers. The article perfectly illustrates a more neutral reaction to “bad drivers”, even if such behaviors are arguably very aggressive and far more dangerous than simply “line cutting”.
The article acknowledges the statistical conclusion that DC has the worst drivers in US, but does not attribute it to any kind of “culture” or bad “manners” (or even bad training of drivers).
It goes on to say:
““Human behavior is the biggest cause of accidents. It is vital for us to educate American drivers about safe driving behaviors they can demonstrate on the road that will help make our roadways safer,” said Mike Roche, executive vice president, Allstate’s Claim Organization.
Human behavior is certainly a major factor in accidents: everything from distracted driving to road rage. However, when you live in a place, like D.C., that in many way is built more for people than for cars, high volumes of vehicle traffic jam up roads and frustrate drivers. A trip that should take 20 minutes ends up taking an hour.”
Then, it goes on to suggest solutions such as alternative transportation to relieve congestions, etc.
* again, I’m not making “excuses” for people, bad drivers with road rage, or rude people cutting lines.
And it is good that Chinese people do more introspection to improve themselves and China in general.
But I think it’s simplistic to attribute these as just “aggression” or “bad manners”.
If any thing, I think we can also learn from the West, as to how they handle “aggression” or “bad manners”. (A lesson no doubt skipped by some Expats who apparently react rather irrationally in China, as compared to their peers at home).
I personally encounter “rude” and dangerous drivers every other day in DC area. You don’t see me characterizing their “culture” in some stereotypical ways. (Nor do most DC area residents. They all live here with the problems. They don’t deny the problems.)
Yeah, the problem may be big. But that’s also “NO Excuse” for using stereotypes.
Black Pheonix says
For your entertainment value:
I found this youtube video:
It’s for Northern Virginia, near DC area. Some of the clip is just bad drivers, but later on, there is more Aggressive drivers.
In actuality, the DC area traffic is worse than this collection, but depends on which part of DC area you are driving in.
Come to think of it, there is a kind of prevailing stereotype of Maryland drivers being really bad. (Commonly referred to in DC as “The Marylanders”). I don’t know why, and I certainly do not agree with the stereotype, which makes NO sense to me. What possible reason is there to think that Maryland Drivers are worse??
Hold you pod, young Skywalker. While my statement might be better served with a qualification — the habit of line-cutting primarily is due to perceived scarcity, methinks you have missed many important points:
* Nobody is advocating or even rationalizing line-cutting but merely trying to understand its human origin and hopefully providing a solution. If we listen to you, we will need to teach people to be more selfless. If we listen to me, in the long term we need to reduce scarcity, and in the short term if you must see results fast, take a page from Lee Kuan Yew in his building of Singapore, or from Rudy Giuliani in his “broke window” strategy to fix NYC.
* You see line-cutting (or spitting, etc.) in what, a 9-month trip? The likes of Black Phoenix and I have seen decades of the acts. Let me just say, in some areas there are drastic improvements. Have you tried to get on a bus and a train in China in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s, and noticed the differences?
* Selfishness is not it. The whole communist movement taught people to be selfless, but see what it’s got people to? Capitalism, as basically every country is practicing now, is about making selfish people work together. Self interests can co-exist, and work together in the “game theory” — supposedly. (Don’t get me started — has anybody actually seen something works in the real world by applying the “game theory”? But I digress.)
In its purest form, assuming abundance instead of scarcity, then you have the “virtue of selfishness”, as advocated by Ayn Rand. Though if you really think about it, nothing is abundant per se. Living space in Canada is abundant but that’s at the expense of the lack of living space in China or India. Sure Canadians are a whole lot more polite and “civilized” than Chinese or Indians, or “selfless” — but if Canadians are really so selfless they should let a whole lot more in. Heck, try this thought experiment: clone 1.3 billion Canadians and let them occupy China, and have the 35 million least civilized Chinese to occupy Canada. I bet in a few years, you will see most line cutters in the same country but of course with the different people.
