Saturday, September 18, 2010

The icing on the cake

On Saturday, "sirens wailed to mark the 79th anniversary of Japan's invasion" and "hundreds of Chinese gathered outside Japanese diplomatic residences across the country" to "protest Japan's seizure of a Chinese fishing boat." Some choice quotes about the 9-18 九一八 protests, via Xinhua:
  • In Beijing, dozens of protestors gathered outside the Japanese embassy, unfurling banners and shouting "Japan, get out of the Diaoyu Islands," "Boycott Japanese goods," "Don't forget national humiliation, don't forget Sept. 18" and other slogans. 
  • During the protest, a man held a cake -- the icing of which formed the image of the Diaoyu Islands, China's national flag and the message "Japan, get out of the Diaoyu Islands." "As a cake maker, I make such a cake to express my patriotism," said the protester surnamed Wu. "I think every Chinese in every industry should take action."
  • "An outstanding nation must be a nation that respects history," said Wang Jinsi, a member with the Chinese Society for Anti-Japanese War History. "To remember history is not to remember hatred, but to prevent the tragedy from recurring," he said. [Really, huh? I would very much agree.]
  • In Shenyang, "TV and radio programs will be paused during the three minutes. Drivers on nine main roads and 18 main streets, which symbolize Sept. 18, will stop their vehicles and sound their horns, said the officials."

So as this 九一八 situation unfolds with flags waving, voices hollering, tempers rising, one observation strikes me as to what is so misguided and sad about the situation: We fight over islands, but not for people's lives. Because we just don't give a damn about people.

In the United States, Martin Peretz's recent quote that "frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims" caused a huge uproar. That statement naturally engenders another question for our discussion: How precious are Chinese lives to Chinese people? Apparently, not very much. In China, individuals act in ways that are completely unethical because they don't value the lives of others. That's why you end up with poisoned milk, and shoddily constructed schools that crush children and teachers. (Furthermore, if you ask for investigations into such things, you are detained).

This state of affairs is simply abhorrent, because the life of a Chinese person is worth as much as the life of any other human being. Each Chinese person should be accorded a basic respect and dignity. After all, isn't that really the "equality" we are seeking? The quest for equal respect that so often motivates China's development mindset ("demanding" respect from the West) is misguided. If pursued in its current form, it will fail.

Real respect is not something that can be demanded; it is inspired. It comes not from fear, but from love or admiration. It comes from the recognition of one's virtue.

If you do not respect yourself and your fellow citizens, how can you ask anyone else to respect you? If you are not proud of who you are, and seek to tear down your heritage (and replace it with somebody else's notions of modernity), how can you expect anyone else to cherish your culture? Conversely, if you are cruel to your own people, for whom you have the greatest responsibility in the world, how can we expect you to be kind to anyone else?

It is urgent that we start behaving with humanity, treating people as living beings instead of as expendable resources to be exploited, manipulated and thrown away in the search for wealth/development/growth i.e. greed. When will people instead of things start to matter?

Indeed, one does not need to "demand" respect from anybody. One should simply strive to act in a virtuous manner, and this merit will be recognized in the natural course of things. If others want to remain ignorant or brutal, that is their problem; as long as we can face ourselves (对得起自己), then that is the right direction in which to travel.

Finally, I shall make one more observation: a quote from today's piece says that "an outstanding nation must be a nation that respects history." The double standard of investigating the history of Japan's atrocities, but ignoring other later crimes, is sorely problematic. After all, in addition to valuing history, an outstanding nation must also be a nation that respects the lives of its people -- not as a political tool, but as an end in itself. When we move toward these more universal notions of justice and affirm the value of life, we become more civilized. Isn't being "civilized" something we ought to strive for?

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