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« Understanding China - or not | Main | Unfiliality... »

May 24, 2011


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I basically agree with you.

However, have you ever considered there might be subjective experiences which are difficult to tap into, unless you were exposed to it at an early age?

For instance, for some reason or another, western romantic novels and movies just don't do it for me. But wuxia novels, Tang poetry, some (not all) modern Chinese TV series do.

It might be possible that a westerner reading Tang poetry would have a subject experience different from a Chinese person.

I agree that when people feel insecure about their own identity, they are more likely to be protective of who can share in the knowledge, or the claim to knowledge, that is seen as an essential part of that identity. Of course, there are certain visceral experiences that someone who didn't grow up in China won't have a memory of and can't relate to in the same way as a Chinese born and raised in China. There is also a unique experience of being Asian versus being white or another "race" in a world where whites are constantly presented as dominant. But to say that non-Chinese can't add to the body of knowledge on China is as ridiculous as saying that de Tocqueville, being a Frenchman, couldn't speak with any authority about the United States. After all, his Democracy in America is still one of the most useful books for understanding American society. And as a sociology graduate student, I've had several Asia-born professors who taught me a lot about the United States I didn't know, and I was born and raised in the U.S.

Well, if we push the whole "visceral experience" thing - If you grew up in "deep Chinese culture", then filial piety is extremely important. It is also an emotionally-charged concept.

I feel that a lot of white people have an intellectual understanding of filial piety, but they don't have the visceral experience required to appreciate it.

Of course, I'm not saying that no white person understand filial piety - I actually know a few who are even more filial than the average Chinese person. But still, sometimes intellectual understanding can give an appearance of understanding without true understanding.

Thanks for the comments...
I think subjective experience can shape understanding, as can emotional attachment (or "visceral experience"). These provide a certain basis for understanding, but they can also create biases and distortions. If we are too close to a situation, we may be unable to see other aspects of the total picture, just as when we are too far away we cannot discern all the details. All of this simply demonstrates the complexity of reality. Perhaps none of us, either near or far, can know it all. But we should recognize the value of multiple perspectives, near and far...

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