Sunday, February 16, 2014

The new generation of Chinese world citizens

My Aussie friend has his signal on waiting to turn right into the only parking spot. Its Saturday morning and empty spots are precious in this busy shopping centre. Without warning, from the opposite direction a Mercedes deliberately spins left into the spot stealing it from under my friend's nose.

A Chinese lady, in her 50s, steps out, locks her car and nonchalantly walks away from the crime scene. Her bling blouse that color-clashes with her skirt and handbag, is a dead giveaway of her origins - mainland China.

This lady looks like she is on a definite winner-take-all mission. Her botoxed face suggests a no-nonsense person who has no time for niceties nor pleasantries and if she could take advantage of a situation she would, regardless of ethics or social norms.

Unfortunately, this is the image embedded in the minds of many Aussies when it comes to mainland Chinese.

"Bloody rude Chinese drivers. They are always like that" muttered my friend ignoring that I am also a Chinese seated next to him.

We can understand that each country has its own social norms, which may be practiced only within that culture but there are acceptable universal standards which seem to be missing in this lady with the Mercedes. Perhaps in her own way she felt that driving a luxury car gives her divine rights to export her rudeness or the mistaken idea that wealth commands respect.

My friend's comment this morning starts me thinking about my Chinese-ness, yet again.

Well for a start I would not deploy such a cruel guerrilla tactic when it comes to finding a parking spot. Nor would I partake in a common practice of public self-massage and shouting into the mobile. When it comes to expectorating publicly that would be a definite no. I value my personal space as much as basic social politeness and certainly does not subscribe to a common mainland attitude towards traffic lights: green means go and red means go even faster.

Given the above I must be different to this general image of a mainland Chinese. Having spent the last 40 years in Australia might be the reason. Or perhaps my non-China birthplace might have something to do with it.

But the question remains, why are so many mainland Chinese today seem to be devoid of basic social politeness?

More importantly what has happened to this cultural behemoth that prides itself with 5000-years of culture? What happened to the people who gave the world the fork; gunpowder; compass; paper; printing press; money; silk; tea; porcelain; Daoism; Confucianism and even soccer? What happened to the practice of humility that has been embedded into the national psyche of Chinese people for thousands of years? I also wonder what Confucius would say about this morning's disorderly incident?

Perhaps the answer might be found in 19th century China when the Qing dynasty quivered between adopting western ideas and maintaining the traditional closed-door policy when dealing with the world.

China's last imperial dynasty the Qing dynasty, entered the 19th century rocked by internal rebellion and the incursion of foreign powers. The first hundred and ten years of the century would turn out to be the darkest years for the Middle Kingdom. The country imploded under the exploitive forces of foreign powers as well as internal political upheaval, civil war and natural disasters. By the end of the century between 20 to 50 million, mainly civilians died of starvation, opium addiction and injuries from warfare. The international status of the Middle Kingdom deteriorated from the 'Exotic, Cultured and Wealthy nation' into the 'Sick man of Asia'.

The 20th century was no different. It started with the plague in north China as well as floods wiping out more than 10-12 million people. By the time the Qing dynasty fell in the early 20th century, emerging Chinese nationalism threw the country into yet another 70 years of political, economic and social turmoil which exacted further suffering and death to millions more of its people. Internal civil war followed by the second Sino-Japanese War subjected the nation to further inhumane suffering. By mid-century a new form of government replaced China's 2000 years of continuous dynastic rule.

By the 1960s the people of China had endured almost 200 years of incessant change, turmoil, death, starvation and humiliation especially by foreign powers.  Then to add further misery and pain the entire nation was plunged into further ten years of forced cultural reform. By the time this reform ran its full course in 1976 the last remnants of ancient China together with its traditional culture, philosophy, art and values were eradicated. In this void, a cultural and social ground zero existed inhabited by rebellious youth devoid of compassion, religious beliefs, traditional philosophy and basic trust among humans.

The suffering endured by the people of China between 1800 and 1976 was unmatched by any disasters, man-made or natural, in the modern world. A nation cannot withstand such a catastrophic assault and for such a long time without having an impact on the psyche of its people.

Testimony to the resilience of the Chinese people, after 230 years of turmoil and practically closed to the world, by 1978 the Middle Kingdom finally emerged with a re-branded identity. With a more pragmatic leader the country was now ready to kick start its economy and deal with the world. This first generation of global business men and women leading the country's industrialization would now be aged between 40s and 50s. Being new global citizens these first wave of Chinese entrepreneurs had to re-learn unfamiliar international ways and universal acceptable behaviours from scratch - one mistake at a time.

This lady in her Mercedes might just be one of these off springs from the new generation.

Fortunately, with the resilience of this cultural behemoth backed by the strength of 5000 years of culture there may still be hope. From this perspective, the impact of the last two centuries would merely be a rain drop in the ocean.

"Why are the Chinese so rude?" my friend's question brings me back to reality. He has a perplexed look.

"Lets talk over coffee" as we walk into the shopping centre.

If I saw the lady in her Mercedes again I would value the opportunity to somehow let her know that there are so much to learn about this brave new world. I would ask her to go forth and be successful but do it by embracing new universal standards and be an acceptable part of this generation of world citizens.

This is what I would say to her and her children.

"Good luck - my friend. 200 years out of 5000 years is not enough to fundamentally change you. Showcase the product of 4800 years and treat the experience of the last two centuries as a software update for the new and cultured Chinese. You now represent the new generation of Chinese global citizen"

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