Tmen Square Talk with Nawei
Today in class we saw a documentary about Tianamen square and the so called “new generation” of china (the actual documentary is banned here in china, but our teacher, who is chinese showed it to us anyway). It was all about the many demonstrations and political / social unrest among mostly young people in china in the 1980′s. We got the whole story, and although I had learned it before, I didn’t really know a lot of the details surrounding the Tianamen incident. The movie was interesting / provocative, but it was more interesting talking to my chinese roommate about it tonight. He is a really smart business student at one of the best economics schools in china and although he knew of the incident, he had never seen any pictures from it or had never actually learned about it in school. He says schools just “skip over” that part of chinese history. I was shocked that he had never seen that iconic picture of the unknown man standing in front of the tanks. He didn’t even know what i was talking about. So I went on my proxy (which allows me to get around the great firewall of china), and googled tianamen square and showed him the picture and a video clip. It was the first time he has seen any of it. It was so fascinating hearing his reaction. He obviously thought it was horrible, but he felt as if dwelling on it wasn’t worth one’s time as long as we work to make it not happen again. This is a very sensitive topic, one the people here in china generally stay away from. In fact, chinese people generally stay away from politics in general. Nawei said himself, there is no point in worrying about the government because there is nothing you can do to change it. From what Nawei says, it seems as if people put all of their attention on the good of their family’s lives and of their own lives. They do what they can to make money a lead as good of a life as they can, and they pay little attention to what goes on in the government. That is SO different than in America, where people are constantly arguing over politics.
After Nawei saw the video clips/ pictures he said that he couldn’t really comment much on the situation. He did say something that was very interesting though. He said that western thought is very focused on the individual, which i think is true, but chinese think very much on the scale of the majority. They think about what is good for the nation, for china. RIght now China is developing at unprecedented rates. The government pours money from all over the country into specific cities and modernizes them extremely quickly. Nawei said that often they develop city by city, and in the meanwhile leave so much of china untouched. It is China’s nationalistic mindset that allows for this type of piece-wise, uneven yet rapid development. In a situation when everybody contributes to the development of china’s main cities, china city people benefit but many people do not see the result of the money they are giving the government. It has resulted in a social economic gap between the rich and the poor that is huge and getting bigger in China. The benefit of a unified central government with all of the control is that things happen quickly.
Back to what Nawei said that was so interesting. He said that he couldn’t comment because he didn’t know what was good for the majority at the time. He also said that perhaps if the China government had been easier on the demonstrators that it would have set a precedent for uprising, for people complaining about their problems. That is not to say that Nawei thought it was a good thing (Nawei is one of the nicest people i know here in china and wouldn’t hurt a fly), but the fact that he even considered the possible detrimental effect on the country as a whole is so representational of the chinese way of thinking. And i guess my strong reaction to what he said is so representational of American thought, which is built upon certain basic “unalienable rights” of the individual. Taking a step back from all of this, it’s so hard to talk about any of this stuff without speaking from standpoint tainted by the biases of our own home, family, society. It is so hard for me to understand how people can so willingly give up certain human rights for the benefit of the “the majority,” how people can live so easily knowing that they have no influence on national policy. It seems oppressive, but people oblige. I guess they have no choice. Nawei said that chinese people are very adaptive and always always have hope. I have actually heard that in other places too. That’s awesome and so impressive.
I explained all of my reactions to Nawei, and he basically said that if China allowed itself to be influenced by western ways of thinking they wouldn’t be making incredible advances they are making now. What is good for america isn’t necessarily good for china, and american’s just assume that what is good for them is good for everyone else (classic american ego for ya). For people with such a different mindset, democracy might not be suitable. I would believe that. Nawei also said that as american’s our opinions have weight because we are on top. If China becomes the next world superpower, people may be more accepting of the chinese way. Even if i don’t fully agree, I understand his point. I do think that valuing the individual is a concept that pervasive among many countries / societies. My perception is that in china “western influence” is a very broad term that basically describes all European / American countries and that China, a very “non-western” country, feels like it has to prove itself and legitimize a way of doings things that is different yet possibly equally good or maybe better. This is a case of respecting our differences and that is how i ended it with my good friend Nawei. I’m very lucky to have such an open / nice person who is willing to talk about these sensitive topics. The differences still blow my mind though.
This post was a bit of a ramble (excuse the many typos I am sure I have), but I knew that I would forget my thoughts if I didn’t just bang them out right now. If you read through it all, you are amazing.
Sorry for the wait Sara! Told you this was a monster.