blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Explaining China

Alexandre Trudeau speaking to the CCFS
Alexandre Trudeau's ambition, he said, is to "explain China" to the rest of us. He has written a book called Barbarian Lost and at a very well attended public CCFS meeting on October 12th he talked about the ideas behind it. The title refers to a book by his father, the late Pierre Trudeau, written in 1960: Two Innocents in Red China. Canada was the first western nation to establish diplomatic relations with modern China, back in the 1970s. Alexandre (Sasha) is the current PM's younger brother. Both sons went with Pierre on an official tour of China in 1990 when they were teenagers. Trudeau senior, who had first visited China as long ago as 1949, thought of himself first and foremost as a traveller, a coureur du bois.  His son Alexandre sees himself as a loner, outsider, a pilgrim, passing through the world.

He has made documentary films but believes that people change when you point a camera at them. A book makes for truer observations.

To understand the world, you have to try to understand China, he says: experience it first through your senses, without preconceived ideas. Start in a place like Chongqing, he suggests. When you are in this foreign place you see your own world from a distance, from the Chinese perspective, and that changes your perceptions.

"Everything I need from China will always be with me." He has learned that wisdom doesn't come from quick answers. Failure and having been overwhelmed is what makes us wise; the sacrifices made by our ancestors are what allows us to be here now. The Taoist vision of immortality has had a powerful influence on him, the idea that we are part of a thread or a bridge between the generations.

Early China was so isolated from the rest of the world –– by oceans, deserts and mountains –– that the Chinese had to meet their challenges internally. Now at last it is part of the community of nations, obtaining oil from the middle east, food from Africa and so on. In the 1960s China suffered famine; since then it has cultivated or imported plenty. The Cultural Revolution, according to Alexandre Trudeau, "rebooted" China, which nowadays has a middle class 800 million strong; the 21st century will belong to China, he asserts. Its young people are making an identity for themselves, as did North Americans in the 1960s. Having eradicated or fabricated / re-invented its past, China must find a new way of seeing itself. He detects a need for more than material possessions, hence the religious revivals rushing in to fill the vacuum. Money and religion have become closely intertwined and this has political implications. The number of intellectuals who criticise their government is growing. Art is important to these people.

We in the west have a huge lack of knowledge about the Chinese, and vice versa. Only now are they beginning to take their first steps into the outside world. We ought not to impose our own ideas upon them.

The history of China is primarily about food; it's a farming society trying to solve the problem of how to feed all those people. Even in 5 BC, Confucius was nostalgic for the old days when people understood where their food and clothing came from. When they lost that awareness, they lost their sense of responsibility. However, nowadays the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive within China's small villages. Canada seems very "sleepy and complacent" in comparison.

Members of the audience asked Alexandre Trudeau for his views of what the future holds. Conquest and dominion over others on a grand scale is no longer possible in the modern world, but there is always a danger that China might become aggressive towards its immediate neighbours. China sees itself historically as a victim of the western world which set the tone in past centuries with its belief that Might is Right. But being overwhelmed by failure and defeat can bring wisdom. The modern world doesn't need another bully and we must hope that China's new found strength and nationalist spirit will equate with moderation. Trudeau is not pessimistic, but China and the developing world needs to see more of a "noble vision" from the west. He believes that trade between Canada and China is bound to be mutually beneficial, but has his doubts about the domination of corporate interests.

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