Individualism that has Chinese characteristics

13:34, September 28, 2010      

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It was a bright, warm summer morning as I stood in line to buy tickets at Beijing's Happy Valley amusement park. As I inched closer to the ticket counter I experienced a display of collectivism I would never see in America.

From behind me came the deafening sound of hundreds of people shouting in unison as they marched toward the entrance gate. The uninitiated could have well mistaken them for soldiers because they were all dressed in the same clothes. But it was the guide waving a little red flag while shouting on a bullhorn that gave them away; it was a Chinese tour group.

For ages China's society has been based on philosophies that champion the community more than the individual. Traditionally, individual perspective is quieted in favor of collective conscious.

While it is easy for foreign residents and visitors in China to view the Middle Kingdom in this light and assume that individual expression is muted; it would do a great disservice to the self-expression that does exist here.

In reflection, it is amazing to think that 40 years ago many were walking around in same dresses and today I can have a student dress in dark Gothic colors one day and a bright pink tutu the next.

When I asked the students why they had such a drastic change in dress they simply responded: "I thought it reflected my mood that day."

When it comes to romantic relationships, it's fairly common to hear older Chinese people talk about things like responsibility and duty; giving oneself for the continuation of family harmony even if conditions make it an oxymoron. I don't hear that as often from young people. I hear a lot more about things like feelings and true love mixed with qualifications for lovers and expectations within relationships. It seems love is more about me than we, us or family to many young Chinese. The rise of cheesy love stories in novels and TV dramas alike should be evidence enough that love is much more about self-expression and personal desire than it was before. The increasing divorce rate proves that many young couples are unwilling to persist in duty if their conditions aren't met.

If you want more proof of Chinese self-expression then all you have to do is visit a live concert of one of the many bands of Beijing's thriving indie-rock scene. Rock might not have been born in Beijing but it is certainly being used by a large portion of young Chinese to express their feelings and view on life.

But nowhere is Chinese self-expression more clearly seen than on the Internet. What makes the power of the Internet a force of Chinese self-expression is the blog. A recent survey from China Youth Daily found that 94 percent of youths in China believe micro-blogs are changing their life.

I can't think of any other time in Chinese history when self-expression has been so welcomed in the country.

Many simply chalk such development up to the more intense influence that Western culture has had on China since the reform and opening up policies but I don't agree.

"Self-expression" in China is not "individualism" as we understand it in the West. There is no doubt that Western culture and Western individualism has influenced China but it is far from an exact copy.

The explosion of self-expression that has occurred in China has been developed by Chinese in reaction to the momentous changes they have experienced in the last 30 years. The best way to describe self-expression in China today might be to say that it is individualism with Chinese characteristics.

Both collectivism and individualism exist in China today but it would be unwise to view this strictly through the Western idea of the words.

By Joseph Christian Source: China Daily


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