|Camila getting stalked by an evil thieving monkey|
From her pants and accent I knew she was American. But Camila was born in Chile, grew up in DC, was studying in Beijing and was fluent in Spanish and Mandarin. Perhaps most interesting in such an interesting person was that she was full of goodies on Chinese culture. I listened with fascination to her theories on why the Chinese seemed to be so rude and distrustful, even with one another. She believed that the Cultural Revolution and state control had not only eroded trust in the government, but it encouraged people to lie to each other! They were forced to protect themselves from getting in trouble with the corrupt Communist Party, which was always looking for anything suspicious to extort money from people or throw them in jail.
|Chinese propaganda poster in Yunnan|
No wonder Chinese seemed to worship in such a superficial manner! No wonder it seemed to be a country of every man, woman, and child out for themselves. With no organized religion allowed, and no access to the Western world of secular philosophy, the cult of money filled the void. Making money became an obsession, it was how one demonstrated success and proved they were favored and lucky. Even today, when a Chinese person prays at a multi-armed statue, each of the arms grants fortune for a different material object, such as a house, a car, or job. Happy New Year in Chinese literally translates as "Congratulations and Be Prosperous", and the Chinese hand each other red envelopes full of money to ward off evil spirits.
|He does look a little Chinese|
And it all makes sense, really. If one only believes that Chinese things are good and correct, one will never feel the need to look closely at the outside. Or to look at one's country in a critical light, as a place that might have flaws. And most importantly, it makes it more difficult for one to question the integrity of government.
Now today, things are obviously changing, and they are changing fast. The ban on religion has been lifted, monastaries and temples have largely been rebuilt. But the biggest change has been the exploding economy. Building wealth for the people has long been Commandment #1 of the State. They learned a huge lesson from Soviet Russia: as long as the economy runs and people must feel their lives are improving, they will put up with any abuse of power. So, the State buys up oil from any dictator it can find, razes the forests, pollutes the air with soot, all to keep the big red engine trucking. Everything the Party does is a frantic effort to keep a lid on the boiling pot. Its all about an overwhelming paranoia that they will lose control. In China, its still 1984.
But ... the pot is already starting to simmer. Wealth, ironically, tends to create something called luxury time. Which means people can afford to read, to start to think for themselves, to ask a new question: "Why?"
Students can now afford to go to University in droves. Chinese have the ability to travel outside the Zone of Control to other countries, in larger and larger numbers. And travel has a funny effect on people: it tends to unlock their minds.
|oops... don't click here|
It turned out Camila was a philosophy major, and I mentioned the philosophy book I had just finished. We walked, we talked about Hume and Heidegger and Kierkegaard, how impressive some of their ideas were about Good Government and the Right Way to Live. And I wondered, in a land where much of Wikipedia is banned, if any among the Chinese Flood below had heard of these men. But then again, the pot is starting to boil. Perhaps in modern China, its only a matter of time.