Thursday, March 16, 2006
Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?
The fact that America exists as a New World "melting pot" type of country is not without its challenges. We are all immigrants from elsewhere in a post-nationalism world, where our genetic or familial or cultural default is to give mad props to the places we come from (and thus aggrandizing ourselves by association) while still maintaining that we are, ultimately, American. The Old Country was great and all, but let's be honest: there were reasons why our ancestors left. Mostly I suspect it was the smell.
The difficulty in honoring our points of ultimate origin is that national pride is a zero-sum game. If my grandparents were Mexican and I bore everyone I meet with tales of the greatness of Mexico (a place I have likely never been and never would deign to go, two generations on) then what I'm really saying to the person I'm talking to--let's say their grandparents are from Suriname--is that Suriname is a disgusting backwater shithole that you were lucky your ancestors escaped, especially compared with not only the US, but Mexico as well. Never mind that it is true--seriously, have any of YOU been to Suriname? It's shocking... I imagine; never been myself--the point is that the exultation of one implies the degradation of another.
Beyond that, there are in America lingering after-effects of nationalist rivalries that still permeate families of various nationalities. Rivalry hold-overs, if you will. It's sort of like Cubs fans versus Cardinals fans, except instead of baseball, it was the wanton slaughter of a hundred thousand of your great-aunts and third-cousins 150 years ago in a place you've never been to or have barely heard of except as a reminder from your dad as to why you should hate them, whomever "they" happen to be.
If you're Armenian, it's the Turks. Or if you're Greek, maybe it's the... Turks. Or if you're from just about anywhere from the Balkans up to Vienna and even into Germany it's... still the Turks. Wow, lots of people really hate the Turks. It seems unfair, but you know, if you're going to insist on using an Altaic language in a sea of Indo-European-derived languages, you sort of take your chances. I would say "you're asking for it" but then nobody would understand what the fuck you're talking about if you were to "ask for it." That's strike two, my linguistically-obstinate friends.
As a coping mechanism here in America, we tend to categorize people by ethnicity and then rely upon them to provide the prescribed service, thus both validating our prejudices and making us feel comfortable because we can't be racist if it's true.
Nationalities have jobs. Irish people keep the potential oversupply of alcohol at bay and are priests (usually at the same time). Italians kill people for money and teach us funny ways of saying regular English words, like "fuggeddaboudit." Arabs own gas stations and/or are terrorists (or at least are readily available, easily menaced surrogates in times of high public anxiety). Jews know all the secrets to getting us out of paying taxes and then represent us in court when we get caught.
Those who deviate are either punished or ignored. There will be no sober Irishmen, thank you very much. Especially not tomorrow.
Asians, as you all know, are expected to be good at math. The Chinese in particular as a subset of Asians are expected to provide us with axiomatic pearls of wisdom in digestible single-sentence form AND get Tabasco stains out of our silk ties.
This is why I was so horrified to see Hu Jintao, president of China, broke out with his national advice for good Chinese living. I mean, as a ethno-cultural endeavor it's right on the money, intent-wise. But the execution...
Hu Jintao comes from a long line of Chinese people, the same people who also gave us Confucius ("Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves"), Sun Tzu ("If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle") and Chairman Mao ("Thousands upon thousands of martyrs have heroically laid down their lives for the people; let us hold their banner high and march ahead along the path crimson with their blood") and Fortune Cookie Guy ("You will go on trip happy lucky happy 2-11-19-26"). These are first-rank members of the International All Pithy Team along with Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, Jesus and Andy Rooney. Question that last one if you want to, but come on, what IS the deal with the music they play in elevators? Until you have an answer, Rooney stays.
What are Hu's personal pearls of wisdom?
• Love, do not harm the motherland.
• Serve, don't disserve the people.
• Uphold science; don't be ignorant and unenlightened.
• Work hard; don't be lazy and hate work.
• Be united and help each other; don't gain benefits at the expense of others.
• Be honest and trustworthy, not profit-mongering at the expense of your values.
• Be disciplined and law-abiding instead of chaotic and lawless.
• Know plain living and hard struggle, do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.
What the fuck is this? "Be honest"? "Work hard"? That's it? Does he not KNOW he's Chinese?
I am channeling the spirit of Mao. He's got something new to add, an addendum to the Little Red Book. He says: "Hu is a pussy."
Whoa. That's harsh. But this is the "path crimson with their blood" guy. You have to expect him to put the boot in when disappointed. In the old days people who represented with "serve the people" got themselves a kangaroo court trial and a firing squad. No cigarette either. Cigarettes are for bad-asses who want to look James Dean-cool even while being summarily executed. Those dudes had style. No "love the motherland" crap from them. The ones who lived made it all the way to Taiwan, from which they are STILL giving Mao the finger. China might not like it, but secretly they know: Taiwan is the Fonzie of Asia. Sure, they get punked out in the end, but for now, they rock the nationalist leather jacket (stitched together by children in a windowless room for 3 cents per day) and all the other hot chick nations want to bang them.
Hu Jintao, we appreciate the effort. We need our Chinese people to break out with the aphorisms. But we need them to be cryptic, violent and perhaps even non-sensical. I suggest you execute the entire List Making For Public Information Sub-committee and start over. You're never going to move any copy over here in America with that kind of weak-ass game.
This post on the Narcissus Scale: 2.2