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On a more thoughtful note from Shanghai

On a more thoughtful note from Shanghai

Many people have asked me about the Tibet, the reaction to the French and what I think of the Olympics. Firstly I am personally feeling the effect the China-bashing has had. It has become a good deal more difficult to get a visa, both work or tourist visa. Where previously you could make a trip to Hong Kong to get your paperwork done, now you now need to go back home. Or least officially you do. Friends have tried to go to the Chinese embassies in Japan and Indonesia and so far they have been lucky. No so for all, many are refused and need to go back home. And it seems to be irrelevant whether you have been here long or not, diplomat or not, owner of a business in China or not. In that China has been nicely communist!
I myself am going back to Belgium next week to get my visa.

But these are inconveniences, not life threatening actions. China is flexing its muscles to show the world it is not be taken for a finger pointing ride. I am going to try and give my view on this though I must say, I hope to be able to hear more from my Chinese friends on this. They have not broached the subjects themselves and I don't know yet what offends and what not. This is what I do know.

A lot of people, from I gather from newspapers local and international, both living in China and abroad, are angry with Tibetans and think them ungrateful. And they are angry for foreigners judging them to support their government. Clearly shooting and imprisoning humans for voicing their heartfelt wishes and opinions is never right. It is also not clear to me how much ordinary Chinese believe or know what is actually happening in Tibet. I have the feeling their disbelieve of CNN and anger at France is a mixture of hurt national pride that stems from seeing them (and they feeling) as a cheap and obedient goods producer, inferior less educated and world-wise people, and the other hand from a sort of cheated love relationship. They adore much of western culture and are the most fanatical brands fans (and buyers!) ever. But we constantly point out that they are nothing like us and don’t even do the basic things right.

But I have yet to read an article that tries to understand and begin to explain why millions of ordinary Chinese people feel this way.  Why they feel such violent action is OK. These are people who are not like twenty years ago simply indoctrinated, that is too easy an explanation. We are talking about people that even thought obviously many restraints and restrictions remain, rush trough a life that is so modern, in constant radical change and fast in some places, that many of you would feel totally in out of your depth and unable to keep pace. If you think this is a place where people cannot think for themselves you need to think again. I am not playing the devil’s advocate here, but living here, is even more a realisation of how high the flag of hypocrisy flies in the West. We are excellent at finger pointing and we don't pull that many triggers ourselves (we makes plenty of weapons though), but it makes us no less bloody and violent.

One thing that I heard here and not anywhere else, but maybe I am just ignorant, is that before China came into Tibet, most people were serfs of big land owners. However they live now, it is unlikely it was better before. Again, the attempt to extermination a culture for an artificial greater good has no justification in human terms, but I have the impression that many Chinese genuinely believe that they went into Tibet and have been aiding Tibet with good intentions. And guess what; haven't we heard this before and quite recently from our own politicians’ mouth? And how many civilians died for the greater good a foreign concept in Iraq?

I must say that I find the situation not so clear cut as many people make it out to be. Firstly the Olympics being a beacon of international harmony, fairness through amateurs’ sports is a hoax in itself. There is so much money wining and dining involved, many top sportsmen and women participate, and it has disciplines where little under aged girls participate, who have trained so hard, in other circumstances it would be considered child labour (I know most people don’t see it that way, but it has always bothered me because the whole idea and design is by and for grown ups).

We want our cheap stuffs to be made and dirty industries to be done in China at cheap prices, but we want China to care just as much as us on environmental problems. One of my Chinese students, who is a pretty senior manager in a government owned company, pointed this out to be when we were reading a series of articles on China in the Economist. I was asking him why the government is not tougher on environmental issues if it can manage massive projects so efficiently if it wants to. Shanghai itself as we know it now is barely 10 years old. He laughed at me and he was right too. I have rarely felt so embarrassed. So I guess all the above, comes from a genuine effort to understand this place and its people. They amaze and frustrate me everyday. I thought Brussels was chaotic in heart and soul, but this is something else.

However much I try to I still feel I judge too quickly here and I do not know enough of the others' reasons for their behaviour. My Chinese student is really my teacher and he knows a great deal more about my world than I know of his. I feel I should pay him.

One cultural consultant I met in Shanghai has taught me a very simple technique for surviving in China: Stop Watch Listen Learn. Every time you make an assumption, put it aside and reconsider, be open. And be humble. The fact is you are very likely to lack the knowledge and experience to judge what a Chinese person does and say. And it is not anybodies fault. But unless you keep remembering and accepting this, you will feel frustrated angry and often finally self-righteous because it is very difficult not to think "why don't they understand this or that" usually something you think is very self-evident, while you should be thinking” why do we not understand each other better". I keep on hearing expats saying why this why that and have caught myself saying it too.

For me I have decided that part of my cultural knowledge is a solid part that I can keep on building up and replacing in parts that I feel have become obsolete. Another part is a floating entity. It is inhabited by thinks you don’t understand or thought you have come to understand but that gets challenged radically enough and often enough to make you wonder whether it is not the opposite of what you thought. That part I feel, you need to deeply respect, not give up on and especially accept its existence (sometimes its very large size!). And I think these two parts exists in any relationship.

From all the places I have been so far, and sure there are very many places I have not been, this is the one I think is the best for a Western to reassess him or herself. Yesterday I heard something that I should have known being an historian. I will start working as a freelance city guide soon and have been following the most senior guide a few times to learn from him. Yesterday he brought us to a little alley way to show us a large stone gate. As all building materials, aside from mud had to come from abroad, this gate was an obvious sign of wealth. It led to fairly large inner court yard that was littered with bicycles, buckets and the most ingenious constructions to dry laundry. This used to be for one family until the Communist Government came in 1949 after the occupation of Japan and thanked the family for giving their house to the people and allowed them to choose two rooms and let in several other families allocating each two rooms.
Toilet, kitchen, inner court yard and stairs became common properties.

Mostly likely that shortly after this the original family had to undergo various humiliating actions to be re-educated and cleaned from their aristocratic and capitalist spirit and body and that they were now living with farmers from other provinces having next to nothing in common with them, probably speaking radically different dialects.
Everyone older than 25 in Shanghai has lived in this kind of shared environment as there was simply not other accommodation. So the guide reminded us, when faced with HR issues at work, a direct or seemingly impolite or indifferent reaction from a Chinese colleague, to think of this. How many times do we say or hear someone say they need their space? There are 1 billion Chinese individuals who grew up without the word privacy in their vocabulary. I have only heard one sympathetic or aware comment on this subject since I have arrived. A Slovak guy who said that much of what he saw and experienced here reminded him of home in the sense of the dynamics of what sudden and radical social change brings.

Next week I am due to do a course for managers with local personnel. I hope it will as interesting as it promises to be, because I think my colleagues deserve me to do my very best to understand them in their own country.

Lujiazui Pudong, Shanghai


Gepost door Flavia