A few years ago I told my parents that I had a wish of living in China. In unison they exclaimed something like: ”Why go there? They are crazy.” All I could think was:
”Sane and crazy define one another.”
I decided to go. About a month ago I entered the north border of China with the train from Moscow. I had gotten the opportunity to live there, not as a tourist, but as a participant of a society: As someone who commuted to work. As someone who haggled at the local street market. As someone who went for dinner in the homes of the locals. In the bus the sane and the crazy peeped curiously at one another.
During our first encounter my friend and inspiration Ame (Yǔ xuān, 雨轩) told me: ”To get this deep into China energy must be helping, there is a special purpose.” Those words clung on to me. It is intoxicating to hear that one has a purpose, suddenly everything feels very meaningful. In one of the dreams of ”My Purpose in China” I was about to save the country from inevitable downfall — they needed me, my western sense of freedom and my free spirit. My supposed sanity had become my madness. Had crazy and sane changed roles with one another?
Forgive me for being a Parrot but I did genuinely call China a dictatorship more than once. About half a year ago Li (丽), my Chinese-but-Swedish-friend, heard me saying that. He righteously schooled me by pointing out that to understand Chinese politics one also need to understand Chinese history.
Ame shared some depth on this topic. This is what was heard:
How is a civilization formed?
The most fertile soil in the world with the most favorable weather is located around the latitude 30. In the east this latitude goes straight through the heart of China. In the west the Mediterranean covers a lot of the area surrounding this latitude. This makes all the difference.
Already a few thousands of years ago the agriculture in the area of present day China developed faster than anywhere else. This happened because of a reliable, foreseeable and favorable climate and a lot of good land to grow food on. That meant that a lot of people could live more densely and so they did. For that society to work favorably for as many people as possible cooperation was needed. The psychological trait that would develop and support such a society would be one of being emotionally stable and reliable. One can say that the civilization that grew out of this context, which today is China, was based on stability to be prioritized before anything else — even before the sense of freedom.
In the west, mostly due to the Mediterranean, which brings with it a salty and windy coastland, the food sources would change greatly depending on weather, season and area. This implies that the psychology of people would be one based on change rather than stability. Which brings with it a dynamic society that would favor — before anything else — the psychological trait of being able to change and a sense of freedom (to change).
Now, how would these two very different cultures look at each other when trying to judge one another? One can only guess of course. Maybe one of them would call the other egocentric and opportunistic? Maybe the other would call the first one socially conformed and not free?
Maybe one of them would call the other crazy?
Changing roles with one another?
”The new center of the world is going to be the east,” he suddenly uttered.
Zhāng Fēng (张峰, a.k.a. Edward), my highly intelligent and urbane friend, was visiting for dinner just a few days before I left Xi’an for my journey to Tibet. There was an unquestionable certainty in the way he said it. The kind of certainty one gets from a scientist that really knows, better than anyone else, what he is talking about. A month ago I would have been dubious if I had heard anyone say something like that. But now I have had the opportunity to see both sides of the coin, just like him. During my visit to China I had had the opportunity to see aspects of the Chinese society that few had mentioned where I come from. One of those aspects being how very action oriented and technocratic it is. When comparing that with western politics which tends to be quite arbitrary due to its populistic aspects one might start to wonder: Is democracy, as we know it in the west, the way to go(vern)?
It should be obvious that the answer to that question is no. Democracy only seem to work as long as most people are somewhat educated, can think abstractly and have a sense of empathy. But what happens when the educational system fails and voters start to consist of jungle people* rather than that of ”somewhat educated” people? Then the elected leaders will reflect that. Hopefully I will not need to give any examples of where this is already happening. My final point is that there are lots of jungle people in China, but they will have a hard time if they want to have any substantial influence in the country.
Don’t take my word on any of this. All of it is nothing but a story, told by me. I recommend for you to do the living research yourself.
* jungle people is the term referred to when speaking about people that would treat anything the way they would unconsciously treat a banana — peel, eat, throw.