Self Esteem

Happy New Year everyone! Chinese New Year, that is. Being a website promoting Asian culture, it’s only fitting that we start this blog on Chinese New Year’s Day.

There has been a bunch of feedback on the Mulan article. One person writes:
“Something that has struck a chord with me particularly is your noting that Chinese minds have become feeble. Not that they are not intelligent, nor necessarily hardworking. It is more the ability to understand who they are, where they come from, and developing a secure sense of place and life project. I feel a lot of young Chinese people (both in China and ethnic Chinese abroad) lack a deep confidence. And I think the cultural/political turmoil that China has been through in modern history has a lot to do with it.”

I wholeheartedly agree. It is sad, but I think that modern Chinese culture is a culture of inferiority complex, a culture that lacks self esteem.

Look at any Chinese work that deals with history, a historical movie, like “Hero” for example, or a historical soap opera, like the recent “Emperor of the Great Han (Da Ha Tian Zi)” for example. There it’s always shown, with an air of resignation, how the hero, though kind and good-hearted, nonetheless needs to perform some heinous deeds such as killing a loyal subordinate along with his entire family, “for the greater good.” While in Western works the hero may have personal faults, he never has to do anything so criminal as the Chinese “hero.” When the Chinese hero doesn’t have to do anything heinous, he ends up being tragically beaten, as in the recent movie “Huo Yuan Jia.” Sure, “Huo Yuan Jia’s” producers will say, he was never beaten; he had actually beaten the Japanese fighter; he died at the end of the fight only because he was poisoned! But he was still beaten. He was beaten, and China was beaten, in the sense that China had lost its best fighter by far as a result of the match with the Japanese fighter. In the more popular Western movies the hero doesn’t come to that kind of end! Our heroes are definitely inferior to theirs! Boo hoo for self esteem!

The reason that Chinese culture lacks self esteem is the lack of a recognized, affirmed Chinese history, and the lack of a recognized, affirmed set of core values. By the way, I suspect that’s actually common to all non-Western peoples. At any rate, Chinese history is said to be glorious, but if it’s so glorious where have we gone wrong? Why have we been and why are we still so poor and backward? Answers abound, from the Marxist one to the “Blue Culture, Yellow Culture” one to various unconvincing or even outright racist ones. And what are the core values? Confucianism has been thoroughly thrown out the window. The process has started in 1895, when Japan defeats China over Korea and Liang Qi Qiao and Kang You Wei start their campaign to strip the power of the Son of Heaven down to that of a constitutional monarch. The process rises to a fever pitch in 1924 with the cry of “Down with the Confucius Shop!” during the May Fourth Movement. The process ends with the grand finale of the 1966 Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Today much of Mainland China is devoid of traditional Chinese ideals, mores, norms, and traditional Chinese common courtesy. Yet the replacement, the revolutionary ideals, mores and norms of the Marxist class struggle, have also been thrown out. So what core values are we left with? A void.

Look at American history and American core values in contrast. Every American knows that the 1776 Revolution is just and great, the conquest of the continent, Alaska, and Hawaii has been a manifest destiny blessed by Providence, and every war that America has been in has been just and, except for Vietnam and Korea, victorious. As for core values, most Americans rally around freedom, equality and democracy, and most Americans will tell you that the most important thing to possess is love.

Recognizing and reaffirming Chinese history and Chinese core values, i.e. reaffirming Chinese culture, that’s indeed why I’ve started this website.

This is even sadder, but I think the Chinese inferiorty complex has gotten worse, not better. Back in the Sixties and Seventies, though most Chinese, i.e. mainland Chinese, were wrong that communism and Maoism had given China the most advanced social system and China would overtake the West within a generation, at least most Chinese were confident that China was still the Middle Kingldom and the center of the world. Now, it is pretty unanimous that China is backward and significantly behind the West, and worse, no one can figure out a way to catch up soon. The accepted wisdom from Mainland officialdom and mainland scholars of prominence is that it will take another fifty years for China to reach the level of the mid tier income countries, like Brazil and Portugal! As for catching up with the USA, well, that’s not seen anywhere in the future. Sigh! This lack of confidence on the part of Chinese people, young Chinese people included, is going to persist for a while!

Feng Xin-ming

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