Thursday, May 28, 2009

Do I Still Love China?

Last week, Singapore reader Drifting Leaf asked how I see myself. If you read her letter, you will see this question was about cultural identity. She says:

When I see old CCTV/HK/Taiwan TV programs, it brings me back to my childhood. I’m not sure how far I should identify with or support China though. I love classical Chinese culture but the present China/government has quite a negative image.


When we watched the 2008 Olympics, we were uncertain whether we should feel proud of China or not because we are foreign citizens and am not sure if we can lay claim to Chineseness. I believe you still love China despite all its political problems.

Her questions took me through some soul-searching. I moved to the US as an adult and I've been living here for 21 years; my American-born daughter has turned 20 this year. I'm used to the way of life in New England: to pull weeds and plant flowers in the summer garden, or to have five months of winter solitude in a snow-besieged colonial house. Looking back, I seldom thought of the question "What am I?" except that when I visited China in recent years I often felt like a foreigner. Occasionally I had to provide information on my ethnic background ("American Chinese" or "Asian American") when filling out forms, however I don't consider ethnic background the same thing as cultural identity.

In short, I've never really suffered the anxiety of identity loss. Drifting Leaf's questions made me wonder why.

A couple of weeks ago during a library presentation on my book, someone in the audience asked if I'd like to move back to China. Without thinking I replied, "No, my home is here now."

So, what role does Chinese culture play in my daily life in America then? Perhaps the answer lies in a corner of my garden (and yes, that's where my blog hearder comes from):

This is what my husband Bob (that's him in the picture, watering the garden) and I call our "Chinese wall." After we moved to our current home in the summer of 1998, the two of us spent three years of summer weekends building this garden wall with our own hands. Its style was modeled from the gardens of Sichuan, and the patterns of the reticulated windows were taken from the Ming Dynasty garden book <园冶>, which I found in a bookstore in Boston's Chinatown. The inscribed characters on the maroon wooden board above the moon gate are "思蜀", meaning "long for Shu," where "Shu" is the ancient name for Sichuan.

Readers who are familiar with the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD) might be able to see this inscription makes a reverse use of the classical allusion "乐不思蜀" – "here is too enjoyable to long for Shu." After the Shu Kingdom was conquered by Wei, the brainless last King of Shu, Liu Chan, was taken to Wei Kingdom's capital Luoyang. During a banquet with Shu dancers performing, all the captured Shu officials began to weep, only Liu Chan giggled as usual. The King of Wei asked him, "Don't you long for Shu?" "Here is so enjoyable, I don't long for Shu," Liu Chan replied. Thus, "too enjoyable to long for Shu" became an adage admonishing those forgetting their roots.

The inscription in my garden, however, is not an admonishment. It reflects my sentiment in a way of "reverse allusion" (i.e.,反其意而用之): whenever I see a Sichuan style garden, I'm emotional – thus the painstaking effort at building the garden wall shown above with the moon gate and the inscribed board. I had never gardened in China, yet in New England I became a diligent gardener. This emotional reaction is rooted in my upbringing in Sichuan, not much different from Drifting Leaf's nostalgic sentiment when she sees traditional Chinese programs on TV.

I'm also fond of Japanese and English gardens, and have tried to make a corner with each style in my yard. However I long for "Shu" more than anything else, and only that part of the garden has sentimental value, thus deeper meaning, to me.

This is to say, the cultural elements from one's upbringing are always there, in the chemistry of your blood, no matter which corner of the world you land in, no matter what you call yourself. That, to me, is cultural identity. It is quite independent from political stance or nationality, as my friend Chiew-Siah pointed out.

I can't help but mention again Ha Jin's latest book, "A Free Life," which is regarded as the author's most autobiographic novel. Anyone who has read it can't possibly miss the protagonist's (thus likely the author's) grudge against China and laud for America, which was why such a boring book was – quite amusingly – hailed by a NYT book reviewer as "a serious [American] patriotic novel" badly needed at a time of Americans' serious protests against the invasion of Iraq.

Ha Jin's book actually provides a good example of "乐不思蜀" – "here is too enjoyable to long for Shu." Its political attitude is not really a surprise given that Ha Jin left China shortly after its most painful time, and his departure to the New World has fixed that old impression in a freeze-frame. Apparently he has been unable to update his view of China as the country updates itself. Despite the political grudge that confused the author, who in turn was confusing politics and cultural identity in his novel, as a realistic writer Ha Jin, perhaps involuntarily, illustrated the independence of the two: while the protagonist is determined to cut ties with anything Chinese, he involuntarily thinks in a Chinese way and applies the traditional Chinese value system in handling business, family and relationships.

