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Developing our judgement
Developing our judgement|
Over the past 4000 years, China has produced only one great thinker: Confucius. In the 2500 years since his death, China's literati have done little more than tack on footnotes to the theories propounded by Confucius and his disciples. Rarely have they contributed anything original to the body of Confucian thought, simply because the traditional culture did not allow it. The minds of the literati were stuck at the bottom of an intellectual stagnant pond, the soy paste vat of Chinese culture. As the contents of this vat grew more and more putrid, the resulting stench was absorbed by the Chinese people. Since the many problems in this opaque, bottomless vat could not be solved by individuals exercising their own reason and intelligence, the literati had to ape other people's way of thinking, or be influenced by other schools of thought. A fresh peach placed in a vat full of putrescent soy paste will soon wither away and turn into a dry turd.
China has its own peculiar way of transforming foreign things and ideas and making them Chinese. You Westerners say you've got democracy; well, we Chinese have democracy too. But in China, /democracy /is understood as follows: you're the /demos /(people), but I've got the /kratos /(power). You Westerners have a legal system; we Chinese have one too. You've got freedom; so do we. Whatever you have, we have too. You've got pedestrian crossing lines painted on the street; we do too, but in China they are there to make it easier for cars to run pedestrians over.
The only way we can do anything about the Ugly Chinaman syndrome is for every individual to cultivate his own personal taste and judgement. One doesn't have to be an accomplished actor to enjoy going to plays. People who don't understand what is happening on stage can at least enjoy the music, the lights, the costumes and the scenery, while those who do understand can appreciate drama as an art form. The ability to make such distinctions is a great achievement in itself.
When I first arrived in Taiwan some thirty years ago, I met a man who owned eight sets of Beethoven's symphonies on records. I asked him if he would or give one of them to me, but he refused. Contrary to what I had assumed, each set of the symphonies was performed by a different conductor and orchestra, and they were not at all similar. When I realised that, I felt quite ashamed of myself. This friend was a true connoisseur of music.
During a recent US presidential election, the pre-election debates were broadcast on television in Taiwan. Many people found it remarkable that not once during the debates did either of the candidates reveal anything about their opponent's private lives; American voters disapprove of such tactics, and it would have cost the erring candidate many votes. Chinese politicians are just the opposite. They go out of their way to expose their rivals' personal secrets and perhaps invent a few as well, all couched in the filthiest language.
The quality of the fruit is determined by the quality of the soil in which the tree grows. Similarly, people are the 'fruit' of the societies in which they live. The citizens of a country should cultivate the ability to judge their leaders; otherwise, they only have themselves to blame for the consequences. If we are willing to shout our praises for a man who is unworthy of our respect, who is to blame if he rides roughshod over us? Buying votes is a very disturbing phenomenon. Voters line up to cast their ballots, a man starts handing out money, and the voters ask him, 'Hey, where's my share?'
If this is Chinese political judgement, is China really ready for democracy? Democracy is a privilege to be earned, not a free gift. People say that the Taiwanese Government has relaxed its restrictions on human rights considerably, but I find this a terrifying situation. I have my own freedom and rights, whether the government grants them to me or not. If we had the capacity to make proper judgements, we would demand elections and be rigorous in our selection of candidates. But lacking this capacity, we will never even be able to distinguish a beautiful woman from a pock-marked hag. Who are we to blame for this? If I paint a fake Picasso and you give me half a million bucks for it, who is the fool? You are the one who is blind and entirely lacking in taste and judgement. If there are too many deals like this, no one will buy authentic Picassos, and as the market becomes flooded with fakes, all the real artists will starve to death. Thus, if you buy a fake, you only have yourself to blame. To give another example, you hire a tailor to install a door in your home, and he puts it in upside down. You scold the tailor, 'Are you blind?' But the tailor says, 'Who's blind, you or me? Who told you to hire a tailor to install a lock?' This is a story worth remembering. Without the capacity to make informed judgements, we will always end up making the same mistakes.