China, Where Rapid Modernization Meets Rich History

It’s been almost a week since I landed in Xianyang. I was excited and nervous, given the years of hiatus from my hometown. Excited to put on an old sweater. Nervous to see what’s changed. During my time away, all I heard about was China’s path to modernization. But… what if I liked the way things were before?

I loved our old community centric lifestyle. We lived in a big gated residential area right next to the local river. I loved the morning walks to WeiBin park, greeting our gate security, walking past the same store vendor every day. Everyone embraced one another not because of their potential value, but for the pure enjoyment of each other’s company.

WeiBin Park 2000

A couple months before my trip, I heard that our old park was replaced with a massive outdoor TV:

Weibin Park 2011.
WeiBin Park 2016.

Don’t get me wrong. I love change, paradigm shifts and evolution of culture. But humans are never good at compromise. We find something new and completely abandon what was good before. We push the seesaw all the way to one side before realizing: “Crap, maybe some balance should be applied here?”

Thankfully, our community life still feels pretty much the same as before. Other than my grandma playing with her smartphone:

And I guess I could live with the big TV right in the middle of our old park, it’s actually quite nice to watch movies there.

But while the general atmosphere is the same, I’ve seen disturbing trends emerge. The most visible example is in architecture. Right now it’s all about speed… rapid modernization. If you compare the new buildings to ancient architectural marvels of China, the standard has clearly fallen.

Today no one in the city cares about how things look, just how fast they’re getting built. Even though community life has yet to suffer, the philosophy of speed over care is highly questionable. It results in a lack of awareness on the impact of city atmosphere, in favour of financial gain. What if I don’t even have a park near my home a couple years from now, and instead, we have commercial buildings?

Seeing all these changes, the bigger concern to me is this: the new, richer generation of Chinese kids. Although it’s fantastic for us to appreciate newfound technology and western ideas, we are now pushing the seesaw completely to the other side. I believe part of the reason is that nobody knows enough about Chinese culture anymore.

You can essentially split the new generation into three categories:

  1. The Chinese kids who are schooled in China: they learn about Chinese history, but I have doubts whether they recognize its relevance and how to intersect that with today’s society.
  2. The Chinese kids who moved to North America: Most of them know very little about Chinese history. What’s worse, the culture works against them at times.
  3. The rest of the world: Most of them know nothing about Chinese history and culture.

The first category of Chinese kids living in China: I see them. Love fast fashion, global brands. The richer second generation “fuerdai” causing problems for the government. I hope that they learn enough about Chinese history to embrace some future balance in their communities.

Second, Chinese kids in North America. I have to be honest: I’ve gleaned so much more truth about Chinese culture from novels. I find non-fiction books about China difficult to read because most if not all have a very transparent agenda. Most of these guys are government officials travelling to China, who have a limited perspective of what’s actually going on. If Chinese kids from North America are looking for English written books, there’s not a lot of objective content out there.

(Side note: It’s almost a disadvantage for a kid to be ingrained in Chinese culture because it makes you different from the people around you. High school is a place where the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.)

The rest of the world, in my opinion, knows little to nothing at all. They are hugely susceptible of being swayed by media or other outlets with agendas. I hope people will learn to form their own opinion about China rather than being influenced by a curated feed.

All in all, I am apprehensive but optimistic of China’s future. I’ve really enjoyed my time so far back home. I just hope that we don’t get so infatuated with progress that our heritage completely disappears.

(As I’m writing about media influence, a part of my head just lights up in annoyance. It’s so ridiculous to me how such a scheme was invented. The impact TV, news articles, movies, marketing has on a person’s perception is ludicrous. People think they have a choice, but they really don’t.

I could go on and on about this issue, but a specific tie-in example of its effects can be seen from Asians getting minimal exposure in fashion and Hollywood. That’s a huge disadvantage. When you meet a Western individual, you unconsciously notice how they have features which remind you of this celebrity or this actor or this famous person. When you could meet an Asian individual, you have nobody to relate them to, and have to start from scratch.

But thinking for yourself is hard. Most people are lazy. We try to learn about a person as quickly as possible. For the short term a non-athletic nerd stereotype is an easy assumption to make. Or you might just decide it’s not worth all that trouble to figure this person out.

But you know what? I say that makes it all the more interesting.

Just spend a bit more time understanding the situation. Test the waters. Find the advantages.

Two can play this game.

Who cares if you start a marathon a couple laps behind everyone?)