Anybody see this piece on www.time.com? Thanks to my friend Nick for forwarding it to me. Food for thought, and a great translation, by the way.
Chinese culture sounds like it’s vibrant and refined. One problem: it doesn’t exist
By Wang Shuo
I think it was rocker Cui Jian who mouthed the phrase Chinese culture to me while talking about his music during a party at some German guy’s place in Beijing. Another Chinese friend of mine, his breath reeking of booze, leaned over and asked me, “What’s Chinese culture?” Being well stewed myself at the time, I didn’t say anything. But if you’re going to make me answer, all I can tell you is, “I don’t know.”
You’ll hear foreigners say that Chinese culture is Confucian culture. What is Confucian culture? In the official media it’s the Doctrine of the Mean: elders and juniors each in their places; being tolerant and restrained and yielding; doing unto others and all that. All of which just tells you how to avoid getting the short end of the stick in the world’s most crowded of crowds: keep your head low and you’ll survive. Then there’s the philosophy for retirees: Taoism, unity of heaven and man, becoming one with nature. Sounds great, and every Chinese person can rattle off a couple of paragraphs of the stuff. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to say that the one line of Confucius you just can’t beat is: “I’ve never seen the man who loves virtue as well as sex.” In the end, this philosophy is about telling people to act one way or another. Give someone a chance, and his first instinct is to go straight for the sex. Or the money. That includes me.
I was born under Maoist rule, and the first time I heard the word culture was in “Cultural Revolution.” Our only cultural sage, the writer Lu Xun, who had been dead for 10 years by then, taught us “Don’t forgive anyone” and “A perfect fly is still just a fly.” If only we had listened.
Just look at what passed for culture at the time, and see how little it’s changed today. Back then, children sang, “Mommy and daddy can’t compare with Chairman Mao, the greatness of heaven and earth can’t compare with the great kindness of the Party.” The slogan board on the door of the police headquarters read in big red characters, “Resolutely support the righteous anti-imperialist, anticolonial struggles of all the peoples of the world.” The slogan on the door of the crematorium read, “Increase production, decrease population.” It’s been more than 20 years since those days. Now the slogans are new, but they’re still a series of orders. “Open a bottle of Hennessy and let the good times roll.” “Your choice, Sprite.” In the stores and restaurants, you see, “The People’s Police advise you to keep an eye on your wallet and other personal articles.” In the public toilet the sign reads, “Please urinate in the trough, please flush after defecating.” Jiang Zemin says, “Represent advanced culture.”
A friend of mine says Chinese people are the smartest. I ask my friend, “But what culture do they possess?” Beyond firecrackers and paper