Here is another little interlude: recently a library invited several of us to talk about our books. Among the speakers, another woman and I were Chinese. The order of speech was by last name alphabetically; as such I was the first to speak. In introducing my background, I mentioned how all schools were closed and books burned during the Cultural Revolution. When it was the turn for the other Chinese woman, who was originally from Hong Kong, she talked about the Chinese tradition of respecting teachers and books. "Even in mainland China, the CCP only chose the most diligent students as its members," she said. I sort of expected her to acknowledge the practice in the Cultural Revolution as an exception, but she didn't touch anything like that. I wondered if the two of us, each presenting a different aspect of China, had confused the audience. As if she had read my mind, when we were all finished and about to leave, she said to me out of the blue, "You have to talk positive to young readers." Her book was a young-adult novel. Though disagreeing, I nodded understanding.

One could say both she and I share a cultural identity: the Chinese culture. But she had her upbringing in Hong Kong. I'm pretty sure that, had she also experienced the Cultural Revolution, she would have talked quite differently that night. This is to say, the culture that one identifies with is more closely related to personal experiences than ethnicity.

Now, do I still love China despite all its political problems? This depends on what one means by the term "China." When I think of China, what comes to mind are familiar shade of trees, fragrance of flowers, shape of landscape, smell of Sichuan cuisine, peculiar expressions of the Chinese language and intimate faces of relatives and friends. Those, I love. I care. Thinking of them makes me emotional. Thus, China is not an abstract concept to me.

This is also to say, I no longer have an abstract love of China, especially when the name means the state. And that's okay with me. When I was a child, we were taught from the first grade on to "Love the Party, love the people, love the motherland," as if the three were one thing. I had taken the concept of the three abstract and unconditional "loves" as granted, until the Cultural Revolution and my "insert" into the countryside disillusioned me and made me realize how those abstract concepts compromised individuals. In the early 1980s, there was a popular saying among those who were actively seeking migration abroad: "I love the motherland, but the motherland does not love me." (This background might also help to understand the grudge in Ha Jin's aforementioned novel.) I suspect Drifting Leaf's situation now is quite similar to those people's then.

Since my youth in the countryside I've grown averse to abstract political concepts. Having lived in two opposite countries has taught me many things, one of which is it's often less wrong to go for the particular rather than the abstract. The world is being destroyed by abstract concepts and exclusive ideologies. But this is the topic of another long post so I won't keep ranting here, but I, too, would like to cite the Beijing Olympics as an example: I enjoyed very much watching the Olympics, not because it lifted China's international image, but because the performance was superb. On the other hand, I still hold the opinion that the huge government spending on the Games could have found a better use in improving conditions for the Chinese population still in poverty.

So, unlike many "angry youths," I don't unconditionally advocate nationalism, though it had also once been my position in my youth, and I still respect the many great nationalists in China's history. But I will not let nationalism stand in the way of my issuing a critical opinion as a honest writer.

Before I end this piece, let me say a few more words about the style of my garden. Isn't a Chinese garden wall absurd, or 不伦不类, as a companion to a New England Colonial house? Coincidentally, I find answers from a book I'm reading titled Has Man a Future? The book is a transcript of conversations between "The Last Confucian" Liang Shuming and Chicago University professor Guy Alitto. In the Foreword written by Prof. Alitto, he mentions that when he interviewed Mr. Liang in 1980, Liang often talked with assent about Buddhism and Daoism, and also praised Christianity and some parts of Marxism. At first Alitto found it hard to understand: how could one be a Confucian and Buddhist at the same time? How can one identify with both Christianity and Marxism? Eventually he realized that, to be able to fuse many seemly conflicting thought schools, is a distinctive characteristic of traditional Chinese intellectuals. An excellent observation.


zeitguy said...

Thanks for this essay. It helps me discern that the feeling I get when I read Lao Tzu is in fact a kind of nostalgia for a place that doesn't exist on the map, but still influences my thoughts and feelings about my own garden. And Lao Tzu's is a place that has spread a culture of wisdom of its own in all the real geographies it has touched. For me, the existance of the Tao posits a place that I can live that is beyond any national identity, but also beyond our bodies, in time.

