A well-known Chinese saying describes official despotism very well by saying, “Only the official is allowed to set fire, but the common people are not allowed to light lanterns.”
The saying originated from the true story of a prefectural governor named Deng in the Song Dynasty when it was a crime to use the characters in an emperor’s name in writing while those similar in sound were not allowed to use in speaking.
Like lots of officials in feudal China, the governor regarded himself as a local emperor with similar authority in his jurisdiction. As soon as he took office, he posted an announcement banning the use of “deng”.
The officials under him were in trouble at Lantern Festival when fire-prevention ban on lighting lanterns all night long should be lifted for three days. They had to post an announcement to allow people to light lanterns for three days, but they could not use the word lantern that contained the sound “deng” in Chinese. Finally a clever official found a way out, he used “set fire” to replace “light lantern”. The announcement then read, “It is Lantern Festival (yuanxiao in Chinese that does not contain the sound of deng) now. People are allowed to set fire for three days.”
A traveling scholar passing by found the announcement absurd and asked and learnt the reason why people were allowed to “set fire” instead of lighting lanterns. With indignation, he wrote on the lower part of the announcement: “Only the official is allowed to set fire, but the common people are not allowed to light lanterns.”
What he wrote soon became a very popular saying in describing an official’s irrational words or deed.
Official despotism has been so common in China that it can even be regarded as an established Chinese tradition. Chinese people shed blood to carry out a democratic and then a communist revolution with elimination of official despotism as one of their major goals, but Chiang Kai-shek and Mao soon turned the regimes set up after the revolutions into lots of central and local despotisms.
Before the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Party secretary of my secondary school Mr. Lu Zhu was a very kind person. He respected the teachers and loved the students. In 1956, Shanghai City’s Education Bureau decided to learn from the Soviet Union that the school year examination should cover all those taught in the whole school year, but there was the established practice that such examination only covered the recent half-year term.
Seeing that the City’s decision brought too much pressure on the students, Mr. Lu decided that there should be a transitional period of one year for students to be prepared for such kind of examination. He announced that the coming examination should cover only half a year and the examination covering the whole year should be conducted in the next school year.
However, the Bureau did not approve Lu’s decision and Lu was forced to revoke his decision. The students in my class protested against Lu’s revocation strongly as we failed to review those taught in the first term due to Lu’s decision though we had enough time to review it then. However, when the decision was revoked later, we did not have time for the review.
To silence our protests, Mr. Lu invited us the students who took an active part in the protest to his home. He was very kind and tried hard to persuade us. He said he could not disobey the Bureau’s order, but would still reduce the pressure on his students. He said that he would give an order that the part of the first term in our examinations should account for less than 15% and would tell teachers to help students review the part that will be examined. We were all persuaded by his sincerity.
However, after the Anti-Rightist Campaign, Mr. Lu became another person, a despot in the school used to denounce teachers and students whenever something irregular had been found in them.
I sometimes wonder whether there is despotism in the blood of a Chinese including me. I am scared at the very thought of it.
When I learnt the stories of tiger mother and wolf father, I realized that the problem lied in China’s tradition of parents acting like tyrants and children acting like blindly obedient subjects. That was why I placed my post “Tiger Mom and Wolf Dad Teaches Blind Obedience to Tyranny” on February 1.
The most serious problem in China now is that too many officials are despots. They grab people’s land and deprive people of their rights at will.
You find the persecution of Chen Guangcheng unbelievable in a country that claims to have the rule of law and respect human rights, but officials in China from top to bottom seem to regard it as not a big problem and the despots remain arrogant and continue to persecute Chen’s relatives while the higher authority has no desire to punish them. They all seem to get used to despotism!
In another post on May 25, I told the story of toxic soy sauce made of industrial salt, but according to Ming Pao’s report today, the official in charge of testing the soy sauce said that all such sauce was up to the standards though he knew well that the sauce had been made of industrial salt banned by the State for use in food industry. Poor Chinese people, you have to take toxic food as your despotic officials have the power to regard toxic food as food up to the standards.
That was a minor despot. The bigger one such as Bo Xilai may send a blogger to labor camp for mocking him as described in my post entitled “Blogger Sent to Labor Camp for Mocking Bo Xilai Seeks Redress” dated May 6.
It was snowing. A boy 4-year old in nothing but underpants was shivering in a cold street. The freezing temperature was especially severe due to the high humidity. “Run,” he was urged by a stern voice. He began to run but soon stopped. “Do push-ups,” was a further order. The boy put his small hands on the snow, started to do push-ups but he soon fell on the snow.
A passerby ran over, held up the boy, wrapped the boy in his coat and brought the boy into the nearest store to keep him warm. He was followed by some other passersby and a young man. The young man said, “Give me back my son.” “Are you really his father? How could you treat your son so cruelly?” asked the passerby.
“I am his father. I can do whatever I want to him. Mind your own business.” The young man tried to hit the passerby with his fist but was stopped by another passerby. They called the police and accused him of abusing his son.
It was found that the boy’s mother died a few months ago and his father was the only relative to take care of him. However, being a drug addict, the father hated his son and often beat him. That nude exercise in the snow was his new way to abuse his son.
Social workers later found loving foster parents for the boy, but it took years to cure the trauma caused by his sufferings. The boy used to have nightmare of running in underpants in the snow, drowning in icy water, etc. His foster mother had to sleep by his side to wake him and hold him in her arms when he had such a nightmare. Having lived in a loving family for quite a few years, he seemed to have been cured from the trauma and grew up into a normal teenager.
