Monday, March 14, 2011

I still don't understand, but I'm learning

One of the hardest things for me to understand is how Chinese people aren't totally livid about the authoritarian state in which they are governed. Forget the important stuff like right to assemble and freedom of religion and just think how emasculated you'd feel if the man was preventing you from watching YouTube or even doing boring old job networking on LinkedIn.

I don't usually talk politics with Chinese people. It's not polite and most people don't have much to say.

However, the other day I was interviewing a school teacher whose parents were zhi qing. They were sent to one of China's poorest provinces as teenagers and made to spend their entire working lives there. They didn't have a chance to go to college, and they lived much more limited lives than they would've had they been able to live in their native Shanghai.

The teacher said several times that his parents were dealt with very unfairly - that he hated his parents history.

His school is located next to some government buildings. He told us occasionally a small group of people will come to protest outside - perhaps about the fact the government is demolishing their home and they want more money, something like that. His reaction, he said, when he sees this is that he wants to say (but never does), "Back off you guys. You are protesting over some small amount of money. My parents gave up thirty years."

Since he brought it up, I had to ask ... and it was awkward because I was asking through my co-worker/translator, and the question was impolite. But basically I asked something like: Your parents gave up thirty years. What happened to them was very bad and unfair and it was the government's doing. These protesters, they also think they're being treated unfairly. Do you think the government is more fair now?

To which he responded, "some people always have to sacrifice," which kind of reminded me of this quote. That was the end of that subject.

In the past month I've interviewed a lot of Shanghainese people whose parents were sent out to poor provinces during the Cultural Revolution. The people I'm interviewing grew up in the countryside and their lives too were affected by sweeping government policies. They all say about the same thing: I am a stronger person. I'm more adaptive. I can adjust to situations better because of the hardship I've already been through.

No one was on a hunt for justice. No one seemed to be dwelling on the prime mover of all this unpleasantry. They were all just better adjusted to the hand that fate dealt them.


Jimmie said...

You know at some point I think people just get so used to what we would consider oppression that they wouldn't even really be sure what to do without it. Now that I'm living in the Czech Republic, which is FORMERLY communist, I can still see that people, those who actually lived under communism, carry themselves so discernibly differently than those who are young and never actually experienced communism (or simply don't remember it).

Leslie said...

Hey! Good to hear from you - Taiwan to Czech Republic, amazing! I'm adding your blog to my Google Reader (I used to keep up with people on Blogger's platform but GR is easier)