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人 vs. 人民
Human Being vs. People
"Free Beings" vs. "Chinese" Series
"人, 人民"与“Human Being, People”
- Contrast Chinese Character in Its Implications on Humanity with English Meanings of Being Human -
By Kai Chen 陈凯 (Written 3/23/2006, Reprint 9/29/2011)
In China, the mail is addressed in following fashion:
People’s Republic of China 国（党朝）名
Name of the Province 省名
Name of the City 城市名
Name of the Work Unit 单位名
Street Address 街道名
Name of the Recipient 个体名
In America, a charp contrast:
Name of the Recipient 个体名
Street Address 街道名
Name of the City 城市名
Name of the State 州名
United State of America 国名
The above illustration of two different and contrasting ways to address an envelope is a simple, but very telling/powerful example of how individuals are viewed in China and in America. In China on the left, the individual name is pressed at the bottom of the information columns, while in America, the individual name is always on top of the others, be it a company, a city, a nation.
Some say this is only a cultural habit. Who cares as long as the recipient receives the mail? But one has to admit this simple illustration reflects the deep seated philosophical contrast of two opposing values. Individuals at the bottom vs. individuals on top, individuals oppressed, enslaved and burdened by all kinds of collective, invisible, somehow seemed sacred entities vs. individuals as primary, undeniable, indivisible, absolute unit of free existence above all what his mind has created. This simple arrangement of priority is not a trivial difference that most leftists tend to assert and dismiss as such. It is the deepest contrast between two entirely opposing forces in interpreting how an individual lived, has lived and should live in his or her social, cultural and political environment. And the implications of the Chinese arrangement of priorities often carry profound, deadly and devastating consequences. Human mind is chained and shackled to a daily, moment to moment, unbearable state of enclosure which separates the individual from the true state of living and the true state of mind of his existence from himself, isolating himself from his own nature. Not only he is never viewed as a free being, he is conditioned to submit himself and accept that all mentioned entities from his own mind are above him, are more valuable than him, and are the masters of him. He as a human being is only the subject of these entities; he has no rights, no claims to his own property and creation, nothing to call his own. He is a virtual nothingness.
This thinking pattern and mode of perception of reality is further reinforced, solidified and legitimized by the very tools he uses to comprehend and interpret his surroundings – his own written and speaking language. The alienation is thus extreme.
Take the Chinese character “Ren” 人 as an example. It is written and composed by one front slash and one back slash (人). It was originated from the pictorial description by our ancestor – two legs as a human figure. There is no head, there are no arms. There are only two legs. The simplicity of this character cannot simply be viewed as a matter of utility. It carries far-reaching implications affecting culture, philosophy, societal and political institutions. We often sense and complain, even protest against the cultural tendency that the Chinese lives are cheap. And in China humans are not treated as humans. They are too often trampled only as animals that can speak. They are only numbers that can be added or eliminated in a governmental scheme. Mao openly and proudly claimed that he was willing to sacrifice 400 million Chinese lives to fight against Russians and Americans. And somehow, no one in China ever questioned the legitimacy of his claim on any moral basis. Somehow people in China passively accept that the culture, the power of guns, the prestige of his personality though a cult, gave him his legitimacy to do such a thing. If deaths fell upon them through Mao-a living God backed by guns and violence, then so be it. Everyone has to die someday, somehow, anyway.
The connotation of the Chinese character “Ren” (人) directly and indirectly conveys that a human is only a physical existence, only flesh and blood. It has only two legs with no mind and no meaning of its own. It is only an image, only a shell, only a fleeting illusion without any substance and significance. Most ancient Chinese literature clearly reflects this nihilistic tendency. Only governments, the emperor, the officials with titles, the invisible collective entities have mandate from heaven to be endowed with meaning, and often carried with it, absolute, arbitrary and unquestioned power. This phenomenon is much symbolized by the Chinese character “Guo” – Nation (for much of the Chinese history meaning the domain of the Emperor). The character is composed with an enclosed rectangle and in it there is the character meaning “Jade” (simplified). Only “Guo”-the nation gives individual his meaning of existence. All the Loyal officials and brave generals who died in ancient times died for “Guo” and in defending “Guo”. Most literatures of the past are ones singing in praise of them.
Even today, very seldom one sees a Chinese person without an official title, or cultural titles. It is impolite to call someone just by his or her name. A title must be added because with the title, an artificial meaning is instilled into this individual life. Otherwise, he or she is a none-existence.
Contrast to Chinese, English has many words that related to the concept of human. I will list them and interpret them by meaning below.
- Human (s) – A term related to Humanoid, as a differentiation from other life forms.
- Person (s) – A term that differentiates one from the collective, the masses.
- Individual (s) – A term that implicitly and explicitly conveys the meaning that such an entity is indivisible and inseparable – a finite form that has its own beginning and end.
- Human Being (s) – A term that carries the connotation of a state of existence. “Being” itself means a state of awareness to one’s own life.
- Man (Men) 人 – A term that has deep philosophical and even religious meaning. (Ayn Rand used this term extensively in her works) It implies a sacredness of a living being.
