Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"Running Off the Rails" by Shoujing Zheng


Many people have convinced themselves to believe they are who they are in order to cater the favor of the society. The minstrel believes he comes to the world to ease people’s mind with his magnificent melody. The butcher believes his existence is for cutting pork or shark fins. The lawyer believes he is the defender of justice. As Alan Watts, a British-born philosopher, points out, “Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.” Yet this realm of nature has its own limitation, which confines most people to a fenced enclosure during most of their lives, like a transparent dome above everybody’s head. Normally the dome is hard to perceive. Even though people do realize its existence, most of them try not to touch it because of the overwhelming force coming from the society. The force, which keeps the wheels of people’s train-thought on their rails, is known as a taboo.

I grew up under such a dome, a meticulous and artificial wall determined by my country. My father’s generation used to be fed with the information that China is the strongest country in the world while the people living in capitalist nations are waiting to be emancipated by the great proletariat. With the passing away of Mao and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the propaganda finally declined and people began to realize how poor they were and how this country desperately needed to develop its economy. Nonetheless, the dome is still there: the main news agency is still run by the state, and people cannot found other parties and only join the communist party. The constitution provides us with the most munificent rights in the world, the right of freedom, the right of parade…. Yet those empty promises just exist in the books. Indeed, we live in intersting times.

I began to gradually get the sense of the taboo after finishing my University Entrance Examination, a special Chinese exam that compels students to spend every available minute of their high school time studying if they want to go to a prestigious university in China. In order to find out the truth that the government was hiding, I read and watched almost anything I could get. I spent so much time, and so many efforts, that the learning experience of Frederick Douglass speaks to me so well when I read about his story: “I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.”

I also associate with the movie “The Matrix.” Although the hero Neo always feels that something, a tiny portion of his life, is too abnormal to believe, he would never have imagined that human beings, lying unconsciously under the icy boxes while stuck in the illusion of enjoying civilization of modern life, are actually under the control of the ruthless machine. Neo suffers from great pain and numbness after he confronts the unbearable truth, which pushes him into the transformation from just being a normal and mediocre person who is under the manipulation of the captor to an omnipotent savior. That is what Neo has gone through when he tries to figure out the truth of life. Just like Douglass, I didn’t handle the blocked information very well. The anger caused by feeling fooled and the pain caused by fear occupied my life at the same time. What I feel towards Neo is envy. He is chosen to fight against the taboo while in real life most people can do nothing but become a coward filled with hatred. After all, life is not a movie.

But I don’t want to be a hater, nor do I want to be a coward. There are many ways to cope with censorship, and leaving is one of them. Frankly, this is one of the reasons I chose to become an exchange student and study in America. When I read “The Ballot or the Bullet” by Malcolm X, I admired his guts to boycott the discrimination by shouting out: “I’m one of the 22 million black victims of the Democrats, one of the 22 million black victims of the Republicans, and one of the 22 million black victims of Americanism.” Yet the nationalism he advocated to remove the taboo is too violent for me or for normal people. The nationalism may work well for black people fighting for their rights in 1960s, yet the last time Chinese people tried to join a march for liberty and democracy, it led to difficulty.

While I came to America, the sense of loss, across the Pacific Ocean, came along with me. Avoiding shall never be an ultimate solution. It may ease the mind for a while, but it hides somewhere deep in the heart like a volcano waiting to erupt again. You have to face it in a nonviolent way, be optimistic and stayed open-minded. Like Watts said: “Faith is, above all, openness—an act of trust in the unknown.”

Openness is actually what Watts implemented in his life. As a westerner, he embraced Buddhism and Hinduism, which obviously contradict Christianity in a lot of aspects. He criticizes commitment, saying, “Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world.” An open mind liberates Watts from the confinement of taboo, a dome that is so effective that people have stayed inside it for hundreds of years.

With the help of an open mind, a seemingly unsolvable problem tangling me for a long period is resolved. The government may be tenacious about the absolute governing over its people, and is very sensitive about any movement that threatens its governing. The first step you need to do is still hold the open-minded attitude. After accepting a fact for what it is, you can start to learn about it and try to communicate or interact with it. Total repudiation can only ruin all the progress that has been made so far and result in a retrogressing crisis. If you want to liberate your own people, you have to liberate yourself through an open mind first.

No matter whether you live in China, America, or anywhere else in the world, there was, is and will be a transparent dome. The society can never be perfect, so the impetus for making today better than yesterday shall always exist. Individuals can never be perfect, so people have the desire to learn so as to overcome their deficiency. The taboo should not be the blasting fuse for violence; it should be the start for improvement. An open mind can create a tolerant society which allows different voices. If you get tired of keeping the wheels of thoughts on the same rails all the time, why not try to run off the rails for a time or two. Maybe a whole new rail can be found by a movement that someone claims to be dangerous.

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