Moreover, if you look at a long enough time horizon, everything is scarce. We have relatively abundant hydrocarbon fuels today, simply because the future humans aren’t and can’t bid for them. Even if tomorrow everybody is driving an electric vehicle to save for posterity, we are still using up extractable Lithium at a very fast pace. Maybe this whole selfishness-driven capitalism orgy is portent to the future doom of humanity…
Ok, I am rambling a bit and it may be hard to catch my drift. The bottom line? Selfishness is not it.
There are 2 sides of it. First, of course as you identified the European visitors to China between 1400s and 1600s were mostly Southern Europeans (Portuguese, Italians and French), and from 1700s and on more from Britain. The other side is that the early European visitors saw Ming, and the later ones saw Qing.
When Southern Europeans (Portuguese and Spanish) first met the Natives in Continental America, they didn’t respect much let alone looked up to or even revered the Natives. My take is that it’s likely not because British were necessarily snobbier than Southern Europeans, but rather at their respective peaks, Ming was a positively far more impressive dynasty than Qing, from living standard, people’s civility, the ways how the society was organized, to minute details such as that Chinese seemed to bathe often, and the heights of the people — in one travelogue Chinese were reported as slightly taller than Southern Europeans, which hasn’t been the case for at least 200 years.
“Ah, but time is relatively more scarce, if the LINES themselves are long, Delays drain away time.”
They are long for every Chinese. Thus cutting line makes things worse, not better. Certainly time in some sense is scarcer for some than others but you are assuming that those who cut in line are short on time and those who don’t are time-rich. That is incredibly implausible to me.
“* Nobody is advocating or even rationalizing line-cutting but merely trying to understand its human origin and hopefully providing a solution”
The Force is not with you today.
“In a computer, various processes and threads don’t get equal access to the cpu and memory resources – there are queues, but various interrupts and weighting schemes to ensure that the processes and threads that need the resources most get them first or get more access to them. If the line will always be too long, then people need to have some sort of signal to ensure that people who really need it have slightly higher priority than others. Some shoving and pushing (within bounds, as set by prevailing norms, of course) may constitute such signals. Of course, money too can be part of the signals – with cheaper stores having longer lines, and fancy upscale stores having short or no line (effectively you pay to avoid the line). Maybe there is something to this…”
Black Pheonix says
“They are long for every Chinese. Thus cutting line makes things worse, not better. Certainly time in some sense is scarcer for some than others but you are assuming that those who cut in line are short on time and those who don’t are time-rich. That is incredibly implausible to me.”
Yes, line cutting does make things worse, rationally speaking. But people don’t behave rationally when they are stuck in a long line (or big traffic jam). They behave based upon (erroneous) perception/beliefs.
Reminds of me the many many times, when I see some aggressive driver weaving dangerously in and out of different lanes, in the middle of a traffic jam, trying to move ahead by a few car lengths, (and still eventually end up stuck behind me, who stayed with the line).
Again, people don’t behave rationally, in a long waiting line (probably because of stress).
Black Pheonix says
I found this interesting tib-bit today.
An 80-something old lady in Florida claimed the lottery Jackpot of $590 million yesterday, the largest jackpot in US history.
She reportedly bought the sole winning ticket, when someone let her cut in line at a store’s lottery counter. (Now, I wonder if that nice person is kicking himself?)
I think there is something in this. Perhaps the question should NOT be “WHY do people cut in line”, but more of “WHY do people NOT let others cut in line, or when do they?”
As for me, if I see some aggressive driver on the road wanting to cut me off in front of me, I let them. No second thought about it. No big deal to me if they want to make a fool of themselves, but I’m not going to respond in kind.
That doesn’t mean of course, we should accept it and not try to change it.
