|The Paula Gordon Show|
so-called Great Leap. They didn't make the leap, at all.
B Great jump (chuckles).
= The result, I would say, the majority of the countryside remained the same. People still worked the fields, in the same way - used buffaloes and shovels and picks.
? Intensely labor -- hand labor.
= Yeah. When I was in the country-side, growing up, we worked in the fields. We used the same tools, thousands of years old.
? And you're not exaggerating
= No, no! Those were the same. But there are some changes. For instance, the land now belonged to the State. Nobody can own any land. So all the landlords, the capitalists, were eliminated.
= As a class. Yes, as a class. But still, there are rich people and poor people in a town. Different kind of rich people. For instance, in one of my stories, called "The Richest Man," the guy was an officer and he saved a lot of money, so he became the richest man.
? And that still mattered.
= Yeah! Of course!
? And this hierarchy -- for all that the rhetoric had taken it away -- it sort of just changed names, didn't it?
= Yeah. Or power. The people in power now become a kind of higher class. Because with power you can have wealth and other benefits. So, the distinction, class distinction, is still obvious, but in different form...in different form.
B You mentioned earlier, China's size. Not only the physical, geographical size, but the number of people there. And there's a tendency for those of us who live on the other side of the world and want to form stereotypes and make things simple, to assume that China's China. (laughs) And all Chinese are alike. And yet, the tremendous discrepancies between North and South (sure) and I guess an... even greater discrepancies between East and West (sure).
? And the city and the country!
B And the city and the country.
= Yea, in fact the West, you find a lot of Caucasians. White living in the West.
? Holding that together has been a test -- again -- three or 4 thousand years.
= I know, it's crazy, to imagine, the central power to hold those people together.
B It sounds like we're talking about China and not talking about your literature.
? Oh, but your literature IS China.
B Exactly. And what I find striking about it, is that without a trace of didactic (None!), that you are able to represent life as people live it, as individuals live it, not as the people we read about in newspapers and magazines, but as individual people, just struggle to get through the day with the happiness that goes with it, the sadness, and all the basic challenges.
= Yes. In fact, that was intended. And I think that is the difference between literature and history. History, we have Figures. And Ideas. And Statements. And Plans. But when you talk about literature, it's about the individuals. How individuals struggle. How individuals' emotions, ideas, minds function in the environment.
B That's interesting in this context, because -- in fact, you have one of your characters, one of your stories, parts of it deal with issues around the individual as opposed to the group, selfishness as opposed to self-hood, which I thought was an interesting distinction...
= Ah, yes, the professor.
B And, it would seem that that would be a challenge in the Chinese culture as the Western influence becomes greater (um-hm), as the Communist Party itself has changed to recognize the importance of wealth, wealth-creation, that that struggle between a sense of class-less-ness and what is good for the group is important, juxtaposed, particularly the relatively radical individualism of Western Europe and the United States -- but I would think there's an increasing tension in China.
= Yes. You know, I haven't returned to China since I came (in 1985), in `85. I think maybe the tension must have been intensified. In the Chinese language, the word "individualism" used to be a very negative word. (Negative?) Yes.
B If you wanted to insult somebody, call them an individualist.
B Is that historically the case or is that...
B So this is not new to ...
= No. No. It is not new. Not new. And so, the ____ or the tribe or community should be the first. Individuality should be manifested only in the service of the group. That's -- conventionally, that was the idea. The basic idea. Nowadays, perhaps because of the Western influence, especially the Western thought, and younger people, might be more open today to individualism. But I don't know to what extent that is accepted. I'm positing that the Party doesn't like it.
B The appearance from the outside is that the Party is ambivalent. They like some of the results of the - what happens when individuals seek their own, how to say, self-aggrandizement. (Yeah...) But at the same time, it represents a threat to the unity of the country and of the Party.
= Yeah, I think as long as the individual energy can be contained or channeled to the larger plan, I think that's fine. But if there's too much, for the State to control it, then the individual would be in trouble.
