Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oceans and Mulberry Groves: A Hebei Middle School Girl's Tips for Dealing with Tragedy and Time

We are time's subjects, and time bids be gone.”
Henry IV Part Two

If you've been paying anything more than scant attention to China the past six months, you're probably aware that China's had a full plate of metaphorical problems of late (accompanied by metaphorical solutions to those problems): the proverbial dams bursting and the Han Brinker-type plugging of dykes; a pre-emptive cutting of (jasmine?) trees to save poorly defined forests; and plenty of (international and domestic) chickens coming home to roost. Of course, the particular resonance of any and all of the above idioms will depend on at least two factors: one, your own political ideology and, two, your understanding of what's actually happening “in China,” something I'd like to suggest that no one, Chinese or non-, can ever wholly grasp.

Of course, that's debatable, and I'm happy to debate it with anyone. Here's some provocative opening generalizations.
  1. Size Problems. China's simply too big and too complex.
  2. Media Problems. The media is either incapable of, or prevented from, publishing reports of consequence. Most reports of consequence aren't published, but supplied on a need-to-know basis.
  3. Bureaucracy Problems. People of need-to-know status are almost completely surrounded by yes-men and women who obfuscate information out of self-interest and/or a desire to please. People below the need-to-know-folks at the provincial, county, and village levels have no interest in letting anyone know what's actually happening on the ground.
  4. Sociological Problems. China's empirical tradition is not strong, and is complicated by the fact that most political/economic elites have little interest in real interaction with the vast majority of Chinese who dress/eat/live worse than they do. In short, well-entrenched stereotypes and prejudices regarding different regions and classes hinder true understanding.
  5. Interest Problems. And the kicker, most people just don't have time, energy or interest enough to care.
Of course, none of these stops anyone, including the author, from putting forward what may be wildly irresponsible claims, most centered on what “the left behind” population in China wants or needs. We're elitist populists, speaking for a population few of us know. This is dumb.  Most of the time, these opinions are based on careful reading of the media reports we deem to be the truth; “inside information” from people “in the know” who really aren't (again, also, our friends); and regional and class biases that make my Wisconsinite distaste for most (all?) things Illinois seem quite agapic.

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