That’s incorrect from not only from personal experience but from empirical studies. People do let others cut in line so long (In the UK about 97% of the time) as long as they ask for permission and explain that they are in a hurry. But that is not the kind of line cutting that I was talking about which involve shoving others out of the way without any curtesy. There is no evidence that these people are in any more a hurry than the rest. They are likely rather either ruder, more impatient, or less inconsiderate. All they have to do is ask for permission but they simply cut in front of others who may be in a rush as well.
In the US I often tell others standing in line at the cashier who have far fewer items than myself to cut in front. That common curtesy. But I don’t cut in front of others for no apparent reason. That’s rude and very inefficient.
Of course YOU should “let” them. That’s just common sense defensive driving. But that doesn’t mean THEY should cut people off and that it isn’t dangerous and inefficient for traffic.
She may “regret” it (or maybe not) but her regret, if she has any, is irrational. She commits a fallacy in probability, a version of the gambler’s fallacy.
Black Pheonix says
I do think we should “change” it, but “change” what exactly.
If you agree that it is merely people behaving irrationally due to environmental conditions, then it has nothing to do with “culture” of any kind. Then, we should try to change the “environment”, as in DC, they suggested various ways to relief traffic congestion/lines.
“That’s incorrect from not only from personal experience but from empirical studies. People do let others cut in line so long (In the UK about 97% of the time) as long as they ask for permission and explain that they are in a hurry.”
I don’t think I’m “incorrect” in asking a different question, when you yourself have just given me at least 1 possible answer to my alternative question. (How was my question “incorrect”?)
But let’s explore your offered explanation to my question. OK, what about the other 3% of the time when they don’t, what’s the REASON??
See, as you indicated, people can ACCEPT “line cutting”, and the inconvenience that comes with it, If ASKED for permission at least.
And as I have also indicated, MANY people also can sometimes accept “line cutting”, even without being asked.
So, is it more ACCEPTABLE, if people feel a sense of CONTROL??
*On the note of “common courtesy”, (which I do believe in personally and practice), I simply question, WHY?
WHY is it “common courtesy” to ask permission from total strangers??
Is is sign of respect? sign of submission? Some form of social begging?
While I understand “common courtesy”, I think it borders on cultural specific customs, and it can vary drastically from person to person.
Also for example, LOTS of people in US cut lines without asking. So I don’t think it’s that “common” of a courtesy that’s being well practiced.
“If you agree that it is merely people behaving irrationally due to environmental conditions, then it has nothing to do with “culture” of any kind. ”
What are you talking about? The culture is not an aspect of a person’s environment? You seem to be using english words in very non standard ways so that I’m having a hard time understanding you.
“I don’t think I’m “incorrect” in asking a different question, when you yourself have just given me at least 1 possible answer to my alternative question. (How was my question “incorrect”?)”
“But let’s explore your offered explanation to my question. OK, what about the other 3% of the time when they don’t, what’s the REASON??”
Who knows and who cares? The point is is that you made an assumption based on a false generalization. You said
“WHY do people NOT let others cut in line, or when do they?”
That’s an inaccurate assumption. The question is baseless because people often do let others cut in line.
There are two theories from sociology that seems closely related to what I have been talking about above.
Black Pheonix says
Chinese history tells some experiences on social behaviors, where the early rulers of Zhou pride themselves as models of mercy and benevolence to promulgate social behaviors in their subjects. The Zhou people were said to be generous to each other, rarely fought over property, and set orderly traffic rules (perhaps 1st ones in Chinese history).
Opposite to that, the Qin rulers eventually came to believe that social behavior like every thing else, must be enforced by laws, without mercy or exceptions. Criminals are punished severely to maintain order.
Black Pheonix says
1 interesting historical correlation in Chinese history:
Zhou was the 3rd historical dynasty, but the 1st dynasty of China with considerable social organization, whereas Xia and Shang were largely considered to be more tribal. Zhou was known for its flourishing large cities, well built wall defenses, and other societal adaptations needed for larger population centers.
