I never expected a quick coffee date would turn into a deep discussion about FREEDOM vs. STABILITY.
But as we sat around the coffee shop table – me with two of my Chinese friends – that’s exactly what happened.
These two friends, Ella and Lin, are in their 20’s, part of China’s emerging generation. Me, I’m in my 50’s and American. What could we possibly have in common?
Turns out, a lot. We all love languages. In fact, they are doing the same master’s degree program I did a couple decades ago – pre-kids – in a different language. They are honing their skills at translation (written) and interpretation (oral) between Chinese and English.
My husband and I hosted these two young women (plus two others) for a short time when they arrived in our city, until they could get their feet firmly planted on the ground and find longer-term housing. That experience alone meant we could keep in contact, should we so choose.
Our family spent a year living in China, so I have some idea of what life at home for them is like. I have also traveled for extended periods two other times. So China is not completely unfamiliar turf.
But I also think all three of us have a common heart for good, caring for others, wanting to contribute to our world in positive ways. Though in many ways I am like their mom or mentor, I still view our relationship from the perspective of friend. This is probably the natural tendency I have, as an American, to equalize.
Traditionally, they would not equalize. They would honor and revere my age. I would have status just for being older than them. But I’m finding in the younger generations (worldwide), although this reverence still exists, it is significantly less pronounced.
The Conversation that Got Me Thinking
Ella, Lin and I caught up on things. It had been awhile since we last met. They are both in their last semester of a very demanding graduate program. And I, well, keep quite busy with two jobs. So this time was a treasure.
We sipped our tea and coffee and each stole pieces of a singular chocolate almond cookie in the middle of the table.
I found out more about their future plans. Ella has received some job inquiries both from China and Stateside. She’s currently considering which ones are best. She knows if she remains in the U.S. the challenges to extend her stay beyond her single OPT (Optional Practical Training) year will be formidable. But not impossible. This gal – 24, polished, pragmatic and talented – has a lot to offer the right company or organization.
Lin, however, is committed to returning to China. “I’ll look for jobs after I finish my program, when I return. There’s just too many other things to focus on now.”
So I ventured to ask the question, “How can we best keep in touch?” I know I cannot use Facebook nor WhatsApp, which I use with many friends in other Asian and European countries.
“Can you get the emails I send from my Gmail accounts?” I asked.
“Yes, sometimes we can. But not always. Sometimes they are blocked even before they arrive,” Lin answered.
I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize I could be so thoroughly blocked. Although Chinese friends (former students of mine and so many others) have encouraged me to go on WeChat, I’ve been reticent because of how little I’d understand on there. Although I have a familiarity with Chinese characters, it remains limited. I feel as if I’d be overwhelmed.
And Then, I Dropped the Big Question
I then ventured, “Does that bother you? It seems as if the Chinese government is creating a massive bubble around the Chinese people.” [I’ve personally experienced it while living in China, but I also know it’s gotten much more intense since Xi came to power in 2012.]
Lin responded, “Most people feel that if their lives are going reasonably well, what they read and learn inside China is enough. They do not need to know more.”
Of course, this kind of shocked me and my curious mind, even though I had suspected it to be true. I want to know so much more than I’m reading/listening to/watching in America.
Then I took a big leap. “If you can, would you comment on the recent decision to eliminate term limits for Xi Jinping’s ruling in China? Can you?”
Ella responded this time. “Yes, I think it may have some problems long term. But now? Xi is doing many things people like. He is reducing corruption. He is working to eliminate poverty. Maybe you’ve heard of Xi's Toilet Initiative? I think he really wants to raise the standard of living for all Chinese. And for that reason, we support him in power. For now.”
Lin echoed and reinforced what Ella said.
Here’s the Crux – The Heart of the Issue
Then Ella continued.
“But you know, it really is like two sides of one coin, this FREEDOM vs. STABILITY thing. It may be impossible to have both. Too much freedom produces instability, I think.”
True, I agreed. With more freedom emerges more of both good and bad. There’s more space for both to operate. In the end, which one wins depends upon a number of conditions. And, of course, what one group may see as inherently “good,” another may view as “bad.”
Long after we said our goodbyes, I thought about this question: Must these two – FREEDOM vs. STABILITY – be mutually exclusive? Are they always at odds?
How might be it possible to improve both the FREEDOM and STABILITY in a society? Share your thoughts here.