Saturday, March 26, 2005

"When will we have 'green' model workers?"

This is the question posed in an article in the English-language China Daily. The author refers to the spread of the Japanese phenomenae of karoshi -
"death by overwork" - to "the increasingly market-driven, competition-laden Chinese society" - the author's words, not mine.
It would be absurd if the nation were busily planting additional trees and working towards cleaner air on the one hand, and continued to ignore the unhealthy aspects of its people's work lives on the other hand.

In any case, the traditional scholar's lifestyle of all work and no relaxation should no longer be held up as a virtue. The model workers of this new age should set an example of a good balance of work and life, just as good economic growth should be a proper combination of speed and quality.

The government should require all employers, especially those who hire those needed for their intellect, to take a crash course on how to protect their most valuable asset - their workers.
I find it heartening that in spite of the continued censorship of sensitive political topics, such social problems are increasingly and openly discussed in today's China. It may not seem like much if you are accustomed to a free press (or in the case of today's mass media in the U.S., an incredible simulation of one), but I think of the propaganda of a few years ago, extolling the virtues of the self-sacrificing "model worker" and conclude that China has come a long way, that questioning social norms is the first step to improving social conditions. Beijing's Zhongguancun area, where most of the city's universities and research institutes are clustered, the life expectancy of staff members has experienced a decline from a decade ago, from between 58 and 59 to between 53 and 54.

One may have further questions about these brief reports, as any thinking individual would. But how on earth these figures were drawn is one matter. How to define the value of life is another. What is the point if, when the economy is growing at an ever-faster speed, its engineers and scientists enjoy shorter and shorter lives to savour the fruits of their endeavours?
When I was first in China, all those years ago, I remember feeling as though I were a virus. That I brought with me the seeds of my culture, that they would be planted and spread here in spite of any efforts to limit the exposure of the disease I carried. I realize I have badly mixed my metaphors here, but in a sense this is an accurate representation of how I felt at the time. I knew the culture I represented had many positive things to offer China. I also knew that China would be hard-pressed to pick and choose. That you got the good with the bad. The consumerism, the commercialization of everything, the unwitting pressure to define yourself by what you possessed, all of these things came with our market-driven, "free" society.

There is a middle way, I believe. It is not the way currently preached by autocrats who do not believe that China is ready for democracy. It is not the way of the current regime in Washington, which will not admit there's a legitimate purpose for government beyond wars of aggression that enrich their cronies. It is a way that balances the dynamics of the market with social justice and responsiblity towards the community. That encourages the development of "green" workers and values the well-being of each individual. There is a middle way that many of us are searching for, if we can only find it.


jr said...

I noticed there are usually two camps of Americans.
American liberals like you with an open and friendly attitude towards foreign culture is why US is a great country,IMHO. On the other end of the spectrum, it is disturbing to see some closed minded people who treated Chinese as uncivilized heathens who want to invade other countries, people like Robert Kagan, Rumsfeld and Clancy. On hiroshi, I like the way the hippies take on life and living. A friend of mine is a hippie, he is poor but seems to be always happy and contented smoking pots, drinking beer, sleeping on the sofa...

Other Lisa said...

Dear JR,

Growing up in California, we have a lot of exposure to Asian cultures, more than some other parts of the country, and I believe that California culture is really influenced by Asian cultures more than other parts of the country might be. The "hippie" and New Age movements were really influenced by Asian philosophy, and though a lot of that stuff is IMO kind of silly, much of it is not. So I think that a lot of Californians grow up with a greater familiarity with certain aspects of Asian culture, or at least our own weird interpretation of them. I mean, yoga, Buddhism, things like that are part of the cultural fabric here.

It's all about balance, isn't it? I mean, I'm past the age where I want to spend all my time drinking beer and smoking pot, but on the other hand, there's a lot more to life than work.

As I've commented elsewhere on this blog, what's happening in this country quite frankly scares me. A lot. The religiousity scares me, as does the disregard for anyone other than the very wealthy on the part of our current administration. The celebration of raw power, the blatant flaunting of the rule of law, legalization of torture - and that really is what's happening - all of these things atack the very core of what's best about this country, the things most essential to our nature as Americans. I am very aware that our government has done some dark, bad things in its history - but they used to do those things in secret, I think because on some level, they were aware that they were bad things. This current regime has no shame about what they are doing. They twist and manipulate the law to legalize their crimes and they seem to have no shame about any of it.

Excuse the rant, but it's late and I'm tired.