It's easy to get depressed about China's apparent drift toward amorality: the kind of pervasive screw-your-neighbor approach to getting ahead (or even just getting by) that seems increasingly common on the mainland. The news is full of horrific stories about apathy and callousness, punctuated by occasional stories of altruism, self-sacrifice, and personal heroism. Both types of stories seem to touch off real soul-searching, with public intellectuals, political leaders, and everyday people in pained discussion of the problem's roots and its possible remedies. How can China reverse the decline in civic consciousness? Does the answer lie in Confucianism? Buddhism? Christianity? Secular public school education? Good Samaritan laws?

Joining Sinica hosts Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn this week for a look at this crucial issue for China are special guests David Moser, Director of the CET immersion program in Beijing and longstanding China watcher, and Didi Kirsten Tatlow from the International Herald Tribune, who joins us again after blowing us away last week in her first appearance in the All Sinica Federation of Women show. We lured Didi back to share even more insights on everything from holy fruit to schoolyard violence in China.

Want a faster and better Sinica? To have new episodes download to your computer or cellphone automatically each week, just subscribe to Sinica via RSS. You can do this by opening iTunes and selecting the option "Subscribe to Podcast" from the Advanced menu and providing the URL http://popupchinese.com/feeds/custom/sinica when prompted. And if you'd prefer to download the show manually, feel free to grab it as a standalone mp3 file. And thanks for listening!
 said on
June 8, 2012

Enjoyed this podcast as always. Very thought provoking. I just want to make two short comments:

Didi makes the point that when a religion crosses between cultures it particulates or opens itself up to selective picking and choosing in the process. The examples were Buddhism in the West and Christianity in the East. The sense is that once a religion leaves the life-world of practices that sustain it organically as part of a functioning whole, it becomes a kind spiritual buffet that can be selectively enjoyed by the culture that dislocates it. Couldn't it be said that China is now encountering Confucianism as a properly "foreign" system of beliefs and practices, drawing it across a cultural barrier (between China's present and its past) that particulates it and that this allows certain concepts like "harmony" (in the form of 和谐社会) to be decontextualized and championed in the absence of everything else? So in this sense the Chinese government is tasting Confucianism in the same way billionaires in Silcon Valley taste Tibetan Buddhism. I think it's giving the Chinese government too much credit to think that they are any more in touch with the teachings of Confucius for attempting to "revive it" than an amateur Buddhist in the US is in touch with the teachings of the Buddha for making the decision to practice Buddhism. The fact that they are Chinese and Confucianism is a Chinese philosophy is beside the point. The "China" Confucius lived in and talked about and the post-Cultural Revolution PRC are more different than some properly foreign countries. Same Crane's posts (over at Useless Tree) on Confucianism are one indicator of the gap between the contemporary "revival" and the spirit of the texts themselves.

The Useless Tree:

http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/

Also I'm surprised guanxi didn't come up more explicitly in this discussion. Having lived in China for two and a half years (first in Shandong and now in a small town in Jiangsu) I want to speak from my own experience and just say it seems to me that within guanxi networks people are VERY aware of the consequences of their actions. They take all sorts of precautions to ensure that what they do takes into account the feelings and goals of others. In that sense Chinese people are clearly capable of sustaining a relation to others that has at least the outlines of a "ethics" in the Western sense of the word. Outside of those networks however people do not perceive their actions to have consequences AT ALL. And I really think it's a problem of perception not principles. I simply do not think Chinese people (especially older Chinese people who grew up in the countryside and now live in the city) even perceive or experience in their bodies the "publicness" of public spaces in the way that people in Western countries do.As an American I find myself checking behind me before backing up in supermarkets, checking for cars, checking for people, checking for bikes, checking for small children when I walk around outside (and not just because traffic is crazy, I would do this anywhere), honking when I approach sharp corners on my e-bike, basically trying at all times to place myself in relation to other people and to anticipate, with my actions, the presence of others (e.g. "Is this a line? Where does it start? Is she in line? What about him? Should I ask if they are in line?"). I catch myself asking (myself) these kinds of questions all the time. I do this because I experience myself and my body as related to others in a distinctly public way. This is obviously the result of years of conditioning (call it moral education if you want) mostly taken in by osmosis during my childhood in the US. I don't think most Chinese people experience their world this way. The grandma who strips her grandbaby naked and lets it pee on the tile floor of the library three feet from the table where I am reading runs to get paper towels alright, but not to clean up the floor... to wipe off the baby's bum! The pee is left for someone else to clean up. And this entire sequence of actions occurs without even a hint of embarrassment or anger on the part of anyone involved (including other people at the library and the cleaning lady who has to mop it up). I do think Chinese people experience the world WITHIN their guanxi networks in the same hyper-aware, other-inflected way lots of Westerns experience life in the public sphere. To me moral education in China would mean trying to expand the connections that lace together a tight guanxi network to include the public sphere. The problem is I don't this is conceptually possible. The concept of guanxi is brutally exclusionary by nature. If it could conceivably include everyone it would no longer be guanxi.

Again though, Confucianism has interesting things to say on this front. For a look at the ways in which Confucianism offers a critique of inward-looking guanxi networks see Sam Crane's post "Thinking of Yue Yue and Obligations to Strangers" here:

http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2011/10/thinking-of-yueyue-and-obligations-to-strangers.html

-Chris (@siegeweather)
 said on
June 8, 2012
I bloody love Jeremy Goldkorn. A rare thing...a China-loving foreigner not afraid to tell it exactly as he sees it.
 said on
June 9, 2012
It is even worse than last week's podcast.

First of all, the incident with Yue Yue, bus driver, 'french fry brother', etc... are probably one off incidents and has nothing with the issues with morals in China. I'm sure that for every time when someone runs over someone and leaves the scene, there's probably another time someone else actually stops. There are plenty of Chinese who offer food or money to homeless people.

The second issue with Christianity in China is more troubling to me. The problem with Christianity in general is that many of them believe that they are more 'morally superior' than people whom are not Christians. So much so that they try to force their set of beliefs onto others whom don't care as much about it as they do. You can add Christians like Chai Ling, Bob Fu and others onto this list. The very same reason why abortion is such a 'political' issue when most non-Christians don't really care about it. The same reason why only Christians are the only people whom are trying to convert people to their religions IE, missionaries, thru pamphlets, crazy preachers in the subway, etc... I mean do you see Buddhists openly going out to recruit people? No. Personally, I think that the history of Christianity has done more harm in today's society because many wars in the last hundreds of years in the name of 'moral superiority.'

The issue with the 'french fry brother' is a different issue. First of all, Didi Kirsten Tatlow talks about the Chinese government having no morals is utter nonsense. Why does the Chinese government teach about Lei Fung in the first place? There are plenty of Chinese philanthropists out there. The Chinese government lifting out hundreds of millions out of poverty is certainly morally right.

Another BS argument is the use of Buddhism for corruption. So, many government officials are Buddhists and some of them are corrupt, therefore government officials use Buddhism to corrupt people? Another dumb straw man's argument. Jeremy made similar arguments with milk powder, pm 2.5, and going to foreign schools, has nothing to do with morals or Buddhism. More utter nonsense. I'm sorry, after listening about 40 minutes into it, I just stop.
 said on
June 9, 2012
@pug_s,

This is not an isolated issue caused by selective memory or the exaggerated media influence of the Yueyue case. The reason Yueyue made the news is that two drivers actively ran the child over. If it were just a case of bystanders ignoring someone in peril the incident would not have been out of the ordinary.

Nor is this a new problem. I remember reading essays dating back to the 1990s about exactly this same problem in Hong Kong, where bystanders essentially stood rubbernecking at accidents while ignoring cries for help. Whether this phenomenon is worse in China than other countries is perhaps a fair question, but you can hardly accuse Kaiser and crew of misreading the zeitgeist -- Chinese intellectuals have been complaining about this problem for a long time. And I've also heard quite a number say that the solution is for other people (and usually the poor) to be more religious.

 said on
June 9, 2012
Quick post to share a great blog post on this and related topics by Richard at The Peking Duck:

http://www.pekingduck.org/2012/06/sinica-podcast-morally-adrift/

 said on
June 9, 2012
@orbital,

Well, these Chinese 'intellectuals' are wrong. Why don't you google the term "bystander effect?" It doesn't just happen in China alone by 'uncaring' bystanders, but it happens anywhere. I am surprised that this podcast didn't even discuss about this, perhaps the lack of research or worse, purposely omit this fact.
 said on
June 9, 2012
Well I think the biggest problem is although the government always talks about Chinese traditional culture, for example Confucianism, they actually don't know the true meaning of it, otherwise they will block it as they block other things. Because Confucianism is base on hierarchical society. For example, the center concept of Confucianism is 仁, it means people in upper class should love and protect people in lower class and those in lower class should respect people in upper class. However, Communism doesn't think there should be classes in the society at all. So when a Communism government highly praises Confucianism, people just get confused.

Also, there is another huge gap between traditional Chinese culture and current Chinese policy, that is: traditional Chinese culture says 重义轻利, which means pay more attention to virtue than money. However, nowadays the heart of government policy is 一切以经济建设为中心,效率第一,兼顾公平. At this point, people get confused again. How can you, on one hand, tell a person that your tradition which cherishes the virtue more than money is the best thing, and on the other hand tell him that the economy development is the most important thing?

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com
 said on
June 9, 2012
Not impressed with this cast at all, it seemed like a sermon for Christianity, esp. from this David guy, dishing on the entire cultural history of the country and contrasting it with Christianity, all religions show themselves to be morally bankrupt sooner or later.

You don't need religion for morals.
 said on
June 9, 2012
@Sinnernerious: I don't think a single one of us, especially not David Moser, were advocating for Christianity or for religion of any sort as a new moral foundation. I can't speak for Didi, but I know that David, Jeremy and I (Kaiser) are all atheists. I think you misunderstood: We were talking about how many Chinese seem to believe that morality is only possible under the auspices of some kind of religious faith. Furthermore I think it was clear throughout the discussion that we believe that among many Chinese at least who've embraced Buddhism or Christianity or other faiths, religiosity usually has nothing whatsoever to do with morality but rather as a highly personal spiritual salve.
 said on
June 9, 2012
@shinnernerious,

While I think religion is to some degree helpful for morals. But there must be other factors related to this topic, for example, in a society how man in power acts. The reason why a society need morals is that they help the exchanges among people keep going on. If one person is immoral, people will condemn him and stop exchanging with him. But what if the person has something everybody have to exchange with him? Maybe people around him will at one hand still condemn him, but at the other hand start to imitate him.

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com
 said on
June 9, 2012
sinnernerious is right. You don't need religion to have morals. When you talk about "Chinese seem to believe that morality is only possible under the auspices of some kind of religious faith," it sounds like those Jesus freaks try to 'covert' people who don't believe in god. The only thing that these Chinese Christians want to do is to 'spur' the discussion of morality as a recruiting tool like a big echo chamber. This discussion that because China is not a religious society thus has no morals is utterly ridiculous. There are immoral people in every society and it has nothing to do with government.
 said on
June 9, 2012
I think some people were listening to this podcast with half an ear, for heaven's sake. (Oops, I shouldn't say "heaven's sake" I guess.) Nobody on the podcast was advocating Christianity or Buddhism or any religion for China. Nor were we saying that you need religion to have morals. We were merely reporting what very many CHINESE people themselves are saying about their own country, and why they are turning to religion in droves, which is just a fact, folks. We were doing reportage, anthropology. And please, I would never "dish on the entire cultural history of China." I know that I'm often rather inarticulate or unclear, and sorry about that, but I never came close to saying anything like you heard. But thanks for listening.
 said on
June 9, 2012
Congrats, a wide-ranging and passionate podcast this week.

Although, I don't think your treatment of religious change in China is comprehensive if you only look at it from a functional - "How does it change society perspective?" Also some of the discussion suffered form a simplistic rationalists orientation that only sees the "opium of the masses" aspect of religious/spiritual activities and viewpoints.

I suggest a future podcast where you try to deal with the resurgence of Taoist and Buddhist traditions or the range of Christianities being adopted emerging in China.

An alternative angle would be an inquiry into a smaller scale phenomenon I've heard of in some quarters, where some bohemian Chinese urbanites are turning to versions of Tibetan Buddhism for inspiration/life orientation/spiritual kicks.

One final point, I often have the feeling that when you get to dealing with big scale issues in China you only seem to draw on historians or journalists. Have you considered finding some anthropologists to pick the brains of. I'd imagine therein lies a range of useful angles on Chinese social, personal and economic realities.
 said on
June 9, 2012
By the way, for folks interested in hearing more, there is another podcast on basically the same topic on Popup, a panel discussion with Evan Osnos, Ian Johnson and Gady Epstein, "China's Moral Crisis". http://popupchinese.com/lessons/cet/chinas-moral-crisis
 said on
June 9, 2012
@dmoserus

Oh please. I'm sure that there are plenty of Chinese converting to Christianity. That's not the point. Some of these Chinese Christians probably thinks that China has no morals and they spends their days preaching out their gospel online/offline about morals of China. The question is that are they the voice of the majority, or they part of the big echo chamber? The fact is that you did not even question that, but instead contribute to this echo chamber by making ridiculous assumptions that when something bad happens in China is because of moral problems.
 said on
June 9, 2012
Links to recommendations please? Thought provoking as always!
 said on
June 10, 2012

Relations have really taken a noisedive. Prior to 2008 China was respected, even admired for doing what no one said they could. China academies started popping up and everyone wanted a slice of China. But now it is just as vogue to insult, degrade, criticize, and bash not only the world's oldest and only civilization state, but eveyone inside it.

China is rapidly ascending. This creates friction across all spheres of life. But to suggest that morality is dead in China is to misunderstand how morality ever lived. Western morality and Chinese morality are not the same. Any study of Chinese morality must take the long view, considering where China currently finds itself, and where it is eventually going.

 said on
June 10, 2012
@pug_s

You're either deliberately misconstruing the views discussed on the podcast, or you didn't listen to it properly. At no point did anyone advocate, implicitely or explicitly, the spread of religion in China as a means of providing a moral framework, or for any other reason for that matter. If you don't get that, that's your loss.

But, at the very least, you shouldn't disrespect the very people who are responisble for the content of this site, while at the same time having the nerve to benefit from it. Expressing disagreement with their views is one thing, but the tone and language you use towards them in your last reply in particular is completely uncalled for - especially when both Kaiser and David Moser have posted here to explain their views, which by the way, they didn't have to. The podcast was clear enough to anyone who was actually listening to what they were saying.

While I thought the discussion on religion in the context of moral frameworks was perhaps overemphasized, it's plain to see that those involved in the discussion were either playing devil's advocate, or exploring views that were clearly not their own. This was so stupefyingly obvious, that it's both baffling you didn't latch on to it, and ironic that you went on a tirade against them. Calling the hosts "Jesus freaks" is as insulting as it is incorrect and, frankly, embarrassing - and I mean embarrassing for you, because it makes sound like a tool.
 said on
June 10, 2012
@华金,

If I seem disrespectful to the very people responsible for the content of this site is because I am personally offended by the content of this site. This podcast talks about why Chinese people are immoral and these people seems to be so frank about it and often ranting it without any substantiated proof.

You are partially correct. While this podcast never directly advocated Christianity in China, this podcast did mentions about lack of morality in China and about the 'spiritual' movement in China due to lack of morality. I hear this same BS from many Christians as the same excuse why should I convert to Christianity.
 said on
June 10, 2012
Pug. You are awesome. You sound just like my wife, and so many other Chinese that I have met that are such excellent people, that completely reject the notion that China is somehow evil. I wonder how these people sleep at night when their entire success is derived from China. Frankly, they should be grateful they are here, as opposed to in the United States. Which is partly how they can ask ridiculous and offensive questions like the subject of this podcast.

 said on
June 10, 2012
Wow. The way this podcast is seen by some of the commenters is hard to fathom. Some kinda hyper-sensitive nerve has gone into spasm.
 said on
June 10, 2012
@theoriginaljedi, rorym123

Absolutely. much like why it is so ridiculous when many foreigners were offended when Yang Rui made his 'foreign trash' statement. Those 'hyper-sensitive' foreigners were just overreacting.
 said on
June 10, 2012
I've heard far too many Chinese people talk/complain about this subject to be able to take pug_s' remarks at face value. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Kaiser's way of framing the discussion, when enough Chinese people talk about an issue the same way, you get a pass on discussing it as a foreigner.

That said -- if anyone hasn't checked out the link oneorseveralwolves provided in his first comment on this thread, I found it quite interesting and very much worth reading. So let me post it again:

http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2011/10/thinking-of-yueyue-and-obligations-to-strangers.html

I don't personally know to what extent Chinese culture is really Confucian in orientation (it seems more of a patriotic touchstone than anything else), but to the extent that Confucianism as a set of values encourages people to defend and protect immoral behavior by those in close circles even when done at public expense, it certainly makes it difficult to believe that a revival is somehow going to overcome the pervasive problems of corruption and factionalism that Jeremy pointed out -- it would rather seem to be part of the underlying problem.

 said on
June 10, 2012
@trevelyan

I think what 'moral' issue in China that you are talking is due to China was a poor communist society where most people have nothing, to a capitalist society with all the 'moral' problems that comes with it. Probably many people who have the nostalgia of the 'good old days' when life was simple. How can China be a corrupt society when people had nothing? So is Chinese society more corrupt than 40 years ago? Yes Does that mean that people want to live like in the old communist days? Probably not. So that's why the discussion of morality to try to fight it does not mean that Chinese people are immoral in general.

What I don't agree is with the speakers using the oversimplification religious/Confucian slant as well as the current government has anything to do with it.
 said on
June 10, 2012
@Pug_s

Actually, I find myself very sympathetic to your essential response to this kind of criticism: You're absolutely right in saying that any blanket indictment of China as an immoral or amoral society is inappropriate. I think if you listened closely (and didn't turn it off after 40 minutes) you would have heard me say what you recently commented: that the so-called "moral vacuum," the crisis of civic consciousness, is a function of China's level of historical development, and that if you were to look at public debate in the US during the 1870s and 1880s you'd see largely the same discussion?

I think you oversimplify by suggesting that all we did was just roundly condemn Chinese people as immoral. That's clearly not the case. One would also have to be willfully blind to not acknowledge that crime rates in China are very low by any standard, and that the vast majority of ordinary Chinese people are fundamentally decent and moral people.

But there's a very deeply felt sense--not by western observers so much as Chinese people themselves--that there is a serious crisis in public morality here. Religion is part of that discussion; it's something that I believe is no kind of real answer. In fact I personally think this moral drift is an inevitable stage that all countries going through a kind of "primitive accumulation of capital," that is to say through capitalism, tend to undergo. I think you'd have to have your eyes deliberately closed if you didn't recognize that there's a problem. Anyone who does business here understands that we're operating in a seriously low-trust environment. Anyone with a mobile phone here (say, all 900 million of them) understand that every day, people are trying to ensnare you or defraud you in some way. Sorry if you thought that we lacked balance but I would encourage you to try and listen again without prejudice and I think you'll find that we were much more fair-minded than you've been suggesting.

 said on
June 10, 2012
Sinica,

I mostly agree with you with what you said. There are definitely moral issues within China from a social standpoint which I mostly agree. However, what you discussed in the podcast and not mentioned above is the moral issues from a religious and government standpoint. While it is certainly true there is a spiritual revival within China and government corruption, they have little to do with morality in China in general. To lump these topics together in one podcast is misleading at best. I am not the only person who made this complaint. Sorry, I am not going to listen this podcast again, as these cheap remarks by Didi Kirsten Tatlow about the Chinese government and Jeremy about Yue Yue, pm 2.5 and people going to foreign schools pissed me off.
 said on
June 11, 2012
That's right everyone, you heard it here first: spiritual revivals and corruption have absolutely nothing to do with morality. And shame on those who jumped to such ridiculous assumptions. Next you'll tell me that pm 2.5 has something to do with this strange fog always hanging about.

pug_s, when writing under another alias, it's important to switch up your style and vocabulary.
 said on
June 11, 2012
MENTIONS

Stifled Laughter: How the Communist Party Killed Chinese Humor, by David Moser

http://www.danwei.org/tv/stifled_laughter_how_the_commu.php

RECOMMENDATIONS

Didi Kirsten Tatlow:

Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, by Robert N. Bellah

http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Human-Evolution-Paleolithic-Axial/dp/0674061438/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339388637&sr=8-1

David Moser:

Sino-Platonic Papers, edited by Victor H. Mair

http://www.sino-platonic.org/

The Mandarin and the Cadre: China's Political Cultures (Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies), by Lucian Pye

http://www.amazon.com/The-Mandarin-Cadre-Political-Monographs/dp/0892640839/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339389092&sr=1-1

Jeremy Goldkorn:

The Marco Polo Project

http://marcopoloproject.org/online/

Kaiser Kuo:

The China History Podcast, by Laszlo Montomery

http://chinahistorypodcast.com/

Understanding China's Political System, a Congressional Research Service report by Susan V. Lawrence and Michael F. Martin [DIRECT LINK]

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41007.pdf
 said on
June 11, 2012
Excellent podcast! I think this is perhaps the most interesting Sinica episode to date.
 said on
June 11, 2012
Wow. A lively debate. Can I attempt to calm things by making a uncontroversial and - some may say - rather prosaic point: the standalone MP3 download link isn't working. Having come this far without having given in to Apple's wily ways, this link is my only means of listening to Sinica - please fix! Thanks:)
 said on
June 11, 2012
In case anyone else needs it, with a bit of experimentation (and just a trace of logic) I found the correct MP3 download URL isL http://popupchinese.com/data/1165/sinica-morally-adrift.mp3
 said on
June 11, 2012
@pug_s

I hope you reconsider on not listening to the podcast bit again, while i also was not impressed with the way guests put their points across in this particular discourse, the show is not static and changes guests and topics regularly, so boycotting it makes little sense over 1 episode.

Show is still the best English language China related podcast on the net.
 said on
June 11, 2012
@sinnernerious,

I am not boycotting this podcast over this 1 episode, but as I said, I won't listen to the rest this one. Some of the other podcasts are very good and touched on interesting topics about China. Just not this one.
 said on
June 11, 2012
I finally managed to listen to the podcast on my drive into London this morning. Agree that this was one of the most stimulating Sinicas ever (I'll resist the 'best' vs 'worst' tags). I guess my only very slight criticism is that I felt that many of the issues discussed were presented as being pertinent only to China (recognising that Jeremy did make explicit reference to South Africa). There were several occasions where I felt the problems being dissected were equally as applicable to the UK, or perhaps US society, as China. In your discussion of the place of civic virtue, you might have considered how the US political system was, essentially, constructed on the basis of the IMPOSSIBILITY of leaders being (and remaining) virtuous. I thought you guys overlooked the fact that virtue was recognised as unrealistically idealistic - at least in the political context - and written into (or 'out of') the constitution as such.

On the flipside, you also assumed that Communism, by its very nature, neglects morality and yet, at the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, isn't communism, theoretically at least, all about the notion of 'to each according to his needs'. Clearly, communism's praxis hasn't ever quite worked out this way, but it is at least a framework for morality which is at the heart of communist (though perhaps not Maoist) ideology, no?

Anyway, great podcast. Keep up the good work, folks.

 said on
June 12, 2012
"To realize that our knowledge is ignorance, This is a noble insight.

To regard our ignorance as knowledge, This is mental sickness.

Only when we are sick of the sickness shall we cease to be sick.

The Sage is not sick, being sick of sickness;

This is the secret of health."

Lao Tzu
 said on
June 13, 2012
just recently started listening to sinica - very excited! what a great set of programs you guys have. and all the high end
 said on
June 13, 2012
@zheren,

知 不 知 , 尚 矣 ﹔

不 知 知 , 病 也 。

圣 人 不 病 , 以 其 病 病 。

夫 唯 病 病 , 是 以 不 病 。

老子 《道德经》

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com

 said on
June 13, 2012
You should put those recommendations in the actual mp3s. In the tags, I mean.

Not really related, but I have a question that you might be able to help with.

I'm looking for a recording of something like this, any ideas where I could get one?

It's a 吹风会 from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. I'm studying interpreting at the moment and it would be really helpful.

http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/chn/gxh/tyb/zyxw/t940233.htm

There's so much material out there in English, but finding Chinese material that is recorded and recorded well is so hard.
 said on
June 13, 2012
Thanks! I know it's a kinda weird question, but i thought maybe its the kind of thing journalists would know about.
 said on
June 13, 2012
@amber

I could only listen half-way through the podcast before having to stop it – I could not take anymore.

I think the respective panel members should first examine where their own morals come from first. And then study where the morals of their respective societies come from next. What were the morals of their own society like 50, 100, 150 years ago? Do this before commenting on the morals of other societies.

I believe the mainland Chinese and persons of western societies (I’m an American) share the very same characteristics (human nature). It is our respective histories that make us different. St. Augustine wrote “Time is not inert. It does not roll on through our senses without affecting us. Its passing has remarkable effects on the mind.”

Regarding Christianity – Lao Tzu in “Tao Teh Ching”, chapter 81, wrote “The sage never tries to store things up. The more he does for others, the more he has. The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.” Which very surprisingly sounds a lot like what St. Francis of Assisi said “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received - only what you have given.” Also, Kong Fuzi said “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others". Which is very similar to Matthew 7:12 “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

I believe Christianity (I’m a Roman Catholic), faithfully practiced, provides a very very good basis for morals. I also believe the teachings of Kong Fuzi, as well as Lao Tzu, also provide a good basis for morals.
 said on
June 15, 2012
@zheren,

I do agree your point that it is the histories make us different. Not only the histories have already pass by, but also the current societies.

Although morals come from different places, societies also vary a lot from one to another, I believe that there must be some laws hiding in the relations between morals and societies, that is to say, maybe people in a society sometimes don't like some morals, but without them, the society cannot keep working.

According to some western philosophers, people are born to pursue interests and avoid harms, but morals are always not helpful for them to pursue interests at all. (Of course there are sages like Lao Tzu and St. Augustine who considered keeping morals itself is happy already, but most people are ordinary.) So at the early stage of human society, ordinary people were willing to follow the requirements which morals gave them must had some reasons, because before they stepped in society they were free.

To study morals, those original reasons cannot be ignored. According to this logic, some morals are in low levels sometimes, that's maybe because in that period of time, people can pursue interests without following them. And if it's not necessary, of course most people will not do it.

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com
 said on
June 15, 2012
@amber

I agree with what you write, however, the sages (Chinese or Christian) did not teach morals for their own benefit. They taught morals for us to benefit.

If a person does not follow morals, they will probably selfishly “benefit” themselves only. However, the society, on a whole, will suffer. The society will be held back in its development.

If a person follows the sage’s teachings regarding morals, then the society will benefit greatly.

Think what it would be like if everyone as least tried to follow the teachings of Lao Tzu, Kong Fuzi, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and other Great Sages. :-)
 said on
June 16, 2012
@zheren,

Yeah, that's the reason why they are called sages. And of course the society will become great when people follow the sages' teaching. I also agree that, and although I don't have a religion, I also always try to do the right things, because that makes me happy and confident.

But the thing is all people want justice, especially ordinary people. What if there is someone who doesn't follow these morals at all, but he is in power and rich? What will other people in a society think and do? They will start to suspect the sages and their teaching regarding morals. Because these morals start to be pale and weak in the 'new world'.

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com
 said on
June 16, 2012
@Amber,

The overriding reason why, in our modern society, that the teachings of the great sages have been largely disregarded, especially by the youth, is because there is a massive amount of material worship and focus on materialism, more than any other time in recent history. People have also been force fed the idea of "easy street" as being the best place in life to be. Once you're on "easy street" then "life will be perfect".

Money equals happiness. Money is God.

More material equals more happiness. The most material equals the most happiness.

People these days want the be the owners of all the expensive luxury products and the newest and most beautiful objects as a way to validate themselves as people. In this world, material is king, everything else is second.

Success equals self-validation, material equals success.

People see that shallow, callous and uneducated "idols" like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardasian are stars, because they are rich and famous. They live the "dream life" that is 幸福 because they can drive expensive cars, play with expensive toys, eat expensive foods and throw away expensive things. Young people are told that these people are better than us, because they have money. They are idolized by millions. They put out sex tapes and are celebrated for it. They sport a new style and their images are plastered all over the news and media. The message seems quite clear.

These people are great.

These people *must* have something that the average person doesn't have, that *must* be the reason for all the attention and adulation.

All over the world people who hold high positions in life, whether they have done anything to deserve it or not, are the masters of the universe.

They are better than us.

High positions and lots of money equal success. Money equals success, success equals happiness (幸福).

