With June 4th right around the corner, the Western press will likely try to milk it, though each year with decreasing column space. In anticipation of that, we remind our readers the narrative perpetrated in the West is not the truth. 龙信明 draws from public materials and shows us what the real truth is, in English, “Let’s Talk About Tiananmen Square, 1989,” and in Chinese, “且谈1989年的天安门事件.”
For new visitors to Hidden Harmonies, I highly recommend a visit to our “Featured Posts” section (the right third of the blog main screen). There you will find featured articles addressing key topics these last few years by this blog. For example, Ray examines the international political climate surrounding the lead up to the Great Leap Forward (“Another Look at the Great Leap Forward“). melektaus discusses how the Western media collectively defames China (“Collective Defamation“). Allen addresses what Democracy means (“Understanding Democracy.”) Black Phoenix debates other American lawyers about the status of Tibet (“2008 ‘Olympic Debate’ over Tibet on American Bar Association China Law Committee.”)
melektaus‘ recent observations about the Chinese people (“What’s wrong with China? Hint: it’s not the government“) has certainly caused a stir. We all should commend him for sharing his thoughts from the bottom of his heart and for his genuine desire to see a better Chinese society. (Some of you might be visiting because James Fallows of The Atlantic has linked to it. As an aside, see our take on why Fallows is so wrong on so many things related to China.) Anyways, I don’t want to derail his thread, so if you wish to add to the conversation, I urge you to continue there. Many of you have offered thoughtful comments, so thank you. I do want to highlight Allen‘s response here, because, as he illustrates clearly, we all have a tendency to judge others based on our standards – and is unfair:
Where to start? I disagree with so many things here… I will just make some random observations.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 aboutshopping 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…
Then I asked him what car he drives. He said he just bought a very large American style SUV. He also plans to buy a Range Rover 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.
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 ownmultiple 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.
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.
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:
British people take waiting in line (called “queuing”) incredibly seriously. They highly value patience, and will turn on “queue jumpers” who try to cut in line with some ferocity. Complaining while waiting in line is considered wimpy. Enduring the wait with good humor is considered a sign of strong moral character.
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.
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.
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.
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 flues 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 times 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.
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.
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.
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.
In the US, consumer rights came at the end of long hard battles by citizens who cared about justice. Many sacrifices were made.
The consumer rights you talk about was the result of recent political struggle culminating inpolitical 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?