In Zhou, we see first signs of significant social organization. Writings began to proliferate and popularize, from mere for religious ceremonial purposes toward more common use in government and civics.
It was during late Zhou period, that the Chinese equivalent of “Chivalry” began to popularize along with education. The “Scholarly Gentlemen” became a powerful model of social virtue and order.
Unlike the European code of “Chivalry” (which became the primordial form of modern European social morals), the “Scholarly Gentlemen” in China was promulgated more independent of the ruling class.
In essence, I would argue that the “Scholarly gentlemen” in China was an upper-middle class set social norm. And ever since late Zhou, Chinese history reflected the same pattern and system of upper-middle class “intellectual” enforced social norms.
The Chinese rulers, seeking mandate of heavens, were in fact forced to accommodate that system, and often had to base their right to rule upon that system.
Even Yuan and Machurian rulers of China, after only a couple of generations, had to also accommodate to that system.
Confucius often focused on what many people considered manners as opposed to morality per se. This focus was denigrated by many western philosophers but we know from modern sociology, psychology and economics that small behaviors have huge impacts (through signaling and multiplier effects etc). Modern science is showing that he was right.
I believe this is especially true in modern society where one’s actions can have serious impact (for better or worse) on others because of modern technology etc.
Black Pheonix says
yes, manners (in abstract ways, Rituals) is proving to be more and more influential, as suggested by some recent psychology experiment.
1 experiment, involved, making people perform some kind of ritual relating to food, before the food is consumed.
The experiment found that after performing even a short non-religious ritual (like describing out loud the food’s color, shape, etc., for 2-5 minutes), the subjects experienced the food as better tasting and more fulfilling. Even neutral or disliked food types (carrots, broccoli, etc), became better tasting to the subjects.
The theory was, that in Rituals, people think about their actions and experiences, enhancing self-reflection and self-examination, enabling better awareness.
Benjamin Franklin famously had 13 rules of virtue, http://dan.hersam.com/philosophy/franklin_virtues.html
Which may be more accurately described as 13 rules of daily rituals, because Franklin’s habit was to record in detail whether he followed the 13 rules each day.
This is not unlike the old Catholic confessional rituals. (Franklin was never able to follow all 13 rules on any single day).
I think Confucius is right, so was Franklin. But there are too many people who perform the rituals/ manners without understanding them, and they delude themselves.
If a person performs the “food ritual” just to mask bad taste in food, then he used the ritual for the wrong purpose.
Similarly, there are lots of ways that rituals / manners can be used for the wrong purpose.
*The Researcher in the “food ritual” experiment, in an interview, discussed how someone questioned her how a “OCD” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder person also might be performing rituals, like obsessively washing their hands, etc. Then, isn’t Ritual just another form of OCD??
The distinction is perhaps whether the ritual /manners hinders a person’s normal daily activities.
*Hence, Confucius warned a discipline against serving gods too much, since he does not yet know how to serve fellow human beings.
I view other things with the same practical philosophy. Any thing is fine, unless it hinders norma life of a person or others around him.
Moralities, manners, and rituals are great, unless it becomes point of endless futile debates. Then they are not really helping anyone.
Johnny Parker says
I moved to Shanghai 2 yrs ago and hate it. It probably didn’t help that I previously lived in Tokyo for 7 yrs – so of course China is a crap hole compared to beautiful and sophisticated Japan. The Chinese govt doesn’t bother me at all, it’s the people. They are filthy, petty, and nasty.
Guo Du says
When comments are obviously brainless and sub-standard by a wide margin, rather than just being different, would it be considered “censorship” to just delete and block them? I personally don’t think so. And if it is, so what?