? Ha Jin is our Guest, here on The Paula Gordon Show. Bill Russell and I are honored to have you here. (Thank you.) We will all be back shortly. Please stay tuned, for when we return with The Paula Gordon Show.
? Ha Jin is our guest. He was the winner of the National Book Award, with his book _Waiting_. We are pleased that his latest group of stories is called _The Bridegroom_, which is one of a whole set of stories. In the course of telling me these stories -- and it is in the most ancient tradition, I feel...as I was reading, I felt as if you were TELLING me these stories, that you were sitting there with me, that you wanted me to know, in the old way, in the way that culture goes from one person to another. I was quite taken with the clarity with which you made sense out of the changing role of genders. That men and women's relationships, that for thousands of years have been pretty defined (Yes.). And it wasn't just men and women. It was mothers and sons. (Yes.) It had lots of different, very clearly defined, roles. All of which seemed to be the same and different. And changing and not changing.
= Yeah. I think that's the part -- the Confucius influence -- that has not been changed at all. The fabric of life. Different roles assigned to man and woman, roughly have been the same. And the Communists made a great effort to liberate women. Try to make men and women equal in every way. But somehow,this has not been achieved at all. The capitalism, I think, has made it worse.
? Made it WORSE?
= Yes. Because now you have private business and companies - you can hire, the owner of the business, you can hire whoever you want. And a lot of owners would not hire women.
? Which reinforces the stereotypes.
= Yes, I think the woman situation has deteriorated in China, I believe that.
? But it wasn't great for the 30 years that the Communists were trying very hard to pull them forward, was it?
= Yeah. I think we SHOULD give them the credit. They really tried very hard to liberate women. That was one of the great things that they did.
B It's, to me, striking, again, in your series of stories, that seem -- I hadn't even thought about it, but it evolves over time. What is striking to me is the state of the law. (Uh-huh). It seems also to evolve. Early on, it seemed just to be capricious.
= Yes. Very much so.
B And subject to abuse.
? With a grin on their faces as they were capricious.
B It evolves to a place, it seems to, where it is not our sense of what law is, but it seems to be more formalized and institutionalized, less capricious, still not fair, in the sense that we would understand, I think. But at least it lacks that individual capriciousness and it does seem to have evolved.
= Also, in the West, I think the laws are commonly agreed. Right? Agreed upon. So that's very important for us, shared rules, so we can play by it. But in China, very often, the rules were just spoken by some leaders. For instance, in _Waiting_, the novel, one of the absurd rules, announced by the hospital leader, was that to wait 18 years before you can get a divorce, uncontested divorce. But the leader died long ago, still the people just kept it.
? But it was just A Guy, yes?
= Yeah! And so that's why the people, very few people would challenge the legitimacy of those rules.
B I think that's a central piece. We tend to think that rules have to have some sort of legitimizing authority (um-hm) but more than that, that the authority itself has to be legitimate in some sense.
= That's true, yes.
B And that sense is less clear.
= Very unclear. Very ambiguous.
? I was taken, time and time again, at people's willingness to accept authority.
? To just say, OK. At the very most important and most trivial levels, that they simply wouldn't object.
= Sure. That's very normal. I think that's the tragical part of the life there. People accept anything spoken or given by the authorities.
? And the authority may be your mother-in-law or it may the Chairman of the Party.
= Sure. And also, the authorities will not be legitimate at all, should not exist sometimes. (chuckles)
B There is that wonderful line from Mao, about power coming out of the barrel of the gun.
= (...?) People were intimidated.
B Brute force does -- when everything else fails, when reason fails -- brute force is available. (Yes.)
? And the continuity of this. When you take one of your characters out of the country -- I guess it's the main character in _Waiting_, he comes out of the country, he goes into the hospital, but he might just as well never have left the country, because it is all -- to me -- recreated in the hospital setting, where all of the same structures are equally constraining and he still equivocates.
= Yes. That's true. The rules were built in. So they became a part of his existence, internalized. I think it is the same with many other people. Many Chinese. On the one hand, you cannot blame them, in that their humans, and in that situation, many people would feel that way.
