The first time I went back to China after being in Britain for 1 year and saw my parents waiting for me at the airport, I was so happy to see them, and I wanted to give them a big, big hug. But I didn’t do that, because we had never done that before. Also, I didn't want to make it too sentimental.
Then I saw my aunt, I was so excited and instantly opened my arms, but my aunt didn’t have any reaction seeing my arms held high, probably didn’t even notice, suddenly I realized this is not Britain! CHINESE PEOPLE DON’T DO HUGS! So I took back my arms embarrassed.
Another Chinese friend of mine also had the same experience. She has been in Britain for 6 months. When her western friend gave her a big, powerful hug, she felt that hug was very supportive, very trustworthy, very warm. But when she wanted to hug another Chinese girl who had been in Britain for the same period, that Chinese girl just felt very weird to be hugged.
I am sure most of us have the same experience. My Korean friend also said the same thing that “Korean people don’t do hugs!” She keeps wanting to hug, but nobody responds.
On May Day rally 2012 in Edinburgh, I heard a talk from the leader of “Occupy Edinburgh”, she is a young girl and she talked about the importance of community. She said “Since when we don’t talk to each other anymore? Why do we all sit by ourselves in the bus? No communication, no smile, no contact. Why not just say ‘hi, I love you!’, and give everybody a hug? It’s very important for people to build a warm, trustworthy relationship with each other.”
When I heard this, I was thinking, bloody hell, Britain has done so much better than China! Here in Britain, strangers smile or say “hello!” to me when we walk across each other, drivers stop their car to let me across the road first! (I am still not used to this, I always want to wait), friends give big hugs to each other, children give hugs or kisses to parents, people say “I love you” all the time, not only between lovers, but also between parents and children, sisters and brothers, and close friends, strangers talk to each other very easily, you can even meet new friends in pubs or streets. Every city in Britain has lots of charity organizations and shops, where people can just go to the street and donate their stuff very easily … the whole point is western people tend to show their love, concern or compliment more directly and easily, and they still keep campaigning to make the society feel better.
China is a country which is known for the ideas of “relationship” or “courtesy”. It is supposed to mean people be nice to each other, respect each other, help each other. However, most of the relationships between Chinese people are very cold, nervous, untrustworthy, and ungenerous. For example, when people do you a favour, it’s very likely that you have done them a favour before, or they may need you to do them a favour in the future; when the bus comes, everybody just pushes each other, trying to get a seat, no matter the young or the old; when people see beggars on the cold windy night, barely with any clothes on, they don’t give change to them anymore, because it is said they are cheating; when a toddler was hit by a van, nobody went up to have a look and help, because everybody was afraid that they may get into trouble if they stepped in, so they ignored it and walked away; when the contaminated milk powder and capsules continuously pushed the boundary of people’s morality and tolerance, we felt desperate and just glad that we are still breathing today... Under these circumstances, I guess it’s very hard to expect people to be sincere, generous or warm to each other, and it becomes understandable that everybody is just trying to protect themselves and fight for their own best interest, just as one old Chinese saying that “there is no permanent friendship, but only permanent interests.”
One possible reason could be the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, which was supposedly aimed at building socialism by removing all traces of capitalist culture. Following Chairman Mao’s instructions, any people who are academic, artistic or showed bourgeois traits such as politeness or even a love of ballroom dancing, were considered as right wing. Many people were publically humiliated, arrested and tortured. In all this fear, people were encouraged to denounce each other. The effect was to make everyone very nervous with each other as their closest friend might inform on them one day, and lots of heart breaking things did happen between friends. The Cultural Revolution was eventually considered to be a backward move for our society, and I think the shadow it created in people’s heart remains deep, and dark, until today.
Chinese society has been consistently fragmented and has often been a fearful place in the last century, for example in the long civil war and the Great Chinese Famine (1958-1961). During the civil war, there were many factions in different areas of China, and they all fought with each other, trying to achieve dominance. All of this created betrayal and deception. So people don’t know who to trust, and constantly worry about their future. After China was founded, Chairman Mao initiated the “Great Leap Forward” which aimed to industrialize the economy by transferring all the peasants from private farming to iron and steel production. China then experienced a huge grain shortage, and very many people starved to death. If people are living in the situation in which you don’t even know where your next meal is, and continuously be scared by the death around you, it’s impossible for people not to worry, not to save. In such circumstances, we rely on our immediate networks, our family especially to survive, but perhaps turn away from everyone else.
We survive through relationships. Cruel situations bind people into small networks, they depend on each other, so that they can survive. So the relationship is not based on pure kindness, being helpful, generous, trustworthy, but survival. Now China is becoming increasingly modernized and materialized, “survival” is just changed into “interests”. But, it’s not a healthy foundation for relationships and it leaves us very scared.
Yes, we did survive and benefit through such relationships, but how long can this last? Through the unhealthy connections, the benefits of a few sacrifice hundreds of others. The society we live in is full of contaminated food and medicines which are destroying our survival. So it’s not wise to build relationships based just on survival and interests! We need to rebuild our social contacts, making them WARM, TRUSTWORTHY, HELPFUL and GENEROUS.
Also, this target is not so unachievable, because we can never underestimate the power of role models and media. I remember, one of our friends did an experiment in China after studying in the UK. She smiled to every single person who she came across on the street, 50% of them did smile back to her! I remember a few young Chinese graduates from Glasgow University set up a charity group called “有爱Scotland”, they collect things that people want to chuck away, and sell them at a very low price! I remember a young female teacher—Zhang Lili lost her legs in order to save a child in a car accident, and she is seen as national hero. I also remember after the toddler incident happened, China was immediately full of condemnation and soul-searching on all social networking sites. Then another accident happened after a few months in another city, people all went to help and called the ambulance! So people CAN change, and WANT to change!
And more importantly, we can’t lose faith on this! We must keep trying and campaigning! In Todmorden in Britain there are socialists who are not rich, but they grew food on the side of the road to let people “help themselves”. So no matter how much wealth we have or how bad the situation is, we should never change the faith in building WARM, TRUSTWORTHY, HELPFUL and GENEROUS relationships in the society. And we should believe that when we are doing it, people will see, will feel and change as well.
So let’s do it! Everybody moves! Next time, smile to the strangers walking on the street, see how many will smile back! Give your friends, parents, families a big, big hug, see how they will feel! Say “I love you!” to everybody you care about. These three words are not sacred just buried in mind, but magical when they are spoken out, and heard by people!