Having read the article it’s quite pathetic that alot of Chinese in China are more focused in apeing the vicious and violent behavior of the West just to “fit in”. The way the article describes the Chinese in China sounds alot like a bunch of New Yorkers in NYC. LOL
I like the spirit of your post, and I must admit I’ve encountered Chinese people with similar behavior and problems in the USA. They are what we might call “Fresh Off The Boat” types. I am in no way excusing people who have such mind set, but I do believe the reason why Chinese people have devolved into such creatures started during the Cultural Revolution aka the The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution. Not long before the Cultural Revolution China have just thrown off the Feudalist Yoke of the Imperial Manchurians, Out of the Chaos of the Regime Change, as well as fending off the Japanese and the Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists China had just emerged a new nation governed by Communists. Unfortunately, during the Cultural Revolution all institutions of learning were demolished due to their association with the previous Imperial Regime. Entire generation of Chinese never even had opportunity to learn to read and write their own language. I’ve personally known some Chinese who were lucky to attain elementary school level education. So yes, there are “Low quality” people in China. I understand the frustration, but I’m willing to give the Chinese time. If what you say is true, then I praise the Chinese gov’t, more power to Chinese gov’t.
Black Pheonix says
I saw an old man (not Chinese) peeing on the sidewalk, while I was out walking on Sunday morning.
And this was in a DC suburb.
I just walked on. I don’t judge on “cultures”.
If someone wants to pee on the sidewalk, (like a dog), that’s his choice. It’s not a reflection of his culture.
W N says
First of all – AWESOME post! Having lived in China for a few years, I would say almost everything written in this post was very exact and to the point.
Secondly, I think a lot of the readers here are missing the point. Someone made a comparison with the saying of a glass being half empty or half full, meaning to criticise the author for being negative. There are always two sides of a coin, so this argument could go on forever with people giving all kinds examples from the other side. Yes, India is also a chaos. Yes, a lot of people in urban China comes from poor areas, and that’s the reason they cannot queue in line. And yes, there are people peeing out in the open in western countries too, and yeah, there are people who like to shop and sleep even in America and Europe. But this is all beside the point.
Whatever historical reason there is for the current culture, a problem remains a problem. If a person is pissing out in a corner in US, then so what? So the Chinese kids should continue to piss in the sidewalk trash bins? Two wrongs doesn’t make it right. This post wasn’t about US being better. This was about China having problems.
Black Pheonix says
How do you know those kids were “Chinese”?
Perhaps they learned it from US movies like “Big Daddy”, where a father teaches his son to piss on the street corner. (and I’m pretty sure that I haven’t seen any Chinese movies with such a scene).
Well, that is a problem, coming out of US, given the kind of market power Hollywood has.
Even American politicians are blaming US movie industries for all kinds of problems like school shootings, etc.
“have you ride subway in Tokyo in rush hour where people are squashed like sardines or you don’t get on?”
I did, lived in Japan for 5 years, I took daily the Yamanote Line at Shinjuku Station which is famous for being (by far) the busiest train/subway station and line in the world.
And I must say that even during rush hours Japanese people were always civilized, lining up (on the sides of the door, not right in front), waiting for everyone to get out of the train before getting in and not pushing (there are “pushers” paid by the train companies to squeeze people in the subway but it’s another story).
You can blame Japanese people for many things, for being workaholics, Japanese men for being nerds with no social skills or dating skills with women, Japanese women for being a little crazy in their head and being gold diggers, but you can’t ever tell that Japanese people are uncivilized in any situation ever, they are the most civilized, polite, respectuous and quiet people I have ever met, I never saw any Japanese without these traits.
Koreans are also exceptionally civilized and polite, sad to admit it but it’s probably because of the Japanese colonization that introduced Koreans to civil society (that the Japs got from the Germans in the mid-19th century), and all the pop culture and modern lifestyle in today’s South Korea is based on that of Japan.
