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.