Monday, February 20, 2006

All About My Mother

About ten days ago I had a big argument with my mother. Huge argument. Tears and swearing got in the way. The issue was some family stuff, as always. The unreasonable requests from her were so obviously morally wrong and I shouldn’t even have to explain my stand. Instead, I kept on calling her back, apologizing for my behavior and comforting her.

What could I have done? She’s my mother.

Which made me think about the current debate on censorship in China. The comments from Chinese readers to my previous post Do I Have to Take A Stand? mainly expressed annoyance and incomprehension at the West’s criticism of China. So did most of the Chinese bloggers I’ve read thus far (here’s one opinion translated by ESWN). I sensed the existence of a defensive argument from my compatriots – This is our family business; leave us alone!

That’s the same argument I used with my ex who’s an American advocating Tibetan rights and preaching all the other liberal media’s criticisms of China. I explained that I could understand his points, but please understand that Chinese are very defensive about these criticisms because in our modern history we’d been repeatedly humiliated by Western colonial powers; in addition, we Chinese believe in “A son doesn’t complain about his mother’s plain looks, and a mother doesn’t pick on a son’s destitution” (子不嫌母丑,母不嫌子贫).

Last Friday I filmed an interview with a guy in his forties who was a key organizer at the family church I’m following. He was imprisoned for 2 years after the 1989 student movement. After his release, the government kept on harassing him until he couldn’t live in Beijing anymore. He moved to Hainan and did interior decoration to make a living, leading a group of migrant labors from the countryside. He came back to Beijing in 1998 and slowly found comfort in Christianity. He would worship with some of his friends from the 1989 era who had been suffering both financially and spiritually since 1989. Every so often the cops would come and disburse the congregation for fear of some political gathering.

Still, he loved China. He sang the song My Chinese Heart in front of my camera. And tears came down his face.

I can’t speak for the young kids nowadays. But for my generation and those before us, we grew up indoctrinated with the notion that China is our dear motherland, and it’s our duty to repay her love and make her, having long suffered, proud. We learned in class stories such as the Chinese students in Japan in the 1910s committing suicide to protest the humiliation they suffered as Chinese overseas. We also learned at the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many of the overseas Chinese returned to help make the motherland strong.

Of course many of them were persecuted under Mao and wasted their lives away, if having not gone crazy or been tortured to death.

My ex sometimes would counter – we Westerners are only criticizing the government; why do you always jump to associate the government with the country?

It was difficult to find a retort to that. Does the government represents “China”? What’s this mysterious “China” that we were trained to love and to sacrifice for?

I’m not a historian or anything. But I think that the Confucian culture had intentionally blurred the line between family structure and dynastic hierarchy; emperors thus became sort of the family head, demanding loyalty in the same way as the family patriarch.

And Confucius’ followers and the communists further exploited our human weakness – they put in the strict patriarchal rules (the government), yet they demanded the same devotion as our unconditional love to our mothers (the motherland).

However, is the government really a surrogate of our great dear ephemeral Motherland whom we should forgive for any wrongdoing and defend from any badmouthing? Should this devotion be as unconditional as that to our own mothers?

I’d been playing with the parallel for a week. Then over the weekend I read an article on ESWN, about the government’s refusal to allow Liu Binyan, a famous writer and political dissident from the 1989 era to return to China for medical treatment. After Liu passed away, the government orchestrated to erase his existence from people’s memory.

Disgusted, I felt compelled to take a stand – This government is not our mother. My mother, despite her great difficulty dealing with me being whom I am, still loves me and always worries about me. I came from her and I once ran away from her smothering love. But that love is real and now I’m back, I can accept the suffocating Confucian teachings just for her.

Not with this government. Not with a government that demands loyalty with no love in return.


Baomin said...

The distinction amongst government, country and people was made clear as early as MengKe, who wrote, "民为贵,社稷次之,君为轻。" But the indoctrination we received deliberately blurred the line among them. The true patriots are the fighters and defenders for the interest of the people. The interest of governments often contradicts that of the people since governments, regardless whether they are democratically elected or not, often are controlled and hajacked by a group of the powerful and ambitious. They dress up and put on a show to demonstrate that they are for the people or their interest is aligned with the people. Sometimes, almost everyone believes them. Sometimes the show is so lame and ludicous and even the most unintelligent observers can tell they are faking. Is it possible that we can never be sure no matter how real it is? Then, if you ever participate in the system, you may run a risk without knowing that you could contribute to the exploitation of the masses. That's why intellectuals are normally reserved for people who are against the establishments and consciously stay out of the mainstream.

Albatross said...

Government is not a person, so it will never love you as a person, e.g., you mother, but it did protect you from invasions of other countries. I'm not saying that we have to accept everything it does, just try to see the other side of the story. Believe it or not, I still don't like invasions, even if it's from a "non-evil", "free" country ...

Ceridwen Devi said...

Many of us in the west see much of Chinese culture as exotic. Qi gong, kung fu, Lao tse and much of the ancient wisdom of China have a fascination for many people outside China. The politics is another issue and always seems to stand in the way of better understanding. What the west and China need most at the moment is to listen and to learn from each other.

Anonymous said...

random blog hopper here...

I don't agree...your analogy is faulty. The mother should care for the son. The government should care for the people. This is all true. But the government has no obligation to care for the individual person but the welfare of the whole, and as a whole, the government has done for the people more than what a mother can seemingly do. It lifted people out of poverty, is trying to lift more out of poverty, and has given pride to a country that has long had none. So if it wants to keep the stablity it has worked so hard for by making sure that people don't start protesting, then I am in agreement. Of course, doing it harshly is to be frowned upon, but people get raped in prisons in America. Do they deserve that? No. But can it be stopped all the time? No. And America has far less people.

I'm sorry, but this government has cared for its people more than you know. If you had lived during the cultural revolution and compare what you have now to that, it is obvious how much effort has been put in to transforming your life, everyone's life so that most may have modern luxuries.

Anonymous said...

shoot,the"random blog hopper"up there is definitely a son of a bitch
if you take a look at China ,you'll easily find that the life here has not changed that much at all,after all these years ,we still can't discuss democracy or sth like that publicly,the so-called "chairman of the people's republic of china" is nothing but a dectator,you said the government cares for all the people,yeah.maybe they should,but don't actually do,all they cares about is how to keep their dominion of China,they don't care if there are still handards of thousands of people(most of which live in rural areas of the country) or not,these poor bastards,as someone lives in China,i can't come up with any good reasons not to hate the government,can't believe ANY Chinese people stand with the government

Anonymous said...

Although China is still far from being perfect, it has improved dramatically. On the other note, every country has its own problems/issues. There is not such thing as 100% democracy. Government is just a political entity. Why so upset?

Freudian Slip said...

Very thought provoking post, I like how you dissect the term mother and what your country means to you. It sounds like you have had quite a revelation recently...