B Is your work available in China now?
? That was pretty unequivocal.
B Do you expect it to be available in China?
= I am not optimistic about it, honestly.
? Why? How would you characterize the resistance to your work being there?
= Beijing Publishing House, in the summer, they engaged a translator, they wanted to have _Waiting_ translated and published in China in October. And then in June, there was an article, published in a major publishing world journal, which condemned this novel. Very savagely.
? ON what grounds.
= Three points. One is no women have bound feet in China nowadays, so the whole thing is blasphemy, to have a character like that in the book. Second, is the cover is a pigtail, worn by Chinese males traditionally. That's not true either. And the third is that the book got two prizes because of the effort of American media, which tried to push the book for the prizes. In other words, there was a conspiracy against China. None of these is true. In fact, the character -- the real person, had bound feet. And I called my parents, you know, again, to check with them. The person was still alive.
? So there was an historical person on whom you based the character.
= Factual. The fact is a factual thing. And in fact, my parents (???) had bound feet. My wife's aunt had bound feet. I knew many, many women in the countryside had bound feet.
B That seems an odd thing for a government to get upset about. I understand it represents the old ways...(Yea)... but that seems a curious reason to jump all over your book. Particularly number one. Why is that?
= The author of that article didn't read the book. That was obvious.
? This happens all over the world. (laughs)
= And maybe because I have been very outspoken about the Tiananmen massacre. The government, of course, doesn't like that. So perhaps it is because of me as a person rather than the book...
? This question of bound feet -- I remember as a youngster, being fascinated by this, this was in the 50s. And I remember, maybe it was Pearl Buck, there were people who really celebrated the fact that Chinese women were now liberated from this ghastly physical (Yes!) contortion -- torture (yes) -- that had been going on for thousands of years. And that now this wasn't going to happen. I remember as a child, it was inconceivable that anyone would do this, and then it was inconceivable that it had stopped after such a long experience. I think "bound feet" is a very central metaphor for the changes that you're talking about, isn't it?
= To some extent, it is. But, on the other hand, we shouldn't make too much of this. There is a book written about this, called _Aching for Beauty_.
? Aching for Beauty.
= Yeah, and I think that is a good phrase. One has to labor to be beautiful. In the arts, there is a lot of pain involved. Ballet, they have to wear toe shoes, to strain your feet, in order to dance. So in that sense, bound feet is maybe a case of extremity. But it doesn't mean it's really too far a stretch of the imagination. One form -- maybe bizarre form -- manifest desire for beauty. But the thing is, both the Nationalists and the Communists, they did ban -- legally, they banned -- bound feet. But China is such a huge country, there were a lot of people in the countryside or some corners, they didn't hear. They still had girls, feet bound at a very early age.
? We'll come back in just a moment with Ha Jin and continue our conversation about a number of things that both touch on China and the rest of the world, and America where he has settled. This is The Paula Gordon Show. Bill Russell and I invite you to be with us when we return.
? Welcome back. This is The Paula Gordon Show. I'm Paula. Bill Russell and I are with Ha Jin, who came to the United States in 1985, expecting to go back (yes) after you had your education. The tension that Bill referred to early on, between the ancient and the modern -- I would think that some of those tensions for you, and in your stories, being, now a Chinese-American, being both Chinese and American, thinking both in Chinese and in English (yes/chuckles). I would think there would be great tension between these.
= Sure. Yes.
? What is the inside of that?
= I think at the beginning, it was quite painful, honestly. There is kind of a transition. I could FEEL I was changing myself, in order to be able to think in English and to express myself in English. And, I think there was also a kind of a confusion. Mentally, I was not ready to immigrate. Because originally, I had planned to return to China. I didn't know what to do with my life. And how to -- in the States, it was clear to me, as long you are in good health and you work, you won't starve. That's the beauty of American life.
