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Chinese people are the same everywhere
/Chinese people are the same everywhere/ |
I have lived in Taiwan for the past three decades. I spent the first decade writing fiction, the second writing essays and the last in jail--quite a nice balance. I no longer write fiction because fiction only deals indirectly with real problems through the medium of form and characters, while essays are daggers that can pierce the hearts of scoundrels and villains.
Writing essays is like sitting in a car next to the driver, telling him when he makes a wrong turn, warning him to stay in the slow lane and not pass, to watch out for the bridge ahead, to reduce speed, to beware the approaching intersection, and to heed red lights. After exhorting and teaching drivers for many years, someone must have decided that I had taught enough, because I ended up in jail. People in power think that as long as no one is around to point out their errors, then they can't possibly do anything wrong.
During my incarceration I spent many long hours contemplating my fate. What crimes had I committed? What laws had I broken? I continued to ponder these questions after my release from prison and began to wonder whether I was a special case. On this trip to Iowa, when I have had the great fortune to meet writers from mainland China, I discovered that God has predestined people like myself to end up in jail, whether the jail be in Taiwan or in mainland China. One of these mainland writers told me, 'Someone like you would never have survived the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution. In fact, they would have snuffed you out during the Anti-Rightist Movement.'
Why must Chinese people who have the guts to speak the truth suffer so terribly? I have asked a number of people from the mainland why they ended up in prison. Their answer was, 'Because I said a few things that happened to be true'. And that's the way it is. But why does telling the truth land one in such unfortunate circumstances? The way I see it, this is not a personal problem, but a fundamental flaw in Chinese culture.
A few days ago I had a discussion with the party secretary of the 'All-China Writers Association'. He made me so angry that I literally was unable to speak. I used to think I could hold my own in an argument; but this guy knocked the breath out of me before I knew what had hit me. I can't blame him for this, though, the same way I don't blame the cops who handled my case in Taipei. If you lived in their world and were conversant with their ways, you would probably act just like they do, and believe that what you were doing was right. I would do the same thing, though I would probably be even more obnoxious than that party secretary. People often say, 'Your future is in your own hands'. Approaching the end of my life, I don't believe that any more. Only about half of your life is in your own hands. Other people control the rest.
Life is a little bit like a stone in a cement mixer; when it gets tossed around with the other ingredients, it loses control of its own existence. I could cite similar analogies /ad infinitum, /but the conclusion I always come to is that the problems of the Chinese people are not individual but rather social and cultural problems. Before he died, Jesus said, 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do'. When I first heard that statement as a child, I thought it rather bland and frivolous, and as I grew older I continued to feel that it lacked substance. Only now do I appreciate its profundity and bitter irony. Jesus' words taught me that the Chinese people's ugliness grows out of our own ignorance of the fact that we are ugly.
Because Taiwan and the United States have broken off diplomatic relations, the expenses for our trip to the United States were borne by Iowa University and Pei Zhuzhang, the owner of the Yenching Restaurant in Iowa City. Pei is a Chinese-American who had never set foot in China, nor met me before. His generosity moved me deeply. He said, 'Before reading your books, I felt that the Chinese people were a great people. After reading them my thinking changed entirely. Your books inspired me and made me want to hear you speak in person.'
When Mr Pei started thinking about Chinese culture and its problems, he wondered if there were some basic defects in the moral fibre of the Chinese people. Before I travelled abroad for the first time, Professor Sun Kuan-han said to me, 'When you come back to Taiwan, there is one thing I absolutely forbid you to say to me, and that is: "Chinese people are the same everywhere" ', so I promised him that I would not say it. But when I got back to Taiwan and he asked me about my trip, the first thing I said was, 'You warned me not to say it, but: Chinese people are the same everywhere!'
Sun hoped that with time the Chinese people would change and mature, and he found it hard to imagine that this would never happen. Are there innate flaws in the Chinese people? When God created the Chinese, did he make us so ugly on purpose?
I believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with the Chinese national character. I am not saying this out of self-pity. Nor are Chinese people lacking in intelligence. Every university in the United States has Chinese students at the top of their class, and we have produced numerous noted scientists: Sun Kuan-han, the father of Chinese nuclear physics, and Nobel Prize winners C. N. Yang and C. T. Lee. The Chinese character is not fundamentally flawed, and I am sure that we have the ability to make China a healthy and happy place to live. I also believe that China will some day become a great nation. But we must not spend all of our time and energy trying to make China a major military power. It is infinitely more important to bring some happiness into people's lives. Once we achieve this, we can concern ourselves with power and greatness. We must also ask why, over the last century, have we so often failed to free ourselves from suffering?
/The virus of traditional Chinese culture/
I am going to risk proposing a comprehensive diagnosis for the problems mentioned above: Chinese culture is infected with a virus which has been transmitted from generation to generation and which today still resists cure. People say that if you are a failure, you can blame your ancestors, but there is a significant flaw in this argument. In Ibsen's play /Ghosts, /a syphilitic couple give birth to a syphilitic son, who has to take medicine every time his illness flares up. At one point in the drama, the son exclaims, 'I never asked you for life. And what sort of a life have you given me?"
Can we blame the son, and not blame his parents? We Chinese should neither blame our parents nor our ancestors, but rather the culture that our ancestors have bequeathed us. This huge country, with one quarter of the world's population, is a pit of quicksand filled with poverty, ignorance, strife and bloodshed, a pit from which it cannot extricate itself. When I observe the way people in other countries carry on interpersonal relations, I envy them. The traditional culture of China has conferred upon the Chinese a wide range of unseemly characteristics.
Three of the most notorious characteristics are filth, sloppiness and noisiness. In Taipei they once tried to mount a campaign against filth and disorder, but it only lasted a few days. Our kitchens and our homes are always in a mess. In many residential areas, as soon as the Chinese move in, everyone else moves out. A young woman I know, a college graduate, married a Frenchman and moved to Paris. Soon their home became a regular stopping-off place for her friends who were travelling in Europe. She told me that as more and more Asians (not all of them Chinese) started to move into the building, the French started to move out. This is a terribly disturbing thought. But when I went to Paris and saw the place for myself, there were ice-cream wrappers and saqals strewn about everywhere, children running and yelling in the halls, and graffiti covering the walls. The whole place smelled like a mouldy cellar as well. I asked her, 'Can't you organise all the residents and clean the place upT She replied, 'It's impossible. The French are not the only people who think we are filthy slobs; after living here like this, we feel the same way.'
Turning to the subject of noise, Chinese people's voices must be the loudest on earth, with the Cantonese taking the gold medal. I heard a joke about this: Two Cantonese men in the United States are having a conversation in the street. An American walks by and thinks they are having a fight, so he calls the police. When the police arrive and ask them what they are fighting about, they say, 'We're just whispering'.
Why do Chinese people shout when they talk? Because we are insecure by nature. The louder we shout, the more right we are. If we shout at the top of our lungs, we must be right, otherwise why expend so much energy? The above-mentioned behaviour patterns are damaging to both our self-image and our mental equilibrium. Filth, sloppiness and noisiness can also damage our nerves. If Chinese lived in a clean, orderly environment, they might behave entirely differently.