I hear a lot about how China is going to take over the world. That the days of America as world superpower are almost over.
China certainly has some good things going for it, but it also has its share of challenges, like the caring and feeding of a population of 1.3 billion people, staggering air and water pollution, and oh yeah, the whole communism thing.
I’d submit that their biggest obstacle of all is their Adultitis-ridden viewpoint on fun. In watching the coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, I got the impression that they take themselves WAY too seriously. And consider this account from my wonderfully outspoken friend Scott:
So, I heard this report on NPR about Chinese students and how hard they work at getting smart and taking classes and studying, etc.
They interviewed the mother of one of these poor, over-achieving, communist punks about how the kids study all the time and never “play” with other kids because they’re so busy all the time.
And I swear to God, the mother said, in English:
“We feel that fun is not very important.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
So instead, I just threw up in my mouth.
I’ve taken photos of plaques that hang prominently at the National Museum of Play (bet China doesn’t have one of those!). They feature quotes that disagree quite strongly with this well-intentioned mother:
Here’s the deal: fun comes from play, and play fosters curiosity, and curiosity leads to the sort of innovations and revolutionary thinking that made America great in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a fair share of adults in America who frown on fun and are hell bent on ruining everything. Fortunately, they are in the vast minority. But a culture with a big segment of the population that believe fun is not important?
Good luck with that, China.
Wow, interesting stuff here. I had a feeling that China was pretty hard working based on all of the practice and prep work done for last year’s Olympics (especially the opening ceremony). But to hear the quotes you shared…well that’s plain scary.
When I think about how the U.S. fits into the world…I sometimes feel we don’t work hard enough (in terms of the number of time our kids spend in school per day and per year compared to other countries). Other times I feel we work way too hard…as exhibited by our lack of vacation time and time off.
But one thing is certain…it is cool that we have the freedoms more than ever to create the lives we want. And it’s cool we have a National Museum of Play where creativity and play are encouraged. Thanks for these reminders.
There are definitely times when I feel we are a nation of slackers. However, we are often at the top of the list when it comes to unused vacation days.
Freedom is definitely the key. If people are free to create the lives they want and incorporate fun and play in their life, they are also free to lead Adultitis-ridden ones as well. But at least there is a choice.
Sadly, I think we often forget how to play! I know that was one of my problems for a long time. You spend so much time doing the work of everyday life, that you forget how to play. Then when you hit your later years, 40’s, 50’s and up, you have forgotten how to let go and have fun!
Amen, Steve. That’s why we feel it’s so important to escape “adulthood” and “lower ourselves” enough to learn a few things about life from kids.
Evan Wainberg says
This article is incredibly offensive. If you’re going to condemn an entire country’s people, try to do just a bit of research first. Your entire conclusion comes from an impression you had of an Olympic ceremony and one comment by one parent.
“Fortunately, they are in the vast minority. But a culture with a big segment of the population that believe fun is not important?”
Any numbers to back that up? Have you read anything ANYWHERE that suggests that the % of people here are much less than China? What’s the ‘big segment’ in China?
Thanks for the comment. Sorry to have offended you. Not much I can do about that.
I probably did engage in a bit of overgeneralization. The post is my opinion based on things I’ve seen, heard and experienced. Of course, there are more examples than the two I gave above, but ultimately, still just my perception and my opinion. I don’t think that Chinese people as a whole are not fun people, but I think their attitude toward fun (at least how I perceive it) probably has a lot to do with the Communist regime they are subjected to.
In any case, my main point was simply to challenge ANYONE’S thought that play and fun are unimportant.
Thanks for your point of view!
Writing about these things, specially about a country with a very different notion of culture and society as China is, is always a touchy subject. Our occidental perception is that, yes, all work and no play specially from childhood on is a perfect recipe to build living, ticking time bombs. But do the Chinese think the same? In my country, there’s this big stadium that is being built as a donation from the Chinese government, and they sent hordes of their (grown-up) citizens to work on it, working like pack mules round the clock. Yet they don’t seem to be too bothered by it. It’s as they were not able to conceive life any other way. While occidental (rather than just “American”) culture encourages the success of the individual, Chinese culture seems to be the exact opposite: Success of the collective is what counts.
I think it all goes back to Mao and the establishment of Communism as the law in China. That said, truth is that in the end we’re all human, and that not being able to live each of the stages of life as fulfilled as it should can only backfire on you sooner or later. If I had to choose, I’d rather be enjoying my hard-earned freedom to be what I really want to be and living as I want to live.
I think you nailed it on the “Communism as law” point. People get used to the way things are, whether it’s good for them or not. It’s a big reason that battered women stay with their abusers — they don’t feel like they have any choice.
And as you mentioned, I certainly think that the East values the collective in general, while the West tends to favor the individual. I respect that, and honestly, I think we might all be better off if we met somewhere in the middle.
Thanks for your two cents!