One China, multiple views

Sometimes, you can read a really interesting and informative post about China that takes a more nuanced approach to figuring out what exactly China is and isn’t. For an example, see this blog post about the slew of punishments handed out recently, over the holidays, to political activists. It argues that China isn’t necessarily cracking down on dissent more than before, as claimed in the Western press; rather, it could just be following its own policies regarding repeat offenders.

At the same time, you can read super superficial crap in the New York Times, of all places, about all the wonderful offerings of China, written by a recent transplant who sticks to many, if not all, of the stereotypes related to the lost little laowai who couldn’t hack it back home. Teacher? Check. Loves China? Check. Learned a lot? Check. Actually didn’t learn much? Check.

There are just no nuances in that article at all. Here are some of the stupid things he wrote:

  • “China wants you. Job prospects are abundant.” No. China does not want you. China wants your English-speaking and -writing abilities (they don’t even necessarily have to be great!) and your foreign-looking face.
  • “The effects of the Great Recession of 2008 may be felt in the United States for years, but they barely scratched China.” No. China over-corrected for financial crisis with the most giant stimulus the world has seen, and now it is facing rapid inflation and a real estate bubble that has many people (including me) reeling and feeling an impending sense of doom.
  • “China is a nation that unapologetically rejects Western democracy — and yet I am surprised to find that Chinese citizens and the news media have as much freedom as they do.” No. People and media can criticize the government and protest. And they do. But the concept of freedom in China is very tricky to define within a short rebuttal, but suffice to say that it’s much more complex and different than Americans’ simple, idealistic vision of it, which doesn’t exist even in the U.S.
  • “Pollution is bad. Beijing, like much of China, is often enveloped in what local residents euphemistically call ‘mist.’ But there are nice days, too, more than you might think.” Yes, there are nice days. But the point about the pollution is that it’s particularly bad when it’s bad. For days.

Look, there are many reasons to come China (and yeah, the job opportunities are a pretty big deal). I’ve given up on trying to figure out why I wouldn’t want to leave it even if I found a great job back in the U.S. But I’ve settled on this explanation: It’s an extremely complicated society, with some parts that have been explained over and over, and other parts that lurk under all those explanations, and this amalgamation of parts that make up China give so much food for thought and give you a chance to see into a world that is so vastly different than the one you were raised in. The point isn’t to understand why the Chinese, or China, are the way they are, or even to accept the way they do things (which, unfortunately, is what they want — “Zhe shi Zhongguo!” is their favorite way to tell off foreigners unwilling to put up with their bullshit). Rather, just observe and marvel — at their destruction, at their hope, at their chaos, at their absurdity, at their cynicism and optimism — and in the process, refine your own beliefs and truths.

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