Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Western boys are all very excellent"

There are a lot of things you could say about this essay by a Chinese university student on the kind of man she wants, but what jump out at me are the things which make China so interesting (parentheticaly, I think Jiaotong University translates as Traffic University, any help?). To me, it combines the relentless, hard-headed practicality of much of China with the sort of naivete that James Fallows describes here. The rest of the world might be concerned with religion, traditional cultural practices, democracy and so on, but a large portion of China only cares about money. This is evident in the bargain that the Chinese have made with their government: they will agree to be repressed socially and politically, so long as living standards keep rising dramatically.

Social liberality is roughly commensurate with economic prosperity, for whatever reason. The countries that are the most accepting of a variety of life choices tend to be the richest ones. China is one place that undercuts this. The number of young Chinese that live together without being married is far higher than in a far more developed country like Korea and I would venture to guess, without any knowledge, also Japan. The personal ads that are described in this book, probably the best description of life in modern China, could just as easily be interpreted as real estate ads. Both men and women devote equal attention to the size of the apartments, appliances, furniture, as well as personality traits.

Sixty years of communism and the ravages of the Cultural Revolution have allowed China to be far more egalitarian in its personal relations than its comparable neighbours in Korea and Japan, which are still remarkably hierarchical. This allows problems and ideas to be considered with the sort of naked, unadorned logic that is otherwise largely the domain of philosophy majors and the socially inept. This produces, at least in the cities, a sharp, astute population that is both unconcerned with and unwilling to consider what the rest of the world thinks. Consider, for example, the Chinese position on Tibet. China brought schools, roads, hospitals and a host of modern amenities to Tibet. Why, then, the acrimony?

The naked, socially inept logic is what leads to arguments of the sort they hurled at Barack Obama. Obama is black and though he is not the descendant of slaves, most American blacks are, so he must appreciate the importance of emancipation from slavery. Many Tibetans lived in slavery before the communist era, when they were emancipated, so if Obama is in favour of the Tibetan camp, he is unappreciative of what China did for Tibet. The merits of the argument are largely irrelevant. China is very good at not saying anything about so much, it could easily refuse to discuss Tibet and Taiwan the way it ignores the third of its Big T's, the Tiananmen Square massacre. That would likely be a more fruitful approach than this embarrassment.

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