Living in China and Political Correctness: Communism and Western Arrogance: Ideology versus reality: Teaching English in China.
The Arrogant and Pompous R.P.BenDedek
I received a very brief email recently that said:
It is good that you rudely shouted that you are not an American, to "put a kid in his place". It is better that you are an embarrassment to Australia than to America. Have you ever read your own articles, to see just how arrogant and pompous you sound?
My immediate desire was to send a two word reply.
Although at that time I was extremely pressed for time, I did managed to compose a longer email. The background to the email is a snippet I wrote about a Chinese student who wants to become a general in the Chinese army, so that he can take the army to America and kill George Bush. I made a response about George Bush being dead by that time, and the boy pointed out that he didn't care, because he hates Americans. Then looking me straight in the eye said: 'ALL Americans!' I told him that that was OK because I am Australian.
So here now is my email reply, following which is further commentary about my arrogance:
1. Thanks for your note.
2. Interestingly enough If I say that Americans always come across pompous and arrogant I am called a racist by those same Americans and told that I should kiss their feet because of how wonderful America is and how much it has done for Australia - thus making their response a justification for my statement. And yet that has been my experience of most Americans throughout my life. But I have learned mainly through my daughter and my Chinese American friend, that what I took for pompous and arrogant is just ultra conservative.
3. 'you sound'.....I don't 'sound' when I write. What you 'hear' when you read, is yourself imposing a layer of emotion over the words. 'I like you!' has no meaning when written because you can't 'hear' the tone containing the meaning. Those three words can mean at least 4 different things. How you read it will depend on the layer you put on it.
4. Sometimes people like to 'correct' my facts. Unfortunately, they sometimes fail to actually 'see' what I wrote, and 'react' to a perception of what I wrote. I remember one lady whose letter spoke (sounded) to me as though she were indignant at my ignorance of a particular 'fact'. Not only did I not say what she 'saw', but in her correction, she was factually incorrect.
5. Your words 'sound' like you are a bleeding heart apologist, which 'sounds' to me like you would be one of those who constantly condemns your own country, apologising for everything it says [and does]. So let's just get this straight in the context of the student who wants to kill George Bush.
While most Chinese young people freely admit that they like all the benefits that Western (read American) civilization has brought them, 'They live to see the U.S.A. DESTROYED'.
Quotes from Chinese students:
Americans are imperialists who must be stopped.
Americans want to control the world.
Americans make slaves of the people of the world.
Americans want to conquer China.
America is trying to get Taiwan and China to fight.
America interferes in every country.
I want to kill all Americans.
I can't wait till China is Strong so that we can crush America.
Death to America.
- here is the best -
"You know that we Chinese are friendly people, and many of us have American friends, and we all like everything American, but in our heart of hearts, we hate America and what it stands for and we hope one day to crush it”.
Yes sir/ma'am. I am pompous and arrogant.
I do not let ignorant people sprout their ignorance and get away with it. I constantly correct the students on their impression that the USA alone attacked Iraq without provocation. I do anything and everything to make people think. I challenge every word that comes out of their mouths, that derives from psychological programming.
HENCE THIS LETTER TO YOU.
Once again. Thank you.
American Arrogance: It took me a long time to understand that what I perceived as American arrogance is nothing more than a mix of American Nationalism, combined with an 'assertive' character trait. In Psychology one learns that 'assertive' character types are the healthiest. Personally, I am passive aggressive.
Passive Aggression: Having studied psychology, I know what I should do to alter my behaviour, so that instead of suppressing anger until the 'aggressive' side of my character finally explodes, I should replace 'passivity' with 'assertiveness'. Knowing and doing of course are two different things. Since I have been living in China however, I have had to learn to be assertive, in order to survive.
Assertiveness in China: China is a country with a history and culture in which 'the strongest win'. In China, if you do not stand up for yourself, you will be walked over.
Take the simple matter of 'bartering'. ALL prices are tremendously inflated. If you will not argue and haggle, then you will pay MORE than the full price. Of course, some bleeding heart westerners, taking pity on the “poor Chinese”, will just pay whatever is demanded. So shoppers, read the following and 'beware the system'.
