As times have progressed, the forum of public opinion has seen increasingly direct discussions of societal problems, and a rational exploration of these issues has become the prevailing trend. However, due to several rather more traditional factors, there still remain those accustomed to using the identity of an individual as a metric for determining whether to approve of or refute them.
For example, some people within China have their identities called into question by others when praising one or another positive aspect of the U.S. “Since the U.S. is so worthy of praise,” those others say, “why are you staying here in China instead of emigrating there?” Similarly, some students and overseas Chinese living in Western countries will meet with similar lines of questioning when lauding China’s progress and accomplishments. This sort of mindset, tying the discussion of societal issues together with individual lifestyle choices, clearly runs counter to the spirit of freedom of choice and social tolerance for individuals’ lives in modern society.
One characteristic unique to modern society is the high degree of diversity and mobility inherent within it. After the end of the Cold War, the volume of people moving between countries all over the world increased dramatically. Since China’s drive to reform and open itself to the rest of the world, the total amount of students studying abroad has already reached nearly three million, with more than half of those students choosing to work or settle down in foreign countries. At the same time, China’s expatriate population is also on the rise. To have a myriad of distinct political opinions within such a massive community is extremely natural.
A fair number of overseas Chinese and students studying abroad have grown attached to the societies they live in and at the same time still think fondly of their mother country. The intertwining of these two feelings is a collective trait of Chinese currently living and learning abroad. This characteristic is not limited only to overseas Chinese, but exists within the immigrant communities of practically all countries. For example, in the U.S. melting pot, all ethnic groups enthusiastically celebrate the holidays of their mother countries, but this does not hinder them from simultaneously loving their adopted American home.
Another characteristic of modern society is the separation of how an individual chooses to live and their political leanings. In today’s world, there are too many factors weighing on life choices. Although political views do have some bearing upon personal lifestyle choices, they are hardly the most important component, let alone the decisive one. Historical anecdotes also show that one cannot simply take the political opinions of a person as an indication of where they choose to live. A person can love both the society of which they are a part and their mother country. As an example, from the war of resistance against Japan last century to the reform and openness of today, overseas Chinese have always been an important force supporting China’s development.
In a similar vein, Chinese society should not simply paint criticisms of political abuse from people within the country as a rejection of the entire Chinese race and an absence of love for China. The diversity within the structure of modern society has led to people in different circumstances holding conflicting views toward the same social event, but this is normal. The forum of public opinion within China should look upon these varied political sentiments as it would anything else.
A consensus from differing political views can only be reached through impartial and rational discussion. If there ceases to be a distinction between politics and individual lifestyle choices, and criticizing the ills within Chinese society is labelled as a lack of feeling for China, this will create an entirely different sort of pitfall.
Allowing politicization to such a degree that it hijacks every debate makes it extremely difficult for people to calmly discuss societal problems. In the opinion of this author, rationality, tolerance and frankness are of paramount importance in discussing any societal problem. Only through this will society be able to preserve harmony and avoid division.
The author is director of the Sinolizing Research Center and a member of the Spring and Autumn Combined Research Institute.