More than a culture clash

Being neither Chinese nor American, I feel like I can identify with both sides and at least try to understand their culture clash. On one hand, both China and Brazil are developing countries, “BRICS,” effectively still in the Third World (although that classification isn’t very adequate today); in that sense, dirty tap water doesn’t faze me, nor am I paranoid about food contamination or impressed with the dirt on the streets. In fact I’ll have to say that Brazil has much to learn with China when it comes to economic development – much of their society is in a much better state. Yet what China does clash is with is my (Brazilian)– our (Yalie/American) – view of liberty and freedom.

I wanted to be culturally aware, to understand that China is based on a different culture; I wanted to comprehend how Confucianism and tradition shaped this society so rigidly; I wanted to not be that Westerner that shows up in a foreign country and in a week already feels entitled to pass judgment.

Here am I, however, attempting to understand (even if at a superficial level) how these countries developed so differently. On one hand, in China there are bullet trains, an amazing education system and familial importance placed on this education, and the magnificent 2008 Olympics. Then I think of my city, Salvador, whose subway system has been “under construction” for the past 11 years (although somehow we still pay taxes for it every year), with one of the most horrid education systems in the country (America, if you think your public schools are bad…), with the World Cup stadium still not completely built (although it’s coming in 2014) – and I am embarrassed that Brazil is considered one of the world’s upcoming powers compared to China’s true greatness. And then, however, I think of how Rishabh met two students from one of China’s best universities who did not know what the Tiananmen Square massacre was; I think of the extreme censorship, of the opaque nature of their government; and I cannot help but be embarrassed for them as well – embarrassed that both our countries are not even close to being the examples we must become in order to lead the world. I knew Brazil was not ready, but now I know China isn’t either.

Bringing this closer to the one-child policy, I simply find it irrational how a government is able to make so many decisions with so little regard for their people. I’m not going to begin an argument for or against democracy, for that really is dependent on each country’s political culture, but it baffles me that the Chinese government can simply fake economic reports, lie about statistical representation of the population, apply something as radical as the one-child policy to society without ever making the consequences clear or homogenous, and simply continue to grow. China is truly the everlasting, unstoppable dragon.

Perhaps four months away from Brazil has been way too long, but when Haley noticed the grotesque difference between our visit to the Hutongs and our visit to the Chinese Shangri-la hotel (a luxurious 80-floor skyscraper), I could not help but feel a bit disgusted myself. I was not necessarily disturbed by the blatant income disparity, for that I have witnessed all my life, and am not naïve enough to believe that the world will ever – or should ever – be absolutely equal. Yet when I see strangers on the streets of Beijing and imagine that their life has been such a forceful experience at so many times, I did feel disgusted with this government that promotes an image of an inwardly unified, homogenous, protected, traditional, and equal Chinese society. It upsets me that when we talk of the one-child policy, we think of how the government, think tanks, NGOs, and agencies can change it, and very little is done for the people themselves. It frustrates me beyond compare that I cannot ask someone walking in the streets what they think of their government, what they think of this supposedly socialist, communist or whatever it is called society, that in reality is just another capitalist metropolis of the world. First, I do not speak their language, do not understand their culture, do not understand the dimension of Chinese history and politics in order to even begin to relate to them; second, they themselves would have very little knowledge of the true actions of their government. With censored media, government propaganda, statistical misreports, and little access to the outside world, how could they? How to balance growth with development, human rights with public interest, and governmental actions with population needs has been the focus of our research as we attempt to understand not only a policy, but also the greater spectrum of what China itself is.

The one-child policy is more than reproductive biology, than women’s rights, than economic development; although these are supremely important as well, we must first remember the people – the well-being of over a billion of human lives.

Jéssica Leão


Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *