April 30, 2010

Materialism, is communism the one to blame?

The Chinese Dragon, Fu dog and incense compris...Image via Wikipedia

We might have an impression that Chinese people somehow seem to be more materialist than people from other countries. I myself is (still) a Chinese, but I don't deny this fact. It does match my own observation.

However, if people think this materialism has something to do with communism (as I often heard from media, especially conservatives’ propaganda), I would disagree. I believe lots of Chinese people's "passion" for money has nothing (or little) to do with communism, but EVERYTHING (or mostly) to do with Chinese cultural tradition.

Here is what I think. Two of most influential Chinese classical philosophies - Confucianism and Taoism, which dominated Chinese ideology for over 2 thousands years (maybe 3 thousands. Taoism's origin could be much earlier than Lao Zhi's life - the author of Tao De Jing) - both focused on practical issues: Taoism is about individual happiness and Confucianism is about social stability. There is no concept of "God", "divinity" (Monotheism) and "pursuing truth" (science) in Chinese culture. Even later on China had Buddhism come from India, it still focused on personal happiness and quickly made it merged with Taoism and developed some Chinese style Buddist sects, such as Zen.

Certainly both Taoism and Confucianism did not teach people to be greedy, but one important thing that both of these ideas contain is: there is no need to question or looking for anything other than the issues about practical life.

Taoism can be taken in a very positive way, such as obeying our nature, making harmony with our life, but I believe only minority people through Chinese history took it this way (mostly artists and poets), most Chinese people understand Taoism simply as a somatic regimen - they over care about their physical life form, even in a selfish way.

That's why when China opened the door to the world during 80s of last century (I believe that was the second time. The first time was 1980, opium war, China's door was "kicked" open. ), these ancient ideas just could not wait to embrace capitalism, made many people's materialism which had been half covered by traditional morality finally "unleashed".

This is why even though China is under communist government, it could still make such a seemingly "anti-communist" economic system – capitalist markets. And making money to be rich is almost the only life goal to many Chinese people.

About Communism, not only it did not encourage materialism, but also it encouraged a "puritanical" life style. During 50s, China experienced a very anti-materialism social movement - almost everyone lived in very poor material condition but zealous mental enthusiasm (similar middle age Europe) . Of course, needless to mention, it did more harm than good. Chinese people lived in very poor condition until 1980s.

So again, by my opinion, it (materialism) is not communism's fault. It is some seemingly charming cultural heritage's fault. Or, even deeper than that: the nature of greed, which exists in all human being.
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  1. Interesting observations. I always think of the spirit of Taoism as being practical at a very basic level, but not at all materialistic. But I guess people can distort any outlook to fit into their selfish and greedy schemes.

  2. thanks NP.
    yes, taoism is charming. and it doesn't encourage materialism at all. but on another hand, it also doesn't encourage any spiritual developments that are irrelevant to personal wellness. there is no concept of "truth" in Taoism. Everything is ever changing... it is a excellent concept but just cannot be interpreted in right way by most people.

  3. I don't disagree with personal wellness, but what about community/public wellness?

  4. I live in the United States, and some of the most materialistic people in my nation are self-professed Christians. This is in spite of the fact that many of Jesus' teachings are anti-materialistic. I think that your last statement sums it up. Greed is universal, and people will adapt their religious beliefs in order to justify their greed.

  5. well said Paul Swendson.
    i am trying to figure out if the difference of culture ideology could make any difference on human nature.
    there are certainly human natures that apply to every different group, but what made differences? i tend to believe geographic theory.