For a good many of us raised in the warm security blanket of American professed ideals, there are more things in heaven, and certainly on earth, than are dreamt of in our sheltered-world philosophies. Daily we make sense of people and events around us by the meanings and implied values of the thought-processing vocabulary of our mother tongue. How then can one view another peoples and their actions, interpret them with our own thought vocabulary, and feel secure that we now understand their actions and their motivations?  It leaves one skating on a very thin ice of knowledge, that’s for sure.

So where does one grab to stop  the spinning wheels of confusion surrounding the news coming out of China? Well, here is a stick to put in the spokes that seems to work all too often; it’s called corruption.

Corruption. You might say it is an unfair blanket indictment of an entire culture dating back thousands of years, and you would be right. But then, isn’t “corruption” one of those words that, in the Indo-European mind-language symbols of many cultures, has a negative connotation[1]? But what if what we might label in the west  “corruption”,  has a different connotation in, say, China? What if what we would call the corruption of nepotism and mutually assured ties of favors, is in fact a set of tried and true survival skills in China? And corollary to this, what if what one would call a lie is in fact part of saving face and embarrassment for the teller and the recipient alike?

So if, for the sake of argument, we now take the skill-set of “corruption” and go out into the world of global commerce, or even more illustrative, invite the western world onto the Chinese field of play where they know the rules but the meanings are opaque to us, what then might be the result? Is it possible that if, upon going to a modern looking city such as, for example Shanghai, with it’s super modern skyscrapers, its magnetically levitated and propelled trains, and its contemporary looking banks,  that a westerner would feel that these modern looking surroundings must per force reflect a modern, i.e. western state of mind and behavior? The adage of if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, only works in China if one expects Peking Duck.

Using the word “corruption” is an uncomfortably broad bush to paint over an entire culture. Surely it is unfair to view all of Chinese economic policies, internal politics, and international relations through a corruption lens. However, remember, we in the west attach a very definite negative connotation  to the word “corruption”, yet recall that those same actions we would label as unfair and not played by the rules might well be viewed in another context as a whole survival skills set.

So, as you read further, try picking up that stick labeled “corruption”, and stick into the succeeding chapter spokes and see how if at least it gives a starting point and context in the quest to make sense of what we all see and hear coming out of China.

[1] See language map link and note the areas where the West has often had cultural misunderstanding do not have Indo-European roots, such as North Africa, the Middle East and much of Asia. The point being that different languages have different implied social values.

 Posted by at 4:56 pm