? As long as you are in good health.... (rueful laughs)
= As long as you're in good health and can work! But the thing, the problem is, how do you exist, to live your life meaningfully.
? What drew you here in the first place? You could have built quite a good life in China.
= Yeah. That's true. I had a very good job in China. A very, very good job. I was a translator and a researcher in American literature. Really, a very p;privileged job. That's why I planned to return to China. Even my visitation was written with an eye for Mainland Chinese market. That's why I couldn't find a job here. So everything was ... off-kilter. I didn't know what to do. IT took me a while to figure out, maybe I should write in English.
? That must have been a great leap, all by itself.
= (laughs) It took a year. A year for me to decide. To decide to write in English.
B Can you point to the critical -- it may be an accumulation, it could be a single event, what was it that made you decide not to go back.
= Tiananmen Massacre.
B Was that it?
= Yes. That's really -- I couldn't expect, I didn't expect that it would happen. I thought the army's around the city, I had served in the Army. The First Principle for the Army was to protect and serve the people. Now the whole thing was reversed. And, really, I just...it was beyond me. I couldn't accept it. I couldn't serve a government like that.
? I wondered as I thought about you and Tiananmen and the Massacre there, I wondered what the sublevel in your thinking must have been, in terms of having lived with the results, at least, of the Cultural Revolution. I wondered, I've always wondered, at the time Tiananmen happened, what the similarities and differences were, as the Army kind of went nuts -- to me -- during the Cultural Revolution, and then that you get this next wave of violence against the people. Is there continuity between those in your thinking.
= Maybe on the surface. Both are kind of mass movement. And, but the demands are different. The Cultural Revolution, in that movement, most of the people were used by their leaders. In order to get rid of other leaders. But the student movement in `89, I think, is kind of different. Very peaceful. They were not violent at all. They didn't demand too much. And...
? IT's almost as if they've reversed roles.
= Yes. Even in the Cultural Revolution, the government didn't use the field armies in that way. You use tanks to crush civilians -- it didn't make sense at all. So it's very different. Very different. And also, I think there is clear sense of a bunch of Old Guards who want to hold on to power. That's very clear. The old, in order to keep their power, they kill the young. They sacrifice the young. Whereas, in the Cultural Revolution, you don't have that dimension, at all. Everybody was very active and participated because they believe in the revolution. While some of them became victims of the Revolution, there is a sense of purpose,(...) purpose, it's sponsored by the government, as well. But `89, very obvious, very, very obvious, it's a power struggle.
B Can you see a way out? It seems...the old guard will die. But there is continuity of leadership, in some ways, behind that. Do you see any way that the Communist Party can adapt itself to accept the kinds of things that those students wanted in `89.
= There may be possibilities, I do believe. Things may change. But very slowly. Of course, the old generation they will die, but the successors were often picked by them. Hand picked.
B But the environment has changed. You started out talking about context. And the context in China is a different context.
= May be the economy. But political, I'm not sure. Political context may be still similar. Artistically the same. Very difficult to have an honest book published. They don't arrest authors now, but they arrest editors, instead. Which is worse. Because editors, they don't have a voice. That's crazy. They don't have a voice. Outside, won't pay attention to them. So, you know, in a more subtle way.
? Again, looking back at 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 thousand years of Chinese history, which always amazes me - I think it was JARED DIAMOND who was pointing out, as we think about how humans have moved around the planet and the effect of large migrations of people and adaptations to local places -- I think it was he who pointed out how important it was that very early, the Chinese centralized. That its vastness and the centralized notion of power, over great stretches of land and people....I wonder, you as an artist, do you have a sense of where your place is in that large, centralized experience? And, of course, it's almost as if you are giving us a window into
that, as you stand outside, also looking in.
= IT's hard. Because China is a vast country. There are so many tribes, minority groups, so many languages, dialects. I really, I can't position myself in that context. Besides, I'm writing English. That's already a force that alienate myself from the Chinese.
? Do you really feel that?