Do the least amount of work and effort that you can and get paid the most possible for it. Make money while you sleep. Do nothing and money flows into your account like the tides under a full mooon, that's the ultimate validation of you as a person. A big number on a big bank account with your name on it.

The Steve Jobs of the world who've brought us "sexy" and sophisticated toys and who come with "brilliant" philosophical quips like, "stay hungry, stay foolish" are and the great "thinkers" of our generation, and the new philosophers and sages. They even come complete with their own respective cults of personality.

Because they are materially successful. They possess vast fortunes. Big bank accounts with big numbers with their name on them. Big numbers equal big fame, big fame equals big happiness (幸福).

It's no wonder why there is a large-scale, amount of hedonistic materialism among the younger Chinese generation. It's no wonder why there is a great question of morality being discussed here.

When everything in your environment tells a person that money is God, and that eveything from the west, including our western callousness, laziness, decadence, apathy, bloated sense of entitlement and self importance as well as our willingness to step on and expoit others for ones own personal benefit are the great road map to a "better life" or 幸福, then it's a bit difficult to resist the programming that surrounds you and listen to your own inner thoughts and feelings and come to a better judgement about what's really important in this world.

The teachings and values of the great sages, values like brotherly love, discipline, kindness, sincerity, charity, cooperation, self-cultivation, responsibility, honor, etc., are viewed as barriers that keep us from our material success or 幸福 and are long-standing conspiracies that are meant to keep our upward mobility in check, it's no wonder why the Chinese youth have thrown off these barriers. Streamline. The quickest shortcut to material wealth is what's paramount here.

Economy is everything, man is nothing.

Man is but a product of his environment.

The environment is material-centric.

This is a pervasive, top-down, wide-reaching thought pattern that has seeped it's way into the fabric of nearly every county in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea.

This mentality will not change with a few quips from Confucius or Lei Feng plastered on a poster. Although it might help a bit, it will never get at the root of the problem.
 said on
June 17, 2012
@amber,

I do not think your statement "…morals start to be pale and weak in the ‘new world’." is accurate. I believe that societies in various parts of the world over the centuries, if not millennia, have oscillated (gone back and forth) from high morals attempting to approach that of the sages to low morals where people are selfish and worship being wealthy with money. Eventually the society will recognize that the society has degraded and is held back from advancement under low morals; then there will be a resurgence of bringing back high morals. At a level of high morals, the society will forget what got them there and sink back into low morals.

I believe religion can help with the resurgence of high morals. Being a part of a religion unifies the people behind a set of morals. Instead of one person trying alone, there is support in great numbers.

Also, I am happy and confident, as well, in doing the right thing. I enjoy learning and gaining a better understanding of what is right from the writings of the early Christian (Catholic) Sages. I also enjoy reading (translations) of what the early Chinese Sages also wrote. I guess "the right things" are universal.

Zheren (哲人)
 said on
June 17, 2012
First, I want to thank the Sinica team for an excellent podcast keeping us up to date on goings on China. I don't have any personal or professional connections to China. I came to this podcast via the China History Podcast which in turn I sought out out of a frustration with the Western portrayals of China based on the ethnocentric ideology neo-orientalism.

If I have an ax to grind, it is through my origins in Central Europe which has always gotten the same myopic treatment as China. As such, I fully understand the frustration expressed by some people in the comments with this episode. I understand that the discourse was full of caveats but its foundations were in expatriate condescension (as were some other episodes). As someone who has had to deal with expats in my own country and then became one, I recognize echos of chronic low level culture shock in the stories being told by the participants in the discussion. I've heard tirades like this against the host country by many expats - particularly those living in the country for a long time with deep local connections. As we know from the diaries of Malinowski, an intellectual respect and understanding of another culture does not prevent us from being personally frustrated when we are embedded in it.

I don't have to have any more understanding of China than listening to a few podcasts and reading a few books to know that both the evidence and the synthesis underlying the discussion in this podcast are profoundly unreliable. Here are the reasons:

1. Almost universally, it was assumed that the "other" - ie Western - is the opposite of what was described as Chinese. Ethnography of US, UK and other European nations makes that assumption very problematic. Even these narratives of moral decline and public caring are ubiquitous in the West. The same journalists who are responsible for moral panics through selective reporting of "news stories" keep asking questions like "Are we too selfish as a society" or "Why don't we help each other more."

Years ago, I wrote an article for a Czech newspaper called "This could never happen in England" which listed all the things Czech commentators said could never happen in the "West", giving examples of how they happened in the UK during my 2 year stay. The last section was called "This could never happen in Sweden" which listed some of the things people were complaining about in the UK with reference to how things are better in Scandinavia. That was to illustrate that every culture has another culture or cultures that it uses as foil for its own perceived foibles. It is important to remember that every culture has narratives both about its greatness and lowliness (even the US and China).

