Written: February 7, 2015
When Japan attacked America, they were afraid they woke up the sleeping giant. America, actually, is one of the most interesting countries in the world, an unusual amalgam of the world’s cultures wrapped up into a world dominating hegemony, at first a libertarian state, now a corporate-subsidizing, overly militaristic, liberty-destroying monster. But China has become a serious contender and prominent nation. While America can be better understood as several distinct cultural geographic regions, China can better be understood as a powerful central bureaucracy controlling over a dozen provinces whose populations match major countries in Europe. The only reason China has been ignored for so long is that it has languished in Third World Communist poverty. China, now, is a rather odd, fast-changing country. While many non-Asians think Asians all look alike, they think the same of China and its people. However, you have to think of China as two nations, those who live in the First World of Western culture and wealth, and those who live in the Third World. Although China’s GDP is close to greater than the US GDP depending on your measure, China is not as economically powerful as the US, and its per capita GDP is the same as war-torn Iraq. In essence, China is like combining Spain with Nigeria and calling it a country. China now has three concurrent cultures. The first is the strict, hierarchical, classist, conservative, anti-progressive Confucian culture. The second is the bureaucratic political monopoly culture of the Communist Party. The third is unabashed, materialistic, consumerist, Capitalist culture, some might argue, at its worse, nothing but superficial self-indulgence.
The book covers ten stories attempting to span a good portion of the billion plus Chinese folks living in this non-complimentary, three-culture system. Of course, like reading about any outside culture, you often see it as nonsensical, odd, foreign, and often focus on their foibles and faults. I imagine you could read the same type of book about Americans and have a good laugh at us. We’re supposed to be such freedom-loving people then why do we allow our government to spy on us and oppress everyone else? The stories include an old martial arts master with a rather simplistic life, a middle-aged female prostitute, spoiled young children of the rich class, a political dissident, the Oprah of China, and a woman who was married to a gay man, because China, like Russia and Iraq, still believe homosexuality is wrong. You know, maybe it’s the author, or maybe it was even me, but I found the whole thing somewhat depressing and mournful. The reason I think it’s the author and her choice of subjects was that I also read a book about the modern Chinese life by Zhu Wen called I Love Dollars that came across as more entertaining, humorous, and dramatic. The whole time I read From the Dragon’s Mouth, I felt like all her subjects lived rather dull, monotonous, boring lives trapped in amber, even the ones who partied. I have to think she was projecting a little. I don’t believe the Chinese all live boring, dull, sad lives. We all do, but it’s how we live it that makes the difference, how we infuse music, art, humor, friendships, and romance into our lives. I don’t know, I just felt so grey about it all, but maybe that’s also reader projection. Actually, the first story about the party kids was the most interesting, and then it all just went downhill. Did she just happen to find the most boring, sad, bland people in China? Or did she make them appear that way with her bland writing style and passive observations?
Once America feared being taken over by Japan economically, but those fears were greatly unfounded. While Japan excelled in industry, they lagged behind significantly in high-tech, software, and the Internet. Their corporate culture closely tied to banking and the government, also limited their competitiveness and ability to innovate. Likewise, I don’t think we have to worry about China taking us over economically either. Likewise, their Confucian-based culture is anti-progressive and anti-innovative with greater emphasis on stability, order, and hierarchy. To a lesser extent, Europe suffers the same cultural bias. While America does many things to undermine its economy, it also has many deserving and underserving advantages. We entered the Industrial Age on the backs of free labor, slavery. We acquired most of a continent and all its resources for little money. Two world wars transferred substantial wealth from Europe, which had extracted all that wealth from the rest of the world, to us. The US dollar is the world-recognized dominant currency which means, we can print as much of it as we want without fear that the rest of the world will dump their dollars and only hurt themselves. In other words, the US would be suffering hyperinflation right now if it were not for the rest of the world being forced to keep using and holding our cheap dollars. What hinders us is the close collaboration of government, banking, and big business. What hinders us is our debt and overseas wars. What saves us is our new found oil boom and the sheer brilliance and creativity of the Information industry, many of whom are newly immigrated. In other words, we have mostly stolen or imported our greatness. We should only pat ourselves on the back for doing that. America doesn’t have to worry about staying in first place when second through everyone else is doing everything worse. We have a large margin to fuck everything up, and so far, we are. What becomes of China? Will it become a democracy? Or will it continue to be just like us, a vast collusion between a one party system (the Republicrats or Demoblicans whatever you wish to call them), banking, the military-industrial complex, and big business? I think China has a better chance of shedding their one party system than we do.