This whole entry started with an interview with a newspaper reporter from Hong Kong…
“We are knowledge-based idealists,” I just dubbed the phase on the spot when the journalist Binglin from the Southern Morning Post questioned if we ever touched base on the reality of what was truly going on. Jared and Ruanxi were with me at the interview. It was a rather provocative chat so I decided to write my version of it here, knowing that we might all have different interpretations of the same conversation.
The skeptics coming at our China-U.S. youth climate exchange are fair. We are young and inexperienced. Not knowing much about the real meaty stuff at stake could turn out to be very “rosy,” said Binglin, “this (here in Cancun) is not the reality. When you go back home, that is real; that is where people continue to buy SUVs and live in big houses.”
“I think we are pretty sure that these are two levels of realities,” I rebutted, and “the one at home is the cast of the one here, and vice versa.” Citing again one of Holly’s presentations on the three pillars of “saving the planet” model, I told him that being able to raise your voice to one decision-maker presumably has a greater impact than to one Joe Brown. This is not to say the “top-down” approach is the only solution. Grassroots organizers like Jared and folks from the China Youth Climate Action Network know better their own “circle of influence.” We simply need both.
A more immediate reality is that we cannot stay satisfied as grassroots organizers who only try to educate the public of the issue of climate change and advocate for a greener life-style. There are three pillars – policy, economics then lifestyle. What influence policy – presumably the most important deciding factor—are also economic drivers and public opinions. Occasions like Cancun, in Holly’s words, are “global policy in the making” and where we could use the bright spot to amplify our influence.
“But still, these two countries are so different and complex. Even if you young people get to collaborate, does that mean anything?” The very persistent journalist Binglin pushed on.
“But we get together because we all want to do something to prevent catastrophic disasters on our planet,” Jared argued, which is the foremost important shared vision we recognize among ourselves. “Besides, when you actually get to make the efforts to listen to and understand a seemingly stranger, you will find a lot of commonalities.”
“We are all human beings, the difference of gene composition between two Chinese might as well be higher than that between one Chinese and one American, according to some genetics studies in the U.S.”
“But tell me, didn’t you come to interview us with the assumption that we are just very different and it is naïve for us to think we can have meaningful agreement?”I turned the interview in reverse.I had enough of his prejudice, not to mention his very first question whether the China Youth Delegation was funded by the Chinese government. The second assumption was reasonable given historical trends, but I didn’t feel comfortable.
He agreed, nodding his head.
I pressed on. “Yes, we did each come with a certain agenda, but we also try to keep an open mind to be receiving. Youth is very receiving and adaptable. That’s why we represent the hope for the future.”
“And better, you learn to appreciate the difference.” At least this is something I am also trying to emphasize, besides only connecting on the commonalities. The neo-liberalism ideology that has been prevalent in the western societies since the Enlightenment and is also on its way to force onto other geographic territories, places human being as the center of the political system. Then you have democratic representation, human rights and market mechanism, etc. It believes in its universal application.. But it is not that there are no other alternatives in operation. We have family-centered, tribe-centered, gender-centered, just to name a few.
And that different political systems are in place for various historical reasons and have their right reasons to exist could be an alternative assumption for our collaboration. If not more open. And if assumption is a prerequisite for the human society to operate.
Admittedly I was a little bit pissed off when Binglin came to interview us because his boss wanted to find out if we were funded by the Chinese government as its propaganda machine. However I also appreciate his spirit of a searching journalist and his courage of recognizing the inadequacy in his reasoning.
For us, it was absolutely very provocative conversation as well. Dialogue sparks deep thinking. We come together, willing to try to find critical areas of commonalities on which we can build our collaboration, and to innovate solutions having understood the raison-d’être of our perspective cultural and political systems.