On the way to church this morning the taxi I was in had to travel by a circuitous route as the main expressway was closed. There was no explanation, just a guy with a police car and cones blocking the on-ramp. The driver and I both assumed that some dignitary was travelling that road in from the airport and the road would be closed til he went through. This made a 15 minute drive into a 45 minute drive, giving the driver plenty of time to talk.
Driver Li was in probably his late forties, and quite outspoken, though polite and articulate. He was a lovely guy. When he asked if my family was in China, I replied that I was not married yet (99% of the time when this question is asked in China, “family” means husband and children). He laughed, embarrassed, and said something I’ve never heard before in this situation – that family [in this context] can include parents. He has a daughter the same age as my sister, Carla. He loves his country, his people, and was hurt by the comments of an American passenger he once spoke with, a man who didn’t distinguish between the Chinese government and the Chinese people when complaining about the things that are wrong with China. I hope it was in large part a linguistic misunderstanding, but the offense taken at his remarks was real.
I asked what his plans were for lunar new year celebrations tonight, and he replied that he would be driving his cab, making money. He asked if, in Australia, it was a legal requirement for people to get time off for holidays, or extra pay if they worked on national holidays. When I agreed that this was the norm, he replied that there is no such thing in China. Having done a lot of reading through labour laws back when I worked in Langfang, I’m not sure this is correct, however it is the case for Mr Li. As a contracted driver, he must collect 200 RMB per day, regardless of the day or how many fares he gets.
This led quickly into a discussion on politics. Mr Li has some strong opinions about the governance of China and flaws therein. He talked about the T men sq re incident and about how foreigners have all seen video footage – but Chinese haven’t. He said they are told nobody died, and that is what they are supposed to know. He said the government is like a person with his eyes shut and hands over his ears, saying “I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong”. Such a person will make mistakes; they learn nothing. He said the role of leaders is to look after the people, that when they do wrong by the people, the people should reach up and pull them down – but that this is not allowed to happen in China. He mimed, more than said, that a person who speaks out against the government will be arrested and executed.
Later he talked about world war two, and Japan’s conquest of China. I honestly can’t remember how we landed there. He made an interesting comment though. He asked if I knew how such a small country could conquer so much territory. He said it was because the whole country fought – “it’s like if Australia invaded China, but every single Australian came here to fight”. (I don’t think he realises that the entire Australian population is almost certainly smaller than the Chinese military). He said that it was like a national religion – and when you believe something you will really fight for it. He said that the Chinese government is not something the Chinese people can have faith in, and that this is why they engage in religious pursuits. (He mentioned how many people will line up outside the Lama Temple tonight, to be admitted at the stroke of midnight and make the first prayers of the year).
There are some advantages to a one-party system of government when it comes to long-range planning and large-scale thinking. A group who looks at the best interest of a nation as a whole. While democratically elected governments are supposed to do this, too often they waste a lot of time fighting and taking sides, and doing what is popular (regardless of what is right for the country as a whole). Neither side is all right or all wrong. However, reflecting on this morning’s conversation, I saw for the first time one of the great disadvantages of the Chinese system. While it should be good that only the best and brightest are invited to join the Party, this recognises mind but not heart. People of passion who care about their country are not given a place to voice their thoughts and work for the good of their people within the existing legal framework. A man like the driver I spoke with this morning is left feeling marginalised, with no way to participate positively. In a multi-party system, individuals can voice their opinions and ideas, and if it turns out that many people agree, they can move forward together. Sometimes this results in political movements that many others do not agree with or are in fact offended by (such as in the case of the One Nation party in Australia). This the price of opening the political process to anyone who wants to participate in it, and it is a price well worth paying.
Perhaps it is “smart” to let the people who “know best” run a country (though I believe it is impossible for one to determine these things accurately). But perhaps “smart” is not always the wisest choice. I have spent my life glorifying intellectual thought and believing emotion to be lesser – less accurate, less efficient, less useful. I thought that pure intellect was a better way, and worked to live a life of pure intellect. I failed, constantly, which drove me crazy. If only I could master my emotions and live by intellect alone, life would be better, I thought. I was wrong. For all the mess and inefficiency that might come with feelings, that very mess makes life better. I don’t really understand how, but I do know that I’m glad for all the (emotional) people around me who have taught me what it is to have a more full life. You know who you are – and I love you all.