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Another subject I heard quite often is the value on Collectivism. Chinese people do not consciously sense they have this quality. I realize we do only after I learn more about Individualism. There is no accurate term in the Chinese language to interpret this word. For the ones we have, it is close to "self-centered" and "egoism", which are very negative terms in the Chinese culture.
Chinese people indeed have a strong sense of collectivism! Just look at the questions Chinese students asked President Bush in Qing Hua University! "We have 1.3 billion people and your position on Taiwan hurts us all!"
Where was that sense fostered in the Chinese history? When Qing Dynasty united China, the Emperor established a national government system: County, District, and Province. Under the county, it had a system called Bao Jia. Ten families were in one Bao and ten Bao constituted one Jia. Bao Jia system had many social and government functions: security, tax collection, charity, school, etc. and it was maintained till 1949 under the Nationalist government. All dynasties in Chinese history developed a "Heavy Award and Heavy Punishment" policy for the Bao Jia's performance. For example, if one person passed the national civil examination, the government would send a band to his hometown to announce the news, chanting his county and family name all the way there. If one person committed crimes, the whole family would suffer from the wrongdoings. Naturally, there were more good things that people do so the award appeared to be more associated with the collectivism. There are a few of sayings about this award practice. One of them says: If one can fly, his dogs and chickens arise with him to heaven. We have another saying for the punishment side: Nine families die with one person's crime. It developed into its worst form of crime by association when power struggles became fierce.
What else makes Chinese people Chinese? I talked to many friends. One thing that struck me is that we all believe deeply in fate. In a typical Chinese saying, the term is Meant To Be. Look at these concepts: Lives are in a circle -- Building a good foundation for the next life by helping others in this life. Things happen for reasons -- Taking Middle Approach and Doing by not Doing. - One can never lose: You Gain by Losing and You Lose by Gaining. We take whatever that comes and we have ways to feel good about it! Going through all these Chinese ways of thinking, I am so annoyed and depressed by its passiveness. When I feel annoyed, I realize it could be positive and even powerful.
For any culture that has evolved and survived for thousands of years, it must contain many good things that hold people together in a society. If it appears different, it must be because it has developed in a different economic environment and has a different coping system.
My friends in China often ask me about the American culture: attitude towards family, children, money, government, education, individualism, death, etc. I could not answer as if I forget all the cultural shocks when I arrived. Indeed, the American culture looks so similar with the Chinese culture in essence. Only when I hear negative comments about the American culture, I could explain the difference and misunderstanding.
I am still learning. My daughter called us from Yale about her phone bill. She did not want us to be upset about her first year college "mistake" of talking too much with high school friends all over the country. I was indeed upset, not just for the money but also for the time she did not spend on study. One morning at breakfast with me during her spring break, she gave me a check and said she wanted to be responsible for her mistake as an adult. I was flushed. I told her she did not need to because her money was my money. I knew it was from her jobs the previous summer, but what was the difference. Of course, in the end I realized it was different and it was her money. It feels great that somebody shares the household costs now!
See information about our Cultural Workshops held in the spring and fall.