Culture and Censorship

Let me begin by saying that my knowledge of Chinese Culture is limited to a the handful of books I have read and the 10 months I have spent in China.

I've read enough news in the past several weeks to understand one thing: there is a fundamental misunderstanding of culture between East and West. It becomes even more problematic when the western mind agrees that a cultural misunderstanding exists, but then pushes forward in an attempt to obtain a superficial explanation of the differences. Unfortunately, nobody is going to understand the vast differences between western and eastern culture by clinging to a few vague generalizations (agrarian society=collectivism, propaganda=indoctrination). Before we start pointing fingers we should do two things: worry about domestic problems and try to understand the reasons people do things. Whether or not I 'agree' or 'disagree' with any aspects of Chinese culture is also quite irrelevant; I'm not trying to persuade so much as I'm trying to get people to stop and think before they start joining rallies.

Often people argue that China is not free, but I need to ask you: what exactly is freedom? Is freedom the right to exploit the lower classes? Is freedom the idea that if you have more money you are entitled to more freedom? Though we constantly fight against these notions in America, they are often nonetheless true. Americans are too busy with iPods and making Future Plans to stop and realize that their "freedom" is being maintained by the third of the country that actually votes, only to watch representatives choose who will lead through an electoral college.

There is a hard truth that for people to have money there must be people who do not. We are in constant competition for resources, and freedom, wealth, and independence result in economic disparities.

The very idea of freedom is curious. We must all relent to the inevitable desire of individuals to control resources. Freedom itself is a balance between the need most humans feel to have some form of government and the right of individual freedoms. What if one society decides that individual freedoms hinder the freedom of the society? Are they wrong to restrict that person's freedom if it truly damages the group's ability to be free?

I know how this sounds, and I hate the idea of submitting my individual freedom to a group (to a certain extent). The only difference is the amount of freedom we are willing to give based upon our circumstances. It might really bother an American to take the bus rather than own a car, but this is only for reasons of a sort of indoctrination of freedom imposed on us by our own society: we've always been told that it's OK to have your own things and now they want to take them away! This is a poor example, increasingly people in China own their own vehicles, but the idea is one to consider. Perhaps our lack of tolerance for countries we perceive as less 'free' began during our childhoods when our parents were careful to explain all of the things that were 'ours' (our property): toys, books, model train sets. Someone who believes a strong central government that will protect them from things which are not in their best interests or shared property which can be used by all members of the group were likely taught these ideas at young ages.

When we march around ignorantly saying, "Give them more freedom!" Shouldn't we stop to think if that's what everyone really wants? I know my idea of this was simple at first: everyone will love 'freedom' because I sure think it's great! Sometimes there are just more important things.

I don't mean to talk so much around the subject, but we really need to grasp the notion that there are cultural differences between societies which fundamentally affect their notions of freedom and censorship. Until we can begin to understand these differences on a deeper level, we will continue to be frustrated with the larger implications.

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