General Question

fremen_warrior's avatar

Chinese jellies - what's your take on this...?

Asked by fremen_warrior (5487points) May 24th, 2012

I know nothing about how modern Chinese people think, never really met one, and I am really curious about how your past impacts your worldviews today. I just want to know, in light of your ancient history, and the uphevals of the last 3 centuries, how do you see yourselves, China, the world in general, and where you ‘fit in’? Does any of the “Middle Kingdom” mentality remain today, and how much of an influence might it still have on your society? etc. I have seen a few documentaries on your recent history, done some reading about it but I’d really rather get to know how all of this influences real people, hence my question(s) :-)

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12 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

China has approximately 1,336,718,015 people and covers an area of about
3,705,386 square miles.

There is no such thing as a generic modern Chinese. Perhaps you can narrow your question down.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Who said anything about generic? I want individual opinions (please?). Ask a random Brit for instance whether they think Thatcher was good or bad – given, you’ll get different opinions, but you will also be able to find out if they still have an impact on modern reality. Brits for instance, it has been argued recently, have lost their sense of identity after the collapse of the empire, after the fall of the Raj etc. and are still looking to define themselves.

Same goes here: I want to know how big a part plays China’s past in its present. Whether the mentality is still influenced by the historical perception of it being the greatest civilization in (the middle of) the world, or has this been totally left in the past. I want to be able to understand how the Chinese percieve themselves and their role in the world today.

Hope this helps.

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Response moderated (Off-Topic)
lifeflame's avatar

ok, I’m Chinese. Specifically, Hong Kong Chinese.
Your question is a bit hard to answer because it’s very general. But I’ll give it a stab as to what I think.

I don’t really think of us as the greatest civilisation. (actually, IMHO, “great civilisation” is an oxymoron, but that’s another discussion.) One of the longest, certainly, and there are many beautiful things (our written characters, calligraphy, tai chi, etc); but also very brutal, stupid things in our history (general disregard for human life throughout the centuries, most recently with the Cultural Revolution, Tiannamen, etc).
I think one of the key things about understanding China is (a) any sort of governance had to take into account the management of a large population, which tends to lead to authoritarian, hierarchical governance and (b) China is so big that the diversity is motley, so every generalisation you make will not too much sense on a local level.

I don’t really think about the “middle kingdom” concept, as geographically we know the world is round and everyone is in the middle. However, I do think China is on the rise as a world power. This I find both exhilarating and scary. More on the scary side because the planet really cannot take the rampant consumerism of 1/5 of its population.

To be honest, culturally I am undeniably Chinese, but I really think in terms of governance, the size of China makes it hard to manage. Heck, even in a small government in HK we have stupid bureaucratic decisions (e.g., just look at our system for arts funding /social welfare) that comes from a desire for control, from too much power from the commercial sector, etc, etc. So if you ask me, I think the world needs to move towards smaller intentional communities; and away from identifying with the concept of nation-state.

JLeslie's avatar

@lifeflame I found your comments about government needing to be more authoritarian because of the size of China very interesting.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@lifeflame thank you for your insight. On a sidenote, do you think Mao may have been honest about wanting to repair the system when he set the cultural revolution in motion, or was it a calculated power play right from the start?

And since you mentioned the Tiananmen incident, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on how you think it might have influenced chinese society, how the relationship between the party and the common man changed (did it change significantly?). Again, I understand we are talking about the biggest nation on Earth here, so I’ll really settle for your individual opinion :-)

In terms of governing such a huge populace, I have no idea how to improve that system, it’s mind-boggling. Smaller and more decentralised might be an idea like you said, not really sure the CCP is inclined to allow this kind of restructuring to happen anytime soon though.

What astounds me – getting back to the original question – is that China in all its history never waged an aggressive war, but always preferred “outsider management” and active defense. Given the lessons of the past century, do you think that might change? Do you think the world’s fears related to a rising China are irrational, or is there some merit there?

I suspect we should exclude Taiwan from this equation though, which as I understand the PRC claims to be a rouge province, hence not an external territory to conquer but a part of China to “bring back into the fold” – am I right? Again I ask for your opinion on this – even more so since you’re from HK :-)

By the way, have you read Kissinger’s recently published On China? I’m digging through it atm., and I must say it’s a very informative, if not entertaining, read. Would be interesting to hear what you think of it.


fremen_warrior's avatar

sorry, meant the 100 flowers campaign, not cultural revloution

lifeflame's avatar

About Mao: honestly, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what he was thinking with the 100 Flowers. I didn’t know him, or anyone who knew him personally, so any opinion about his motives would be speculation from history books and other second hand, third hand sources. I’m personally a bit cynical, but this is all in retrospect—so really, who knows.

Wow – Tiannamen. You pose very difficult questions, because chinese society is always changing, and the relationship between the people and the mainland government is an ever evolving relationship. How much of this is about Tiannamen? It’s hard to tell. I will say this. It was a deeply traumatic incident for the nation, and it’s been 23 years now—that’s another generation. The turnout this year for the candlelight vigil in HK was the biggest than it has for a few years, and many of them were young people. So the question I want to know is, what does Tiannamen mean to these young people, who were not born when it happened? Why do they show up? On the other hand, why do so many Hong Kongers (and the mainland Chinese who commute here for June 4) show up for hte vigil, quite emotional, but seem much more passive when it comes to protesting against current infringement of rights? (i.e., is this reaction something that remains specific to the events of 1989—because it was so obviously wrong, but it’s more risque to protest against the leadership of the current government?)

