Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Lesson in Chinese Ideology

About 3 days ago, I met a Chinese friend of mine at McDonald’s. This friend is very interested in all things related to politics, government, and philosophy and is studying for his Masters in Beijing. Somehow, right from the beginning of our conversation, he started to share about the Cultural changes that happened nearly 50 years ago in China. I was surprised by his openness in acknowledging some of the bad things that happened during that time. However, he clearly articulated his respect for several ideologies that Chairman Mao brought to the Chinese people. Specifically, he respected the following three beliefs:

1. “People can conquer nature.”
“As humans, we can change nature by building dams and rerouting rivers,” said my friend, “therefore to a certain extent, we can control nature.” My friend admitted that while people cannot always conquer nature (as when floods and earthquakes devastate whole villages and cities), he pointed out that it’s the spirit of the belief that is encouraging.
2. “Truth has to be found in practice.” or “To experience is to believe.”
This belief was used during the cultural changes to rationalize sending university students into the fields to learn the “truth” of what it meant to be a peasant.
3. “We should respect facts.” (Ideology as inferior to facts)
In response to this, I asked my friend if the facts lie to us or if they change with time? My friend emphasized that sometimes the truth is hidden behind the facts for example when the facts only refer to a certain time or place. This conversation led us to the discussion of truth where my friend pointed out “There is no absolute truth.” It took me awhile to explain to him how that sentence on its own could not be a logical statement, but we got there.
After we had talked about these heady topics and several other off-shoots of them for almost 2 hours, it was time to go. “But we haven’t even talked about life,” said my friend. But for me, I had learned more about life and perspective of Chinese people than I often learn in an entire semester.


Norman & Joyce said...

That was quite a conversation.

stcramer said...

Wow! That first one--that we can manipulate/control nature--is something I've tried to talk to friends about in the past, but I usually get blank stares. (What's the problem, Stephani?) It's also something that has bothered me to no end as the "best parks" are the ones that are manicured to death and as I've taken the Three Gorges Tour after the dam was begun.

That was an amazing discussion you had with your friend. Now, if he was a bit more self-aware, he could be your "Big Michael"--a great cultural informant.