China Debates Citizenship

Thursday, May 30, 2013 0:55
Posted in category The Big Picture
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An interesting post over at Tea Leaf Nation about Chinese debating what it means to be a citizen of China.  It is interesting for me as over the years this has come up on a number of occasions, but usually as a result of a crisis like the 2008 Earthquake (where citizenship was applauded) or as part of the ongoing Anti-Japanese movements (where citizenship turned nasty).

According to TLF’s post, the quote that set off the debate was:

”We are not a collection of strangers…we are bound to one another by a set of ideals and laws and commitments.”

In reading this a few things come to mind.

First, as I have spoken to recently a few times, one of the dynamics that China is beginning to struggle with is the social pressure of hundreds of millions of migrants entering the city.  “New citizens” are strangers, and even though we are seeing districts develop clusters that are “provincial”, the fact remains that large numbers of natural communities are being left behind and the manufactured communities that have been built are struggling to bring people together.

Second, in reading through some of the comments, I am reminded of the regular occurrences of public disregard for those in need, and the morality debates that are sparked afterwards.  For me, many of these failures to act are for me are as much tied to the fact that people feel very little sense of community in the city as a void in morality at the cultural level. Sure, there are some legal issues that open good Samaritans to legal liability, but for me the vast majority of failures are happening because people are not connecting with their communities (or anyone in it) in the way they would in their “natural” communities “back home”.

Third, in nearly every case, and in nearly every debate, you can see the standard “we are one” defense for why people “should” act.  A defensive posture  married to the standard “why we don’t act” reasons of laws not protecting people, the cultural revolution taught people to look away, etc… but the reality is (for me) that many of the newly created communities are simply not valued by those who are living in them.  The community is not invested in them, and as long as the failures of the community do not affect them personally, there is little reason to act.

Finally, beyond the social pressures that urbanization creates, one of more recent dynamics that I have grown more worried by is the fact that large number of Chinese are (or are planning to) leaving China. . and leaving for good.  They are taking their families, their business, and the money, and this is a problem for china’s future in more ways that this blogger can count with perhaps the most important being the fact that they are now no longer interested in being citizens, much less productive citizens, of China.

For me, these were just some of the thoughts that went through my mind or are memorable discussions that I have had on the subject. I cannot , and would not, say that this is a problem unique to China, but given the pride that comes along with being ethnically Chinese, there is certainly something different about this debate with respect to China.  It is a debate I know is happening at the city level as local government officials look for ways to integrate migrant populations, and at the national level as the look to right the ship, and there are no easy answers.  Many of the problems are historical in nature, are exacerbated by urbanization, and will require solutions that engage and educate different groups of people.

People who do not currently act as one, but who need to.

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