As for Chinese people, they still have a long way to go, mostly because every Mainlanders are from a peasant background from their parents or grandparents as nobles/scholars/wealthy people left the country to save their ass when the communists took over, however I am sure that with time things will get better. Same as someone else above, the Chinese government and their public workers (customs officers, policemen, …) never bothered me, they are even doing a great job for those I met, it’s the common people you see everywhere, in the street, at the mall, … who are a problem.
what’s wrong with u author??? women that like shopping and sleeping are shallow???? that comment is just as shallow and irrational as many Chinese people i’ve seen!!! – i’m rude here because your comment does not deserve to be treated politely. i got my PhD with straight A’s and as top of my department (which is the top in US in our field) at a normal age (26) AND i love shopping and sleeping! so what??? i’m not angry that i may be considered shallow by u because it’s fine with me, i’m angry because i thought i could see a wise article when i came in but ended up seeing the same old Chinese cliche article. also, if u despise Chinese people so much, go learn how to get rid of your Chinese style writing – talking for paragraphs without getting your point straight!
i didn’t finish the article, but i don’t think u can blame China’s problem on the people so much, i’d still blame the government (even though emotionally i want to blame the people because i probably despise some Chinese people more than u do and it was the people that i dealt with that annoyed me directly instead of the abstract-looking government). i don’t know the history enough, i’m under the impression that the government wiped out all the traditional ethic values and religion beliefs in events like cultural revolution, so people have no moral principles to stick to; and the government don’t educate the people well, whatever ethics they try to teach in school, they do exactly the opposite, and the whole system is set up for the cheaters to win. i may be wrong or partial, i’m open to corrections
The author has hit the nail on the head with their write up. Having visited China for 2 month periods every 4 years for the past 20 or so years, nothing in this article is exaggerated. I only wish that there were some way (either religious or otherwise) to instill a principle centered culture of social responsibility into the 1 billion+ population.
NM Cheung is right. You lack empathy and a willingness to understand. You DO place yourself on a high-horse (unknowingly?). Like many Americans, you are ignorant, narrow-minded, and suffer from a superiority complex.
I’ve been to China. I’ve been pushed aside while lining up at McDonald’s. It’s not that they’re uncivilized. It’s a nation teeming with people, people who innately aspire to more and better. Of course they’ll push and shove to the front. That’s why the country has gone from a 3rd world shithole to an economic power growing greater than the US.
While you’ve got a nicely written polemic here, it’s ultimately mean and mis-informed.
When I spent a summer on a farm working I remember I spat a large luggie on the ground. This Aussie farmer said, “Nice. Like a real Aussie bloke!”
You mentioned that even office workers jostle to the front. As I mentioned, in my other comment, I was initially appalled by this behavior too. But, soon I too found myself elbowing with the rest to get to the front. It was the only way I could get served. So, nope. It has everything to do with the millions of newly urbanized, “vulgar” country folk, and their influence on society. (ALL country folk, in EVERY culture are the same. Parochial and somewhat ignorant. It’s not a Chinese thing).
When I spent a summer on a farm working I remember I spat a large luggie on the ground. This Aussie farmer said, “Nice. Like a real Aussie bloke!”
You mentioned that even office workers jostle to the front. As I mentioned, in my other comment, I was initially appalled by this behavior too. But, soon I too found myself elbowing with the rest to get to the front. It was the only way I could get served. So, nope. It has everything to do with the millions of newly urbanized, “vulgar” country folk, and their influence on society. (ALL country folk, in EVERY culture are the same. Parochial and somewhat ignorant. It’s not a Chinese thing).
The government was blamed because so many good things were destroyed after 1949, including traditions, virtues, beliefs. It was called “attack the Four Olds”.
Like mentioned, the Chinese were once THE most cultured people, and now reduced to this. It is so sad.
I came here from a search on trying to understand the Mainland Chinese. Yeah, it’s not just the government, because where does the government come from, if not the people? So it’s the new Mainland Chinese culture that emcompasses both the people and their government.
Some people are comparing China to Taiwan 25 years ago. But I had Taiwanese friends from back then, and they were nothing at all like the Mainland Chinese today. Northern Chinese culture especially still sees everyone outside of China as the enemy, or at least as people that cannot be trusted. New Mainland Chinese culture today says that you can’t trust anyone, and that kindness is weakness, so you have to be mean.
