Opinion\From the Readers

Is the Chinese identity crumbling?

By François de la Chevalerie | | Updated: 2017-09-28 15:05

It is a practice as old as humanity itself. So many people express their opinions on others without having full knowledge of their history or their background. It is even worse when the viewpoint concerns a foreigner, which is often a deluge of biases and assumptions, although once in a while there are half-truths.

Since moving to China, I have heard a wide range of remarks about the Chinese. Everyone gives a running commentary. Under the banner of personal interpretations, many assessments are indisputable verdict. The more conceited said that they have understood it all. Some talk forward in leaps and bounds, others are cautious. Some said that didn't have enough information to deal with the issue.

But the question on everyone's lips is: what differentiates the Chinese from the rest of the human beings?

From the onset, a five-thousand-year-old culture, a shining history as well as the current political organization of the society play a major role in a shared identity and the awareness of a citizenship. Confucian values and practices remain deeply entrenched among the Chinese. Tradition that lines up with the sense of family and pride in one's culture still carries considerable weight.

However, any identity is not frozen in the mist of history but is built and modified, because culture is a living and vibrant thing. If the Chinese specificities still exist, its importance is fading gradually, inexorably. The thinking is changing rapidly in urban areas. New generations blend with modernity. Ever growing individualism shakes up the ancestral traditions.

Like any other people in the world, Chinese accept with enthusiasm intrusion of technology in their daily life, becoming quite literally its hostage. As everywhere else in the world, high-tech devices increasingly dominate them. The latter were fashioned by international brands that spoil systematically all trace of singularity. Under the aegis of profitability, they dictate the laws to the young people with a tremendous success (if not frightening). Everyone dress the same, same look, same amusements, same thinking, same dreams. Moreover, same collateral damage: egocentricity, selfishness and even worse, behavioral problems, obesity, depression.

At the very end, the Beijing or Guangzhou teenager is more and more resembling the LA, Paris or London kid. He no longer views himself only as Chinese or American or French but as the preferred and agreeing geek partner of brands, video games and poorly made television shows.

All this is a well-known process but I thought that the degree of resilience of the Chinese was far more superior to others. As the time goes by, I am not assuming this anymore. Lǐ Bái wonderful poetry and the Sānguó yǎnyì masterpiece don't resonate as before in every Chinese head. A political researcher told me recently that the consequence of all this could be in the long run the sinking of any national sovereignty, as it stands, China, United States and so on. What a pity! Isn't diversity the essence of the Earth?

The author is a member of the Charles de Gaulle Foundation.

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