I have found your writing to present a new kind of challenge to me that goes so far beyond "literature" as I have known it. But it is not beyond experience. Thanks for sharing the places where you live.

wuming said...

There is one sentiment that which I can't attribute easily either to the land, the culture and blood affinity on one side, or the abstract love of a country on the other. The sentiment is that I feel enormously proud of the achievement of the Chinese people in the last 30 years. In history, there are things that are just miraculous, this for me qualifies as one of them. Could anyone have imagined the current China 30 years ago?

Xujun Eberlein said...

Zeitguy, thanks for your very interesting comments. You are a spititual man apparently, and I admire you for that. I'm curious though, what kind of challenge does my writing present?

Wuming, nice to see you here again. I think the sentiment you describe may be an ethnic feeling in response to outsiders' negativity toward China and Chinese. And it is truly amazing how much China has changed economically in the last 30 years - people are even talking about the posibility of the RMB replacing the US$ as the world's standard currency.

alfaeco said...

"...negativity toward China and Chinese"
It maybe perceived as that, but if you try to see beyond you may find that in most cases it is not so.

The situation is similar to when a parent scolds his child. Does it means that parent hate or despise his child? Or does it means something else? Strange as it may sounds, the parent do it, rightly or wrong, because it want the best for his child.

There are more people outside that wish better for China than you may think. Take critics with a grain of salt, and try to see deeper beyond what lies a the surface.

And remember, critics, good or bad, are a sign of interest. A lot of criticism, doesn't matter if good or bad, means that CH rises a lot of interest nowadays.

Take it easy, don't get angry, just get used to the limelight. It is not so bad as it seems.


wuming said...


Your garden is very nice. I had always wondered why not more people tried to build mini-Chinese gardens either in China or among immigrants here (though there is a fancy cookie cutter housing complex -- a gated community -- in Beijing that is built in a pseudo-traditional style, at least from outside it looked genuinely 不伦不类.) Then you went ahead and built your garden and got it more or less right. I am surprised several times how similarly we seemed to view the world. Just you are much more of a doer than I am.

Anonymous said...

I am a long time Chinese immigrant and I believe it's hard to answer if you don't give a definition of "China".

Do we love Chinese culture, chinese identity, the chinese state? And as Americans, are we obliged to because of our ancestry? Do other Americans feel compelled to connect with their European, African, or Latino roots? Or is this some kind of phenomenon amongst Asians?

Personally I greatly admire Chinese culture, and have tried my hand at calligraphy and the pipa (an instrument) with pretty good results. That being said, I consider myself an American identity, and I prefer the mannerisms of America. I consider myself a pretty patriotic American, and don't feel some innate need to defend China if criticism is justified.

To sum up, I love America because it is my country, but I love Chinese culture and identity because that's who I am.

Matthew said...

This is really interesting--especially as I watch my wife grow accustomed to life in the states (it'd be much easier if we were both working full time, of course).

Your garden makes me think of what a mess of culture our home will look like in the future--every time we encounter art of another culture my wife wants to adopt it as her style. We already have plenty of stuff from our travels (and the odd stuff that I've picked up over the years).

Anonymous said...

-- ""I'm pretty sure that, had she also experienced the Cultural Revolution, she would have talked quite differently that night. "

From the above, it illustrates why you're still live so deeply in the obsession of the era of the Cultural Revolution, that even after 20 or 30 years, the shade still reign deep in your mind, too hard to escape from.

So just the same obsession, as some veterans keep talking about what a tragic situation the Chinese people were suffering during the sino-japanese war, or after the Great Leap Forward.

Anonymous said...

When your parents or grandparents in Chongqing tell you the old stories and blame the Japanese army for shelling and bombing then capital of China in late 1930's, when they appreciate the US army and the PLA for libration, maybe it is still hard for you to understand the abtract love of "the party, the people and the motherland"...
Maybe, after Sep.11 of 2001, as an American citizen, you can fell a little bit the abstract love of "state" then...

Anonymous said...

you may have just said "no" and the whole meaning wouldn´t have changed much.

Jing said...

Mrs. Eberlein, I cannot say I am surprised at your attitude considering you are an old woman with white husband and American daughter. It is only natural for a woman, particularly one with family, to become more acculturated towards their surrounding environment as evidenced by your choice of surname.

