Thursday, November 05, 2009

Grandchildren of the Revolution

Had an interesting conversation at dinner with a Chinese colleague last week while in Nanjing. She was talking about the devastating impact that the Cultural Revolution had on so much of traditional Chinese culture. She fears that a good deal of it had been lost forever despite recent efforts in China to reconnect with the past. She theorized that this cultural loss was one of the reasons for the spiritual ennui in China today. During the Cold War (when she grew up), at least one could still believe in the Communist Party. Now, many young Chinese seemingly believe in nothing: no religion, no state, no culture, no tradition, no history.

It's by no means a unique lament and you could hear similar sentiments expressed in many other countries today as well. However, when you consider the current role that China plays in the world and even larger role they seem poised to play in the future, having a generation that's coming of age untethered to any particular system of believes and values is disconcerting. Vacuums have a way of getting filled. With something.

A few more thoughts on China after my recent trip:

- While China has made a lot of progress in lifting millions out of poverty and becoming an integral and interconnected part of the modern world, the country still lags in one critical area: beer. After drinking several Tsingtaos last week, I've come to the conclusion that it's a very bland and almost tasteless beer. Even when the big bottles that are poured into small glasses are served as "ice" (or cold) . Jingling--a local brand from Nanjing-- is somewhat better, but it's still difficult to find a good beer in China, especially one brewed there.

- It was a disturbing to see that despite the rising skepticism toward man-made global warming in the United States, the media and government in the Philippines apparently is still bought in hook, line, and sinker. Everywhere I looked, people were blaming the recent typhoons and flooding on global warming without giving it a second though. Of course, some of fervor of this belief (especially among the government types) might be based on the hope that some of the proposed remedies for global warming would be a windfall for the country. Since the Philippines is supposedly suffering some of the worst consequences of the warming, they would be in line to receive reparations from the richer countries that are contributing to it.

Meanwhile, despite Thomas Friedman's daydreams of China becoming some sort of benign Green dictatorship, I think the Chinese attitude might be described as cynically Green. They'll publicly nod their heads in agreement that global warming and environmental degradation are terrible threats to the planet and they we should all agree to do something to address them. However, in private they damn well know that they're not going to do anything that's going to jeopardize their path to prosperity. I think this attitude applies at a macro (governmental) as well as micro (individual) level in China.

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