The Chinese Personality: A Certain Sadness and A Sort-of War

It is probably no stretch to say that China, besides being the largest society in the world is also the best educated. Every spring millions of Chinese young people endure sadistic university examinations so stressful that suicide is common. One half million young people take their own lives every year. And they memorize, and memorize and memorize. They know the entire number sequence for Pi, English text reading better than our graduates, English grammar better than almost anybody who speaks it. They know calculus, computer engineering, and foreign languages. They know Chinese history. And individual Chinese can and do create small businesses and stunning art all alone, out of the view of the political systems.

But, and this is key, they also know that there are enormous amounts of knowledge that they don’t know. And because they know that they don’t know it – whatever it is – there is a certain sadness. College juniors we met did not know that 200 miles to the east there is Korea, certainly a major player in Chinese modern affairs. They do not know who Michael Jordan is, or Babe Ruth. They don’t know what a Baby Ruth is either. They are cut off from information about their fellow man and finally they are cut off from creativity. You cannot memorize creativity. You can’t import it and you can’t steal it. The Internet may correct this as hackers know how to skirt Chinese firewalls and get the information they want. Any expansion of information will eventually result in expansion of personal freedom.

Currently there is extensive censorship of the “Jasmine Revolution” – a more tepid mirror of what is happening in the Middle East yet the leakage of information continues. If we draw a map we see revolutionary elements every where on the globe. Our Tea Party, the American revolt, has even moved to England!

You can steal technology though. Large numbers of Chinese infiltrate the USA to steal technical information or better still, you stay at home and reverse engineer foreign technology. (The Lenovo computer is terrific. You will recognize it if you ever use one.)

China is planning a war against the USA – sort of. It is not a secret, but we being Americans and not having a certain or even an uncertain sadness, pay it no mind. We have always ignored our self-advertised enemies. But it is common in oriental societies to advise your enemy before you attack. The idea is that you give your enemy a chance to negotiate. “Sort-of” means that nations often have an “enemy” for public relations reasons. Citizens might not be so enthusiastic about your leadership if there is no one facing off against you. But America has no designs on China and never has. American wars have been largely defensive exercises, and interest in Asia was nearly non-existent in the early 20th c. because most Americans’ ancestry came from Europe. China has only become real to us since the late 1970s. Up until that time, China was a communist ally of Russia and that reason enough to be avoided. Personally I think their competition with the USA is a motivated, and not a true goal. China does not need to beat anyone politically to be a strong and prosperous nation. All nations have their own unique contribution to global peace and history.

Washington knows China is building its military and books aplenty are now being written. China is stockpiling armament and she has FIVE TIMES the fighting force. But Americans are a different lot. They negotiate, and argue, and stall and then finally, blue-red in the face, they sigh resignedly and gird up their loins for a fight. President Franklin Roosevelt said it best. “Americans are slow to wroth.”

Why would China bother itself with this? The Chi-Coms as the Chinese Communists are called, already have everything they need for a strong and viable society, yet they can’t understand why they don’t have it. If we beat America we will have “it” they think.

But creativity is never part if the spoils of war. Creativity invents, it manages people, it plans long-range, it encourages more creativity and it is never memorized, or stolen. Creativity comes from free societies acting in concert or competition with itself and others. Creativity has to be free to be itself. It can never be dominated or controlled or it dies.

China has lived with dictatorship for most of its 4,000 years. The Chinese point to their long history. They brag about being the oldest continuous society on earth – but age is not a barometer of success. Success is!

To be successful you must change and grow. War by its very definition destroys; peace builds, peace brings profits, peace regenerates itself. Peace encourages creativity and individualism, and out of individualism comes more peace, more progress and success. Yes, it is no secret that America has much more system than education, but somehow, some way every generation seems to get some educated and move on from there, from a lone Bill Gates changing the face of international business to stunning musical talent of virtually unknown American Idols. It is all the product of peace, not war.

China needs to learn that. If she did, she would not war. THAT they could possibly memorize.

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6 responses to “The Chinese Personality: A Certain Sadness and A Sort-of War

  1. I too teach English in China and I agree that Chinese students do have a good knowledge of grammar, but what they lack is the ability to apply that knowledge and think creatively.

    You are correct, Chinese students work so very hard and, like yourself I have a lot of sympathy for them. However, what I find lacking in China is modern teaching methods. The students I teach are used to ‘passive’ learning. They passively learning huge lists of vocab, or learn to recite texts ‘parrot fashion’ and although this can get a student so far it is not an effective way to learn how to write or speak a language. Speaking and writing are active skills and require active learning techniques.

    Thats my 2 cents….
    🙂

    • Yes, I agree. I have already written 30,000 words for a book titled “How to Teach English in China” but the USA economy prevents me from returning to test my methods. Chinese is taught to them using etymology; when I used this method, going back to Latin and French origins, they learned the language much faster. I took Chinese at a US University which demonstrated how they learn their language. Where do you teach? Have you been able to introduce new methods?

      • ‘How to Teach English in China’ sounds very interesting I’ve been toying with writing something similar myself although I doubt that I could write 30,000 words. Yes, etymology is a good way to teach English vocabulary and some of my students are interested when I explain some basic etymology but I can tell others do not want to try anything that is ‘non-standard’. I guess my teaching methods are new to these students. How effective they are? Well to be honest I’m not sure but the university has just renewed my contract so they cannot be too bad.

        I envy your knowledge of Chinese, I am having to teach myself Chinese and that is very hard as here in Tianjin all my Chinese friends want to practice their English and I get very little opportunity to actually put what I’ve learned into practice.

    • The same thing happened to me – they laughed at my Chinese and wanted to practice English instead. I learned 4 times as much at university.

      Here is what I discovered. I saw a list of 1,000 English words every Chinese person should know. I found “covered” on 1 page, “covering” on another and covered in another. There was no linking of common roots. It should not be hard to work up a sheet of cognates for them to memorize – the verb cover, the noun cover, (coverlet, covert) and all the various verb parts of speech. English is actually easier than Chinese.

      I made a big chart of time – long past, near past, present, future and far future and placed our verb systems in there. They required an understanding that to have (i.e. own) is not the same word as has, have and had for a past tense. Teaching this is extremely helpful in teaching verb tense.

  2. Of course, out of a billion students many would have different experiences with quality, as obviously you have had. I taught in American schools too with pretty thin results. Thank you for your comment.

  3. William Casey

    ‘English grammar better than almost anybody who speaks it’ – I teach English at a Chinese University to English majors – you are very badly informed on this point.

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