I have become increasingly cynical with advancing age and have come to see things in new manners. Lack of individualism has never been China's problem. Quite the opposite, it has been an all too generous serving of egoism and conceit. In China each man serves only himself, cares only for himself, and lives only for himself. You and Ha Jin are emblematic of another facet of this problem, more cowards that the Chinese race unfortunately produce all too much of. Like a monk taking the tonsure, too many Chinese have adopted an attitude of surrender, seeking to withdraw from the secular world into a superficial oasis of pleasantries and vanities instead of embracing struggle.

Deng Xiaoping and many of the others within today's communist party were no less victims of the Cultural Revolution than you were. Yet they have not chosen to surrender and withdraw into a self-pitying coccoon and have instead actively fought and clawed to shape the future of China to their will. Any attempts to define Chinese culture as something separate from the body-politic in a search for identity is an exercise in futility. The state rises organically from it's underlying society. The society is shaped by the legacy of tradition, culture, and history. There can be no clear cut spearation. If you have to ask what it means to be Chinese, then you are not Chinese at all.

I love China because the people are the blood of my blood, the blood of my ancestors. I hate China because it's people are weak and I despise weakness. You and many other so-called Chinese liberals blame the Communist Party for all of China's problems but fail to realize that it is the relationships between people that defines us and is ultimately at the source of all life's tribulations. The Party serves a purpose, it exists as a crucible to test the Chinese people. To weed out the weak and ensure that only the strong and the ruthless will come to wield the reigns of power.

The Angry Youth you disdain are the future of China. They will rule the China of tomorrow with fire in their hearts and purpose in their actions. It will be they who ensure the survival of the Chinese race and civilization, and not the dilettantism of failed remnants. Those mere ghosts whose ephemeral touch leaves no lasting impressions. Lingering on singularly because of memories and nostalgia.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Wow. It looks like my largely personal and meditative post is attracting angry arrows from left and right. The left curses, How dare you to say your love of China is no longer abstract! The right scolds, What a shame you don't criticize China hard enough!

But relax, my friends. Have a bit of capacity to allow some dispassionate voices, will you? Even the CCP was friendly with other independent parties in its early stages of rule.

And before you write, first learn a rudimentary principal that's called '有的放矢,' for otherwise you are wasting your time. My left side friends should not ignore the fact that I've often criticized the Western media's biased reporting on China, and my right side friends shouldn't forget my deep concern with China's many problems.

It would be more fruitful if you could discuss a specific point rather than passing a general judgment. Still, the comments do reflect a diversity of views on the subject. I like that and hope I will continue to hear from you.

But maybe not from "Jing" - you know what, Jing, judging from your empty and ignorant rambling, you don't seem to love anything but the sounds of your lips bubbling. If the future of China falls into the hands of fools like you, I'm afraid the only consequence would be 亡国. Fortunately I don't think you'll have a chance.

I guess there is one thing you said that's a bit amusing. You really believe Deng Xiaoping forgot his painful experiences during the Cultural Revolution? Then why do you think he ordered the shooting of students in 1989? (Let me predict: you'll say Deng did the right thing to kill those students and civilians.)

Xujun Eberlein said...

Hi Matt, I think that "mess of culture" will look really interesting in your new home. :-) Come to visit us with your wife when you are in town.

Wuming, thanks for the nice words about my garden, and glad to hear about our similar views! Actually, my husband the handy man did most of the work building the "Chinese wall." I mainly did the design and drawing, as well as attending the plants. :-)

SauLaan said...

Jing said: "If you have to ask what it means to be Chinese, then you are not Chinese at all."

Firstly, now that the Party has basically stated "Chinese is no longer an ethnicity, it is a nationality," many people are scratching their heads and asking what it means to be Chinese. Certainly, the Uigurs who are not even Asian are asking what it means to now be "Chinese."

Secondly, in declaring that Chinese is only a nationality, and the ethnicity "Han" is the proper cultural term, we ask, do I now own a "Han" restaurant? When my children are wedding, is it a traditional "Han" wedding?

Identity is always multifaceted and therefore questions arise; however, at the moment, much of the new confusion over the term "Chinese" can be blamed squarely on the Party.

SauLaan said...

P.S. This was a brilliant essay - I enjoyed it so much. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Your honesty is to be praised. But again I don´t see the point in saying how used you are to your adoptive country and how you´ve lost any emotional connection with your country. It´s just... sad.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Thanks SauLaan.

