1996 / 10月
Anna Wang /tr. by Phil Newell
hat is the definition of civilization? Does it bring good fortune, or ill? A survey of primary and middle school children reveals that today's kids aren't getting healthier as we get wealthier. Not only are kids today-with their rich diets, nice homes, and vehicular transport-not fitter than their parents (who ate rice and walked to school) but they suffer from asthma, allergies, obesity, and psychosomatic disorders. The number of children with such "diseases of civilization" is growing rapidly, and even farm kids are not immune.
Recently, a group of young mainland Chinese writers released a set of essays in a book called The China That Can Say No. Though scholars give little weight to this poorly written and extremely one-sided text, the first printing of 50,000 copies sold out in a month, and leaders in Beijing have recommended the book. It has attracted attention in the Taiwan and Hong Kong media and among China-watchers.
These two items-kids' illnesses and Say No-are the topics that get special attention in this issue. They seem completely unrelated: One describes modern illnesses in Taiwan, and their causes and treatment. The other describes an anti-American, anti- British, anti-Japanese best-seller rooted in historical frustrations and nationalist fervor. But there is a common thread: Over the past 150 years, since the introduction of modernity to China, modern civilization (often identified as "Western") has in many areas run into problems. Thus, "diseases of civilization" are common in both West and East, and their prevalence is in fact virtually an indicator of a country's level of industrialization and urbanization. And Say No reflects the newest development in the clash between Eastern and Western cultures in the post-Cold War order (seen as well in the books The Japan That Can Say No and The Asia That Can Say No).
In this issue, we provide different approaches to thinking about The China That Can Say No. We hope readers will peruse these carefully, then make their own judgments. Looking at the book's contents, just from the way of thinking reflected in the title Say No, we can see an interesting theme: In the wrestling between Asian modernization and Western civilization, it is China, with its ancient and profound culture, which attracts the greatest attention.
Today, for most people, modern culture is virtually equivalent to Western science and technology since the industrial revolution. "Western" culture has become a synonym for progress, convenience, efficiency, and other things we are familiar with in daily life. It has become deeply embedded in our lives, from our eyeglasses and lipstick to out neckties and running shoes, from appliances to vehicles-no part of our lives is an exception. Naturally Western systems and values have also entered our society. But how did this happen?
In the earliest East-West interactions, it was the West that was more interested in the East, and especially in China. This can be traced back to Marco Polo's tales (whose authenticity is being questioned by some). Tradition has it that Polo, imprisoned in 1298 during a civil war, kept up his spirits in prison by recounting his travels as a young man in the Orient to a cell-mate. Thereafter many adventurers from the West crossed the seas in search of the riches described by Polo. Romantic businessmen, soldiers of fortune, and, later, missionaries, kept coming to look for fabled Cathay for 500 years. Except for spreading a bit of Christianity and some technology, however, their impact on China was virtually nil. Thus when the Qianlong emperor of the Qing dynasty decided to "Say No" and close China's doors to the West, this was not considered any great loss.
When Westerners returned, things had changed. By the early 19th century, Western empires had passed though the baptism of the industrial revolution, and were searching for materials and markets. The declining Qing dynasty could not stand up to these new maritime hegemonists, and China's door was knocked in and the family jewels dug up. At the same time, among intellectuals there was an idea to "learn from the [Western] barbarians in order to hold the barbarians in check." Although a series of concessions and humiliating treaties provided reminders that imperial China's self- strengthening and reform had not gone deep enough, these also forced China onto the path of modernization.
In a revolutionary explosion touched off by intellectuals, the enormous Chinese dynastic system collapsed. Though the country was plunged into chaos, at least it was no longer under the court, and intellectuals were no longer limited to "selling themselves to the imperial house" to play a supporting role in the political structure. Instead they could be participants in forming a nation. Indeed, with social progress and modernization, they did not need remain a tiny elite; as the clear distinction made in the old society among social classes disappeared, social mobility increased, education spread, the standard of living rose, and the embryo of a modern society-with democracy and a fair distribution of wealth-was taking shape.
Although China's road from the Opium War to the retraction of the unequal treaties was hard; although Western civilization only entered after China's closed door had been blasted in with cannon; and although today there are many differences of opinion rooted in historical sentiments, value orientations, and self-interest, we have already learned how to co-exist peacefully and equally. Today, with ever-improving communications and transport, the global village idea is steadily becoming reality. We can invest more effort and thought into how to treasure the earth's resources that we share, how to work together to solve the problems modern technology and medicine have yet to resolve, and how to help the many people whose countries are engulfed by hunger, disease, and war. These great enemies of life and property are the things we should really be saying "no" to, don't you think?