But shifting blame is so characteristical of the Mainland Chinese today. You can see it even in the many comments on here from those trying to defend them. I can only assume they are Mainland Chinese as well. They blame their poor behavior on poverty, for example, or on their sudden increase in wealth, when the problem is rather one of character. They will blame anything and anyone else but themselves, when the problem starts with them and can only be fixed by the individuals themselves. I’ve seen this happen over and over.
And when we focus on character as important, they will say, for example, that while the Americans see character as important, we the Chinese think career is important. Well, no one is denying that career is important, but it can’t be more important that the person that you are.
With the situation in Hong Kong for example, they don’t see that it’s their behavior that’s the problem. The Mainland Chinese actually ask things like, we are rich now, why do you still hate us? We help the HK economy by visiting there and shopping there, right? But at the same time, they belittle and make fun of the Cantonese language, and make other disgusting displays of behavior in HK. But they don’t think that these things are offensive. They flood HK with their people, when HK is already so crowded. What did they expect? So, unwilling to blame their own behavior, they blame the HK people, and say HK still suffers from the slave mentality of colonial rule. It’s unbelievable.
So, is their problem one of stupidity as well? Because I used to think that Chinese people are smart, but after I met some Mainland Chinese, I’ve had to question my stance. And if they weren’t so stupid, why did they let China deteriorate so badly in the 50s to the 70s? For the commoner, that period of Chinese history was worse than the foreign invasions. At least during the invasions, you could still leave China. During Chinese own rule, for a time you weren’t even allowed to leave China, it’s like being a prisoner in your own country. No food, but you can’t leave, so stay, suffer, and starve.
And then they blame the overseas Chinese for leaving China prior to PRC founding. Traitors they were called, when they did nothing but ran from chaos and famine and war in search of a better life. It’s unbelievable how some of the Mainland Chinese think. I guess since they were forced to suffer from starvation, perhaps they expected the same from everyone. And if you tried to make a better life for yourself, you are a traitor, because you are different. That reminds me, the Mainland Chinese do have this weird need to make everyone the same, and to make everyone suffer the same.
Normal people, when they suffer, they don’t want others to suffer the same thing, and they try to help others to avoid the same fate. But when the Mainland Chinese suffer, they either don’t care about others or they think everyone else should suffer the same. They really think like that.
Of course, you will get a minority that take more responsibility for their own behavior, and they are friendly and more trusting of others outside of China. But unfortunately, these people don’t seem to dominate the scenario.
So I’ve actually recently and sadly, came to the same conclusion, that China today has many poor quality people. They are just not very spiritually evolved, so they don’t understand the concept of good character or behavior. They don’t know how to truly care for other people. They think giving face is caring, but that’s so superficial. They defend poor behavior of fellow Chinese, rather than try to get their fellow Chinese to improve, because of this face culture that they have. They think protecting face is more important than becoming a better person, so while allowing someone to lose face is not acceptable in Chinese culture, but poor behavior is acceptable. With this, one wonders how China can ever improve. It’s hoped that the new generation of Chinese will be smarter.
From personal experience, I know that old China was better in some ways, such as the unselfishness of the people, so it is possible.
It’s the government that led the people, but it’s the people that agreed to it. The government could not have done it without the people.
I agree old China was so much better. Chinese is not the longest surviving civilization without a reason. No signs of selfishness, duplicity, or materialism from those old Mainland Chinese folks that left before PRC took over.
I agree, it is sad.
Do you really think that Americans or Western in general are “deep”, “quality” people even despite all the problems those places have too that you yourself admit to?
On what possible moral code could any improvement be based. There isn’t nor has there ever been such. Things will continue as they have for the past 3,000 years of the imposition of the Han empire. Individual responibility and civic duty
will not appear from nowhere.