@The latest Anon: Where did I say I've lost any emotional connection with China? Geeze! In fact I repeatedly stressed such connection in the post. Please read it again.

Anonymous said...

Jing, if so many Chinese have "surrendered" to their surroundings, how do you explain the nationalistic jingoism coming out of China? You sure seem to make a fine example.

You attack Eberlein for her being a "coward" and "not Chinese at all" because she does not participate in the same mud-slinging you call patriotism?

Are you angry that she has taken a different last name, and married a non-Chinese person? Why bring up that fact otherwise?

No, Jing, the clearer separation between a Chinese state, a Chinese identity, and a Chinese ethnicity is precisely what will give us the freedom to improve on China as a country.

The angry youth are this generation's failures, their nationalism is no more than a resource to be harvested and controlled by the state's leaders. I am a young man myself, would you like to call me a hanjian because I don't take the CCP as messiah? The only reason you and other angry youths get away with this is because you can use "patriotism" as an excuse. Act like this for any other reason in any other facet of society and you will be condemned as a thug, and not wrongly so. It is China's moderate youth, open-minded enough to see the world for what it is, who will bring China into a new enlightened age.

Your comments on what is to be expectered of Mrs. Eberlein as a "old woman" and disparaging statement about the "Chinese race" borders on sexism and racism. Only fools think this kind of boldness is a step forward, when in fact it is a step backwards.

I should thank heaven that China's leaders don't share the view of a common fenqing, for doing so would simply run the state into the ground.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Hey, well said!

aliaeb said...

In this age, a state cannot maintain itself by simply securing and protecting its physical resources. It has to defend its ideological boundaries, as well. Even in the past, when the Manchurian dynasty conquered China, the new rulers placed great emphasis on distinguishing between Manchu and Han identities. But ideological walls, like those made of stone, have their weak points. Wherever there's some sort of exposure to an "other side" there is bound to be exchange, and perhaps an ensuing sympathy. Granted, the minds of certain individuals provide a firmer soil than others for the ideological walls built up by the state.

There are, however, those who don't stand on any firm, ideological ground. The ground upon which their views are built is constantly tilled and reshaped by real human experience. It's impossible to establish a firm standing structure in this kind of environment, but it's ideal for a garden. Ha Jin is something like this, and so, I think, are you. In my own case, my ideological grooming was very, very weak. I was exposed to far too vast a diversity of cultures and ideas at a young age to even realize that I could (or should) subscribe to just one. In the case of some others, perhaps like Gao Xingjian, ideological walls were crumbled rather than reinforced by the harshness of human experience.

Your post was thoughtful, personal, and compassionate. The wall that stands in your garden is not a barrier protecting who you are, but a monument to where you've come from. Although what you've built is a thing of real beauty, there will always be those sentinels standing guard against barbarian forces, ready to shoot out at anyone who might crack open a gate. There's no way to win against those arguments, because there's no right or wrong involved when it comes to these issues of nationalist monotheism versus cultural polytheism. So... It's easy for me to skim over some of the comments to this post, and really enjoy what you've written. I'm really grateful to be able to access your ideas online, and only wish that I could encounter someone in my real world who spoke with such thoughtfulness and sensitivity!

please said...

Although Jing’s post sounds too emotional, he/she has a point.

For one, if you do not consider yourself Chinese, as Hajin and some others here suggest, then you are not Chinese. I understand that many with Chinese heritage would like to preserve their own identities and cultural links. And as a Chinese, at least I appreciate that desire toward my culture. However, I just do not see why there is any conflict on people own identity. Maybe it is because I already made up my mind long before.

Jing did bring up a specific issue here. Deng and many other party leaders nowadays did suffer from CR just as Xujun and Hajin. One group did try to alter the path and shape the future of China while the other group did abandon China at last. Given the trauma experience, it is probably justified for those leaving China for another life here. Everybody has a right to legally go to his/her desired place to have his/her own life. I myself came to U.S. for economic reasons and curiosity. That said, the group leaving China behind really did relative little to help China improve its people’s welfare such as lift its poor out of poverty, compared to those who chose to stay. Of course there is nothing wrong here. Since you are not Chinese anymore and you do not bear any responsibility, nobody should blame you for your standing on the sideline during the years. Jing made this mistake in his/her post IMO.