= Yes. In the beginning, I didn't expect...I expect that, but I didn't feel it. But as I continue to write, I can FEEL it. So that's another very important force. So in that sense, I really can't be that ambitious. I can...what I should do is focus on the story. Really make a good piece of work. Let the work,the story and the poem, speak for themselves.
? So you're looking for the human experience.
= Yeah, that's the only thing. In that the individuals, more private, more particular, experience.
? As you live in America, can you see similarities -- and you've lived here a long time, now (um-hm) -- can you see similarities in those very human experiences, across those cultures? Because, in your stories, the difference between the Chinese who go to America and come back and the Americans who come to China -- they are vastly different people, in many ways. Can you also see the similarities, as you're looking for that thuman experience in your story-telling?
= Yes. Yes. And -- the desire to love somebody. To be loved. And traumatic experience, emotional experience, relationships. VERY similar. In fact, I receive letters from some readers, even female readers, women readers. And some of them said, they lived a life like Lin Kong's. I was surprised. I thought only man would have that kind of emotional retardation.
? Retardation. Isn't that well-put. (laughs) Is there a similar word for it in Chinese...?
B When I first heard about your work, my first thought, of course, was of Joseph Conrad, because he also was someone whose native language was radically different -- not quite as different as Chinese -- but became a luminous writer in English, as you have. I would think that in some ways, there is an advantage by being an outsider, in some ways you have an objective perspective, linguistically even. That you're able to see things about the world that we in this language cannot see. And that once you make that transition, that you would have access to things that those of us who speak only English or Western languages don't have. But I also think it would be just a tremendously difficult challenge.
? I'm going to give you a chance to think about that (OK!) because that will take you more time than we have in this segment. Please let's come back together, when Ha Jin, our guest, is with us, and we return with The Paula Gordon Show. Please stay tuned.
? We are back with The Paula Gordon Show. Bill Russell and I are delighted that Ha Jin is our guest. Bill was asking you about the phenomenon of writing in English, which is your second language.
= I feel that there is more difficult here and the pain involved than the advantage.
?More pain than advantage?
= Yes, yes. Because there's so much uncertainty, whether I can write in English. Still I'm uncertain.
? Well, be certain. You can! (laughs)
= But as I was writing, I realized, it certainly, it is not only because of language, but also, every good book, there is some kind of a riskiness, that you have to face. I realize that belongs to the process as well.
? As a writer, not just the bilingual
= As a writer, not just the language. But...English, for me, for years, I always felt I was crippled. (Crippled?) Yes, crippled. Because I couldn't be as eloquent as in Chinese. But, the advantage in writing English, is that it gave me a kind of private space. I just work in the language, without reference to my peers in Chinese, in the Chinese language.
? So they weren't looking over your shoulder.
= No! And also, I can be detached from some American trends as well. That's the good part, the good part. But there's a lot of loneliness, solitude in this. And there's a sense of failure. In the beginning, I could not understand why Nabokov said, for him, English was a personal tragedy. But gradually, I could feel that.
? Nabokov said that, I'd never heard that. Why, did he explain that?
= HE said, because, if he could be writing in Russian, continuing to publish and write in Russian, his work would be very different. Better. I don't know whether it's true or not, but there might -- must be some suffering in him. So... I could feel that, I think.
? Isn't suffering part of the process of making art...?
= Yes! Yes.
B Easy for you to say!
? Isn't that the price YOU pay?
= Yes. That's part of it.
? We forget that. Art shouldn't be easy, should it?
= No! It's not just fun. The reader may read it as fun. But for artist, it's intense labor.
B Had you written these kinds of stories in Chinese?
B So, you were dealing in a new story telling manner. (Um-hm!) In an alien language.
? You started your storytelling in English?
= Yes. Yes.
? Oh, my. You had to start everything at once.
B That explains the pain part.
? That's like birthing, isn't it?
= Yes. Yes. In a way, yes. Like you have to transform yourself, in many ways, transform yourself. The way I think.
B Did you find yourself, do you find yourself, have you found yourself working through these stories in Chinese or do you work...
?How do you think?