I think the statement “China in all its history never waged an aggressive war, but always preferred “outsider management” and active defense.” is inaccurate. Tibet is a case in point. I also think there are many other forms of imperialism and dominance which are more subtle and influential. Starbucks, McDonalds, Apple, agriculture, pharmaceutical businesses, ...

Do I think that the world’s fears of a rising China are irrational, or is there some merit?
As I said, I think the emphasis on nationhood is outdated. I think we have enough common problems as an international community (i.e., an unsustainable way of life – environmentally, economically, etc) far beyond the interest of a single nation. I think we also have enough local problems that we need to solve, without worrying about a “rising enemy.” Yes, there will be conflicts of interest as our resources run low, but the solution, I think, is to not just think about protecting a smaller “in-group”. If we do that, it’s like the people who started hoarding salt in HK after the Japanese earthquake, triggering a panic.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@lifeflame Hey, thank you for your insights, you’re giving me a lot to think about here.

I suppose it is natral for people to be roused by such sad occasions, and given how year by year it would seem the climate in mainland China seems to be somewhat less restricting, more and more people feel they can express their opinion, but are still not sure their voice would be heard if they actually started demanding a more humane attitude from the government. As for young people, they are easily influenced and are often drawn to various causes, so it is easy for me to imagine them also wanting to be part of something as monumental as the struggle for a more democratic China, and what better way to start than by learning about and helping commemorate those events.

Speaking of Tibet, as I understand it, it was conquered by Mongols in the 13th C. and later on fell under Chinese governance during the Quing dynasty. Ever since, while it had its autonomy, wasn’t it technically considered a part of China? Not justifying its takeover, just saying this would not have been seen as aggressive action then, just enforcing Chinese rule in the region. Feel free to criticize my train of thought here, I will happily read your opinion on the matter. As for big business, that is a power in its own and nobody’s safe from being “macdonaldized” these days I’m afraid.

While I agree that looking at nations in terms of potential threats seems outdated, we do have bigger issues on our hands, just like those you mentioned here. Nevertheless a lot of westerners are anxious to figure out what the world will look like once China succeeds the US in being the top player, both economically and militarily.

Now my understanding is China will just tend to its (percieved) borders – Taiwan included – and do what it has been doing for thousands of years (with some hiccups here and there): be prospoerous. (The Taiwan question is particularly tricky, what do you think might happen there?) Anything could happen though. What’s your take on all of this?

Sorry if I’m asking tons of tough or seemingly wierd questions, back here we learn nothing about China (I’m Polish) or anything outside Europe, the Middle East and the US (Russia doesn’t count). Not like there are many Chinese peope to talk to in Krakow by the way. We do have a Confucius Institute here, but they’re all business, so in other words you’re stuck with me here, lol

As for the sudden hoadring of salt, we had something similar over here when sugar prices were on the rise globally – at least people in HK had some rational explanation for their erratic behaviour ;-)

lifeflame's avatar

Wikipedia has a great map here that shows the changing borders of China throughout its history. (see graphic on the right) So if you take the viewpoint of the whole civilization and the development of culture, you can see that the idea of “tending to its own borders” is bogus. There’s been expansion, contraction, invasion, in-fighting, you name it, we have it. And you can also see why the Tibetians claim themselves as a sovereign state, because in the light of the lifespan of the Chinese civilsation, they were a pretty recent addition. Given the malleability of it all, I personally think that the history of “sovereign rights” should be less important than what the citizen wants, here, now, today.

But I agree with you in the sense that it is unlikely that modern China will militarily invade another country. The CCP have enough on its hands governing its 1.3 billion population without needing to manage more. Yes, there are border disputes—the Daiyu islands with Japan is a particularly stupid one, and China is keen to assert its claim on Taiwan again—though in my opinion, I don’t think we’re going to see a budge on that status quo because everyone is benefiting economically so well from it.

”..a lot of westerners are anxious to figure out what the world will look like once China succeeds the US in being the top player, both economically and militarily.”

…. guess what, we are anxious to figure out too! Seriously, I don’t think the Chinese have any better answers than you when it comes to this. I don’t think anyone fifty years ago could have imagined China where it is now, politically, economically, socially…

And frankly speaking, I don’t even know where we will be in ten, twenty years time. Maybe even next year. We live in very precarious times…

fremen_warrior's avatar

Let’s agree to disagree on Tibet ;-) What do you think of the supposed rise in nationalism in the PRC in recent years? Is it just national pride or something more? Have you noticed that too, or is it just another media hype?

By the way I am really surprised we are not hearing more people chime in in this thread, China being in the limelight and once again undeniably becoming a very important part of the international community. I’d like to touch upon another aspect of the PRC here, if it’s not too touchy a subject (though since we already covered Tiananmen and the 100 flowers to some extent here, this should not be that bad), and that would be the censorship (of internet) in China. What’s your take on it, how bad is it, is it really a big problem and is there a chance the CCP might loosen it in the near future?

(this is starting to feel like an interview ;-) anyway, as always, your opinion is much appreciated)

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