Gimme gimme gimme

Take a minute to read the splendid essay over at Water on an aspect of Chinese culture that I could never get used to: the idea that you are the only person in the world who matters and fuck everybody else.

I have countless stories about this, and so does everyone else who’s lived there. The examples cited in this post are priceless. For example:

This idea is sometimes taken to its logical, but most grotesque end. At accidents that occur at places and times where there are no witnesses, but one of the drivers is injured, the other driver sometimes intentionally hits the other person again to kill him. Why? Because if he stayed alive the other driver would be responsible for his medical bills, but if he’s dead then he doesn’t have an impact on the other driver’s life or pocketbook. Pause and consider the twistedness of that. Then pause again to consider that such stories are common enough to make it onto CCTV.

You’ll see some of this in Hong Kong, where people always run into elevators and subways before others get off, and where rudeness is pretty standard. But it’s no where near the level of the Mainland. I kept trying to get used to this, to say it’s part of their culture. But I couldn’t help but get upset when drivers nearly ran me over as I crossed a street because they wanted to get a few feet ahead a few seconds faster.

It was pointless trying to explain my frustration to Chinese friends and colleagues; all they gave me were blank stares. Why should anyone consider anyone else but himself? This attitude explains so much about Chinese behavior, the way they drive, they way they get onto airplanes, the way they cannot form lines, etc., etc., etc. Can a Westerner ever really get used to it?

Water says things have got to change as China modernizes. Considering how hard-wired they are even now to see themselves as the epicenter of the universe, change will inevitably be slow and dificult.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Sounds a lot like Korea… We haven’t had yet the “kill the victim before he files a complaint” part yet, but many other atrocities anyway (kid kills his parents because they didn’t want to give him more pocket money…). Maybe that’s a northeast Asian thing. Too many people in too tight places…

October 20, 2003 @ 3:55 am | Comment

Having read Water’s piece, it strikes me that he’s appying Western standards to an Eastern country. And, they don’t need to conform to our views, just come to the Richmond district in San Franciscco. The Richmond is the real Chinatown, with a mix of first, second and third-generation Chinese, along with Russians and Generation X’ers.

In the Richmond, expect to be shoved off the bus by little Chinese ladies, pushed aside by younger Chinese, stare in amazement as young Chinese do not get up to give the sit to elderly men or women. It’s quite a scene.

But, gonna stand on my soapbox for 30 more seconds – should the Chinese adhere to our standards of Western civilization, or should we accept their standards? Could this be why the US is losing the ‘war’ on terrorism – the simple understanding that the Arabic world operates on a totally different value system and concepts?

October 20, 2003 @ 3:58 am | Comment

Mao and his clique killed their culture, really. Just the way money and greed did it in other places. You don’t touch people in Asia. You respect the elders. But all this has disappeared because of a supposedly egalitarian regime. So what you described, yeah, sure, had to happen in San Fran, alright, is more of the same.
Another factor is, I think, that cities in Asia are overcrowded. It is hard to pay attention to all the people surrounding us when they number in the tens of millions. A former hotel General Manager in Shanghai used to say that whenever he left the office, he sometimes wanted to turn right, but twenty million people pushed him left, so left he went…
Also, about driving. While it is true that Chinese, Koreans, and many other show their true inner self when behind a wheel, we also should consider the average age of their driving licenses, and the way the license is “awarded”… A lack of proper road education, corruption at its finest (in Korea, even other cops consider that traffic cops are the scum of the earth. Has to be a reason) contribute to this attitude.

my 0.02$

October 20, 2003 @ 2:28 pm | Comment

It’s a fine vicious cycle isn’t it. You matter to no one, why should anyone matter to you then?

Jeremy…courtesy and the war on terrorism are two different things. It is not so much of adhering to western standards, but rather, trying to be polite.

Courtesy can be taught.
Singapore is a pretty good example.
People really do try to helpful here, and polite. And I do see seats being given to people who need it more quite regularly.

October 20, 2003 @ 4:48 pm | Comment

Jeremy, with respect, I have to agree with Isabella and disagree with you. It’s one thing to be rude. But in China the problem is more than everyday rudeness.

I’ll never forget seeing, during my very first week in China, a guy at Fudan University unzip his fly and relieve himself on a crowded road right in front of teachers and students passing by. This shocking episode told me just how severe this problem is (none of the passers-by seemed particularly surprised, if they even noticed).

Sorry but there are standards of decency and respect in this world. Not Western or European or Asian standards, just the fundamental laws of the social contract that people of all cultures and nationalities have areed to live by, i.e., basic courtesy and respect. China is way behind, especially if it wants to play on the worldwide global stage. This is perhaps, as dda commented above, a tragic by-product of the Cultural Revolution. But whatever its causes, it needs to be addressed if China wants to be seen as a true global leader.

October 21, 2003 @ 6:20 am | Comment

I think the alienation from a real earthy humaness is a root problem created by the communist era in China. Maybe it predates that, but I can easily imagine how the intense state of fear and isolation created by 1) a governement that routinely kidnaps and kills its citizens for honest self-expression; and 2) the sense of of being alone and unprotected due to the sheer number of people making it impossible for everyone to be accounted for at all times. There is nothing like the vulnerability of walking alone in an immense crowd.

So there is chronic fear and vulnerability. Sounds like the makings for mental illness to me. And culturewide, that manifests as a sick culture, one that is decaying. The new China would certainly not be the only modern culture to fall apart at the seems of its grasp on humanism. The alienation of people from the very things that make us people, loving relationship, extended family connections, a sense of connection to the land we live on (the actual land, not the political entity representing it), and so on, is undermining cultures across the globe. In China it may be accelerated because of the political oppression and over population, but it is likely a harbinger of things to come.

October 21, 2003 @ 6:57 am | Comment

This is essence of kiasu (afaid to lose out), which everyone of the Mongoloid stock possess one way or the other. Maybe it’s genetic.

October 21, 2003 @ 7:55 am | Comment

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