I remember when I was a kid (in the middle of the 70s, I was five or six years old) , I once went to play by the little river next to the 4th People’s hospital with the neighbours’ little girl. There were many other children playing by the river. Suddenly, something shocking occurred: we a saw small child pushed into the river by a bigger child. As I witnessed the scene, I was stunned. I saw the hands and feet of that child come in and out of the water. But the little girl with me seemed very calm, and told me that we should quickly run off, because we could be framed as those who pushed that kid into the water. This confused me even more. Fortunately, someone came by and rescued the boy. To this day, the pale face and open fingers of that child as he was rescued remain very fresh in my memory. As I was remembering the past today, I suddenly realized that our generation grew up against that particular social background – one of extreme distrust among people.
In some Chinese city parks, you can find a sort of ‘marriage market’, regularly visited by elderly parents and professional match-makers. Parents hand out their sons and daughters with a ‘price tag’ specifying economic conditions and social status, and like hunters, look out for a potential daughter- or son-in law with a corresponding price-tage. In their eyes, the price-tag is all there is. Because they think that, if they want to make their child happy, they have to somehow exchange their own price tag for one of higher value. Subconsciously, they view marriage as a way to change the fate of the whole family. No wonder foreigners complain that marrying a Chinese person is like marrying their whole family. But the paradox is that, if the price tag in the hands of these elderly parents is high (with requests of ‘high education level’, ‘high income’, ‘high position’), the probability of them catching the ‘prey’ is very small. Why is that? Because they hope to get a higher price tag by holding a high tag price in their hands, but the people who really have such a higher price tag don’t need to go to such ‘marriage markets’, they have no shortage of opportunities for matching and marriage. But what happens to people who have made a transaction in this marriage ‘market’? There is no happiness survey records for people trading in the marriage ‘market’, and so we can’t categorically say that the result is bad. But we can imagine, the expectations of people who hope to climb up the social ladder and change their fate through marriage are generally crushed. Because a marriage established on the basis of interest hides natural ‘lesions’. And what was united by interest will be broken by interest.
From this marriage ‘market’ filled with the oily smell of material conditions, we can perceive another fundamental element of Chinese society — that everyone is eager to change their destiny at the material level and in terms of social status.
Background determines reality. People who are immersed in ‘reality’ cannot interpret that reality. Only by escaping this reality for the possibilities of another can we recognize what it is in essence.
We can see that a relatively mature society with high levels of interpersonal trust follows a particular rule — that society consistently protects some fundamental values, and that the social classes that the people belong to also have considerable stability. The protection of stable fundamental values guarantees the sense of identity and interpersonal trust among the members of this society. If people can experience their own real value in their own position and career, people don’t need to eagerly jump out of a position or career that others consider inferior, and seek to change their own fate this way. In such a society, people will not be blamed for helping others; in such a society, people can purely love and start a family.
In stark contrast to this, the failure of integrating civilisation and the State has led China down an increasingly radical revolutionary road, when fundamental values have been subverted again and again. Constant struggle has made people lose their most fundamental sense of sharing common values. Widespread lack of trust has accustomed Chinese people to hypocrisy and duplicity, and turned the capacity to manipulate others into a source of pride. And the widespread impulse to change one’s fate at the material level has led Chinese people to become opportunists who have no faith or principles. The dominant atmosphere with its lack of mutual trust has ruined our nation’s inherent coherence and creativity, and the common opportunism and nihilism left Chinese people but a hollow body, and the insane pursuit of material symbols of social success. And if you don’t succeed in gaining these, the only way is to take part in collective retaliatory vandalism.
Background determines social reality. From a social humus with a fundamental lack of common values and where everyone is eager to change their own fate at the material level, what kind of political system and social reality will emerge? Thinking about it would truly make one pessimistic.