written/non-written things by me (from 2005-2008)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A "Bao Xian" of My Own

Its the conclusion of a very big-time meeting here in Beijing, bao xian. In English its called "Preserving the Progressiveness". For 14 months 70 million (!) communist leaders and delegates all over China must come to Beijing and read essays by Mao and Deng Xiaopeng, as well as personal essays criticizing themselves and others, while espousing the truths of left ideology. It is a practice of the ideological campaign started by Mao back in the day. A NYT article last Friday discussed how delegates, instead of writing a essay/speech themselves, can buy one off of bokee.com, a Chinese blog network. Rather amusing. Apparently, many joke that the sessions are ridiculous and archaic, and that the ideological debates, are usually "bombastic displays" that can often devolve into rants about the quality of food in the cafeteria or the impropriety of boozing it up at lunchtime. I think I like bao xian. I want to go to one. Here is the NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/09/international/asia/09study.html?pagewanted=1

Wed and Fridays I teach in a public school, Gu 6. It's old enough and poor enough to still have the three portraits of Mao, Lenin and Marx in the entryway. It smells like pee, its cold, they often don't turn on the lights unless I ask them, but the children are very sweet and seem to love my lessons. I never have to yell or pound my hands on the desk to get them to be quiet. Gu 6 is markedly different than Jing Yuan, the rich private school, where many of the students are leaders' children. They are given nice school jumpsuits and some believe they do not need to study English because they could just hire a translator. Its ranked the best school in all of Shi Jing Shan District of Beijing, but from my experience so far and what have heard from past teachers is that the classes are rowdy and most have the reputation of being brats, which defies the stereotype of a well-mannered Chinese student. Even some of my good students can be obnoxious about it. For instance, when I ask a question the "good students" often thrust their hands like ramrods in the air, jump up and down and whine "Teacher! Teacher! Let me try!" over and over again. Its rather disruptive. I tell them 'I will not call on you if you are obnoxious', but even still some persist in thinking the loudest wins.

There are no legendary portraits at Jing Yuan, but written above the entryway, in big silver lettering, is "I have a Dream." Its historical associations of civil equality and making the future brighter make it an appropriate school slogan. Plus, the civil rights movement can be seen as an extension of "class consciousness", thus there is a fondness for this moment in American history. But, and here is the post-modern cynic in me, the phrase has also been used to sell Nikes. In certain contexts it is a statement of individuality and personal desire. I believe both the former and latter meanings are at work. Or this is how I choose to see it.

From an American perspective, I think there is a tendency to see the communist revolution as a period of ideological brainwashing, the scale of which seems absurdly heavy-handed. Children learned Marx in school, and adolescents carried Mao's little red book, and studied Maoist Thought. These children who grew up after the tragic famines of the Great Leap Forward of the early forties, where re-taught the history of the Revolution, they forgot the failure and suffering. The Cultural Revolution that followed was to obliterate the legacy of suffering and invigorate the dream of a productive class led by Mao. The personality cult of Mao was born. I think we see this as something wholly alien. However, if we are to consider the history of the US and China in the 1950s in tandem the adherence to communist ideology in China was as strong as the adherence to capitalist ideology in the states. The threads of American and Chinese history seem to run diametrically opposed, but none-the-less occurred with just as much intensity. Granted, China's ideological shift was more tragic on a larger scale than the US at that moment in time. But, I think if we consider the subsequent decades in the US, the Vietnam war, American foreign policy, and the wars that continue to this day, we see that the reverberations to the ideological shift made in the 1950s, and the fervor for the American democratic (capitalistic) ideal, is just as destructive. These are bold statements, but consider that during the 1950s American society was becoming characteristically obsessed with the ideal of the American dream through capitalist consumption. This way of life now seems to underlie most geo-political decisions and it is the ideological principle behind our foreign policy, “repairing” states by opening them to (our) markets, so that capitalism can provide what the a failing government cannot. I could continue, but I think I have definetly strayed from my metaphor using the differences between the schools.

The socialist ideal is convalescing with a capitalist means of production. The line is so thin between ideologies and practice that rather than calling the government communist in name only it is cleverly referred to as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. This generation will grow up in a vastly different country than even my generation. A new ideology must accompany this new face of things. What I think I see is that that China is appropriating the material successes of the west while trying to balance them with an ideal that they have historical ownership of, communism. In so making the shift appear less as a whole-hearted acceptance of capitalism, even though the individuality of capitalism is no doubt at play here.

My name is Hannah Pierce-Carlson