In Chinese, the two-character word Guo Jia (国家) means “country,” but is also a synonym for ‘state,” “government” and even “nation” in both its daily and formal media uses.
On the PRC’s 59th National Day, the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend published a collection of Chinese citizens’ reflections on “my country and me.” There are four collections under “what my country has done for me,” “what have I done for my country,” “what else can you do for your country” and “What else can the country do for you.”
Those collections published in Southern Weekend are colorful and informative. But they are also carefully edited. In the blogosphere, one can hear more authentic voices responding to these intriguing questions. Here are two such examples:
Hecaitou (和菜头) is the online name of a well-known Internet writer. He was born in 1975 in Yunnan in a ethnic Bai family. His father is a PLA military officer. He studied in Nanjing University from 1993 – 1997, and worked in Wujiaba Airport in Kunming since his graduation until recently. He started his web-writing life in 1997. His prolific and humorous writings range from technology and digital culture to social critiques. He answered Southern Weekend’s questions in full length on his blog, selectively translated by CDT’s Fan Linjun:
Southern Weekend asked me to answer four questions on the relations between the country and an individual. what they ended up publishing is an edited version of my answers. I want to publish the authentic answers here.
My answer to the question “What have you done for the country?”:
I have served the state for 11 years and paid taxes to it for 11 years. I haven’t yet married or had children in order to reduce some of the state’s burden. I usually go to clinics and refrain from staying in the hospital when I get sick (to save the government’s medical expenditures). When the housing subsidy policy was in place, I didn’t have the chance to get a subsidized apartment because I was single .. When the government paid for comprehensive health-care, I didn’t have any major illnesses. But when I needed to be hospitalized for kidney stone treatment, the medical policy changed and I had to pay part of the medical cost. When I was a senior in high school, the average college tuition was just 500 RMB a year. But it increased tenfold the year I entered college. I didn’t take a penny in bribery. I finished every task that was assigned to me. I didn’t sleep with any of my female subordinates on the office desk. To further reduce the state of its burden, I quit my job at a state-owned company. The manager didn’t say Thank You when I left. He didn’t even know me. I’d never met him, for the management was constantly changing.
My answer to the question “What else can the country do for you?”:
Based on the fact that I’ve paid taxes to the state for 11 years, I think I am entitled to request it to provide me clean air, clean water, and safe food. Only then could I be able to pay taxes for many more years, and cost the state less in medical expenditures. I also have the right to request a well-established social security system, and a free, fair and transparent market economy. And I ask to be free from deprivation or fear. Otherwise I wouldn’t think it a good thing to bring my child into this world, and I would probably become the last citizen and the last taxpayer in my family.
It’s said that if someone acts like an “Angry youth” when he is over 30, he is either stupid or insane. I will be 33 years old this October. I am embarrassed to continue staying within the group of so-called angry youths, but I am proud that I still belong to the group of patriots.
Before I tell you what kind of patriot I am, I think it’s necessary to clarify the two words “country” [nation] and “state.” The Chinese language doesn’t differentiate between the two, and the phrase “Guo Jia” could mean either one.
It’s important for me to distinguish country [nation] from state. I don’t care much about the government [state] of China, but I care about China as a country (the Middle Kingdom). As Lu Xun ( a well-known Chinese writer in the early 20th century) said, “the flags of a country change often”… Various types of governments with different titles showed up one after another. The same country [nation] of China could be called the Republic of China, or the People’s Republic of China. But the names make little difference to me. The life of a specific state (government) was transient, compared to the classic Chinese literature such as Tang Poems and Song Prose. It’s hard for me to regard any state as orthodox.
Does the Yangtze River or the Yellow River care about the changing names of a Chinese state? But all Chinese people, whichever citizenship they hold, all regard the two rivers as their mother rivers; they could all be invigorated or saddened at the Chinese characters written down hundreds of years ago. This is the China I love, the China in a historical and cultural sense. I love all the people who can recite the classic poems of Li Bai; I love all the people who can write Chinese characters; and I love all the people who toil on this land trying to make a living.
The country [nation] of China stops existing when the last person who can write Chinese characters passes away, or when people stop celebrating the traditional Chinese festivals such as the Spring Festival and the Mid-autumn Festival. … The Great Wall lasts to this day, but the Qin Emperor who first built it has long gone.
However hard a state (government) tries, it is far from equal to the country [nation] in my heart. The state (government) is a lazy hand that could go slack in his work any minute, a thief that might steal our tax revenue any time, a disloyal servant who would ride roughshod over the people, and a has-been that’s about to lose his power. I could never trust it. I should always whip it to make sure it fares on the right track, without digressing for its own interest. I have no song of praise to sing for the state (government). I hold no gratitude for it. Looking back on history, the Chinese state should have done a better job, but often it failed to do so. Why am I asked the question “What have you done for the state?” I think the only proper question is “What has the state (government) done for me?” I am only humble towards China the country [nation], not the Chinese state (government).
I don’t pay taxes just for the sake of the government, nor do I abide by laws for the good of the government either. The glory of the state does not shine on me, whereas I have to bear its errors every day. I still regard myself as a patriot, even if I don’t wave the national flag, even if I don’t wet my eyes or get angry (over issues concerning the state), even if I wouldn’t sing a song of praise to the government.
I think it’s more important for a child to learn to write the Chinese characters properly than someone to rescue state property from fire; I think a passionate kiss between lovers is more important than a high GDP growth rate. I wish every household in China had a balcony, and each had a pot of flowers growing on it. This is the the kind of patriotism that I hold for China.
Another blogger, with the online name Wuyuesanren (五岳散人) graduated from college in 1991. He was formerly a journalist, then a venture capitalist and is currently a freelance columnist. He also answered these questions in his blog, translated by CDT:
Southern Weekend asked many people four questions. Let me volunteer myself to answer them, even though I was not asked. The fact is that I thought about those questions a long time ago. But no one has ever asked me. … Here are my answers.
Q：What have you done for your country?
A: … When I was a reporter, other than paying taxes, I have written all the stories about the dark side of society as long as they were allowed to be reported. Those not allowed to be reported are beyond my capacity. Now I am a columnist, my words are dedicated to the real “guojia” – the country (not the state).
To my country [nation], please allow me to show my pride: I have done what I can do, and decided to continue doing so.
To those who equate themselves with the state, allow me to show my pride again: You did not succeed [to rule my mind and heart], at least not completely. And I want this fact to remain as well.
Q：What has the country done for me?
A: The country’s real meaning is the nation. This country has given me the color of my skin, language, and cultural foundation. For example, I always think the best food is Chinese dishes. English Tea means nothing to me. Other than these things which I accepted before I could make any choices, this country did not do anything else for me.
But the state has done a lot for me. It has given me piles of textbooks full of bullshit… It always shows me those propaganda documents telling me do not report this, do not report that, and it kept me from publishing so many things even on the Internet, so on and so forth. The latest is that I just found out the milk I have been drinking has a problem.
A:… As long as my hands still can type and my mind is still working, I will continue what I am doing now. [Columnist] Lian Yue once said that “We are the system.” Li Ao once said, “This is my country, and I want to make her free.” I am not as profound or sensational as they are. The way I put it is: “When I see something wrong, no one can shut me up!”
Q: What else can the country do for you?
A: To this country: once labeled Tang, or Song, or Yuan or Min, and now called PRC, I have received what you have given to me. I live on your land. You have given all you can give to me. Those things you cannot give to me, let me give them to you.
To the state, the most important thing is not what it can do for me; it is that the state better understand what it cannot do to me. If the state knows what it cannot do to me, it’s already done its best for me. If the state does not know this, I will make it know.