= In English. Always. I think in English. But the problem is, especially with fiction, when the characters begin speaking to each other, they speak Chinese.
? Oh, man.
B So they, you have to translate the Chinese.
= Yes, I have to interfere.
? So, in your head, the characters are speaking ...
B The stories are in English. (Yes) And when the characters open their mouths, Chinese comes out and then you have to translate the Chinese.
= The dialogue. That's the difficult part. To give the levels of diction. It's very hard.
? IT's very busy in your brain!
= Yeeees. It's a very hard part. Very hard. The whole thing is an artifice. Because no Chinese speak this kind of language at all. But I have to make every part convincing. Sound convincing...
? They don't speak this kind of language...?
= They don't speak English at all. (laughs) The whole thing is artifice. That's why I say, everything is created.
? Had you read stories written in English, were you steeped in the English tradition of story-telling?
= Yeah. I studied literature, I read a lot of books, yes.
? I have this feeling of you as Magellan, setting out into the Pacific Ocean, having never seen it, having to go into a new mode of story telling in a new language. That feels overwhelming.
= Yeah, it was very overwhelming at the beginning. But the beauty of the English language is that there has been a grand tradition, in which some writers whose mother tongues are not English, later became major writers. Masters, even. So that's the encouragement. For me, there was nothing original. It all depends, whether I had the luck, the ability and courage, perhaps, really to follow the way. So there was nothing original in this. That's the beauty of it. In another language, perhaps, we don't have that kind of reference even. There is no sense of direction at all.
B You spoke earlier about, as you were making the decision to not go back to China, to stay here, about the questions around purposiveness. What's the purpose, what's the meaning. What's this all about. Has that clarified as you have written? Do you now have a sense that your reason, a reason, a major reason is writing literature, great literature, in the English language.
= You know, that is not a purpose. Writing for me is just something I can do, really. So the meaning, the usefulness of one's life, very often related to how useful we can be -- for me, for many years, I didn't know what to do. My wife encouraged me a lot. She always say, "You were born a writer, you must continue to write." But she would say, "You don't write in Chinese. Nobody would accept your way of writing. You can only do it in English."
? So you had a good teacher at your side.
= My wife, she is VERY smart in that aspect. And that's why I could continue. So, gradually, I found that on the page, I can be...I have a kind of freedom. I can manage. So that's, for me, maybe that's the purpose. That's a way to spend my life -- useful, meaningful, I think.
? And you are in such a unique position to tell us the stories of a people we just...we don't know these stories. We don't know these life experiences. Even those of us who are interested in China and would... for instance. I hadn't understood -- I've not been to China -- I'd not understood how agrarian it still is. The sense of how poor it is. The stunning pollution at every turn. These things...you don't get that (It's true!) unless somebody tells us the stories.
= Yeah, sure.
? And China is so big. And so important in the world. And to have a sense of the personal in this -- who else would tell this story but you?
= There are writers who write about China, but different approaches, I guess. For me, my ambition, from the start, was to translate history into literature. Because I had noticed that there were many books, history books, about China. But in literature, there have not been many pieces of literature. So that was my very primitive, very simple, even simple-minded idea.
? The sun is simple. The sun get s up in the morning and gives us light. (laughs) You have to have something that's a guiding principle.
= Yeah, in that sense, that idea, took me on the way -- that was good and useful for me. Made me set out on the way to do the work. See, that's helped me. But as I continue, really I don't think I can continue to write a lot about China. Because I haven't returned to China in many years. 15 years.
? So what will you write next?
= Maybe, immigrant experience. Maybe some books set in China, then gradually move out of China, in a third country, maybe -- you mention, it has to be in the United States. There is a sense, the departure has already been accomplished. Now is a matter of arrival.
? That is beautifully put.
B It sounds as if this is now your home.
B And I mean that in a (yes) metaphysical, psychological, (yes) spiritual...
= Physical, too.
? Does it feel that way? (Yes.) All that pain in your head, has it gotten you to a different place?