Imagine all these meanings are simplified, belittled, demeaned, denigrated, degraded and condensed into a character (人) with two legs and no head and no arms. How do you expect the Chinese take human lives, take human conditions, take human beings as sacred entities with meaning endowed upon them by only God and themselves. All the bloodshed, the atrocities, the violence and sadistic treatment of individuals are no surprise if you truly comprehend how the Chinese view humanity. It is ironic, laughable, and even hilarious to think that today the Chinese have the gall to debate and discuss something like “Government by Laws” or “Government by Men”. In a society that has no “Man”, how can you have government by “Men”? Today’s reality is that the Chinese government is not governed by “Men” at all. It is governed by Power, by meaningless Titles, by omnipresent Officialdom, by omnipotent walking dead. There is no “Man” in the first place to even begin to talk about “Democracy”.
“Democracy” 民主 – in Chinese “MinZhu” has a twisted meaning from the original concept of “Self-Government” (beside other positive definitions). It means “People Rules”, or “People Dictate”, or “People are the Masters”. A simple glance of this distortion makes one shudder at the thoughts if people carry this superficial interpretation to its logical conclusion that would happen. No wonder no one questioned the Communists when they initiated the term “Democratic Dictatorship” and used it extensively to legitimize their cruel and sadistic practices toward the Chinese people during their rule.
“People” 人民 – “Renmin” in Chinese, is the extension of “No Man” rule. “People” in English is used only as a secondary expression and description. It means a (plural) congregation of individuals. In China, it is used as a primary expression and description. Thanks for the features of Chinese character, “People” has become the indivisible, inseparable, and paramount concept to dictate individuals. People’s Money, People’s Bank, People’s Hall, People’s Republic, People’s Park…, everything belongs to this monolithic and God-like entity called People. Individuals are only the subjects of “it”. “People” is used not as a plural as in English, in China “People” is always used as singular, much like what Nazis described their “State”, as something alive and needing a constant feeding of human individual corpses.
“Guo” (国，国家) - the Nation, and “Renmin” 人民 - the People have become the constant, absolute, sacred, omnipotent and omnipresent expression of the Chinese values. Somehow the Chinese have managed to have completed the intricate and painstaking work to invent these terms to enslave themselves, to enslave their own mind. People are now judging their own worth and daily conduct according to these two terms. Their happiness, their meaning of life, their physical existence is now all dependent on these absolutes. “Serve the People”! 为人民服务！Mao’s famous call for all the Chinese to be absolute obedient tools for the use of this entity is only the logical manifestation of this absolute value. It has long become the sacred altar for the individuals to sacrifice themselves. It is still dominating the Chinese vocabulary today.
Not so curiously and not so surprisingly, with these two dominant terms over the Chinese heads and lives, “Quan” 官 - Power, has become the preoccupation in all the Chinese endeavors and has long dominated Chinese lives. Everyone realizes that without “Quan” 官 they will have no status in the hierarchy defined exclusively by “Renmin” and “Guo”. All of ancient Chinese literature is about struggles for power. Thanks again for the indefinable, imprecise and confusing nature of Chinese language; “Quan” merges the two opposing components, two distinctively conflicting elements “Power 权力and Rights 权利” into a single character. With such a confusion, (which is deliberately done that way,) of course the Emperor’s power is endowed and given by Heaven and therefore legitimized forever by not a philosophical validity, but by a deliberate confusion of mind and by the Chinese language.
With all the ill effect and negative connotations intrinsic in the Chinese language, Chinese lives are reduced to nihilistic emptiness. People’s lives have no substance. Activities have no essence. Physical existence has no meaning. Concern of saving face dominates people’s mind. Image oriented, descriptive and none-judgmental arts and literature have inundated the entire intellectual and artistic landscape. Human portraits never have emotions and inner feelings (contrast to Western oil paintings and portraits of human beings). Conformity becomes normal and valued. Creativity suppressed. Joy is sin. Hollow shells of human bodies are the preeminent presence in society. The movie “To Live” describes the Chinese life with the unforgettable ending of four members of the family sitting by the table sipping small bowls of porridge. Somehow the movie legitimizes such existence as “living”. Yet, I would never call such a condition “living” if one understands the meaning of the English word. “To Survive” would have been much more appropriate in interpreting the Chinese words “Huozhe” 活着.
No wonder the famous Chinese ancient literature “Dream of Red Chamber” ends with the famous, undeniable nihilistic, saying by a priest named “Nothingness”:
“All human struggles and endeavors, all the heroes and romances, all the stories ever existed are for nothing but the joke and pastime story-telling of common folks after they eat and drink.”
I often ponder on the phenomenon when debating a Chinese person (on any issues) that they somehow possess a magic trick to escape their own Identity, much like the famous “Monkey King” who can change his physical forms hundreds times a second, so no one ever knows who he really is. (I call it, with a scientific term, accurately nonetheless, a Bipolar Disorder, or Schizophrenia) One moment he is a human being trying to survive. A second later he becomes a loyal, fierce fighter defending the Chinese “Guo” and “Renmin”, willing to sacrifice himself for the collective, willing to be the New Terracotta Warriors to be buried with the Communists. Then and only then I can sense their eyes start to spark, a genuine emotion shown, as they finally have found the meaning of their lives.