Recently, I browsed through a blog post “What’s Going Right” for China (http://www.chinafile.com/china-what-s-going-right), including comments from James Fallows and Orville Schell.
I have certain amount of respect for both of them. Particularly, I consider Mr. Schell’s understanding of China to be more salient and in depth than most of his colleagues. At the same time, I also commend Mr. Fallows’ understanding of China, as much as he was kind enough to generalize about the positives of China.
Mr. Schell’s comments in the above post was particularly enlightening in its discussion of what Mr. Fallows only generalized as the positive “spirit” in the Chinese People and in the Chinese government, “that, instead of conveying an air of being hemmed-in by an era of limits, conveys the feel of a society hell-bent on building a more prosperous and stronger country”. Mr. Fallows commented that China’s can-do “spirit” was in contrast to the “fatalistic” one in the West. But Mr. Fallows did not go much into the depth of the differences in “spirit”. Mr. Schell, on the other hand, attributed the fatalism of the West, at least indirectly, to propagandization that lead Americans (and perhaps Westerners in general) “to believe that governments are the problem not the solution.”
What’s interesting is that in that 1 comment, Mr. Schell, intentionally or not, cut through to the core bias of critics of China, and how they have been missing the real story of China.
Fatalism in the West, now deeply ingrained after so much media propaganda, compels many critics to simply look for the negative stories of China, while completely ignoring the positive story. James Fallows himself is no stranger to sensationalizing negative stories of China, while only occasionally offering up a few positive generalizations, “Spirit” of China.
That should have clued in some that they are actually missing the REAL story of China: the “Spirit”, and WHY it happened and worked.
Mr. Schell partook part of the real story, by attempting to answer WHY “fatalism” is happening in America, but did not ask the similar question about China’s “spirit”.
How can anyone claim to “know” the REAL China, without bothering to answer that question, What is the ESSENCE or “SPIRIT” of China? Some may argue that the “Chinese Dream” story might be close, but I find it just a collection of superficial generalizations again, because they simply did not ask WHY. Without asking the WHY, MOST stories about China turn into bullet point lists of incidents and stories and statistics, which jumbles into inconsistencies and contradictions.
Fundamentally, despite ALL of the problems of China (which we here at HH will not deny, contrary to some accusations against us), the “Spirit” of China exists, and at least worked to some extent.
The REAL question is therefore, WHY did it exist and worked to some extent, DESPITE all of the problems. Because the answer, if ascertainable, enlightens to how the people of China really think and how they really behave not merely what they say or what they complaint about. Because incidents and problems are common to all societies, they do not necessarily define our “spirit”, especially when one bucks against the problems.
If a child grows up in a neighborhood surrounded by poverty and crime and vice, and yet the child achieves greatness, we do not list the child’s problems as what defines him, we should ask WHY the child found his “spirit”.
Mr. Schell’s explanation of Western fatalism pointed to the bias of critics of China, and also exposed the reason of why they are missing the real story of China. At the end of stories, EVEN given the superficial acknowledgment of the positives of China, the Critics are simply unable to BELIEVE the positives of China are actually existing or working, given their own bias of fatalism and their propagandized anti-government beliefs.
James Fallows may see the “spirit” in China, but he does not believe it.
Even Orville Schell does not necessarily believe it. He has once described China’s system as one of “Autocratic Democracy” and acknowledged that it may be more “adaptive”. However, Mr. Schell also said that he personally prefer a “free society”. I have no criticism of personal preferences, but such preferences are often revealing of personal biases.
Inherently, Mr. Fallows and Mr. Schell are both in self-contradictions of sorts, similar to many critics of China. They see China’s “spirit”, but they don’t understand it (the WHY), and they don’t really accept it as real. They also in some ways wish America (and the West) are more like China in “spirit”, but still wishes “freedom” to remain the same in the West.
Thus, many critics of China now engage in sort of “blackwashing” of Chinese “spirit”, by pointing to various problems (even though they were similarly occurring in the West), and theorizing that China’s achievements were all mirage. (Among of the claims were that (1) China’s 4000 year history didn’t really exist, (2) China’s history of meritocracy was not real, etc.).
And YET still, such efforts did not dampening the “spirit” in China, continually baffling the critics of China, who still refuses to reexamine their own biases and perhaps to finally ask the real question of WHY.
*I would not attempt to answer the question here. It would take much too long, but my Chinese friends KNOW inside themselves why. They can feel the same “spirit” as I can. Why we try so hard despite conditions set against us. WHY we believe in the better future for China and all Chinese people, even when our dreams may be so vastly different. Why we traverse borders and cultures for our dreams of better future. Why in the words of one Chinese, we do not necessarily love the Chinese government, but we trust the Chinese government (a confession, backed by statistics and surveys, that no doubt still baffles so many in the West).
I cannot teach the meaning of this “spirit” to my Western friends, nor can I prove the existence of this “spirit” inside of me. I can only say that I do have it, and that I follow it, as any one would follow their own spirit.
I do note that some believe that the “spirit” inside of them are just another word for “God”. And perhaps that is what God is to me, and perhaps to some Chinese people, without calling it God. It is not merely a new faith. Chinese people always had this “spirit”. It is the same “spirit” that drove our ancestors to unify our nation so long ago, and keep unifying China and rebuilding China after countless foreign invasions.
In some ways, the “spirit” of Chinese people defines who Chinese people are, in direct answer to the question of “Who is a Chinese”.
So, by implication, if you are one of those Expats who claimed prejudice in asserting that they would never be considered “Chinese”, I ask, “Do/did you feel the Chinese “spirit””??? If you kicked up the dirt on your way out of China, then you did NOT feel the “spirit”, because you gave up far too easily for your real preferences. Of course, some people from China have lost the “spirit”, mostly due to the same fatalism propaganda that drowned out the spirit in the West. For that, I can only wish them good luck with Western fatalism.
Tell you one other thing I am certain about the “spirit” in me, as Orville Schell called it “hell-bent on building a more prosperous and stronger country,” I am certain, as close as to religious belief as I can get to, that like a God, the “spirit” of China cannot be stopped.