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On My Deep Understanding of China

'superficial' would be an overstatement

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.

In the early 1980's, I was a roadie with a reggae act that travelled North America. One day in mid-summer in western Canada, I think Calgary, we were attending a street festival much like Boulder has every summer with booths and commotion and kids zooting around and it was fun with the good ethnic and eclectic food such festivals offer world-wide. I was chowing down on something on a stick, which of course was in the process of falling apart into my cupped hand when I lurched into a group of people who were greeting Mao leading a group of Chinese party officials into the festivities.

Well, no, he was not Mao, but he looked almost exactly like the idealized color posters we've seen of that ambitious communist in his youth. Whoever this kid was, he was a strapping six footer, taller than I, with a huge smile that looked sincere, dressed in the tunic, slacks, and head gear of the Red Chinese style we'd been taught to fear, distrust, and laugh at. He was followed by other young folk, men and women, all of whom looked like they could drop and do 100 pushups holding a conversation and then dash off for a Marathon where they'd discuss Marx the entire run. They were amazingly healthy looking, happy, possessed of the most beautiful reddish tan skin, white teeth, black hair and flashing eyes without blemish, and smiling and laughing. They were, I later learned from reading, northern Chinese, whom not a few consider the most beautiful people in the world. No argument here.

The group was buying trinkets and eating Canadian booth food with enthusiasm and they were surrounded by equally happy Canadians, who spoke in Chinese and I assumed were the hosts. When I made eye contact with any of them, they smiled openly and nodded at me, and it felt sincere and actual and it made a far deeper impression upon me than such a nothing event normally would. I liked them at first glance. You cannot fake such warmth.

That's as close as I've ever been to China. My only other contact with actual mainland Chinese came when I worked at the Boulder International Hostel a decade back, and people currently from Beijing would stay and attend University events and classes. One couple, nearly a foot shorter than I as is not uncommon for Asians born further south than Beijing, had a little girl just about two, I'm guessing, who would melt the heart of anyone. She'd ask me questions, I think, in Chinese, and when I made what I hoped was an amusing face and tried to indicate I had no clue, she'd shrug her tiny shoulders together and, with irradiating tiny smile, hide behind her parents legs and peer out at me and this world new to her. She and her parents were such entirely pleasant people I actually looked forward to their appearances. Based upon these two deep friendships of a minute or less duration, composed entirely of silent nods and smiles, I have a great affinity for and understanding of the Chinese people. These have been augmented by email exchanges. Perhaps for these admittedly silly reasons, I do not fear China, but rather admire it. Americans have this habit of thinking that because we had a relatively easy time installing a democratic republic, others' failure to do so speaks of their inferiority.

But America never had to overcome the established aristocracies and state religions with centuries of land owned by the same bloodline, as happened in Eurasia. We were entirely lucky. China had and has a lot to unlearn and undo before it can see the world as we do. But, it's moving in that direction by will.

Ironically, America is in the process of establishing mythological restraints to impede its continued leadership, looking backwards to a fictional past and sobbing over nonsense that won't come again because it never existed. That's the Tea Party. We denounce the awful Chinese government for limiting families to one child, ignoring the fact we will sooner than later have to have a similar law here due to Christian idiocy and male vanity. That decision by the Chinese, for which we damn them, was as environmentally responsible, as politically dangerous, as intelligent and necessary as any law passed by any government in the last 100 years, and we are all hypocritically grateful they faced down their past to do so. If they had not, they'd today be engaged in wars of conquest to feed themselves, and I'd never have met such pleasant people far from home, because they'd be back there chained to a plow or an AK-47.