I went to a particular shop to buy some boots. Regular shoes are now too thin for the winter weather. These boots in Australia cost around $300 - about 1800 RMB. I walked in and looked at the display. There were no other customers. Each display shoe was on a separate plastic shelf, large enough to hold one shoe. I saw a nice pair of boots priced at almost 1200 RMB, and another nice pair for almost 600 RMB.
I picked up the 600 RMB pair - thus leaving the plastic shelf bare. I tried on the shoe. I asked the attendant if I could try its' mate. She sent someone to get it. I put them both on and took a short walk to try them out. When I returned, the vacant shelf with the 600 RMB price tag, now had the 1200 RMB boot on it, and the 1200 RMB shelf was bare. I knew I had been conned. Nevertheless, I offered my credit card, but was informed that I needed Cash. I went across the main road to the ATM machine and got the cash.
Then I saw a little old shop that sold 'workers' boots. I called in and bought a 300 RMB pair of good working boots. That done, I did not bother to go back to the original store. As I was walking to the bus stop, I saw another shop like the first. I called in to check their prices, and saw an identical pair to the 600 RMB pair at the first shop, but priced at 498 RMB. Beside the boot was a sign in Chinese, that displayed the number '5'.
I tried on the boots. They were very good. I tried to explain to the attendant how the lady in the first shop 'switched' the price. She misunderstood me the first time I tried to explain, but on the second attempt she said; 'Oh I understand'. She ran to her desk and grabbed a calculator. She entered the price - 498 RMB, and then hit 50%, and showed me the new price - 249 RMB. That '5' sign meant 50% discount.
So I ended up paying 249 RMB for the 498 RMB shoes, which in the first store were switched from 600 to 1200 RMB. I did not mean to be assertive or to ask for a discount, but it does show you how you must be assertive, if you don't want to be walked on. (Same applied to Islamic Terrorism).
Passivity and Assent: When people are being assertive, and you behave in a 'passive' manner, then Those people can continue to do and say what they like, if your passivity is a reflection of your character. On the other hand, if your passivity derives from 'being polite' or 'being politically correct', then your silence 'empowers and legitimises' the viewpoints and assertions of the 'assertive or aggressive person'. In that case, your passivity has given 'assent' to their statements.
Giving Assent: In China, if someone does not wish to share their true feelings on a matter, or in order to avoid argument, will reply to a question with; 'Maybe'. However, when foreigners use this Chinese tactic, that 'maybe' is accepted as 'assent' to the assertion made, and it won't be long before you hear stories about how 'you agreed' with certain propositions.
Voicing Dissent: In China, I never let anyone think for one moment, that I agree with their political B.S. when it is personally important to me, that I should not. When students stand up and make accusations against George Bush for HIS war in Iraq, I always point out that it was not "the Americans" who invaded Iraq, but the U.S., U.K. and Australia; and that there were 32 other nations assisting in the operation.
It matters not a hoot to me after that what they say, but it is very important 'to me', that if they are going express their anti-Americanism, then it should at least be put in context. These things are of course, 'Political Matters'.
Foreign Teachers and Political Matters: Foreign teachers are not allowed to discuss political or religious matters in their teaching. I however (being pompous and arrogant), constantly push this boundary, and I do so, without any political agenda.
Political Agendas: In China, everything is Political. Education, corruption in government, Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, Japan, America, Iraq, Australia, The United Kingdom, Russia, newspapers, the RMB, Aids, Sex, Religion, Chickens (Bird Flu) and whatever else you can name.
There is no subject that is not somehow political. I have learned to completely ignore the possible political ramifications, of any lesson that involves 'THE STUDENTS' discussing politics. You see, I don't TEACH anything about anything. What I do TEACH, is how to think, and then express that thinking in English. Students have to learn to Express themselves in English.
Student Expression: It is truly amazing to witness a class of students who have just realised that they can say anything at all about anything at all, AND GET AWAY WITH IT, as long as they do it using good grammar.
Students often tell me that the reason they like my classes, is that they are free to discuss topics that no one else will talk about. I constantly remind them that they have a right to their opinion, even if it is not always wise to share that opinion, either publicly in China, or privately with people who may disagree. And I constantly remind them that I am not the least bit offended with or concerned by anything that they say, as long as they learn to express their 'own' thoughts, with clarity, using good grammar. The challenge I lay down to them, is to 'think for themselves'.
