After almost 10 years of flowing around the world like a tiny seed of dandelion, I have recently come back to the places where I was born: China.
China, as we all know, is an odd place. It’s a country that could easily polarize the crowd: either you like it or hate it. Talking about modern China of course. The first impression that came into my mind was how the hell a country with such magnitude could transform itself so much in so little time. It is simply insane. The city I am staying now, Changsha, used to have a cozy little population of 1 million people (including all the peasants around the actual city), where you could still find lots of wooden houses connected by the narrow streets of granite, where people would go to work on their bicycles, and the tallest building was the railway station. But now, it is a massive jungle of 6 million souls with big-ass roads radiating into every corner of the city with heavy congestion, and high-rise buildings spawning everywhere. What else but a sheer torrential creation of wealth! Such epic speed would simply make the the German efforts in the 19th century look laughable. Needless to mention the marcoeconomic data, everything emerged out of nothing in just one single generation. I used to sneer at average Chinese’s petty obsession with money, accusing them of short-sighted and impetuous. But now it all makes sense. Situating onto such a flooding tide in an unprecedented velocity and scale, it is too hard not to focus on the money, on the grabbing, on the stuff you could touch right in front of you. That is the zeitgeist of China.
It seems Deng got it alright after all. He well knew that by teasing the basic instinct of mankind with a relatively free market the progress would be must faster than one could imagine. With couple thousand years of agrarian-oriented drilling, few Chinese got what it takes to out-stand the mass for his own comprehension of what’s on earth under the heaven. 99% of the people are bothered by their petty little business of how to get gold and lead the glamorous materialistic life like my neighbor, leaving the rest 1% caring about how to fool the 99% gullible for more gold. In other words, modern Chinese are die-hard collectivists who are credulous and timid yet care a lot about signalling within the crowd. Everybody here would only think of what’s right visible in front of their eyes, while lacking the interest to seek the ideas and concepts behind the pragmatic actions. So once we got a kick-ass leader who happened also to be a not-so-shallow thinker, introducing some heretic idea like communism, capitalism, commercialism, everyone else would just wholeheartedly flock to follow without really understanding what that means and the consequences would be. All they could see is communism suck because we are poor and hungry, free market rocks because I see my neighbor got rich and so can I. Essentially, I have to admit we are a people with very high IQ but sucks at philosophizing and conceptualizing reality. The Confucian drilling must have contributed to this particular ethnic trait of the Chinese. But this is also the biggest advantage we got in keeping everything in one piece still after such drastic societal changes. Sometimes I wonder if Whites could get some sense of pragmatism from the Chinese and the Chinese get some sense of speculative thinking from the White people, things could have been much smoother for both sides. But I am no Romanticist, and I read Brave New World. Shit’s gonna hit the fan anyway.
The good thing about this country is that there is full of opportunity for the gold-rush, provided that you got the guts and the wits. Life could be super sweet like the 19th American west combined with smartphones and automatic-geared automobiles. But it’s never going to be a place for novel epiphany and philosophy. If you don’t have it yet, you are never going to get it in China. And that also means the chances that you would find someone who would not despise you because you do not care about signaling, signaling, and signaling with money and networking are quite hopelessly slim. This reminds me of my jungle days in Laos. Just get the damn data, then I’d tap some sleazy backpacking girls at the Mekong river border. For those who want to make a fortunate, either just for the sake of being rich or other higher objectives, China is your place.