Tom from Seeing Red in China pointed out some China Quarterly essays and one of them is the inspiration for this essay …
Few of China’s problems seem so intractable as the issue of the Chinese soul and what morals are available to guide it in the 21st century. The whole concept of a soul and of morals is intangible and esoteric, making it difficult to find stable ground in a society currently in the throes of a pragmatic emergence onto the world stage. The struggle in China over what is right and wrong intensifies each day, as news reports flood the web-waves with callous, indifference to human life – no matter how innocent – and the unscrupulous, unpunished actions of the greedy elite.
This struggle is not just vital for China and its rise out of Cultural Revolution anarchy, but the moral compass that China re-invents for itself will be the core from which China’s cultural power emanates. Right now Chinese culture is referred to tongue-in-cheek as one of the deepest, broadest, riches and oldest cultures in the world, source of countless great works and great thoughts. Yet in China today the cultural wars over the soul of Chinese people is tilting in favor of materialism and a patchwork of Western and Eastern values woven together haphazardly – easily ripped apart by the winds of stress and strife.
There are parallels between China’s struggle and the struggles of other peoples all across the world, especially in the West, where the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition has receded in the face of growing apathy toward religion and the rising numbers of those who believe in a patchwork of their own: Christian beliefs melting into pagan speculation mixed together with modern universalist appreciation for all religions and beliefs … political correctness flipping itself into defiant, antagonistic stances … we too are a magpie culture in the West, but for different reasons.
Can it be denied that the US is actively engaging China’s border nations in an attempt to contain and control China? It seems pretty clear to most observers that such was the case years ago – Kissinger commented on the idea of containment back in 2005 – but with the recent moves in Myanmar and Darwin, it seems quite clear that the US has no intention of “sitting back” while China slowly takes control of the Pacific.
Is that even the case, that China was “taking control of the Pacific”? Now we can never really now because containment implies, and in a very clear way demands, a reciprocating outward pressure from China itself to puncture the box. A city won’t start digging trenches and tunnels and seeking ways out of a siege until it finds itself besieged.
The Yining Government just released a plan of action that targets beard and burka-wearers across the municipality. The plan calls for a house-to-house search for any bearded men or women wearing non-revealing clothing and then ordering them to shave and strip. Disobedience will be met with prison terms. The new plan comes on the heels of China’s clumsy heavy-handed approach to defuse Tibetan desperation. Weibo netizens derided the plan, for the most part, but after posting reached 2000 comments, it was taken down … in the name of harmony.
I often wondered if generations before us have felt this same sense of impending doom that our epoch currently feels. I don’t wonder about it anymore because I have come to the sad conclusion that, yes, of course past peoples felt the dark hand of Death coming for them … because it was coming for them. It comes for us all.
The difference is not only that I am here observing this happening around me, making the feeling seem real and new and unique to me and my own short life on Earth, but also the realization that our media makes it possible for us all to feel the Hand of Death – from the locked -in Facebook junkie to the nomad in the netbar.
Individuals facing death is one thing … Cultures facing death is another. The loss of a culture, a language, a set of traditions seems so much more horrifying. Horror in the Heart of Darkness sense, not in the Nightmare on Elm Street sense. True inescapable horror.
I once heard an Islamist say that he and his people would use horror to defeat the West. At the time I saw it as the horror of suicide and blood in the Nightmare sense … blood is horrifying. But now. Now I see that he meant the horror of a billion screams for mercy sense. The horror of a culture that sees no place for itself in the future.