Thinking for yourself: When I begin group discussions or 'topic presentations', I make the students talk about Taiwan. When students demonstrate a propensity for rehashing propaganda, rather than expressing their 'own' versions (even of the propaganda), I keep them on the subject of Taiwan (week after week) until the predictable happens.
You see, eventually they get sick of talking about Taiwan, and you can guarantee that at least one of them will stand up and say something like: 'Why do you always make us talk about Taiwan. We are not interested in Taiwan. It is a long way away and has nothing to do with us or our lives. We don't care about Taiwan. What will happen in the future is something for the government to decide., It does not matter what we think!' ........ And that is when I discuss Pavlov's Dog.
Pavlov's dog and psychological conditioning: Most people are just dumb sheep. They follow the leader. In any diatribe in the media against anyone on any matter, you invariably see or hear 'tagging'. Rightest/ leftist/ neo-con/ religious/ christian/ libertarian/ conservative or some other tag is used to describe the person being attacked.
What this demonstrates to me, is that people are far more concerned with 'towing the line' of some philosophy, than thinking about 'issues'. If you are a 'rightest', then I can discount any argument that you may provide. What it says about people, is that they can't think for themselves. They just react to conditioning.
This pompous and arrogant dude is an Australian. As such, in traditional white culture, I can say whatever I like, and if you agree, then fine, and if you disagree, then that is fine too. After all, we both have our right to an opinion. It doesn't stop us from being friends. In today's world however, anyone whose thinking does not align with our own, is an enemy.
The writer of the email to which I responded, perhaps only meant to point out to me that I should be careful how I write. But what I read, was that I am a pompous and arrogant person, for not allowing the student to personally attack me. [Well, maybe bleeding hearts find atonement in being attacked. Maybe it justifies their feelings of guilt. I don't know!]
The second thing I noticed, was the 'American Me' and the 'Australian You'. It is what I have experienced all my life from Americans. 'We Americans' are just sooooo much better! In short, I saw arrogance calling me arrogant! Not a good way to make an impression.
As for being an embarrassment to the Australian Government, if anything I wrote about China caused the Australian government embarrassment, then I would truly be a failure, for I have tried so many times in the past to cause my government embarrassment on so many issues, and I have always failed.
In the final analysis, I could care less if an Australian government which wastes its' time, money and energy, pleading with foreign countries not to execute Australian Criminals, is embarrassed by something I write.
I've never been interested in visiting America and so will probably never experience Americans in their native surroundings. Then again, I never wanted to visit let alone live in an Asian Country. (That probably makes me an arrogant racist, who, had he not come to China, SHOULD HAVE just to prove he was not racist.)
In all my writing, I tell it like I see it. Of course everything is skewed by my own life experiences and perceptions. But when it comes to daily life in China, ANYONE who has never lived here, is displaying not only ignorance, but arrogance, if they insist that their 'exotic perceptions' based on no personal experience, should be exalted over what I write about ' my experiential truth'.
I have had quite a number of emails in the last 18 months that criticise me for what I have written. Funnily enough, they don't come from people who have lived here. The ones who have lived here do write and say, 'Enjoyed your article about...... it reminds me of when I.....'.
Maybe it is impolite to call a liar a 'Liar', but it is nevertheless true. If my perception of my experiences sounds arrogant, pompous, impolite or politically incorrect, or in some other way, offends you, then you have fair warning not to read anything further that I write. I don't FORCE my opinions on you.
I love China and it's people, as much as I love Australia and it's people. But that won't stop me fighting the system here to ensure that the students can achieve their best!
As for other observations, in truth I have to say, that even I draw the line at writing about some things. If you think I have written something particularly disgusting, then rest assured that I have not, because some things cannot and should not be written, and often, they cannot be believed unless you have personally witnessed them. Of course there are also those things about which it is not wise for a foreigner to write.
I can't help 'how you receive' my stories, but my hope is that you find them interesting, challenging, and funny.
R.P.BenDedek is from Brisbane Australia and is the author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' at http://www.kingscalendar.com His academic articles set forth Apologetics for and results of his discovery of an "artificial chronological scheme" running through the Bible, Josephus, the Damascus Documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Seder Olam Rabbah.
He writes photographic 'Stories from China' and social editorial commentaries, both at KingsCalendar, and as a contributing newspaper columnist. He currently teaches Conversational English in China and in addition to his English Lessons at KingsCalendar, he has created specific sites for Students of English.