= But still, I feel this is home. I went to Canada three years ago. For years, I dreamed of going to Canada, because they have universal medical insurance. I thought...I could write full time. But I went there, I realized what a great country the United States is. Really, I missed the States.
? That's a sense of "home." As in "I want to go home"!
= Yes, IT is a place.
? Absolutely. Our guest is Ha Jin. He will be with us for a few more minutes when we return. Please stay tuned.
? We're here again, for a few more minutes, on The Paula Gordon Show. Bill Russell and I are pleased that Ha Jin is our guest. It was a wonderful break for me to sit down and read Great Literature. I read a lot, but I haven't had time to read novels and fiction and literature in a while. As I came to the end of the stories that you
accumulated in _The Bridegroom_, there was this stunning line, that in the course of all the story telling, and people have to read the stories to figure out the stories, "this is just the beginning," you say to me.
= But it is about a story about anything else. NOT about anything else. It's about a story -- the struggle with the capitalist, the owner/manager of an American franchise.
? Exactly. I had a sense that this was the big statement, that you were telling me, that there was a time, at least in your thinking, that we weren't done with China, we were just beginning.
= I know, of course. True.
? And on many levels, both international connections and within China itself.
= Yes, I think in that sense, there's a very ... contact, the REAL contact between the East and West. IT is a kind of beginning in China now. China HAS to open itself to the West. There's no choice. This is just a beginning, in a sense.
? And won't there be enormous ramifications of that?
= Of course. And China may lose a lot of its own intrinsic values. Customs. Maybe virtues, even. But it's a way... I think,eventually, China will benefit a great deal from this contact. You reach the country. Open people's mind. And also, improve the society. I do believe that. There will be more space and freedom for individuals. So in that sense, I think it is a great thing.
B Don't you see that, though, in some sense as a two-way flow.
= Sure. Yes. That's true.
B In addition to your work, there are things in the thinking and in the way they live, that are important for us to understand and perhaps to adapt or ...
= Yes! I think that you get a lot of Chinese immigrants. Even just the exchange, the cultural exchange. American culture, to some extent, also is influenced by the Chinese culture and other Asian countries. The impact there is mutual.
? And as you speak of "individualism" being a dirty word in Chinese, that we have something to learn from looking to the good of the whole, don't we?
= Sure. Yes, yes. That's true. In the sense of community and a sense of duty, family, all those values. I think they are very important. Should be universal.
B What...I don't know how to ask this...have you identified a single distinguishing characteristic that separates Chinese culture, in it's amorphous...and American culture?
= I think the absence of the church.
B Absence of the church....?
= Yeah, religious experience perhaps.
? On which side?
= On the Chinese side. There are religions. Taoism, Buddhism and other religions. But they don't have the kind of metaphysical, the divine dimension. For instance,in Buddhism, everybody has lives and virtues and you try hard, eventually, you can become a god. So there's no distinction between the divinity and humanity. I think that's a major difference. This may contribute to some of the violence of the Personality Cult in Chinese history. Whereas in the West, the church, of course, has done a lot of bad things, violence, too. On the other hand, it maintains a separation between the human and the divine.
= Yes. As a result, humans are more aware of our finitude. So I think that's very important psychologically, culturally, it's VERY important.
? Does it give us room to grow?
= Maybe! I think it grow...may be, I think. But in a limited way. For Chinese culture or society, I notice that throughout the years, there was enormous confidence in humanity. For instance, when Chairman Mao would say, "The pleasure to fight heaven, the pleasure to fight Earth, the pleasure to fight humans." Absolute confidence in humanity. I think that is very dangerous. Very, very dangerous for a culture. Especially for a tribe, to have that kind of mentality. I think more and more Chinese now, are aware, or have begun to embrace some kind of religion, I think that's good. It doesn't have to be Christianity. I think the more spiritual life one has, the more human we may become, I think.
? You heave told us many stories about being human. We will look for more. We thank you, Ha Jin.
= Thank you, Paula. Thank you, Bill.