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China - Between Past and Future E-mail
City Life - Report
Written by Momo
China is a country endowed with a colorful history. Owning deeply engrained traditions that few of it's population stray from it is a country that is hard to decipher for the outsider. Often what is visible is only a fraction of what exists. China is a seemingly never ending tangle of milleniums old customs that it's people have endeared themselves to and cannot forget or alter.

This is slowly changing however in the bigger, more developed cities. Newer generations are leading more independent lives seperate from their parents, and going abroad for education and work, leaving behind the traditions of the past and rushing into a world of modern thought.

Ancient Chinese thinkers such as Confucius taught that filial duty is of the utmost of importance. His teachings were revered and have been made an institution. Chinese politics and education are influenced and speckled with the teachings of Confucius and his disciples. Chinese children are often caught up in the dilema of staying close to home to make certain their parents are well cared for, or striking out on their own life that may lead them thousands of miles away. Ancient traditions of reciprocal acts of friendship or guan xi bind people to one another.

Religious customs see many Chinese going to temples to offer sacrifices to dead relatives. With it's rigid culture of undying tradition, China is starting to experience the birth pains of an old society  attempting to enter a new world less focused on the rites of ancient times. Modern, less orthodox ways of thinking are beginning to take hold in the developing nation. These new modes of thought are centered in the more developed cities of China. What is becoming more and more a less strictly controlled economy coupled with the prospect of wealth are drawing the Chinese away from the old schools of thought while pointing their eyes to a richer future.

To the newcomer, much of China's customs are misunderstood, or simply unnoticed. The Chinese take it for granted that outsiders won't understand their culture, and leave it at that. But spend some time with them, living with them, getting to know their families, and the traditional China will shine. The communal dinners which showcase an entire family sharing are something obvious that the foreigner can witness. An elderly mother who moves in with her son and his family is welcomed and called mother by all in that household.

Family is important to the Chinese and is an institution all it's own. At temples, incense is purchased and set ablaze in recognition of deceased family members. The interaction of family members in China is striking and beautiful. Contradictions that have sprouted from the new thoughts are straining these traditions though. Less important is the well being of parents, more important is a good education that leads to a good job and life perhaps in a foreign country.

It is my belief that it is the introduction of western society and the prospect of wealth that has spurned these sometimes subtle yet undermining revolutions. A new found freedom to chase after that which was once unattainable has many young Chinese doing just that: chasing after dreams that were once impossibilities to all but a fraction of the population. Twenty years ago, China was staggering under incredible poverty that forced many to work in fields.

Economic reform has changed some of that giving Chinese citizens the right to chance their enterprising skills on an ever widening market. Attention has shifted from the filial duty preached by Confucius, to the fattening of bank accounts and a hunger for the outside world. It's an amazing revolution.

The old China is still very evident and ancient practices are still, well, practiced. At times the shift is very subtle and at other times is glaring. When people speak of their disenchantment with the Communist regime, or when they speak of their dreams to travel abroad the change is evident. Higher salaries for teachers and other workers showcase subtle improvements in the economy. China will continue to change with a governement bent on developing it's nation and entering the world economic stage while importing foreign thought and capitol and giving China a major facelift at the same time. The people eat well these days, and the days of incredible struggle are transforming into a fading memory.

I've been blind to much of what China is, but I've also seen sides of China that were given to me because I existed in the very heart of it. I plunged deep into China and experienced the soft underbelly. Living outside of the developed areas, I saw what the visitor to Beijing or Shanghai won't. I saw a world that exists by the pulling together of family members and a sense of community never seen in my native country. At times it was fascinating to see this clock tick, to watch it move and dance, unchanged for thousands of years.

Seeing the flip side of the coin in the major centers of trade and development, I was shown a completely different world that is seperating itself from the traditions that dwell in the countryside. A contradicting paradox that is yielding to a new time, and a new season.

Our valuable Editor Momo has been with us since Thursday, 24 January 2013.

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