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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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The Emporer's New Clothes    

By Garreth Humphris
2033 Views | 1 Comments | 1/1/2012 4:45:57 PM

I've been having an interesting conversation ’off-blog’ with a CLM lady about what is a ’typical' or a ’traditional’ Chinese lady - it is quite passionately personal in nature so I am loath to share too much lest I break her trust in the conversation but an interesting point came up about ’tradition’ and ’culture' in which my correspondent described her condition as a case of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.

If you are unaware of this Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale - it is a tale of a King who is very vain and only interested in his own image and beauty, of being “seen” rather than actually doing.

A pair of swindlers acting as tailors offer to make him an “invisible suit” that only people of high standing and position can see, the clothes are invisible to the stupid and undeserving - the King is intrigued and decides he must have some clothes woven in this invisible thread. After a few weeks, the “magical weavers” return with the clothing. Although the King can see nothing, he pretends he can, lest people think he is undeserving of his position. The weavers make an elaborate display of dressing the King in his new finery - all the royal court can also “see” the new clothes, because if they could not, maybe they are undeserving of their position nearby the King and the power.

The King decides he wants a parade, to show these miraculous new clothes to his people - some of them “see” the clothes, those who want business with the Court, and applaud loudly. Others see the King in his underclothes and do not comment lest the get into trouble. Finally, once the King had passed, a young child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession, deciding never to be so vain again and to take his position more seriously.

So, that is the story, but I wonder if this may apply to how we wear our “culture” and “tradition” - maybe we wear it in such a way that all around us can see it - it's finery, it’s safety and it’s pretense! And maybe an outsider, a child unaware of the desirability of keeping up such a pretense, can cry out about a different view.

I am aware of it myself - I am an Australian and I have a “traditional” way of meeting, greeting and talking to other Australians - it s sort of “fake” because I don't normally speak to my friends that way, but it is the “agreed” Aussie parlance worldwide! It’s a tradition, like an invisible coat, that is used so other people from your “court” know who you are! It is a voice, a dialect, an attitude, a set of questions, a laconic layback and a cocked eye, an invisible thread woven between 2 people.

It is very different from the way English people meet, or Germans or Americans.

I think Chinese people have a similar thing - a long tradition of wearing the Emporer’s invisible coat - of creating a “invisible coat” culture - where every person in China can see the coat, knows when it is being worn correctly and can see how threadbare it may be.

I contend this with the discussions I have been having with my new friend. To paraphrase some so far; although she loves Chinese culture and tradition, my correspondent sometimes tires of it because she thinks it is too controlling - King controls people, parents control children, husband controls wife, teacher controls student, boss controls workers...society demands repression of soul and spirit, and the culture urges meekness, humbleness, and obligation as desirables.

Her argument is her “clothes” force her into giving up her rights to free thought, to life untainted by others influence, her lover, and sometimes even her dreams.

The “coat” means that she must comply to the pretense - and compliance, which starts as a “white lie” and leads to a lifetime of accepting less - of swallowing “bigger and bigger humiliations”...ok, so you can see it quite a strong and interesting discussion!

I wonder if we are really aware of what ’clothes’ we are actually wearing - sure, it is uncomfortable to wear casual clothes to a black tie event - and you would probably run home and put on your glad-rags! Can you continually show up at ’life’ wearing an orange paisley tie and an aqua shirt and a mullet haircut? Because that ain't the fashion of our society and that is the attire we might have to wear to go against it!... How many wild-haired hippies of the sixties were wearing pinstripe suits and carrying briefcases in the 90’s? Did the clothes of societal defiance last a lifetime?

Just to finish my blog, a little more from my determined friend...paraphrased a little... “It is too hard not to be a obedient, and fight for our dream......If you do want to be a person who wants to control your own life, you have to realize that you are not fighting with your parents or your big family, you are fighting with the whole society system” - Amen sister, it is likely that we suffer similar feelings in many different guises, wherever we live in the world - as long as we comply to wearing the clothes of the Emperor.

Sometimes I wish it were as easy as taking off a coat and hanging it in the back of the cupboard when it’s style or colour no longer suits you! But it might not be as easy as that!

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#2012-01-01 23:05:43 by panda2009 @panda2009

Incisive criticism! Happy new year, Garreth!

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