How Western Media Misrepresent Chinese language Tradition

In these instances of historic transition, volatility has change into the norm. China, regardless of its autocratic self-discipline, is unlikely to be spared. A younger era has begun calling into query among the orthodoxies related to three a long time of prosperity and progress. 

Max Weber famously recognized the Protestant work ethic because the historic basis that supported the emergence of Europe’s capitalist financial system. China’s Confucian tradition, two millennia earlier than Martin Luther and John Calvin, cultivated an ethic of exhausting work with a give attention to prosperity that has underpinned each interval of its historical past for the reason that thinker’s dying in 479 BC.

Western media imagine they will detect a widening crack within the basis. A brand new era of Chinese language children seems to have found the fun, not of the hippie dictum, “activate, tune in, drop out,” however of the possibly extra radical thought of simply tuning out and dropping out. Whether or not this pattern is critical or not, Western media have now chosen to spotlight it. In an period by which the information has discovered to obey the strict legal guidelines of leisure media, and self-indulgence has been elevated to the standing of a perfect, the standard work ethic has clearly misplaced a few of its historical status each in China and the West.


The New York Instances Has Emotions for China

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This weekend, The New York Instances featured an article with the title, “These Chinese language Millennials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Blissful.” A month in the past, the BBC proposed this headline: “China’s new ‘tang ping’ pattern goals to spotlight pressures of labor tradition.” The concept they categorical is {that a} rising China, in search of to wrest international management away from the US, is instantly being challenged by a era that eschews President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese language Dream” of collective happiness. Might Xi’s different to the two-century-old “American dream” of particular person happiness already be moribund?

Western information companies have each motive to play up rumors stating that Chinese language millennials could also be on the verge of betraying the fabled industriousness of their nation. Chinese language youth seem to have found what the Italians and even the French approvingly name farniente. For the Italians, dolce farniente has lengthy been the “candy” artwork of “doing nothing.” It’s a prized ingredient of Latin, non-Protestant cultures. 

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Immediately’s Each day Satan’s Dictionary definition:

Táng ping (mendacity flat):

A logical variation from China’s conventional prosperity tradition voluntarily distorted by Western media to attribute to it a non-existent political significance

Contextual Word

The BBC describes tang ping as “an antidote to society’s pressures to search out jobs and carry out effectively whereas working lengthy shifts.” It consists of “not overworking, being content material with extra attainable achievements and permitting time to unwind.” Although the origin of the time period seems to be a TikTok video, some characterize it as a “non secular motion.” The BBC mentions a web based web site that attracted 6,000 members earlier than being deleted by the federal government. Since China is a nation of 1.3 billion souls, some is perhaps tempted to name that proof of a microscopic cult quite than a non secular motion.

The New York Instances digs deeper. “They’re now defying the nation’s long-held prosperity narrative by refusing to take part in it,” writes Elsie Chen. The “they” in that sentence seems to seek advice from Chinese language youth en masse. She sees it as a rising motion. The 6,000 the BBC talked about a month in the past has now change into 9,000 based on Chen. And he or she cites a discussion board with 200,000 members, a veritable tsunami. It’s value allowing for that the Instances, in 2010, already wrote that “the Chinese language are within the midst of an ideal awakening of non secular perception,” citing Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and even Islam as rising traits.

Chen nonetheless seems to acknowledge the present marginality of táng ping when she writes: “Whereas loads of Chinese language millennials proceed to stick to the nation’s conventional work ethic, ‘mendacity flat’ displays each a nascent counterculture motion and a backlash in opposition to China’s hypercompetitive work atmosphere.” Might or not it’s a serpent’s egg, to cite Ingmar Bergman quoting Shakespeare? In response to Chen, it isn’t a non secular motion because the BBC claims however a countercultural motion. In different phrases, the Chinese language equal of hippies. Just like the hippies, as one professor explains, “Individuals notice that materials betterment is not the one most essential supply of which means in life.”

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Historic Word

Within the US and different dominantly Protestant nations, farniente has historically been excoriated as sinful, as within the usually cited Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper, or the proverbial “An idle thoughts is the satan’s workshop.” The satan is credited with holding busy in his workshop, making him much less evil than the lazy (and doubtlessly concupiscent) human beings to whom the proverb’s knowledge is addressed.

One curious results of this state of cultural affairs within the West is that the ethos of prosperity that drove the Protestant work ethic previously has now been reworked by its personal success. For 3 centuries by which the work ethic remained dominant, the general public show of prosperity by way of one’s materials possessions served as proof of Christian advantage. An all-knowing God had predestined such individuals for fulfillment and supplied materials proof of their advantage. The righteous prospered as a result of it was preordained, and the indicators of their prosperity impressed others to be virtuous.

The patron society ultimately turned that logic of that ethical (and financial) system on its head. Individuals not sought the important indicators of advantage in mere possessions however in acts of conspicuous consumption. By the late 20th century, profitable individuals needed to placed on show their pleasure-seeking and their mastery of the artwork of getting enjoyable. Nothing is extra admired within the media than the profitable quest of contemporary cultural heroes to meet their each random need. It’s the opposite of Puritanical advantage that prized the acquisition of property and condemned all types of self-indulgence.

Donald Trump, John McAfee, Jeffrey Epstein, Elon Musk, the Kardashian household, Jeff Bezos, assorted media celebrities and rock stars, every of their particular person manner reveal the triumph of this new avatar of the Protestant work ethic. It accommodates an implicit message: that, to cement your picture, you should do some severe, prestigious work within the early phases of your rise to fame. Then, when your worth is confirmed, you say your dedication to having enjoyable in methods different individuals will envy. 

Like Musk, the technical innovator, and Trump, the actual property (and political) deal-maker, you might proceed exercising your primary skilled expertise. However there comes a second when your property alone assume the duty of creating wealth and supporting your life-style. Your job then turns into a recreation of public relations by which you dedicate your self to self-indulgence. Your pleasures are one thing widespread mortals might by no means aspire to, from penning outrageously narcissistic tweets to house journey. These acts outline the divine grace of a brand new era of divinities.

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At one level, Chen highlights a government-inspired warning in opposition to the observe of “mendacity flat earlier than getting wealthy.” The Chinese language thus seem to have accepted a serious part of the Western very best. The purpose of getting wealthy is to supply your self the choice of mendacity flat or just carrying on and getting richer. Wealth dispenses you from the drudgery of labor and liberates you for farniente (the Italian mannequin) and even conspicuous self-indulgence (the American mannequin), besides that conspicuousness has at all times been suspect in Chinese language tradition

Chen’s story has a hero, Luo Huazhong, a dropout from Chinese language workaholic tradition who now “lives together with his household and spends his days studying philosophy and information and figuring out. He stated it was a perfect life-style, permitting him to reside minimally and ‘suppose and categorical freely.’” That is very completely different from the American countercultural mannequin represented by the hippies. But it surely occurs to be in keeping with a rooted Chinese language custom, evident in Chinese language artwork and literature, that celebrates contemplation and private self-discipline.

In different phrases, the place English-speaking media look like in search of seen indicators of cultural disruption typical of Western historical past, táng ping demonstrates cultural continuity. Mendacity flat sounds to Westerners like a variation on their very best of self-indulgence. In actuality, it displays a deep reference to China’s contemplative Taoist tradition that has constantly supplied a serene backdrop to its political, financial and sometimes imperial activism.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.