Haters gonna hate.

          Generalizations are fun to make in part because they allow a person to assume a position of “truth-telling” without demanding from the teller any of the rigors in telling the truth. They are also generally safe from serious reproach, for in dealing with opinion, what is there to argue with except against the observer’s accuracy of perception with the keenness of your own?
          Consequently, this also means that most generalizations rarely ever find consensus; there’s always going to be that guy in the group to helpfully point out that, well that’s just, like your opinion, man.
          Things turn even more problematic when it comes to generalizations about groups of people, perhaps because aside from being merely unfair, reductionist, and impossible to do with any real degree of nuance or sensitivity, it is morally dubious to even attempt to reduce a entire country, a people, a culture and history into one ambitious, sweeping sentence.
          All that being said, I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway with China.  
          Now, before I alienate all my Chinese brethren and fellow China-lovers, let me clarify a few points. There are two distinct entities that make up the China in my mind: one is the Chinese government, and the other is the Chinese people. The two are separate and ought to be discussed separately, but as is the contradictory nature of China, the two are also inextricably entwined and influence one another in every facet of Chinese culture, attitudes, and daily life.
          China is a mess of exactly these types of contradictions, contradictions being the key word here: Chinese people will give you food from their hungry mouths, then go and body check some old person to get a seat on the metro; they unite in unwavering solidarity against any perceived slights, however slight, from outsiders, but when left to themselves are deeply divided, suspicious of their neighbors, wary of their government; they are fiercely proud of their long and rich history, yet they actively destroy and distort their past; they extol the virtues of hard work but routinely exploit as many shortcuts and loopholes as they can; they value honesty, yet corruption is acknowledged by every level of Chinese society to run rampant at every level of Chinese society.
          The thing about China is this: in China, there is always the performance, and then there is the reality. Always. It is a society that exists in a perpetual state of dissonance between rhetoric and practice, and even so much as they participate in the charade themselves, the constant bullshitting all around cannot help but breed contempt within its citizens, not only for the daily-observed hypocrisies, but at their own society. And as the government neither gives nor allows its people any real outlet for change, this contempt festers into an apathetic cynicism that is both poisonous and exhausting to live in.
          Added to the mix are the enormous changes and the blindingly fast pace at which these changes have taken place in China since the 1900s. Just my parents’ generation alone who grew up in the self-destructive tumult of the 60s and 70s has seen two lifetime’s worth of changes. The one constant is the sheer immensity of the population, though the disparities between the young and old, traditional and new, the obscenely wealthy and the impoverished, the powerful and the powerless, are widening – all the factions living in their increasingly separate worlds, moving at their own speeds, working toward different agendas.
          By now, my parents and their friends from China have asked me what I think of China after my brief time living there. I had of course gone to Shanghai many times since I was small, but I realized after my first few weeks of living in China that Shanghai is quite different from most of the rest of China, and sort of exists in its own little bubble. The most truthful thing I could say them is that China is different from America in almost every way. That answer is, however, stupidly obvious and obviously satisfies no one, so I usually end up saying something like “Well, on the whole, it was great because I met good people and I liked having a job that I didn’t dread going into every morning for the first time in my life, but China itself was kind of difficult.” To the more quantifiable minded, I say that I went into China feeling neutral to positive about China, and I left China feeling ambivalent to negative about China. To those with short attention spans, I say that China keeps it real. And that the air is bad.
          But the sentence that best encapsulates what I think about China came to me during my first month in China, when I saw a man who was standing near a trashcan on the beach take his empty water bottle, throw it into the ocean, then unzip his pants and start peeing. A thought popped into my head then – a thought that repeatedly came back to me throughout various points during my year and a half in China, and that works as a pretty good, but totally awful, I know, and completely unfair, I know, summation of China. And it’s this: China does not give a shit.
          To further illustrate my point (and to really draw the ire out – I’m looking at you, Tony), I’ve compiled a handy little list detailing some things that China does not give a shit about:

China does not give a shit about
your problems
your country’s ancient historical artifacts
the animals on the planet and the fruits of the forest and the fish in the sea
the “environment” and things like “clean” air or “sustainable” living

China does not give a shit that
there’s a baby peeing in a cup in the middle of Walmart right now
there’s a woman pooping next to the baby peeing in a cup in the middle of Walmart right now
that you got AIDS

China does not give a shit if
you wear your polka-dotted pajamas out to buy apples and oreos
you drink in public
you shoot up in public
the beef you’re eating tastes funny and is actually expired mouserat meat

China does not give a shit about
expiration dates

China does not give a shit if
someone runs over your baby
afterward, a few more cars come and run over your baby some more

China does not give a shit about
your cute baby
human “rights”
who’s “right”

China does give a shit about
people saying/writing/tweeting/blogging mean things about China
the NBA

China does not give a shit about
your multi-generational family home

China does not give a shit that
so many places in China smell like shit
you have “things to say”
you’re now in jail for life for saying/writing/tweeting/blogging mean things about China
the bathrooms of China do not and will not and will never have toilet paper in them
the sign out front that cost a million RMB to make has 12 grammatical errors and makes no sense
things make no sense

China does not give a shit about
giving a shit
your personal “space”
things they think they can get away with
things they don’t think they can get away with
being shady
Africa & Africans
non-Chinese lands & non-Chinese people
Chinese lands & Chinese peoples
your disapproval
your approval

          It’s not all bad, really. Some of it is, obviously, but there’s definitely something liberating about not giving a shit and living in a place that doesn’t either, and I catch myself sometimes perversely missing the perks that come with living in a place that has adopted the philosophy in all its particulars. A taxi driver once got out of our idling car during a traffic jam and pissed on our taxi cab in the middle of a busy Beijing street. Once, at the local market, a young man, without shame or reserve, closed one nostril with his index finger and shot a brilliant green snot rocket of incredible size out the other onto the ground with such force that it splattered next to my flip-flipped feet with a sound that I can still hear in my mind’s ear to this day. You feel like you can get away with a lot, is what I’m saying, living in a place like that. There’s less pressure to fly straight.
          The one thing I do not miss is the air, which became a constant oppressive force that would daily affect my mood. Which brings me to another thought that would pop up in my mind every once in a while when I was still living in China: China is not a good place to be in when you’re in a bad mood. Unless you’re a wallower, in which case, China is an absolutely amazing and awesome place to be in when you’re in a bad mood.
          I’d wondered what would be a good way to end this post, and I’d considered writing some positive things, because there are positive things I have to say about China, and contrary to what you may think after reading this, I actually love China and when I am there I feel connected to my past and my family’s past in a way that I do not in America. But ultimately, I decided against it. This post was not meant to be positive post, or even a balanced one. The nice things exist, but that’s another can of mouserat meat for another time. Thank you for reading.

PS, government censors, if you’re reading this, please do not jail me for writing and posting this while in China, thanks.


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