Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crushed ideals

There isn't a bourgeois alive who in the ferment of his youth, if only for a day or for a minute, hasn't thought himself capable of boundless passions and noble exploits. The sorriest little woman-chaser has dreamed of Oriental queens; in a corner of every notary's heart lie the moldy remains of a poet. 
- Madame Bovary (1857), Gustave Flaubert

I read this in the context of the NY Times furore over Bob Dylan performing in China ( (It's a rather bad article to be honest, even for a polemicist) 

I have a dissertation to complete so I won't waste time struggling to write what I think about the Chinese Government. I basically think that democracy should always be an aspiration but countries should be allowed to determine their own futures as to how to get there and to determine whether the 'American model' is right for them. To be perfectly honest, not every country is ready for the rights and responsibilities that a democracy entails. Anyway, I quite liked this comment on the article:

"Looking at China's handling of Bob Dylan, Ai Weiwei, or any other matter solely through a prism of western Judeo-Christian-founded values is just ignorant. Full marks to Mr Dylan for not behaving in a culturally insensitive way on his China tour.
China largely operates on Confucian-Buddhist-Daoist values. "Harmony" and "harmonization" are not euphemisms in China: they are essential and basic tenets of the need to maintain balance between coexistent opposing and conflicting forces. The alternative, perfectly understood by most Chinese and anyone aware of China's culture and history, is turmoil and chaos. Pew global opinion polls show that the present Chinese Government enjoys higher public support than most so-called democracies. The reasons for this are that the present Chinese Government -- probably more than any other government in China's entire history -- is viewed by its public as competently delivering social and economic progress, and harmony. Today is a very different China from that of the Empress Dowager, of Sun Yat-sen and the warlords, of many years of civil war and foreign incursions, or of Mao Zedong. It is a reformist authoritarian state with many democratic characteristics. It is intensely interested in, and is responsive to domestic and global opinion. But China understands itself: it cannot stay on its path of steady progress without an authoritarian element in maintaining harmony.
To get some idea how different China's concept of harmony is from western values, consider the differences with the west, and the inherent internal contradictions between the major belief systems on which Chinese values are founded. Confucianism is secular, a hierarchical system of sublimation of the individual to the higher needs of society and family; Chinese Buddhism is intensely spiritual and individualistic; Daoism is mystical and shamanistic. While there is a good dash of Islam and Christianity in the Chinese values cocktail as well, there is no acceptance for the traditional claims of universality of any of the great belief systems. The result is a paradox: an extraordinarily harmonious, tolerant and peaceable society which is inherently unstable if allowed to slip out of balance.
Praise China for its harmony. Worry if it slips into disharmony." 

- Posted in the NY Times by  Gato from Canberra, Australia on April  10, 2011

April 10, 2011

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