Chinese Characteristics

I am often asked about Chinese culture. I am not a sinologist, just someone that live in this part of the world for some years and has the right to observe and, eventually, to speak. So, when asked about what is peculiar to Chinese I feel a little embarrassed. Why? Because peculiar means something arising from that civilization, as original product of thought or historical process. Now, for sure in the past you can witness this in China, great history and civilization; but today? If you walk in China you notice that: they dress in western style, they are leaded by a party following a western ideology, they are economically following a western model, they listen to music that is directly or indirectly influenced from western music, and I can go on and on. When you ask reason of this they always say that all of these things are now with “Chinese characteristics”: democracy with Chinese characteristics, capitalism with Chinese characteristics, socialism with Chinese characteristics and so on.  So, when we are afraid that China can “invade” us with its new economic power, I will not be so much afraid: we are already there. They are a characteristic of models that we have developed, a variation, for them an improvement.

One day, in a meeting with other scholar I ask a question to a Chinese professor of a very famous Chinese university: what is the soul of a Chinese university? He answered me that they are still looking for that soul. I think he was honest. He did not mention about marxism-leninism as its country politically correct would suggest, he did not mention Confucian thought that indeed was mostly erased from  people consciousness especially during the cultural revolution: he simply could not answer my question. I am not sure the Chinese people like to be a “characteristic” and not a “model”. To be a model you need to be capable of innovation, to have the freedom to think and criticize, to be independent mentally. Are Chinese people in this condition nowadays?

Some people exalt the “tiger mother model” of Chinese education. Because they don’t know what they are talking about. It is exactly this model of education that prevent that necessary change in attitude and mentality that can make the difference and that requires decades. But country leaders do not want to see this side: just boasting rhetoric is good enough to convince their people that being a “characteristic” of imperialistic people is already an improvement. Imperialistic people that give them political, economical, cultural models with whom I would be very curious to see what China would be.