Who are the Chinese?
This week on Facebook: ‘The Inscrutable Chinese¹’ is a western expression that is rarely used these days and amongst those of my generation (who may have understood its true intent), it was more often used to represent someone whom could not possibly be understood by any occidental. So, “Who are the Chinese?”
I have two complete misunderstandings of the oriental and especially those from China. The first occurred when I arrived in Singapore (some 65 years ago aboard a troopship) and was surprised to see that Chinese men didn’t all dress like Fu Manchu of Sax Rohmer fame, nor did they all have long pigtails. The second was an incident recounted to me by a colleague some 30 years ago who had just returned from a secondment to Beijing where he had watched an argument develop between a Chinese cyclist and a policeman, pretty soon the policeman was surrounded by many other Chinese cyclists who all harangued him. The policeman was suitably chastised and this probably relates more to the western misunderstanding of the Chinese than another. Like my colleague I was expecting the Chinese to kowtow to anyone in authority (especially a policeman), but this was clearly not the case.
The following video (35 minutes) is an interview with Zhang Weiwei about China and Chinese geopolitics. From it, I have to wonder if the autocratic system of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) shares autocracy in political office with those incumbents who rise to political power in notional democracies. The meritocracy of the PRC (however long it may have existed) gives rise to a political hegemony that is matched by that of a notionally democratic government, both political systems lacking the unqualified supported of the demos.
Most of the articles this week are from gweilo (expatriates), apart from that by Zhang Weiwei. In his article ‘Meritocracy Versus Democracy’ he presents a very inscrutable view of China and the Chinese, much like he did in last weeks post The Silk Road Scramble. However, perhaps no more inscrutable and subject to as much misunderstanding as those western articles that may be read on democracy by an oriental.
The Inscrutable Chinese? Challenges to Understanding China: While it is not appropriate any longer to call the Chinese “inscrutable,” (a colonial moniker used to describe the Chinese as “exotic” and unknowable) nonetheless certain aspects of Chinese society remain very difficult for foreigners to come to accept.
Meritocracy Versus Democracy: While China’s dramatic economic rise has attracted global attention, its political and institutional changes have been little noticed or deliberately ignored for ideological reasons.
The fascinating cultural reason why Westerners and East Asians have polar opposite understandings of truth: According to cultural philosophers, Westerners and East Asians have had contrasting views about the concept of truth and how it works for thousands of years — and it shows up in present-day psychology.
Beyond the pale — China’s cheerful racists: To many Chinese, ideas about racial hierarchies are not outdated anathema but unquestioned belief.
Referenced Articles & Books: A book or pdf (usually free), or simply a url that may sometimes link to a download that is also usually free. Sometimes a link to JSTOR is used, this lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹The Inscrutable Chinese-Can We Understand Them? (free audio download) Wolfram Ebhard — Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley — Bernard Moses Memorial Lecture
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