Dipa Sanatani–the Founder of Mith Books–and I are good friends. Quite often we have interesting discussions on various topics; from our shared love on books to current affairs. This week, she suggested that I write more on politics, especially since I was not shy on sharing my opinion on geopolitics. Yet, I was reluctant to do so publicly, mostly because I did not want to be labeled, judged, and attacked by strangers who do not even know me.
The Hong Kong Protests
My fear of being labeled began in 2019 during the Hong Kong protests. The protests were triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill implemented by the Hong Kong Government. A chain of protests began due to concerns that the now aborted bill would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and infringe on civil liberties.
As the tension between government and protesters mounted, the anti-China sentiment escalated into violent actions against China-affiliated businesses, and even Mandarin-Chinese speakers. Anything labeled with “China” or “Chinese” was tainted. Chinese banks’ windows were shattered, ATMs were damaged; law abiding mainland retailers’ businesses were broken into and trashed.
I was born and raised in China and have lived abroad for more than 13 years. I am fully aware of the general western sentiment towards totalitarian governments. But the first time in my life I was scared for being a Chinese when a JP Morgan Chinese banker was beaten by a young protester in front of crowds in broad daylight. As a result, a friend that lived nearby warned me that some protesters might become hostile if they heard someone speaking Mandarin. Yes, I am Chinese. Yes, I grew up in an authoritarian environment. However, this does not mean that I am unable to think critically and independently. It does not mean I do not support democracy. It does not mean being Chinese is a sin.
My childhood friend, May, is a devoted Christian who lives in the United States with her high school sweetheart and four lovely children. She voted for Trump in the 2016 election and probably will do so again in the coming November election.
Most Americans I know are intellectuals and professionals, who tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum. I liked to tease those cosmopolitan upper middle-class with May’s voting choice: the “Religion” and “Trumper” combo guaranteed a “Is your friend insane?” expression on their faces. I would be lying if I said I would not judge someone for supporting Trump. I find it hard to understand how someone wants to be associated with an orange demagogue who shamelessly uses Twitter to twists facts and peddle fictions; to attack opponents, women and minorities, often with spelling errors.
Luckily, our thirty-year friendship paved the road for an open and honest conversation on Christian values and conservatism. It was the first time I had a serious pro-life discussion. Abortion is common in China since the implementation of the one-child policy; it is as easy as going to a restaurant, even after the abolishment of the one-child policy.
Every year, on average, there are roughly 8.2 million induced abortions performed in China since 1971; nearly half of them on young women under 25. No one, no mainstream media dares to openly discuss the impacts on young women’s health, and on society as a whole. There is no moral inquiry into the value of a fetus’ life. It is rather shocking how you can find a 14-year-old sharing her abortion experience on DouYin (TikTok’s China version).
I learned something valuable from May, a “Trumper”. I learned her personal frustration as a religious conservative and her concerns about the country moving too fast towards the liberal front. John Adams, among the most important of America’s Founding Fathers, supported “a moral and political equality of rights and duties” but thought that society errs in expecting equality in all things. Has America gone a bit too far in seeking equality on all fronts?
May and her husband are educated, genuine, kind, hardworking people. They are not the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic type depicted and denounced by former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.
Why are people so angry nowadays? Why does disagreement easily slide into destruction and dehumanization?
Identity-labeling has long existed; it is our genetic coping mechanism to deal with danger and uncertainty, to recognize friends and foe. A shared identity–such as nationality and religion–used well is an effective tool that gives human beings a sense of meaning and belonging. It can function as a glue to hold society together. On the flip side, an identity label used in a negative manner could lead to conflicts and otherness, even war.
I am not a big fan of social media. Social media makes a bad situation worse. Algorithms manipulate us by reinforcing our preferences. People who disagree with each other are more likely to be more polarized rather than brought together. There is ample empirical evidence to show that adults display a negativity bias; or the propensity to attend, to learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information. A negative tweet is more likely shared than positive tweet. A hostile Facebook post is more likely to be liked than something that is positive. A vicious circle has formed. Anyone can criticize anyone at anytime, anywhere, without reflection or edits.
It is easy to vent anger and to rage. It is hard to contemplate, ask difficult questions and regulate all the negative emotions into something more meaningful than destruction.
I am all for Hong Kong people fighting for their freedom and future. I understand where the vandalism and violence come from emotionally. But a successful movement requires a cohesive strategy, calculated tactics and solid leadership. Thus I am skeptical of the leaderless Hong Kong movement largely organized through online forums.
Case in point–on August 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech) was so thoroughly planned that marchers were instructed to pack two meals with no mayonnaise because August was hot in Washington D.C and mayonnaise would melt quickly. The March is credited with propelling the U.S. government to action on civil rights for African Americans, creating political momentum for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It’s easy to judge someone who shares a different point of view without asking why. Hilary Clinton was somewhat correct about some Trump supporters, some of them are hateful or mean-spirited. Of course, they were, they were angry. The median real wage of America has not changed since 1979. Shadowed by the glory of Fortune 500 global corporations, Wall Street and Silicon Valley, working class jobs were moved overseas and the U.S government only spent 0.25% GDP annually to retain its workers whereas many European countries spent 1-3% of GDP.
Feminists thought they were the force behind the increasing female labor participation rate of the late 1970s. Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that the family unit needed to prop up the decreasing household income. What’s worse, the majority of Americans are considered financially illiterate, despite the fact that finance, insurance, and real estate contributed to 21% of the GDP in 2019. Also, let’s not forget that millions of people’s savings and housing were wiped out during the 2008 financial crisis. The working class was forgotten by Washington elites, so they had the right to choose someone to speak for them, even if they chose Trump, a destroyer, too.
I deleted my Facebook account permanently in early 2020 and unsubscribed from the New York Times. I find too many have the urge to speak, but few speak from a place of authenticity, of deep understanding of anything.
I figured the best way to learn is to put my presumptions and judgement aside, peel off the labels, and listen to someone talk with deliberation; to understand what they mean.
And simply, just read.
About the Author
Fang Wei likes to write stories, to discover, to learn, to feel, to think and hopefully have a positive impact towards others during her fleeting time on planet earth.