Modern Chinese Humiliation and all its Splendor
I’ve gone off on a bit of a rant lately, all because I’ve found how hard it is to get my dad a place within a proper retirement home. It’s sort of shocked me. Wait lists, coupled with standing in line behind foreigners who just got here, has indeed sort of opened my eyes to this whole crazy competition for the basic right of shelter and comfort in ones twilight. It’s taught me that really at the end of the day, one can indeed have a natural birthright to social services, as long as you understand you gotta stand in line with everyone else.
So I’m done talking about Natural Rights. While the right of all Mankind, the possession of such may not be the best thing for a Society. Some cultures cannot handle the ability to express themselves freely, without severe limitation. (Can a man suddenly freed from a long prison sentence just fit into society?) More Harm than Good would result. You get the picture.
China is a Nation in Full Bloom. A cosmetic swirl of confidence and a sense of purpose. Poor no longer. Yet there really are two China’s. There is the city dweller, educated, (sophisticated?) aware of their surroundings, and perhaps able to speak a foreign language. Maybe they’ve visited other “strange worlds” beyond the borders of the Heavenly Kingdom. They are aware of what is out there.
And you have the other world, blissfully ignorant of life beyond not just China, but perhaps their own insular county. Focused not on what China will do in the South China Sea, but more so on the cost of fertilizer for their plot, or the price for their chickens. They do not speak a foreign language, much less come into contact with one incapable of even speaking their local dialect. Many Chinese to this day only travel as far as their local dialect will take them.
There is something to be said for this splendid isolation. One routinely lives without “fear” of what captivates the “rest of the planet” on a daily basis. There is no knowledge of Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. (When will LinkedIn be banned?) No worries about terrorists. No fretting over the latest imprisonment of a corrupt official, or even getting one’s child into a good school.
There is no time for any of that.
Yet the problem with being educated is one cannot exist in a blissfully ignorant state. One compares. One thinks. One ponders.
“Why am I like this, and you are not?”
Make no mistake; China is a confident nation when taken as a whole. More so than perhaps China in the 50’s….? And before that one would have to earnestly go back to the Qing, to see a China so sure of it’s path.
Well…my response to all that is I was once a cocky, unstoppable force of nature, too. When I was 18. Let not this confidence of China as a blooming, unstoppable Force of Nature fool you. That feeling of growing strength and immutable momentum is for the 80% of the country that has never been abroad, spoken to a foreigner in Chinese, been to a museum in a foreign locale, tasted the local cuisine or…..just walked around, alone without a tour guide.
That portion of the Chinese populace that has done all of these things instead finds itself wandering around in the dark, wondering just what the hell is going on? How can it be that the rest of the world has access to things that we do not?
Smart people ask relevant questions.
Why is it banned in our country, yet our Government has a Facebook Page? Or the Leader of our Nation? In effect, why are we so isolated? Who are these shadowy government officials making these decisions? Why do they not have to explain themselves? Why are my opinions not taken into account?
Asked another way, the question on the mind of tens of millions of capable, thinking Chinese:
“Why am I not free”?
“Why am I not free to make certain decisions myself?”
“Why do you treat me like a child?”
This question is all the more poignant because it is never discussed, or debated, much less publicly pondered in any context whatsoever. Rather than ponder your “right” to ask this question, many of these unaccountable leaders of China’s tomorrow instead spend time contemplating how to get out, how to “take what I can get” and escape.
This is China’s Humiliation today. It is what happens when China governs not to enlighten it’s citizenry but rather to govern to the lowest denominator. And it knows it can get away with it.
China’s Century of Humiliation is part myth, part true and mostly self induced. Bottom line, China was weak. End of Story. Things don’t end well for the weak. It’s just the way things are. Wanna know what real humiliation was like? Ask the American Indian. His land, his food supply, his way of life was taken away from him. (My Cherokee ancestors were chased from North Carolina and wound up in Louisiana as sharecroppers.) These are facts. The majority of the American Indian was impacted by the advance of a superior….what?
Was impacted by a superior “force”.
99.9% of China’s people were never impacted by the Century of Chinese Humiliation. Was their food supply taken away? Their land? Were they induced to sickness and death? (talking of the smallpox infected blankets deliberately given to the Native American, knowing they had no built up immunization). Just how was their “way of life” impacted? Only if you were a soldier or a scholar or an official or a member of the imperial court, and if you were, but forgive me, you were not the proverbial “one percenter”, but rather that oh so fortunate grain of sand from the black depths of the ocean floor that one day washes upon a beach and gets to enjoy sunlight for a spell.
What the Century of Chinese Humiliation was really about was not about the China People losing face as much as it was the elite classes within society (you know…that 0.001% of the population)losing their privileges and having their heads handed to them in a rice bowl by a culture they not only looked down upon, but whose greed and hunger for commerce at any cost they most seriously underestimated.
But while those days are gone the Chinese Humiliation is not. It is still here. It cannot be seen, but only so keenly felt. It cannot be digested, nor spit out. It is a pit in the stomach that for a great many simply will not go away. Chew all you want, it cannot be swallowed.
It is the humiliation that many Chinese feel today at the social restrictions they must endure in their own country. This is the true Chinese Humiliation felt all around. All this concrete and steel, all those leather boots marching past Chang An Jie. All this means nothing when for the “good of the State” one is still treated like a child. A mindless slobbering twit. Your PhD at MIT means nothing. Now shut the fuck up and do what you’re told. (“By the way, would you mind telling us why you came back?”)
That my friends. That is the stuff of humiliation. Breathe it in. Soak it up.
Or simply hold your nose and dry heave.
China’s domination of vast swaths of blue water, it’s inevitable economic domination of SE Asia, the unending black columns of good news, printed page after page of happiness and good cheer, will not be quite enough to rid one of the knowledge that my own native country treats you better than your own country treats you.
Not that at times it’s been much different for me.
I’ve been spit on, spied on, robbed, beat up, lied to, financially cheated, been denied entry to places because of my race, looked down upon….so what?? And If I really wanted to be of ill humor and nitpick, I could always bring out the “laowai” slur. (Which I won’t….future post) Ever been told your entry price to a park or museum is double well, because you are a foreigner??? While gone now, it was prevalent twenty years ago. Could you imagine that actually happening in another country?
It’s difficult enough to be treated and governed like a child, but the lack of legal recourse when you feel slighted must be frustrating as hell….(It always amuses me when a Chinese National in America gets into an argument over some trifling thing and right away says to the other person, “I’m gonna sue you!”……flex that newfound power, baby!)
But I’ve seriously digressed. It is not my intent to make fun of life in China and for that I apologize. The Good far outweighs the Bad. I’ve been treated very well in China, but like a coach that never remembers his victories only his losses, it is human nature to recall the bad and not the good. Like I’ve said before, China is my life. My passion. I wish to never lose this fascination I have with the place. China’s been good to me. (For one thing it’s greatly enhanced my negotiating skills.)
But if you are a member of that educated elite within the Heavenly Kingdom, or by chance a pretty damn good businessman, I can fully understand if you’ve “outgrown” the place. I can also understand the shock and anger you have when you realize despite your successes and perceived learning and cultural sophistication that in the eyes of Big Brother you are still a Nobody, with no special privileges or rights. Forever stuck within your playpen. Your anguish will be eternal, or as long as your memory lasts about how life exists in other places.
The peasant remains blissfully ignorant however. And that’s how China wants it. His expectations are lower. He will never strive to visit the Bangkok Temples or stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge or walk beneath the Eiffel Tower. As long as the majority of your countrymen continue to swim in this ignorance, this quiet humiliation will remain, and you will be stuck in your playpen.