Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sense and Common Sense

Many of us have thought of the seemingly nonsensical actions of our Chinese friends: throwing lit cigarette butts into trash cans, driving on the sidewalk or causing bottleneck traffic situations because everyone crams into the only  available lane at once, opening a bus window when the air conditioning is cranking out cool air... and others. Let's not forget that first-time flyer who, desiring a breath of fresh air, opened the emergency exit door. Fortunately, the plane was on the ground. And the other one, on another plane, forged a quick route off by opening the door closest to him. He deployed the slide, causing 100,000 Yuan worth of damage.

We westerners look upon these misdeeds of our Chinese friends, shake our heads and wonder how in the world they came to their ideas.

Common sense: the basic ability to perceive, understand and judge things, which is shared by ( or: common to) nearly all the people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.

It seems the people who have fallen through the 'nearly' hole are Chinese.

If you think about it, what the general public might perceive as ridiculous in China makes a lot of sense. Man on plane wanted fresh air; he opened the door. Man on plane wanted off plane; he established an exit. Man finished with cigarette, he threw it away. All traffic lanes blocked but sidewalk or bike lane is open; drive on sidewalk/bike lane.  

While all of this is logical/rational for the person doing the deed, it seems that person fails to regard the world as a whole and the other people in it. That's what makes this brand of logic downright dangerous at times. And, what is startling about that is that Chinese culture is supposedly collectivistic.

Collectivism: the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology or social outlook that emphasizes the significance of groups – their identities, goals, rights, outcomes, etc., and tends to analyze issues in those terms.

If China is indeed collectivist, how can one driver take it upon himself to take over the sidewalk, where people and bikes abound? How can the man on the plane ignore that big 'emergency exit only' sign, painted bold red on the door?

Here's another aspect of China's alleged collectivism that totally escapes me.

Children in orphanages: unloved, unwanted, underprivileged, and there are a lot of them. Foreigners will adopt Chinese babies but, except in rare cases, Chinese will not. “A family member will adopt a baby or child from another family member but will not adopt a strange child” I was told. For instance: an infertile couple might adopt a sibling's child, and that sibling can have another child. Meanwhile, children in orphanages languish.

That doesn't make collective sense to me. There are needy children in China, there are Chinese parents who want/need a child. Perfect match, right? Not so much, according to my Chinese friends. 'Keep it in the family' is the rationale, apparently because an adopted child might not be as devoted to family as a child born into a family. No stranger's blood allowed is another excuse given (and no children with defects, either – but that's beside the point).

It seems that the Chinese are collectivist only up to their own special group: tribal clan, village folk, family, friends, room mates in a dorm, an office group – in short, people who, for one reason or the other are bound together. Beyond that boundary - that collective, individualism asserts itself.

Individualism: Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires, and so, value independence and self-reliance, and advocate that interests of the individual should take precedence over the social group.

Now we're getting somewhere! That explains far better the crazy logic of our Chinese friends, but does nothing to address the collective mentality when it comes to family and friends, tribemembers or dorm mates.

I think sociologists need to come up with a new phrase to accurately describe Chinese society: individual collectivism. Doesn't that sound more apt?

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