Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Ugly Chinaman" Concept

Lately one of my Chinese friends has been despairing over China's political future and citing Bo Yang's 1985 essay that was later put out in English as a book entitled The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture.

I am not much taken with this essay. To my mind, the concept "Chinese" is actually highly diverse and dynamic, so it is hard to fairly characterize "Chinese culture" as a fixed and unitary category. Anyway these "ugly" aspects are less important than the so many "beautiful" aspects to Chinese culture.

In my own case, my study of ancient Chinese thought at Fudan University in the 1970s has permanently enriched my life. I experienced some ugly and unjust things then, but I attribute them as largely due to the circumstances of the remnants of the failed proletarian cultural revolution. The imposition of an oppressive false ideology had forced people to be dishonest with each other.

Under conditions of openness and freedom the inherent goodness of Chinese culture would surely prevail. "Ugly" aspects would be transformed by the fresh air of new democratic political institutions.

I hope I live to see that day.

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