Kevin (erf_) wrote,

how to destroy a five thousand year civilization in ten easy steps: part three

So. To recap.

1. Corruption is bad.
2. Chinese-Americans actually have the power to change China.

Uh-oh, you might be thinking. I don't like where this is going.

Well, cease your worries, then. I don't intend on following in Sun's footsteps, or recommending that Taiwanese-Americans and supporters follow anyone who is. Are you kidding me? We tried that already. We had our revolution. It was a failure of Biblical proportions. China will never trust us again. (Note that in their recent propaganda rhetoric, they are careful only to praise the Patriotic Overseas Chinese Movement, as if to emphasize that non-patriots like me, whose loyalties lie with other nations, are really not deserving of such kind words. Even if the Father of Modern China thought otherwise.) Chinese scholars after the communist revolution were quick to use Sun to justify their belief that republican democracy will never work in China. It's too un-Chinese, they say. It's alien to Chinese cultural understanding in a way that Sun, with his inferior Western education, could not comprehend.

I am half-inclined to agree with them. Not about the Chinese democracy bit, because much to the CCP's chagrin (and much of the Chinese people's ignorance), the KMT remnant in Taiwan actually did overcome its authoritarian, militaristic roots and become a free, democratic state, its citizenry genuinely holding all of the rights and privileges implied therein, after decades of long, painful struggle. Without a bloody coup, even--sometimes a country does, it seems, simply vote its way into democracy. But I do agree that Sun's vision of a peaceful Chinese state, governed by the people, of the people, and for the people, run with integrity, free from corruption and the burden of a thousand competing underground conspiracies, is not going to be achieved through violent revolution. Sun's example, if nothing else, does teach us that. The web of 關係 in Beijing is too tightly woven and too experienced with popular revolution to be jarred loose--nothing, even a coup against them, can be done without their influence. The members of the so-called "Chinese democracy movement," as much as I support their intentions in principle, really don't know what they're up against. I'm not worried that they'll fail, I'm scared of what will happen, if they succeed, after they succeed.

Rather, we should learn from the example of the democracy movement in Taiwan--a tiny, unexpected fragment of the fulfillment of Sun's original vision, many years after Sun himself left his country to the warlords. Taiwan is relatively unique among democracies in that there was no revolutionary war, in the conventional sense, nor was there a coup. (The KMT is still one of the major political parties in Taiwan.) The people of Taiwan, cognizant of what they were missing, simply pressured the government into gradually giving them more freedoms until the country completed its ascent up the slippery slope into full-fledged, Western-style democracy. (The government resisted at first, leading to, well, 2-28...which was horrible and bloody and disgusting. But it eventually realized it couldn't hold out.) Faced between annihilation by Beijing on one hand and popular uprising on the other, the now-weak authoritarian government eventually had no choice but to relent. It was a slow, arduous, gradual process, at which it seemed like at any moment it could relapse back into authoritarianism, to the point where senior citizens and war vets actually rioted in Taipei out of joy and disbelief when in 2000 an opposition party won a Taiwanese election for the first time, putting the KMT out of power.

If Chinese culture was what was holding back this tiny Chinese state from democracy, the Taiwanese reasoned, then it was Chinese culture that should learn to grow and evolve. Protests became a celebrated institution, rather than an omen of violence and political instability. Odd traditions of campaigning, like parading candidates through the streets on an open-roofed truck, and blowing airhorns at odd hours of the night, began to emerge. The press, astonished with its newfound political impunity, began running sensationalistic smear stories on everybody (private citizens, the president, corporations, foreigners, domestic political leaders, the works). There was no need to play draw-straws with a stubborn dictator or brainwash an uncomprehending public into submission. The people of Taiwan simply chose to invent a culture of democracy to assimilate into their own, and over the course of several generations (and the occasional brief spot of toothless violent resistance from the government) they made it so.

Sometimes, the best solution to a cultural problem is a cultural solution.

The biggest ideological weapon the Western world has against culturally ingrained systems of corruption is the concept of integrity. The idea that subverting the public good, officially or unofficially, is not only irresponsible but unethical is an idea that has not taken root in Chinese society. And it should.

I've been thinking. If the Taiwanese can bend their Chinese heritage to allow it to accept democracy, can't we bend it to accept integrity as well? Maybe the Taiwanese idea of democracy will never take hold in China, where the Chinese way of doing things is too deeply entrenched, and maybe the Western value of integrity is too alien to take root in China as well. But here, in Chinese communities in America...this is our domain. This is a place where we rightfully have a say in our culture, whether we choose to take it or leave it. And we--most of us, at least--are at least familiar with the concept, having had to have learned it to survive here. Those of us who grew up here were even raised with it. We don't need to be taught what integrity is. It's been with us ever since we were children, even if our parents couldn't understand why we couldn't be proud of them for cleverly outsmarting their landlords out of their security deposit. Or why a family friend who's a traffic cop isn't an inconsiderate jerk for not letting us off a ticket just this once.

