The following is a translation of a recent post from Yang Hengjun, a political espionage novelist and blogger. This article is part two of a series of articles he is writing about the post-80’s generation.
In this article, Yang Hengjun discusses China’s (lack of a) system of values. He believes that despite its bloody past, Europe’s system of universal values serves as a model for China. He believes that if China does not develop a modern system of values soon, the post-80’s generation will only plunge deeper into corruption, taking with it the future of the country
When asked what most worries me about China, I always respond with two issues: the environment and our core system of values. It’s difficult to imagine what would ensue if the 1.3 billion people within China’s 9.6 million square kilometers of land had no common values to hold them together. Such a situation is unfathomable.
Some students believe that democracy in China could very possibly tear the country apart, and it is this “possibility” that many use as an excuse to impede the development of democracy here.
Why is it that democracy would tear us apart? Take Europe, for example. Is its bloody past with its two world wars that much more serious than our own? Such a question is moot, really, as today not only is there no longer any fighting in Europe, but they are also unified.
The last time I was in Europe, I fell asleep on a tour bus after a big meal. I awoke several hours later to discover that during my nap we had passed through three countries. I ask you, could such a thing occur in China? That is, that you could pass between the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong without having to pay “highway taxes”, or without someone suspicious that you were involved in human trafficking, or without some other nonsense trouble taking place? In particular, look closely at the border present at Luohu Bridge [between Hong Kong and the mainland], with its armed police, customs barricade, and every other thing imaginable necessary [to divide Hong Kong from the mainland]. How could any European see such a thing and believe that we, China, are a unified country?
The gradual process of Europe’s unification has enlightened us. It has taught us that collectively embracing a system of core values and ideals is a crucial element to unifying a long-lasting and harmonious country.
The issue we currently face is that there are some who are impeding the Chinese people’s exposure and acceptance of universal values. These people, incapable of coming up with their own system or philosophy of values, tote old clichés of “values with Chinese characteristics”. But these individuals are incapable of persuading even their own wives and children.
The Chinese people of today have already wasted away the next generation’s resources. Are they also to hold on to the decrepit and draconian values of those who lived 2,000 years ago?
When I speak about this problem, reporters from previous generations say that the post-80’s generation is not the slightest bit interested in politics, democracy, freedom or a system of universal values. They say that the current generation is only interested in their own futures.
I believe that young people’s disinterest in politics is not a bad thing. Western youth living under mature, democratic systems of government often do not follow politics. And indeed young people naturally should focus more on their own lives. A political system which does not warrant the attention of young people is “politics”.
In addition, although these youths do not follow politics on a regular basis, should their government one day begin to affect their lives negatively, such as a case where housing prices skyrocket, or rampant political corruption begins to infect their everyday lives, these youths will no longer not follow politics.
China has recently emerged from a tumultuous era in which Mao Zedong had all people, especially young people, forget their own identity and whole-heartedly dedicate themselves to “politics”. This resulted in an enormous disaster for our people and country.
But I am willing to go one step further with this. Regardless of whether or not you care, universal values and the post-80’s generation are inextricably linked, as China’s acceptance of universal values will ultimately decide the fate of this and proceeding generations.
Let’s go back to the question some students asked so much about before: to leave China, or to stay on the mainland? Frankly, any society, regardless of which values it embraces, or which system it abides by, can provide a considerable amount of opportunities for elite students. In other words, if you believe you can be successful in America, know you can be successful in China.
Notice here, though, that I am talking about the elite students. As for the average young worker, to be straight forward, you are much better off illegally immigrating to America. Due to its high level of economic development, and the assurance of human rights, you are many times over better of going to America than hiding away in Shanghai. Moreover, think back to those Fujian peasants who illegally immigrated to America, accumulated millions of renminbi in personal property, and, after ten years, were able to become naturalized citizens of America. They were even issued a driver’s license, identify card and passport. If, after working yourself to death over many years in Shanghai, could you ever become a “naturalized” Shanghai person?
So, and I want to emphasize this point, here I am talking about the elite, those that, both in America and China, are considered the elite. For these people, China’s rapid development provides vast opportunities to establish new enterprises. It would be no exaggeration to say that those who moved to America would have no worse life here on the mainland.
But I want to ask everyone, where would two people [one who stayed on the Chinese mainland versus the one who went to America], who had the same level of success, differ?
Here, I’ll just state things as they are. The difference between these two people is not in the money they earn, or the size of their house. It is not in the extent of their rights, or whether or not their career has a future. The difference lies in their universal system of values.
Whenever I say “universal system of values”, there are sure to be plenty of people who plant their faces in their hands, or turn up their noses, because they do not believe that this has the slightest relevance to their careers or lives. But this could not be farther from the truth.
Not only is a universal system of values relevant to your career and lives, but it directly affects whether or not you prosper here on earth, whether or not your life has any self worth, and whether or not, long from now, when you die, your soul recognizes your twisted self.
Not only does the system of values a country embraces determine its political system, but it also permeates into every aspect of society. It becomes the primary guiding principle which sets standards for law, morals and ideology. To put it simply, our lives, careers and everything we are associated with is directly derived from and supported by our system of values.
The primary difference between a successful American and a successful Chinese is the price they pay for their success. I am not talking about the cash or time value, but instead about a difference as stark as night and day.
Can you tell me that it is possible for a Chinese public official, who wants to advance in his career, to not overtly disregard his conscience by giving and accepting bribes, and bowing and scraping on his hands and knees for the favor of those above him? Is it possible for one who does not follow in the foot steps of others in this way to “advance”? Could you feel secure as a business man in China if you did not collude with bigwigs? Could you succeed if you did not heed to their every word and laugh at their jokes?
Undoubtedly people will respond to this by saying, “Well, after all, they are successful [so what does it matter?].” But, what is the meaning of “success”? If one really thought, [after they had committed such immoral acts], that they were successful, then they would not send their child abroad as soon as they had the money to do so. If such an individual were really that successful, why wouldn’t they want their child to follow in their steps?
Don’t think that it’s because they think they’ll get caught. Trust me, the amount of corrupt officials who are caught and locked away is smaller than the amount of people you pass on the road who are hit and killed by cars each day. Such people are fully aware of the price they have paid for “success”, and they do not want their own children to be exposed to such corruption. And even the most corrupt have enough conscience to do this [to send their children away].
But, of course, none of the elite here [the readers] have progressed to this level. However, once an individual is amidst the reality of Chinese society, where there are no restrictions on values, everything they do will be at the over-reaching mercy of their bosses and the organization for which they work. Only those who were born with a slave mentality, and are willing to suffer in silence, will hold onto their character, happiness and dignity—but only for a short time. These individuals, in order to advance, will slowly grind dull their conscience and innate character. This is the price you must pay to “advance”. And if you innately do not have these things, character, happiness and dignity, then you are much more fortunate than those who do, as you will not have to endure the pain of losing them.
If the only path to success were through back doors, ass-kissing and corruption, then there’s nothing more that we could say. However, the thought of a healthy system which embraces rich, common, universal human values, a system which does not predicate the destruction of our character and dignity, a place where we can be successful, is a system worth considering.
So, the system of values a country embraces is inextricably linked to the fate of that country’s youth.
As for going abroad or staying on the mainland, I feel that if you have no interest in politics whatsoever, and want to succeed without having to pay the price of sacrificing your soul, go abroad. But if you feel that no matter what career you follow, be it business or becoming a public official, that you can hold on to your soul, if you believe that in the near future China will have a system of values that will benefit the masses, and that you can contribute your talents to such a system, stay in China. We need you here. Here, you have a bright future.