1. Thane

    Not sure I agree entirely with the conclusions you draw from Crane’s article, mate.

    Early on, you wrote:
    “… the majority of Americans, and numerous other countries’ peoples, do not know a great deal about China’s diversity, multifaceted history, culture and everyday viewpoints. Thus, when we are still coming solely from our own perspectives it is difficult to understand China.”

    Which I agree with, wholeheartedly, and I think was one of the main points of Crane’s article; that exterior knowledge, on its own, is insufficient as a foundation for building an understanding of a culture.

    However, later on, you disagree with Crane’s idea that the “larger problem is the limitations on knowledge within China itself”. I understand your argument to be that Crane is over-emphasising the importance of a lack of knowledge within Chinese culture about China, whereas you believe the problem lies with a lack of knowledge about Chinese culture outside China. I think that argument runs into problems in a practical sense: if primary sources of information (government reports, representations of opinion from people within China, etc) are suppressed or not made available by the Chinese government, then there is little/nothing for outsiders to interpret, which forces them to consider Chinese culture and politics overwhelmingly from within the parameters of their own culture.

    In that case, could it not be that while outsiders would like to have better knowledge of China in order to produce more reasoned interpretations of the country and her politics, in many cases they have little choice. For that reason, I think Crane makes the stronger argument: that neither interior nor exterior knowledge are enough by themselves, but of the two, interior knowledge starts the process.

    Interested to hear what you think.


  2. Richard.李志.

    Thane, I don’t disagree with your conclusions in a wider academic sense of knowing China. Interior knowledge would be a starting point and then from there we build a wider exterior base of knowledge, more than likely through information that is not available to the majority of Chinese people. A path I may myself take: adding to my years of living here postgraduate Chinese studies. But, that is not the knowledge I believe to be wholly relevant to this discussion when we are talking of understanding China. But, before I try and clarify what I mean, let me just outline my two main points:

    1. That most countries peoples, the so-called masses, are relatively simple in terms of how they understand cultures and societies quite different from their own. Which in this particular case refers to Americans not understanding China. A China with its tumultuous history, strong familial bonds, embedded guanxi, and the parables and philosophies that help make up its peoples’ consciousness, as well as the lack of political and historical knowledge. If not being fully up to speed on these things is being simple, then the majority of Americans are probably simple people. We could of course say the same about the majority of Chinese vis-à-vis American society.

    2. I would agree with Sam Crane that understanding China is an ever movable feast, but just as he is happy to highlight the point that the vast majority of Chinese people have certain limitations on knowledge, and how important that is, I too wish to emphasize it. But, I do so from a different perspective. I am using them as a marker for understanding China. This was after all a discussion that began with Wang Qishan comments, which related to the masses within a nation, not whether individual minds could understand or not understand a culture or a people. Sam Crane highlights the limited access to knowledge, and thus knowledge of China, amongst the Chinese themselves. He focuses on how Chinese peoples’ knowledge of China needs to be widened. I am saying that we do a disservice to our potential understanding and relationship with this wider Chinese grouping, if we don’t concentrate on getting inside the heads of those people. This means understanding and recognising the restricted political and historical knowledge that they do actually have, and also recognising that they don’t generally see it as being restricted. This also means being careful to see the cultural, social, philosophical, spiritual relationships and thought processes that these people orientate around, and that are different from our own. And, which as we both know, can include a fair few contradictions.

    So, my simple points are: one, most peoples’ knowledge of other cultures and societies is limited and thus could be perceived as being simple. Two, while I recognise that understanding China can be seen as being multifaceted, here I am seeing it as meaning understanding the mass of Chinese: the group Crane defines as lacking knowledge.

    This is a group that people are happy to define for their own purposes as lacking knowledge, but won’t in this sense fully recognize as being necessary to understand in terms of understanding China. I think that is a mistake because I think we then don’t understand China, with its “common threads” and its “contradictions”. And, it will seem to this majority of Chinese people that we actually don’t understand China, which will too easily lead to us being seen as confronting their own sense of themselves and what China is. In this way I agree with Julen over at Chinayouren, in his discussion about Why Ai Matters – Why Not So Much.

    A more subtle understanding of this would include really accepting that people are coming to the table with different perceptions, maybe even different forms of consciousness, and accepting and working with those perceptions and levels of consciousness. This, I believe may help Americans and Chinese communicate, which may help us in the long term work on the edges of some of these restrictions and limitations, but may also help us challenge some of our own ways of categorizing and perceiving ourselves and others.

    That’s what I think anyway, cheers Thane.


  3. jinnafeng

    Not sure if you’ve talked about this with any Chinese people. But the “simple American” notion is an acknowleged fact among Chinese who have lived in any English-speaking countries.

  4. Richard.李志.

    I can certainly believe that, Jinnafeng.

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