But nobody should have both ways. It is ultimately hypocrite that one can claim moral high grounds over those who stayed to fight while he/she runs away from his/her original country. This is not saying that those staying in China did not make mistakes. But the running away group did get dwarfed in the eyes of an ordinary Chinese.

The last note on “angry youth”. Except that it sometimes gets too emotional, as a group it is a necessary class for China. Without angry youth, there would be no revolution to overthrow Qing Dynasty, no 5/4 in 1919, and China would be lost in wars with Japan long ago.

please said...


“The situation is similar to when a parent scolds his child. Does it means that parent hate or despise his child? Or does it means something else? Strange as it may sounds, the parent do it, rightly or wrong, because it want the best for his child.”

I would agree with what you MEAN at some extent. But your metaphor really is foolish. Call me over-sensitive at you will, but if you want foreigners to be your parents and treat them like yours, that is fine by me. I guess most Chinese like me have a bit more self-respect on that front.

Anonymous said...

I have been long wondering how much resentful feelings that the Ha Jins held toward China is based on their personal loss, for instance, a rejection of their book deal in China in Ha's case, rather than an overall objective observation and evaluation of the country and the culture accomplished in history and the present. The rigidlity of the CCP's ideology is not a new story. Still, your own experience and millions of other Chinese's experience of China are different matters and it probably is the latter that matters more.

yuehuan said...

"I mentioned how all schools were closed and books burned during the Cultural Revolution."


This is exactly what I would call the wording of exaggeration in describing concrete historical event by people like you (or 文艺腔). Misleading to say the least.

First, not ALL schools were closed, and not ALL books were buried. Second, you certainly failed to inform the western readers on complex social/political/cultural context from which the CR occurred and why was that radical phenomenon. if you are not long enough from that history to comment on then there maybe you have an excuse. but it is 30 years past that event and sensible readers are entitled a serious and dispassionate and well-balanced explanation of the event so as to see China fairly. It is here that you and the hajin's acted irresponsibly to China and her recent history simply because you cannot go beyond your personal grudges against China to see her in a fair-minded manner. And it is the wordings like this that feud the long standing China bashing to some extent. many in China have started to reflect on the CR and many other events in perspectives that have been ignored during the years of China's Great Leap Forward in all-out westernization since the 1980s. Yet you seem to keep playing the old tunes.

True, many in China like you were "inserted" into countryside during the CR.
But not everyone like you that merely felt miserable and resentful of their experience. And if generations of peasants who had lived in the poor rural areas of China for age, who had endured and worked to build a live, what's the point for you to make such a noise of protest, claiming that your individualism was being compromised simply because of your being "inserted" there? were the kids from cities, the petit bourgeoisie class, too special and too privileged to live with the peasants in China's countryside? Why didn't you inform your readers that advocating young people to learn from working people like the peasant class in countryside was one important part of Mao's thought on education reform, although the large wave of the "sent-down" youth occurred during the CR had more complicated causes. You also failed to inform many in your age actually volunteered the "sent-down" to be re-educated then and were grateful of that experience even today.

A highly respected Chinese scholar once said, one cannot draw a fair conclusion on nearly any issue of China if one fails to see it in historical perspective (in at least one hundred of years of history). I'd say that one cannot write about China fairly if one cannot go beyond one's personal experience, interests and class.

Victor Hugo is great because he did not indulge his own aristocratic consciousness/bias and experience/interests and reach out to the poor when it comes to interpret a historical event.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Calm down, Yuehuan, and read my post, not to mention my other writings, more carefully before venting. I did not have the word "all" before "books burned," did I? The meaning is pretty clear here.

On the other hand, all schools were closed from the fall of 1966 to the spring of 1969, this is called 停课闹革命, in case you don't know. I knew because I was a 4th grader when the CR began and had no school to go to until the spring of 1969. Neither did my older sisters who were middle school students. Neither did my college student cousins. That is the period I was talking about. Do some research, will you?

And, contrary to what you claim, I was happy to go to the countryside (surprise!), and even vowed to 扎根 there, until I was disillusioned about the real nature of the movement. To date, my countryside experience remains the most unforgettable. It taught me so many things I couldn't have otherwise learned, so there really isn't regret about that part of life from me.

Anyway, shows how much you know about me. Another 无的放矢. Arrogance and ignorance can both be blinding.

