Ironic juxtaposition reflects a shred of the complexity of the Middle Kingdom Chongqing streetlife reflects a shred of ironic jux
Ironic juxtaposition of Chongqing streetlife reflects a shred of the complexity of the Middle Kingdom. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Jock Lauterer, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Carolina Community Media Project at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has returned to China for a third summer to teach Community Journalism at workshops from Beijing to Chongqing to Guangzhou.

 

At varying times, I find China fascinating, confounding, delightful, infuriating and at times a down-right frightening…a place that American political scientist Lucian Pye calls, not a country but “a civilization pretending to be a nation-state.”

That is so well put, and helps the student of China grasp at least a small shred of understanding.

For a Westerner, and particularly an American, I don’t think there’s ever a full understanding of China. You’d have to live here, boots on the ground, for years, to even begin to appreciate the nuances of such a complex society.

All I can do is profess the scholar’s ancient caveat: ‘All I Know Is That I Know Nothing’ and then attempt to part the heavy red curtain the slightest bit.

What I get to see is a mere sliver of the vast cultural, historical, political landscape that lies hidden beyond.

Incomprehensible. It is too much, too vast, too old, too complex, too impenetrable.  But alluring and irresistible at the same time.

My little peephole on China is like an image in a primitive Camera Obscura.

Upside down and backwards, faint, with no distinct edges. An out-of-focus facsimile.

I look to old China hands, both former U.S. Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, for guidance.

Albright opines, “China is in its own category…too big to ignore, too repressive to embrace, difficult to influence, and very, very proud.”

And from Henry Kissinger, who made over 50 trips to China and spent a lifetime studying the Middle Kingdom: “The U.S. and China need each other…because they are too large to be dominated, too special to be transformed and too necessary to each other to afford isolation. Beyond that, are common purposes attainable? And to what end? “

Outside my window, the street sweeper truck approaches, playing a tune like an American ice cream truck cruising neighborhoods for kids and their dimes.

As it passes my window, the truck’s soprano electronic organ bleeps a sing-song children’s tune I recognize:

“It’s a small world after all…

It’s a small world after all.

It’s a small world after all,

It’s a small, small world.”

 

An old peasant doesn't know quite what to make of the drum and cymbal corps celebrating the grand opening of a new fast food chicken place in Chongqing. (Jock Lauterer photo)
An old peasant doesn’t know quite what to make of the drum and cymbal corps celebrating the grand opening of a new fast food chicken place in Chongqing. (Jock Lauterer photo)
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