Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Chinese Dream

This week is National Holiday – commemorating the birth of modern day China, when millions of Chinese take to the roads, rails and airways for their second sanctioned vacation of the year – the first being Lunar New Year.

To facilitate the massive influx of travelers on the country’s infrastructure, the government has ordered more trains and planes put into service, and has suspended toll fees on all national highways. Quite a difference from global tourist destinations that raise prices during peak travel times.

With the Chinese becoming more affluent more and more are taking to the highways and byways, visiting such exotic destinations as The Red Beach, located in south Yunnan province, the country’s second Club Med, opened just in time for travel season in Guilin and, of course, such landmark destinations as The Great Wall, Mount Hua Shan in Shaanxi Province and even amusement parks, such as Happy Valley, right here in Wuhan.

This carefree excursion period in China coincides with the government shutdown in America. Many Chinese are shocked that their America, idolized for her democratic platform and seeming freedom granted to her citizens should suffer from what apparently boils down to a simple argument over what one party wants and the other cannot agree on.

America’s citizens are the ones paying the price. The economy is still floundering from its crash 5 years ago and now, with so many government workers furloughed, with so many national attractions like parks, museums and monuments shuttered or barricaded, the economy may well suffer another downturn as the shutdown dams the flow of tourist dollars and reminds Americans to be cautious of their spending. Somewhere, in a dark, seldom explored corner of the Government Complex – Capitol Building, White House, Washington Monument and the National Mall, the Great American Dream whimpers under the force of these new blows.      

While the American dream suffers, the Chinese are realizing their dream… or, at least, their power to dream.

“The Chinese not only have the power to dream but the duty to dream” – quoted from a panel of scholars on CCTV’s English channel, on a program titled ‘Dialogue’.

What is the Great Chinese Dream?

People tend to think of the Chinese as collectivistic, and fundamentally they are. However, with growing business opportunities, larger salaries and dual income households, The Dream is becoming more personalized.

Today’s China is very different from the fledgling nation formed over 60 years ago when Mao De Zong vanquished oppositional factions. The China that he envisioned entailed an ‘all for one and one for all’ mentality, brought about so painfully that in the scourge, millions upon millions suffered economic loss, heritage abandonment and death.

Recovering from those dark days while still maintaining the ideal of what China might one day represent has called for a delicate balancing act. Too easily that ponderous pendulum could have swung the other way, resulting in hedonistic pleasure and secular lifestyle in an attempt to overthrow the shadow of The Great Leap Forward’s devastating impact on society.

Today’s China is capitalistic…within the confines of her fundamentally communistic economic system. She is socialistic…with Chinese characteristics. Today’s China is a mass of contradictions, operating nearly seamlessly to maintain financial stability, economic growth and present a marvel of 21st century permanence… from its roots as a five thousand year old, continuously civilized feudal system.

Who are the Chinese Dreamers?

From my perspective as a college English teacher, my students and this generation of young Chinese are. However, I am not entirely correct in saying that only this demographic dreams. These jiu ling hou – those born in the 1990’s carry in part their parents’ and grandparents’ dreams, along with their own. The Great Chinese Dream, long stifled is now seeing the light of day from some who, by necessity denied ever having dreams. These industrialists, pioneers in business and those poised at the forefront of burgeoning markets are all Chinese dreamers, ready to make a go of whatever they aspired to, or their parents and grandparents envisioned.

They dream of riches, power and prestige. They dream of independence and of world travel, unimpeded by stuffy diplomatic guidelines. They see love as a real, not ephemeral component of interpersonal relations. And they see sex as an integral part of love, not just as a duty to procreate. They are almost vulgar, obsessed and arrogant in the need to establish their ideals before such possibilities are quashed.

What about the American Dream?

In my opinion, The Great American Dream is alive but maybe not well. Currently it is taking shelter behind the hooded eyes and peering out from the watchful gazes of enlightened Americans who know something is amiss in their political system, their country, their economy and their lives. It sleeps uneasily, tossing about, just waiting for a chance to manifest itself anew in a people who are not intimidated by budget crises, cries of the hungry, the malcontent or the invective hurlers.

Who dares to dream?

The audience of Britain’s Got Talent was blown away 4 years ago, when a frumpy/dumpy 49-year old church marm who confessed to never having been kissed took the stage and sang ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in her pitch perfect voice. The rest of the world took heed and SuBo, as she is now colloquially referred to is an international singing sensation. She had a makeover, a few harsh lessons on the pressure and demands of superstardom and now she is managing just fine. So it appears. She dared to dream. 

Americans… do they dare to dream? I contend they do. While some surely bemoan the passing of the good ole’ days, others are fomenting their plans, just waiting for that proper moment to step to the forefront, take command, take control and exercise what is constitutionally guaranteed them: the pursuit of happiness. They intuit now is not the time. In these catastrophic days of budget cuts and political bickering, they sense it is best to sheathe their ideas, keep them tucked safely away until the sun shines again on the Vista of Dreams. 

The Chinese dare to dream. With every startup business, every new internet commerce venture and every step away from tradition, people in China are reveling in their newly granted license to dream. Maybe because of culture and societal demands their dream muscles are creaky and atrophied but every year sees a new group of graduates taking to the job market, initially trepidant, with only the idea to earn enough to live on and then eventually, ultimately to fulfill they and their families’ dream   

And they help carry the American dream. For every despondent American there are at least 3 Chinese who wish them well. For every disillusioned citizen of the United States, there are at least 5 Chinese who maintain the illusion of what America means. For every apathetic person dwelling in the contiguous 48 states, Alaska and Hawaii there are at least 10 energized Chinese prepared to do whatever it takes to encourage their American counterparts rouse the Great American Dream.

‘Jia You! Jia You!’ the Chinese say. ‘Go On! Go On!’ they rally their American friends. Even though all signs point in that direction, the Chinese disbelieve even the possibility that America could fail. And, given any kind of a chance they would do everything in their power to prevent the downfall of the America of their dreams.

If the Chinese dare to dream and carry a torch so high and bright that America, on the other side of the world cannot help but see it, then surely the country that the Chinese revere at least as much as their own will find that light and use it to guide herself out of its current eclipse.

Jia You!!

Note: In no way am I implying that the Chinese are poised to invade America. I’m trying to convey the disbelief, empathy and concern my Chinese students and friends have expressed over the current political situation in America. I couldn’t figure out a way to write about it without it sounding like the Chinese are just waiting for a moment of weakness to storm the borders and teach everyone Mandarin. Please don’t blame the Chinese. Blame me.              



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