Now there is a Chinese ambitious loving father who gives himself the title of eagle father. He applied the abusive father’s method to make his son a super boy. What has he achieved? Has he imbued his son with courage, fortitude or unflinching willpower? No, the child has been made to fear that experience and never wants to endure such hardship again. Perhaps, he will have nightmares similar to the abused boy.
“When the monarch wants his subjects to die, the subjects have no choice but to die. When a father wants his son to perish, the son has no choice but to perish.” That is a common Chinese saying in old China when I was very young (I am 70 now). It justifies monarch’s tyranny in the nation and fathers’ tyranny in their families.
“Beating makes a filial son” is an even better-known Chinese saying on how to teach one’s sons blind obedience to their father’s authority. There are still some people including my son-in-law who believe in that way of parenting. When I told my son-in-law not to beat my grandchildren, he would protest, saying that it was the way his father educated him and perhaps also the way I educated my children. I have never beaten my children, but I myself was often beaten by my father. Curious enough, the beating I suffered made me hate the practice of beating children while it made my son-in-law advocate the practice.
When my father was very young, there were no western-style schools in his hometown but the Chinese private schools giving tuition by one teacher. Those who could not afford such private tuition had to teach their sons themselves. However, fathers were often too severe and demanding for good results that they might beat their sons to death. My father told me that to avoid that, there was the common practice of trading sons to teach. One would have his friend teach his son and teach his fiend’s son in return. In the past, a father beating his son to death was not a crime. It sounds unbelievable, but even in 1954, I saw my friend’s father throwing a stool at him when my friend ran away to avoid beating. The stool might have killed my friend, if it had hit his hind-brain.
However beating is only the means, while blind obedience is the goal. Tiger mother did not beat her daughters, but wanted only their blind obedience. She did so out of her love of them as she wanted them to be successful when they had grown up. Other American people also want their children to have wonderful future but perhaps due to American values of democracy and human rights, they do not want to copy tiger mother’s way of parenting.
It seems that tiger mother’s way is better accepted in China so that a severe father who calls himself a wolf father later published a book entitled “So That Brothers and Sisters in Peking University” to publicize his successful way in teaching his four children and thus enabling all of them to enter Peking University, one of the best universities in China.
Wolf father enforces his strict rules by beating to forbid his children watching TV, surfing the Internet, attending sports activities after classes, having friends and even switching on the air condition. His beating is civilized as he stops beating a child when he/she reaches the age of 12 and he beats only the hands and legs. However, he hits so hard with a cane that there are always bruises that do not cure until 5 days later.
He even threw away all the plants that his eldest son had grown when the son was interested in biology. In short, his tyranny is absolute. His children must do what he wants them to do and shall not be interested in anything he does not want them to be interested in no matter whether it is good or bad for them.
In spite of his success in sending all his children into Peking University and Chinese people’s keen desire to make their children able to enter prestigious colleges, most parents in China do not accept his way of parenting. Perhaps due to the single-child policy, most children in China each have two loving parents and four loving grandparents who do not want to educate their child that way.
I am glad that tiger mom’s and wolf dad’s way of parenting does not prevail now in China. If all families teach their children in that traditional Chinese way, there will be slaves all over China who blindly obey the leader of the state even if he is a tyrant, then there may be a repetition of Mao Zedong’s tyranny and China will again be in chaos.
Blind obedience to father’s authority is the basis for the blind obedience to emperor’s tyranny including Mao’s tyranny. If all Chinese children are taught to be blindly obedient, there will never be democracy or human rights in China.
People receive education from schools, families and the society. At present, all the focus in Chinese schools and families is on entry of good colleges and passing examinations, while the current tendencies in Chinese society teach people to pursue wealth. Well-known Chinese missile and satellite expert Qian Xuesen told Chinese leaders on his deathbed his worry that Chinese schools could not turn out Nobel Laureates.
My chief worry is that perhaps the education in Chinese schools, families and society cannot turn out talented scholars with moral integrity like those who are running China and have been able to overcome all the difficulties to make China prosperous.
In my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements: The Silent Peaceful Coup D’état In China…”, I describe the emergence of a new generation of talented scholars with moral integrity in China. The oldest of the generation, i.e. the Hu Jintao and Wu Bangguo generation received education when Chinese schools laid great emphasis on moral education and Chinese colleges taught the ability of self-study. In order to save their country, they have studied hard Chinese history, classics and all sorts of knowledge and turned themselves from engineers into talented politicians. Under Jiang Zemin’s leadership, they have carried out a coup to substitute intellectuals’ dominance for workers’ and peasants’ dominance in the Party and state and led China to prosperity for years.
The youngest of that generation, i.e. the Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang generation, have not received much school education, but through self study, they have learnt much more than what schools could teach them. Schools were closed and taught Mao’s rubbish when reopened. Their families taught them to become educated and useful to the society, while they themselves studied hard in order to save their country when scholars were despised in the society. As they will soon take over leadership, I can safely predict that there will certainly be another decade of prosperity in China.
However, will China be able to turn out similar talented scholars with moral integrity? I have great doubt because Chinese schools, families and society do not provide such education now. Tiger mom and wolf dad certainly cannot produce such scholars. They can only turn out mediocre book worms who lack wide-range of knowledge, the skill to deal with and cooperate will other people, let alone the vision and creativeness indispensable for great statesmen.