吾非賣國賊，亦愛國者也。 If you know me at all, you must know that however many criticisms I have for the Chinese people, I remain willingly attached to that people, that people with all its sicknesses, those sicknesses that destroy soul and flesh.
The sham of modernity
Alas, the “Westernization” that China has undergone! We have seen in a century that adoption of such things has made the people no less cruel in wrath, no less corrupt in officialdom, no less inflamed by the passions of man. There are two Wests, and only one has been planted into China, the one of two puckering ulcers, modernism and postmodernism.
Like cavernous holes the two gape at me out of the country’s consciousness, roughly gouged out of the nation’s history of both greatness and sorrow. Millennia of memory, gone, out of sight. And now, these veneers of an essence that is no longer there except weak, neglected, punished by those who rejected it.
Preservation of the pure
If anything, I am not a Westernizing crusader for “change”. At root I am so conservative, you might say, that only Eden is enough, while I consider that all the other schemes are doomed to failure. I am so conservative that I bemoan the destruction that modern industry has wrought on the mountains, the waters, the trees, remaking the land into a barren wasteland, because it reflects the destruction inflicted on the human soul.
Ever since I have known good and evil and seen evil I have never had the melancholic temperament leave me, and it will stay with me until I live in the world that runs to the design of the Lord Almighty. I see the pursuit of the “good life”. No one believes that he wants the bad life, no one, not at the underlying level. What do people – and the people I know are the Chinese and the Americans – think the good life is? Physical prosperity: leave aside liberty, contemplation, anything outside of the material realm.
Consider, then, this report on China’s “angry youth”. They are so very different from me, and I from them. Why? Don’t give me the easy default answer, that the American culture that surrounds me is it, because I know it isn’t: I have been misfit, a hopeless romantic, an archaeoconservative for so long that you could never tell me I was a product of any kind of mass culture.
Grappling with Christianity and Asia
Maybe the difference is Christianity. Not at all that Christianity is Western or that the West is actually Christian, but look at Wikipedia’s list of so-called Asian values:
- predisposition towards strong and stable leadership rather than political pluralism;
- respect for social harmony and an inclination towards consensus as opposed to a tendency towards dissent or confrontation;
- acceptance of broad and penetrating state and bureaucratic intervention in social and economic affairs;
- concern with socio-economic well-being instead of civil liberties and human rights; and
- preference for the welfare and collective well-being of the community over individual rights.
The first is a desire for more than just pluralism: I have no problem with that, because I do not believe in democracy being a worthy value in itself, as long as political leadership has ears that connect to deliberation and not to the censorship sector. The second is what I would wish for, but it is morally tenable only if people are both principled and willing to be persuaded by a compelling case. The third is frankly not classically articulated in early Chinese philosophy outside of Legalism. The fourth and fifth taken together are utilitarianism, and I think no one wants to argue for that being an Asian distinctive.
Necessary changes in my view
Some of these, then, are not Asian values at all, and some clearly conflict with a Christian worldview.
What are some of what I do regard as a better set of values vis-à-vis this one? As an addition to point one, respect for authority (as opposed to power) and opposition to French-Revolution radical egalitarianism; as an addition to point two, refusal to recant principle in the face of force even at the cost of life; as amendment to point five, rejection of unrestrained individual autonomy and abuse of rights in preference for collective well-being.
For centuries Christians tried to build a Western civilization formed by what they knew from the truths of the gospel. What will it take to build and not tear down Chinese civilization to that same truth? What will it take to learn how to marry and parent and work and live in an Asian context in a way that honours the same God worshipped by Athanasius of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo?