Mainlanders & their emperors

If we do ‘math with Chinese characteristics,’ then we can say it’s been “60 Glorious Years” since the end of China’s civil war and the beginning of the current dynasty. Here are some interesting reflections from two very different Mainlanders who’ve lived through it all.

A poor Chinese lantern maker, born in 1934:

In my lifetime, we’ve been through so many political movements. All national ones which were no concern of ours, like the 1954 Suppress the Counter-Revolutionaries, the 1957 Anti-Rightest movement, the Cultural Revolution, sending intellectual youth to remote country areas, stuff like that. But I never stopped making lanterns. I never though making revolution meant getting rid of festival traditions! I always thought the reason I was brave enough to carry on with my craft in secret was because I wasn’t educated, and had no idea what feudalism, capitalism and revisionism meant. I didn’t know about Party principles, or what the revolutionary Four News were meant to be. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand that. Most ordinary people had about as little education as I did. In fact, how many of those anti-everything revolutionaries with their movements for this and that understood what is was all about? Making revolution was just a pretext for people to settle private scores. If those movements really had been good for China, then we wouldn’t have been poor for so many years. People today wouldn’t be so fixated on money, and wouldn’t ignore traditional arts like they do. [pg. 220]

From an interview with an American-born Chinese female general, born in 1930, who worked 40 years in military education:

Xinran (the author): After the end of the feudal Qing dynasty, China never stopped changing — from Empire to Republic took just a few years, and the change from GMD to CCP also happened quickly. Especially in the cities, regime change was really rapid. It’s like you said, in Shanghai people’s political outlook changed in twenty-four hours. How is it possible, in your view, for ordinary people to cope with such rapid change?

General Phoebe: Ordinary people don’t care. You change the dynasty or the emperor, it’s all the same to us. We’ll follow any emperor, so long as you don’t stop us going about our business . . . I think they got used to things, and didn’t care. It’s “I’ll obey anyone, any authority, who’s good to me”.

Xinran: Political authority is like a god for an awful lot of ordinary Chinese.

General Phoebe: Authority is very important, not just for a nation, but also within the family. The patriarch of the great Chinese family is an authority who cannot be disobeyed by family members. A family without an authority figure will quickly disintegrate; the children and grand-children may scatter, and some will begin to fight between themselves. Within the family, the main head of the family is basically a ruler. If he or she is an enlightened and wise one, then they can deal with all family relationship problems, and guarantee that future generations have family rules to follow – rules which can make those family ties indissoluble and keep generations together. When that authority weakens, then other family members may involuntarily gravitate towards a new authority, and this may bring conflict in its wake. Interestingly enough, we can see the reappearance in national history of the traditional cultural consciousness of the great Chinese family, as the “cells” of family life penetrate the bone and marrow of the nation. [pg.282]

(Quoted from China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation by Xinran, a collection of extended personal interviews with members of China’s most fascinating generation.)

P.S. – This is more about people than politics. Please remember that in the comments.

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