I start studying again and European markets go into intermittent free-fall, the governments of two ancient European civilizations are forced into change, and Chinese house prices begin to slide. If we also consider the fact this site was seriously hacked last week, then a more paranoid figure than myself might start to think his Chinese language learning was cursed. This recent instability in Europe is even being described as the next phase in what, back in 2008, began to be called the modern Great Depression. This was the last time, coincidently, that I was studying Chinese with any kind of vigour and commitment.
Now, I know this language can be difficult, but these are consequences that go way beyond the normal side effects of language study, such as sleepless nights and soul searching. Fortunately, I do look up from my Chinese textbooks, flashcard software and podcasts from time to time. And so am able to recognize that this present turmoil in European economic affairs, and the recent malware attack on this site, are part of a wider mêlée and nothing actually to do with my Chinese studies at all.
It has, though, become possible to get a sense that my renewed efforts will carry me to a point in the future when I will be able to fully engage in a discussion, in Chinese, about the benefits of different political and economic systems. And, given the environment we see around us today, I could be doing so with a people who have the experience of catastrophic failures in both Communist and Capitalist systems. Hopefully however, we will still be able to sit peacefully around a nice warm fire, eating a tasty bowl of dāoxiāomiàn (刀削面), and discussing the folly of the world we knew in our youth, while simultaneously planning for the future.
At that point we will have witnessed such a collapse in our markets and traditional trade relations that even the nature of money will have been called into question. There will be a growing sense of how money came to so simply define what could be mine, and what could be yours. A period when unfair competition and an inequality of striving were seen as natural and necessary. We will also look back aghast at how our prioritizing of profit and growth led us to over produce so much crap, at the expense of our natural world and natural resources. If I am going to be able to get into this discussion in any meaningful way, though, I really am going to have to keep my studies up during the intervening years.
There will also be an increasing recognition that money was never really needed to create or do anything: resources and labor, people and creativity were always there. Money just narrowly defined who could do the creating, producing and consuming. It controlled what we thought we could produce and create, and accordingly who could produce and create it. Such a system of economic management led to the farcical position we see today where debt itself is even being traded by private companies and sovereign States. These ideas will be thrown out as being utterly ridiculous. And, (while we are at) a society will be created where there is a more equal balance between our working lives, our ongoing education, our participation in community affairs, and our time spent with family and friends. In this context Chinese may well seem like a language well learnt.
These same language skills, given a different context, could just be used to help me get a better job. I could find work helping a foreign company gain greater market share in what may well have become an ever expanding but increasingly closed Chinese market. A greater mastery of Pǔtōnghuà (Mandarin) could also be used to help mediate between competing global interests: useful in an environment where a Chinese – English (2nd language of the world) dialogue is desperately trying to hold the pieces of the resource-trade-sustainability puzzle together. Or maybe my improved language skills will simply allow me to continue living the normal life I live now. I will just be better able to communicate with friends, neighbors and family.
It is indeed true that this recent turmoil in Europe has nothing whatsoever to do with my return to Chinese language learning. It is also true that the fundamental questions about how our planet is to be managed are not any closer to being satisfactorily resolved. It does now seem likely however, that the Chinese are going to have a key role in this management process. Thus, the discussions that go on among Chinese people, and those that go on between the Chinese and other peoples, are going to have a major influence over the direction our world is headed in. And thus, having the capacity to communicate in Chinese is probably going to be both pleasurable and valuable . This, for now at least, seems reason enough to keep up with my studies.