so today, i chanced upon james fallows' Two Sobering China Reads -- And Some Cheer in the atlantic. following the links in-article, i came upon some blogger melektaus' What's wrong with China? Hint: it's not the government.
the first time i read through melektaus' piece -- somewhat hurriedly in a pocket of free time at work -- my immediate response was one of bristly defensiveness. melektaus describes himself as an ethnic-chinese american who is presumably now living in china.
while i initially agreed with his first three pars or so, i thought his almost/mostly anecdotal evidence of mainland women's shallowness/superficiality, of mainlanders' speed to blame the government for all societal problems, and of their common display of ignorance and hypocrisy, were all largely generalisations. i mean, i thought to myself, wtf, this happens everywhere, seriously.
at one point, he tells the story of when he got his apartment in china:
"When I got my current apartment, I was told it was a two bedroom apartment ... When I moved in, I found one of the doors to a bedroom locked. I was then told ... 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 [to] 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 ... they capitulated and now I have complete use of the whole apartment. Most Chinese people [would] have put their tails between their legs and caved ... 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."
at this point, i was seriously offended by his writing. i wasn't born in china and am not china-chinese obviously; at some point something must have changed, because increasingly in the past years, i feel more and more (though not totally and all the time) for the mainland perspective and begin to see more and more the hypocrisy of some westerners, namely us-raised people.
i hated that in the above par's penultimate sentence, this guy actually describes "most chinese people" as dogs (i.e. tails between their legs)... based on his one-off personal experience. (yes, the mainland prof kong qingdong who called hongkongers and the outside-the-dispute singaporeans "dogs" early last year isn't any better, but that's beside the point.)
i couldn't help thinking to myself that this self-professed "chinese" simply because he's ethnic chinese is actually american at heart. and then it occurred to me that this self-professed "chinese" in me who's feeling defensive on behalf of the mainlanders being criticised here is also simply an ethnic chinese person who is actually some other nationality at heart.
but the hate aside, i came home to do a second, slower, deeper read into melektaus' piece. my second read, i found that i could neither fully agree or disagree with the article. here are some parts of his writing that stood out to me:
"The Chinese people especially in the north, display selfishness, rudeness, greed, ignorance, and pettiness the likes I have never seen before."
" I know someone in Beijing who is the CEO of a large international company ... 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 ... 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."
"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 ... 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."
"There is also incredible dishonesty ... In talking with many Chinese, they are well aware of this social problem ... 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."
i find myself agreeing with the first quote above about mainlanders' blatant display of selfishness, rudeness, greed, ignorance and pettiness. i believe many of those whose home countries/regions have been "flooded" by mainlanders would totally agree as well -- elbowing, pushing people out of the way, a total lack of awareness of the surroundings so that they stand around blocking other people's paths or views, wanting to snap up the biggest, the best and the last of everything, expensive/branded equals good with not much regard to quality and taste, so on and so forth.
yet there is also a huge difference between the ostentatious wealthy mainlanders and the poorer ones (often from the north!) who man counters in, say, hui lau shan in hk, or bubble tea shops in sg. these less wealthy/poorer mainlanders may speak loudly, be lowly educated, appear simple of mind, ignorant about many matters and not particularly refined, but they are not all/always rude or selfish or greedy or petty. i feel sorry that they have to be lumped with the worst of their nation's 1.3 billion population. imo, there are differences between those from the city and the country, often directly correlating with richer v poorer people.
also, yes, again, i agree that many mainlanders are selfish, rude, greedy, petty and even incredibly dishonest. but one really has to look back at their history; i'm a firm believer of how you turn out being largely, largely a matter of upbringing and environment. melektaus says that he has been to countries where the people are even poorer and less educated, but those people are still (for the lack of a better word on my part) of a better quality than mainlanders. again, i have to say, look to the path of history. (which is your history teacher's job, not mine.)
one problem in any society of the very poor who have to suffer life on the streets, maybe no roof over their heads and worry about their next meal, is that many quickly learn that to survive, one has to look out for oneself, be willing to cheat, steal, be low enough to beg, and then turn around to stab if necessary, be kiasu and push your way to the front, get rid of competition to make room for self, to brag and boast to get your way, blah blah. read oliver twist, check out those beggar kids in, say, india.
those poor and less educated countries melektaus talks about? they're probably still largely poor and uneducated. maybe china is still a lot poor and uneducated, but it is rapidly changing, it is rising, and as a nation it's becoming richer and more powerful (we hear/read this every day)... probably to definitely way too quickly for its people's ways to catch up. after generations of having to hack your way to the front, you either forget that you no longer have to, or you figure that your current success is a direct result of all that hacking and shoving.
the ostentatiousness, the blatant display of wealth (and as a result, lack of class) may sometimes be all very disgusting, i can't agree more. but i think we also have to realise that, apart from the still-fresh newness of capitalism, collectively, the ostentiousnesss is a showcase of the chinese people's pride at how far they've come since; it says, "blingbling, look at us, we're no longer poor and downtrodden, we've made it in life...what america once boasted of, we now own it, and more, and betterer! yay us!" (cf. beijing olympics 2008)
i mean, when i think of things this way, i can't help but feel happy for them. on the other hand, i feel sad, especially when i read articles like melektaus', reports of mainland-local conflicts, etcetc. that the way things are and have become, mainlanders as a whole have become almost ostracised -- you love/need their money but you hate them, and you hate that you love/need their money and as a result, you hate them even more.
and the type of outcast that china is, is the type that will respond like one ex-colleague i know (the name is voldie). subscribe to the "we are right and they are wrong" belief, get defensive and obsessive, build up walls, attack before you get attacked, become a bully, become a victim. so that makes me sad, because it seems like a vicious circle.
i'm just thinking, you can't quite blame them for what they are and have become, but i guess you can put on them the onus to change.