Screw our roots

November 29, 2011

Baya nervously meeting with Arthur's Parents

I always love the comical characters in the french movies. They are like the princes and princesses in Disney fairy tales which shows us how perfect the world could be, yet, with the compelling story telling and acting by French actors, writers and directors, French dramas are able to connect the protagonists with reality and give us a sense of hope in envisioning a better and romantic future, whether it’s for love or politics.

The Names of Loves (Le nom des gens) is a story about roots. Baya, a modern day hippy and Arthur, an articulate liberal professor, constantly question the reason of their being and the history of their family. There are limitless factors to account for how we came into being they way we are right now, for instance where did our grandparents come from? how did our mom and dad meet? what did our teachers teach us? It is impossible to account for each and everyone of them but knowing them comforts us because it reinforce our identity as a member of a family with roots, an organization, a city, a nation. It indoctrinates us with a set of value that are worth protecting and fighting for. As the Chinese proverb says: Never forget the past for it could be a teacher in the future.

Nevertheless, it is dangerous not to question history and take it as it is. Endless atrocities in history have proven us the danger of having a single-story of history: fascism, totalitarian regimes and genocides. Arthur, our protagonist which was born into a very French family with right-winged parents, had a constant struggle between his roots of being a noble French countryman and his left-leaning political philosophies, not to mention his political avant garde girlfriend Baya. That’s why Arthur were always having these imaginary conversations with his young-self and his late parents. It is with these dialogues that he has finally overcome the struggle and saw her mom was in fact just having whipped cream for the first time in the Taxi instead of being molested by German soldiers as he imagined. History shall be understood in tandem with continuous questioning so that we could learn from the past and move forward at the same time. How could this be done? Baya’s answer: I’m an atheist, but Muslim is my culture.

History is important, but screw our roots.


Despite the occasional display of eurocentric arrogance of  Guardian correspondent Jonathan Watts, most of observation and assertions he made in his book When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy It are supported with concrete evidence and should not be dismissed at once.

The disturbing fact I learnt from Watts’s’ Book is not that in China they still eat lions, crocodiles, peacocks, snakes or tigers (which I found acceptable if they are not endangered, what’s the different between them and chickens or pigs anyways). What shocked me to the core from Watt’s 10-year-long investigation is how we (Chinese) have mutated from a civilisation that founded on Confucian’s Nature-and-man-harmony philosophy, to a nation that finds its pride in bending the rules of nature.

The so called animal “reserves” in China serves no purpose in preserving the endangered species. For many of these reserves, including the world-famous Giant Panda breeding ground in Xichuan, their main purpose is to become the number one for-profit tourist attraction, conservation always comes second. The “scientists” in these reserves do not have a plan on how to repopulate them in the wild. Their major focus is to breed as much as they can so that the numbers look good on the books, and hence generates more profits from tourists.

In China we are used to Beijing love for world’s first, world’s biggest, world’s fastest and everything that would put us in the “world’s x” category, and we understand that pursuit comes at the cost of our environment. Still, Watts’s observation blew my mind, and for the first time, I am seriously considering the fact that many of the floods or earthquakes happened in China is nature’s revenge on our constant exploitation of the environment over the past decades. As Watts travelled across the northeastern provinces, communist comrades told Watts that they could shift rain patterns by “milking the mountains” (by adding coal dust on snow to absorb heat to melt the snow caps of the mountains) and “shoot down the clouds” (by adding Silver Iodide in the troposphere to enhance condensation). The world’s biggest dam promised to become the mightiest irrigation and flood control project, but in the mean time created the world’s biggest lake that generated the world’s greatest human-induced pressure on the earth crust. If “harmony” is as vital as Beijing has always preached us, nature would be in desperate need for an earthquake-like-event to harmonize what we did to her.

For Chinese readers, his words might sound condescending, in particular, his critique on consumerism in China, considering that fact that his nation was the one pioneered the industrial revolution. But he always reminded us that he felt sympathetic towards the fishermen, farmers, local cadres, ministries chiefs and even the Chinese leaders, for one simple reason – you cannot deny people a happy life. This gives a humanistic touch and universality to the book, and make it a must-read for all who is concerned about the current state of environment of China, and our planet.