The Social Evolution of China

So I've been learning a ton, seeing even more, and generally having an amazing time here in China. I keep wanting to come and write every now and then, but I would generally just forget and move on. Last night was interesting, though, and I decided then I'd get back here and dust things off some.

I had some good insight into Chinese social relationships eating barbecue (chuar) with a few of my buddies. Tony, Arthur, his son, Ryan, and two other Chinese guys were present. Everyone had varying degrees of English proficiency save Arthur, but we actually spoke in Chinese for a good deal of it. I'd say 50% of the time I was speaking Mandarin. Nothing too profound – I had to laugh when Tony and I were talking politics and Arthur cut in to ask what the hell we were saying. And I could only respond with "China old…America young…I know this, but West…China…" And then I butted my fists together to show compromise (in hindsight, a handshake would have been much more effective, but I think I was on beer 5 by then). That's why I love chuar – it's great practice and I get new words constantly. Especially chuar with my Chinese buddies, cause they can translate instantly for me when they get going and I have no idea what they're saying.

So yeah, getting back to that conversation. Tony's lived in Australia for 5 years running a coffee shop and has the best English of any of my Chinese friends. He's pretty self-conscious about it for some reason – he asked me for the second time in two days if I could tell he had a Chinese accent. I told him last time definitely not – he sounded like a native English speaker, but at the time I was polite. The second time, I gave him the answer I'd considered after the first, which was "your English and grammar are perfect, but you lack any trace of a Western accent. Jun (a Chinese-American teacher at ALWAYS) sounds relaxed and I could guess he's West Coast American by his voice. You, though; you're very precise in your speech. I could not place you as Chinese but I'd guess you were a student."

He seemed to accept that gracefully. Tony is the closest guy I know to the modern intellectual type we hear about in the American media now and then that popularizes notions of nationalism in China and rails against the West. Note I say CLOSEST. Only because he's very intellectual and has a firm grasp of Western politics and history. He is sometimes critical, but I accept it fully because he's actually LIVED in the West and so knows what he's talking about. He dreams about opening a coffee shop specializing in international blends here in China and I think he will succeed as he's (stereotypically Chinese) business minded.

But…His familial responsibilities tie him down, in his view. He wants to travel more, earn money and explore, learn and see what he can of the wider world. A familiar lament! But he's painfully aware of the fact that, as the oldest son, he's expected to work to care for his family as they age. His generation is the first to openly criticize and work against that, though. Really, the rate of change here is enormous – I've been here seven months and I can see it. Sitting at the only gay bar in Jinan, I have trouble believing the skinny queens from Qufu chatting with me in excellent English, glittered nails tracing the rims of their shot glasses, are the same species* as the bent old man selling peaches just outside with a tattered red-star Maozi (hat – MAOzi) awkwardly hiding patches of haggard yellow-white hair. He smiles and blackened pillars smolder where his teeth once were.

"Is China's liberalization and Western influence is a good thing," I ask. "Absolutely," he says. "It's essential if China is going to understand the West, and vice versa, but change is slow." "Why?" I ask him. And he confirmed something I'd wondered about for awhile before coming. That the Chinese are verrrrry conscious of the fact that they have 5000 years of history. And they're also aware that this modern era has been some of the most rapid change in their history. While they accept it, they do so cautiously, as befitting that sort of antiquity. Arthur chimed in that I should see Egypt and India as well to truly understand Chinese character. The three oldest continuous civilizations…I wonder if some Chinese see them as peers on some level, and dismiss the others in a darker portion of their mind. Not overtly, but as a subtle jab. If I were from any of those countries, I think the answer would be absolutely. But only as a matter of national pride, not true prejudice.

So I tried writing this like a travelogue…I still hope to be a writer and I'm feeling inspired not to waste my time here and write based off of fresh inspiration whenever I feel like it, as opposed to writing long after events have happened. I tried to write a bit deeper and thoughtfully, rather than the surface-gloss postings I often do more frequently. Thoughts and critiques on this particular writing style are encouraged and appreciated (c;

*I don't use the word "species" literally, by the way.

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One thought on “The Social Evolution of China

  1. It’s true, isn’t it? You just have a feel for your native tongue. I’ve no doubt I could live in China for 10 years and I’d never sound like a native because I’d still think in English and have to translate back to Chinese. When I speak Chinese, I see pinyin in my mind with little tone markers, and I unconsciously jerk my head and fingers to match them like I learned in classes, for emphasis. English, however, is automatic. No load time required.

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