Xujun Eberlein said...

@The latest Anon: Thanks for your comments. In fact, Ha Jin publicly - and repeatedly - vented his anger on not being able to publish in mainland China, so you may be right that was part of his personal grudge against China. Again, I don't blame him for being angry, but his extremeness and confusion between cultural identity and politics was a bit surprising. Thanks for noticing the differences between him and me. I was wondering why some commentators ignored the differences.

wuming said...

@The latest Anon: "... The rigidlity of the CCP's ideology is not a new story."
Actually I wouldn't even concede that. In my opinion, CCP has been nothing short of an ideological chameleon for the last 30 years. Many would attribute that to the survival instinct of the party, I would like to suggest that it reflects the deeply rooted pragmatism of Chinese culture. There are always fenqings in our long history, which is the ideological faces (or phases) of the civilization. But history mean reverts, let's call it "愤久必和"

Xujun Eberlein said...

Haha, I like that - "愤久必和". Clever.

And Wuming, I agree with you that CCP has been changing recently. I do hope to see further political reform.

Xujun Eberlein said...

By the way, Wuming, though I understand (at times even sympathetic to) the position of fenqings today, I'm a bit disappointed that so far I haven't seen high quality arguments from them. Most of the commentary coming from them seems to be naive and emotional. Such statements have very little impact on knowledgeable people. I don't know if they are aware knowledge is power. They do need to mature.

wumng said...

If you think about it, Chinese (in particular intellectuals) has a long fenqing tradition. Just in the last 100 years, we had the May 4th Movement, the Republican Revolution, the Communist Revolution, Cultural Revolution, the First Tiananmen Incident (1976), the Second Tiananmen Incident and now the great anti-west nationalism. Each driven and fueled by the young intellectuals of the day. I think I also understand them, and wouldn't blame them for the eventual lack of substance, simply because I was one of them. The feeling of being a part of a riotous crowd out to change the world as we know it is overwhelming and undeniable. But in the end, these ideologically driven mobs can be and often was very destructive.

More importantly, whatever you may say about CCP of today, they are NOT fenqings. These are a bunch of very sober and smart people ... who will do some very stupid things from time to time just out of habit ... or that's part of their 韬光养晦 strategy?

Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, all schools were closed from the fall of 1966 to the spring of 1969, this is called 停课闹革命, in case you don't know."

My brother was a fifth grader in 1966 and my mother was a high school teacher then. According to them, the schools in Beijing were closed for a while in the hey days of the CR in 1966 and 1967, but in late 1967 and early 1968 a call for "returning back to school and resuming classes while keeping the revolution going" 复课闹革命 from Mao and the party had almost all schools re-opened with a radically changed curriculum. Science and mathematics were taught in schools, and in the early 1970s a new kind of university, the "university for workers, peasants and soldiers" opened nation-wide until the end of the CR in 1976.

You disappointed me for, despite a higher education background and plenty of experience in the West, you seem to have such a tendency quick to dismiss people holding views different from yours or disagreeable to hear and consider them being "ignorant" or "arrogant" in a blog that is supposedly a place for free exchange of opinions.

Xujun Eberlein said...

"the schools in Beijing were closed for a while in the hey days of the CR in 1966 and 1967"

Good, we are making progress here - so you do admit there was a period that schools were all closed. You are learning, and that is to be praised.

And of course I would dismiss statements made in ignorance. That is better than dismissing history.

Anonymous said...

Thanks much for this excellent and touching post. And thanks for taking great pains to provide such a nuanced and self-reflexive illustration of your experience and opinion. As one of the commentors (aliaeb) addressed, there will always be different ideas about self- and cultural identity, combined with attachement to national constructions. But some of the comments look really judgemental, which baffles me.

