Friday, August 19, 2011

Final Thoughts on China

Well, safely settled in Seoul, which gives me some time to write down my final say on China. When I first walked around Beijing, all I could think about was the ugly monotony of apartment buildings and the stench of trash bins by my friend’s apartment. Leaving that same place to take the airport train though, I knew I would come back, not as something I’d grudgingly do but something I truly wanted to do. There are lots of things I can mull over about my time in China, but for now (and lack of better transition), I can give you three completely unrelated points that hit me the most:

1. Back to the question of "is Confucianism a religion"? And if not, can you be both a Confucianist and a Buddhist? Or dare I say, a Confucianist Christian? It would probably be best to define religion first – if you (like me) consider religion to be a set of beliefs that influence your views on the afterlife, the existence (or nonexistence of) divine entities, and morality, then Confucianism falls a little short. The focus of Confucianism is how to better yourself in the present life, still acknowledging the existence of an afterlife and spiritual entities, but leaving those questions to be things considered only after you die. In that sense, I can see how a person can call himself both a Buddhist and Confucianist. (Maybe I just don’t understand Buddhism as well as I should, but anyways, this is what I think now.) On the other hand, I don’t see how someone can claim to be both a Confucianist and a Christian – perhaps a Christian who holds Confucianist principles in his heart, but not one who blatantly calls himself both. Christianity has a forward-looking attitude, linking the choices in our present lives with our future conditions in the afterlife. Thus, even if Confucianism is just a philosophy, a set of principles to live by, and not a religion, I still think it contrasts Christianity in a way that can’t be easily reconciled.

2. Whew, well that was a mouthful. My other reflections are not quite so weighty – one simply being a newfound appreciation for how lucky we are in America. Food that doesn’t make you sick every week, clean air and tidy streets, and most of all, fast and reliable Internet. Which leads me to think about the (overanalyzed, oversaid) gap between the rich and the poor in China. I can get on a two-hour domestic flight with in-flight movie, free meal, and an endless supply of complementary drinks and wonder why American airlines can’t keep up. I stroll around the shopping areas and am amazed at how clean and modern everything is – until I turn the next corner into at an alleyway with beggars playing their instruments and people trying to sell the most trivial of trinkets just to scrape by. It’s been said that the Chinese system is sustainable because the poor don’t think as much about the state of their own lives, but how far China’s status has come in the last thirty years. Nonetheless, there are some incidents that cause people to question corruption in the government – the recent train accidents, for example – that may lead to more dissent in the future. I still don’t know if it’s enough, however – a Beida student once told me that people are generally satisfied with the government’s handling of the law and know that dissent won’t get really far – as long as the people have food to eat and a place to live.

3. As one person in a billion, you really have to fight for what you want – your seat, your place in line, your food, etc. Last summer, I asked whether understanding a culture was actually conforming to it. In Japan, breaking social boundaries might give you a couple of questionable stares, but in China, it seems that being the one to wait in line instead of stampeding with the crowd will only have you being run over. Actually, there’s no such thing as a line – except buying train tickets at the station, but maybe only because everyone else would pounce on you if you tried to cut. But I still find myself aghast sometimes when I push and shove other people without thinking twice. You can reassure yourself that’s just an aspect of Chinese culture, but as some of my friends have discussed, it’s not something that fits within our own morals. It’ll take a lot more than just a few minds though, to change China’s “survival of the fittest” attitude.

And some things I will definitely miss about China:
-       (After you get over multiples waves of stomach upset) The cheap food (ESPECIALLY the breakfast stands, my day is always set off right with some freshly fried ) and delicious 珍珠奶茶!
-       The amazing, huge temples – and I haven’t even hit up the grandest ones yet!
-       The swagger when you speak Chinese and as such, being able to start up conversations with random strangers (especially 老人)
-       Being complimented for my Chinese after they learn I’m not an ABC (American-born Chinese) – hopefully, since Chinese people tend to be more straightforward, they’re telling somewhat of the truth this time…

All in all, it’s been a straight line up with some small dips on the Light Fellowship study abroad curve. China has grown on me – the endless opportunities to travel and see some of the world’s grandest sites and most important of all, the relationships that I’ve formed here, which are some of my strongest outside of America. Many thanks to the Light Fellowship for giving me the opportunity to explore such a vast country and culture. 

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Ricky said...

Interesting thoughts - I hope you keep writing. I think you can guide your inquiry into Confucianism and Christianity by tracing the development of Neo-Confucianism during the Yuan dynasty and its spread into Korea and Japan. I think each region had its own religious jambalayas of Buddhism, Confucianism, and local religion that makes classification difficult. Some scholars argue that later missionaries had an easier time getting locals to accept Christian concepts because the more uniform acceptance of Neo-Confucianism, thanks to the relative simplicity of its texts and stricter enforcement by imperial governments then, facilitated comparisons between the two ideologies. The Yale Div library has plenty of books that delve into this, if you're interested. Have fun in Korea and good luck in Japan!

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