I see the fixers in New York City, and the Chinese-owned immigration law firms, and the Chinese backdoors into Western banks, and the snakeheads extorting illegal immigrants in Chinatown, and I think, "This happens only because people like me let it."

The concept of integrity exists in China. (Is there a word in Chinese for it? I'm not even sure.) It's just not very strong. We just need to take what our parents had of it, blend it with what we've learned here, and nurture it...

If, in this tiny sliver of Chinese culture we've taken with us to this faraway land, we can raise a generation of children who value, protect, criticize, and reform institutions, rather than passive-aggressively subverting them for personal gain--a generation of children who feel a pang of conscience when offered an indirect bribe, who know how to refuse a gift if the spirit in which it was given is less than generous--what does it matter if 1.3 billion people in our parents' country don't have the slightest clue why we're being so goody two-shoes?

After all, other races in America have a cultural ideal, a lesson the current iteration is trying to learn from its historical narrative. Perhaps we should too. If the current generation of black people is learning how to not be slaves, and the current generation of white people is learning how to not be slavers, perhaps the current generation of Chinese people should learn how to be truly post-imperial.

You will have a hard time convincing anyone, even an immigrant, of this. But we the American-born, and their children, and ours...they are key.

This is, to the best of my (admittedly unproven) knowledge, how you raise a child to believe in integrity.

1. Take responsibility and own up to your own mistakes. Not just to your kids, but to everyone. Even if it means losing face. Even if it means losing face in front of your kids. Do it with integrity, not shame. Your kids will benefit more if you are a good ethical role model than if you are concerned with showing them who's boss. To hell with "do as I say, not as I do"--you are their biggest role model, and you must strive to uphold whatever standards you will hold your children to. (There's nothing wrong with admitting to your kids that you screw up sometimes, though. Just don't be a hypocrite.)
2. Don't beat your kids over power violations. Answer insubordination with logic, not violence. Only resort to punishment (of any kind) if your kid knows what he or she is doing wrong and is still doing it. Make it clear that insubordination in itself is not an ethical crime. Always be prepared to answer "Why?" Always emphasize that the best way to defeat a system is to challenge it, directly or indirectly, not go around it.
3. Don't teach your kids about 關係, 面子, or 臉 until they ask you. If your relatives try to teach your kids to obey these things, get angry and explain to your kids that your relatives grew up in a very different world than they will. If you see your kids participating in favor-trading, explain to them the potential consequences of such behavior. Especially if they show extra-favorable treatment to people of their own background. There is a fine line between community and nepotism. Don't cross it yourself, and don't let them cross it either.
4. Be proud of your kids for being honest. You should still punish them if they do things that are bad, but show some mercy if they're up front about it. Explain consequences, let them feel ashamed of what they did, but don't let them be ashamed for letting you know or apologizing.
5. Teach your kids that there's more to success than money, achievement, or acceptance (as important as all of those things are). Don't bribe your kids with arbitrary or undefined rewards. Scold them if they haggle for their grades, unless they were unfairly cheated out of a grade they deserved, instead of congratulating them on their ambition or initiative. Teach them, when they are old enough, that material rewards are not everything, and that social capital is a material reward. You know how our parents in the '80s pressured us to succeed academically above all else? Do you remember what a colossal waste of a childhood that was? Learn from that experience.
6. Don't show favoritism to kids who suck up to you. Especially against their siblings. Likewise, neither reward nor punish children who rat out their siblings. Honesty trumps loyalty.
7. Love your kids. Too many Chinese parents don't do this. Love your kids. Give affection for no reason, not just as a reward. Ignore the Confucian aphorism that after a certain age one should withhold love from a child so that he or she will be strong and independent. There are better ways to teach your child to be strong and independent. In modern and future Western society, your child will learn regardless.
8. Teach your kids that the only favors worth returning are the ones given in generosity, not laden with attached obligations. Teach your kids to not accept gifts from strangers unless Mommy or Daddy is around.
9. Listen to your kids' concerns and actually learn and change from them, so that they may have the same expectations of their superiors when they grow older, rather than being scared of challenging the power dynamic.
10. Remind your kids to believe in themselves, no matter what other people may say, and that the worth of a human being is not measured by what other people think. It's trite, but only in its absence will you realize how powerful that idea is.

An honest person is the greatest weapon we have against our culture of corruption. With enough of these, we can get even China to listen...
Tags: china, history, politics
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