As a Chinese growing up in the "reform and open" era, I had become much more self-countious about my cultural identity after starting my graduate study abroad. I particpated in the college students parade against America (including throwing a stone towards the US Embassy)after the NATO bombing of the China's embassy in Belgrade in May 1999. In retrospect, this type of anger may share greatly with the emotions of many current Fenqing, e.g., the anti-CNN youth. But, while I am pround of my Chinese heritage and culture, I started to differencitate the attemtps of the state in their nation construction and to be critical of what are the implications and what these mean to individuals. In other words, culture and politics, while always intangle, need to be viewed carefully with their interrelations. True, the rulling party has accomplished A LOT, especially in the economic development (however, there is an issue of uneven development and the rural population has been sacrificed), and their rulling style has become more indirect and invisible in many respects. But there are still controls nowadays (one might say everywhere in China including the massive propaganda machine), and being critical of these governing and control does not mean one is not loving his/her nation. Not to mention the tragedies occured during the Cultural Revolution period just four decades earlier. Forgiveness (again, this should be under the condition of by choice, not by force) does not mean to forget. What baffles me most from some of the comments is that if there are some goods (by the state), the bads can be ignored or neglected. I think it is always important to remember what happend in the CR as well as in other recent times. Aside from the close of schools and burning books, how many families have lost their presious ones? I can't help crying when watching Tian Zhuangzhuang's movie "The Blue Kite." One can certainl deeply love China and critique China, no matter where s/he comes from.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Great comments! Finally, a rational and intelligent voice from the younger generation. Thank you!

It is important that you noted "the rural population has been sacrificed." Many urban youths are not aware of this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Xujun! And my apologies for the many typos in my previous comment. In particular, it should be "protest" instead of "parade."

As for China's economic development, personally, my family has been benefited greatly from the reform policies. Yet, one could also argue that whether these policies are successful because of the ruling party or because they should be adopted in the first place - it's like, you can grow significantly from the 'zero.' Qin Gang, a professor from Tsinghua University, has a quite insighful historical analysis on the land reform and related issues. It should perhaps also be kept in mind that it is also the hardwork of the "mass" (people) that (mainly) helps bringing the (limited) prosperity, provided opportunites. Nonetheless, these discussions might be straying away from the orignial topic of your post... :)

Xujun Eberlein said...

Does Prof. Qin Gang have a book about this topic? I think I've seen his name mentioned in Yuan Jian's on-line book '奇迹的黄昏'. Have you read this book?

Xujun Eberlein said...

Just looked again - the name I saw was 秦晖.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it should be 秦晖。I am sorry about the mistake. And thanks much for pointing that out. Don't know how I came up with Qin Gang... :P

The article by Qin Hui that I was referring to is 《“中国奇迹”的形成与未来-改革开放三十年之我见》... I have not read 奇迹的黄昏 yet and I will try to get a hold of this book... Thanks.

lihui said...


Thank you for this reflective piece. My parents moved to the US a couple years earlier than you did, and I am an ABC like your daughter. Perhaps it is because of an early childhood spent in China, I still largely identify with the "Chinese identity", and even the CCP-mentality, at least here in the US. When I'm in China, I am immediately identifiable as the "American". I joke that it is because that in my time in China, I was old enough to be indoctrinated to love the party and the state, but not old enough to have become disillusioned. That I lived in China long enough to gain that abstract fondness for it, but not long enough to really understand its many facets.

It could also be because my family has quite long-reaching and extensive CCP ties, which make its problems and its depiction so much more personal and frustrating and complex to me. My mother is a great story-teller, and a liberal, who loves to reflect about her life and China, and I have absorbed many of her assumptions, love, and criticism of China and the CCP. But her knowledge only reaches to the late 80's, and is selective and biased to her upbringing, which was priviledged at times, and battered at others. So I have tried to "complete the picture" with blogs, international students, and news sites.

At any rate, I think how we identify with "Chinese-ness" is different for every one of us. Some may be dangerously nationalistic, while others may even be ashamed to be in any way associated with the Chinese. And some of us, like me, can float along the spectrum depending on circumstance and mood, not really sure exactly how we feel about anything, and constantly wary of being duped by either side of an argument.

Thank you for providing a platform for me to learn, and to reflect myself. And it is especially an honour to read these from an MIT alum.

Thank you,

Class of 2010

Xujun Eberlein said...

Hi Lihui, nice to hear such interesting comments from a young schoolmate. I like your comments, and can totally understand how you would be "constantly wary of being duped by either side of an argument." The only way to get the complete picture is to listen to as many voices as possible, in both English and Chinese. Lots of Chinese information does not show up in the Western media and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

This is good article and I have sent this to my Chinese friends who claim I as a foreigner hate China when I talk ill about the problems of the Party and cadres, when the reality is about the State/Party and as you say, it seems many ppl have hard time realizing this difference. And actually will never realize it, even after leaving their motherland. (Yea, this blog is blocked in China so I have saved this as pdf :))