The Changing Mind and the Pain of Growth


1. The Changing Mind

Oversea writers on China, especially those from China, tend to have a pessimistic view on this country. It is not without reason, of course. Witnessing the deteriorating environment, the widespread corruption, the ever-widening income gap between the rich and the poor, and a government always ready to suppress free expression, it is really difficult to keep optimistic.

But this is just one side of China, the dire side. The bright side of China is at least equally phenomenal as its dire side. It is constantly in progress. The progress does not necessarily mean booming towns, or even institutional reforms. The progress embodies itself in every side of individual lives. The most important progress, and also the most frequently ignored, is in the way people think, express, and act. Yes that Chinese people still do not enjoy political freedom, but this people is becoming more and more open-minded, more and more confident in themselves, more and more sensitive and assertive in their individual values and rights. This is the solid foundation for an open society yet to realize. This is a people finally liberated, not by PLA (People's Liberation Army), but by 20 years of market-based reforms.

This is an achievement little less than a wonder. This people had been ruled by Confucianism for hundreds of years, which advocates subjection of individuals to their parents, superiors, and ultimately the emperor. Only 52 years ago, the same people was willing to fight the imperialist America almost bare-handedly, without tanks, planes, or even enough food and clothing. Only 39 years ago, when Mao Zedong awkwardly waved his red booklet on Tiananmen, the same people could do anything for him, including sacrificing themselves or their own parents. Only 29 years ago, the same people burst into tears when Mao Zedong finally died, afraid that China would be going nowhere without him, who killed more Chinese than any foreign power including the Japanese.

2. The Pain of Growth

Of course this progress is far from painless. Not only is there a generation gap between the old and the young, but also one between the young and the less young, since it takes only several years in China to create a gap of generation. Not only is there a generation gap of ages, but also a generation gap of locations, since hundreds of miles in China could mean decades of (missed) rapid developments.

The older generation are raised in a relatively more rigid society, where obedience and humbleness are merited. The younger side, more of whose lives are shaped by the free market, value confidence and individual initiatives. For example, when I was a primary student in 1980s, "Love-To-Show-Himself" was still a derogative term. Now, if you can't show yourself, it could mean you have nothing to sell and thus valueless. The difference of values inevitably translates into difference of characters and gap of understanding.

This gap makes the society of one-child families even more lonely. The younger generation, believing that it is hopeless to be understood by their parents, are all by themselves emotionally from dangerously young ages. As they enter colleges, they find their seniors much older than them in character. And their peers are no more connectable, coming from all regions and strata of this huge country. They are less likely to find friends and soul mates than those in more stable and homogeneous societies. Once in personal or academic trouble, they are less likely to find emotional support and thus more fragile in crisis. And the colleges, usually over-stuffed with politicians and under-stuffed with professional counselors, can offer no real help. It is no surprise that we see more and more suicides and campus violence in recent years.