This is a follow up to my previous post. I have been thinking about this for some time now and want to ask the why question. I have heard and read several explanations. I think they may have some truth to them but I also want to talk about an additional possible explanation.
Anyone who has lived in China for an extended period of time, if they are honest, will tell you that there is a noticeable degree of difference between the rudeness, selfishness, ignorance, dishonesty, slavish preference for white people, shallowness among many other vices of the Chinese compared to people in many developed (and even many developing) countries.
What causes this? One explanation from what I have heard (from Chinese people) is that during the 50-60s, China experienced such hardships with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution that people learned to be incredibly selfish, self-centered, just to survive and that this has carried over to today. Anyone who wasn’t kith or kin were treated like they were not worthy of any consideration.
The second explanation I’ve heard is that Chinese society is still relatively poor and rural going through transitional changes in social change. Many people were not just figuratively “born in barns” but literally. In the past, due to the type of agrarian society they lived in, many actions would not seriously affect others. But in a modern society, many of our actions may seriously harm others. For example, take driving. A driver is responsible for basically a large metal missile and the slightest mistake from a lack of consideration for the well-being of others can result in serious injury or death for others. In rural, Maybe that’s why you see so many idiots running red lights in China. They simply haven’t been taught to be aware of other people and the dangers of cars. Traditionally in China, people rarely wielded that kind of potential power over others consistently like they do today. Similarly with the food safety issues. If one’s food stall or restaurant isn’t clean, many people could be devastatingly affected. In big, crowded, modern cities, diseases spread quickly and basic hygiene becomes more important than in rural society where people were more spread out. So people are not so concerned with hygiene (such as the above Chinese mother shown having her child urinate in a Canadian mall’s rubbish bin).
Another explanation is that China lacks the rule of law. Bad behavior often gets a pass because there are few legal and law enforcement resources devoted to proper enforcement of decent conduct. As China devotes more resources in this area as seems now to be the case, more civilized behavior will replace uncivilized behavior.
Additionally, poor physical and or mental health (lead poisoning?) might also contribute to the mentality.
All these above explanations seem reasonable to me and may partially contribute to the modern Chinese mindset. But I also think that one explanation that hasn’t been talked about is that I realize that Chinese people are not as explicitly demanding of others as westerners. What I mean is that they don’t seem to outwardly express discontent with others over bad behavior as westerners when confronted with uncivilized/harmful/dangerous/inconsiderate behavior.
I think people underestimate how much social signaling (showing discontent/censure/resentment through language or even body language) can impact other’s behavior in positive ways. Public raise for good behavior also impacts people’s behavior. The self restraint, discipline and regard for others that it takes to build a civilized modern society requires lots of social communication both explicit and implicit in cultivating those traits which Chinese society and parents do not currently instill in their children. Modern Chinese culture may eschew public condemnation for fear that the one being condemned will lose face. Chinese people of course complain all the time and argue but they don’t usually confront others directly with their behavior no matter how atrocious that behavior is. So vices grow in a dark environment without proper light of social signalling from peers. What Chinese people take to be “civility” in not condemning these kinds of behavior is actually a superficial civility if one can even call it that. It is born of cowardliness, laziness and apathy, a kind of moral meekness/weakness masking as a virtue.
There is a famous sociological theory that what produced the European enlightenment of the last 200-300 years is precisely the increase of social signalling against uncivilized behavior (it started with such behavior as would be better qualified under simply “bad manners”) starting with the urbanization of Europe. Europe saw a dramatic decrease in violent crime following (though you can make a good argument that what they improved on in internal civility they more than made up in their brutality against non Europeans). Of course, this is rather an educated speculation (it is sociology after all) as this is just a correlation relationship and may not suggest a true causal one. But one hopes that China is currently in such a phase too but hopefully it won’t take another 200 years to bare the same fruit.