2. The assumption that actual behaviors derive from the content of belief is suspect. Matching religions to perceived morals is a popular sport but historically people believing in the same things have behaved in different ways that cannot be predicted from the belief. Both Christianity and Buddhism can provide models (even just in Chinese history) of the same beliefs being held by both despicable and laudable actors. Patterns of culturally sanctioned behavior are much more important. I know relatively little about the ones in China but I do know that they are more complex than what was described in this podcast. If what was said were true, China would be in a state of anomie more similar to Mad Max than a real culture.

3. But perhaps the biggest problem with this podcast was journalistic hubris - that is the assumption that what is reported is actually representative of what happens. For instance, we know that crime rate in the US and UK has been dropping for the last 20 years. Yet, most people believe that it is getting worse based on news reporting. China is a massive country and a handful of examples of extreme callousness don't mean all that much. Even if one such thing is reported every day, it's nothing more than a statistical inevitability. For the most part, if humans are capable of it, someone in China will have done it (at about the same rate per population as elsewhere). You cannot compare that to any one other country. For a proper comparison, you'd need to survey the populations of the US, European Union, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and Egypt. You'd find just as much universally recognizable "immorality" (probably with relatively little regard to culture).

When making claims like the ones made in this podcasts you need to start from proper scholarship that tests all the assumptions based on personal experience. You can give as many personal anecdotes as you like but unless you can back them up by testable research, they don't count as evidence of anything but your own interpretation of your experience. Even if (or particularly if) "everyone" you know agrees.

Here's an example of a quick analysis I did of China's prison numbers http://metaphorhacker.net/2011/05/when-is-subtle-manipulation-of-data-a-flat-out-lie-truth-about-chinese-prisons/ when compared to the US, UK and Russia. An unexpected picture emerged. Such data is not always available or appropriate but we should look for it before we make conclusions.

I will continue following and recommending this podcast. The information it provides is invaluable. But that doesn't mean that we can take at face value synthetic statements that compare the "West" with China unless they are backed up by proper (ethnographic or demographic) evidence.

-- @techczech and @metaphorhacker
 said on
June 17, 2012
A general comment:

It is always interesting reading what an athiest believes about religion. It is like listening to someone talk about something they know nothing about.

But still I like reading their comments about religion - I learn something about them. Their discourse is a conduit into themselves.

--Zheren (哲人)
 said on
June 18, 2012
@zheren,

That's an incredibly ignorant thing to say in itself. I was raised a Catholic, went to Catholic school all my life, studied Theology at high school, and got full marks in the final entry exam for university, which no one else in my school did. I went on to study philosophy at university, which included philosophy of religion. And guess what... I'm an atheist.

As for the following statement:

"I believe religion can help with the resurgence of high morals."

Religion provides two sets of norms. The first are the sort of morals which are so self-evidently obvious as to render divine commands such as "Thou shalt not steal" superfluous. Name me one society, irrespective of its creed, that actually sanctions theft, or murder, or the coveting of your neighbour's wife. If you find one, perhaps the ten commandments would be of some use. Until you do, it's safe to assume that such basic morals are an intrinstic part of society, and as such, we don't need a divine referee of morals to invoke them.

The second set of norms are usually arbitrary sacraments and rituals which, although we are compelled to follow, are in fact amoral - i.e. neither moral, nor immoral. What's moral about circumcision? What's moral about communion? What's moral about praying on a rosary? What's moral about only eating halal, or kosher food? What's moral about going to Church? All of these actions are void of moral content. You might as well be compelled to go skating, or never wearing socks on Wednesdays. In a secular worldview, such actions are meaningful only to the individual. In a religious worldview, rituals of the like become falsely elevated to the status of moral, or immoral. What's immoral about falling in love with someone of the same sex?

In conclusion to those two points, religion merely echoes what people already know to be moral, then adds a set of arbitrary norms which have no meaning or moral content whatsoever.

If you really want to explore the basis of ethics, rather than an arbitrary normative code of rituals and worship, you should read some philosophy. Try "Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine, "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill, and "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals" by Immanuel Kant, just to name a few.

I didn't want to get drawn into this discussion, since I feel that this is a space for learning Chinese, rather than for bashing other people's beliefs. But I find the ignorance of your empty claims, compounded by your dismissive tone towards atheists, at best inappropriate, and at worst insulting, not to mention way off the mark.
 said on
June 18, 2012
@华金,

I second Zheren's notions.
 said on
June 18, 2012
1st, a technical issue: Sinica I can't seem to download this podcast. My windows right click produces an html file rather than the usual mp3. A left click to stream only returns me to the podcast page, itself.

I'm having no trouble with the numerous other download sites I visit.

2. subscribedl/@czechtech - excellent comments. I would add, however, that anecdotal evidence does have something to say when the anecdote surfaces again and again. And, of course, there is the issue of perceptions playing an active role in shaping and constructing reality further down the road. Whether accurately, or inaccurately, how a situation is perceived can figure largely in the roles and scene-making that are subsequently enacted.

Damon

 said on
June 18, 2012
@Zheren Why would a religious person be any more qualified to talk about religion than an atheist? They are only qualified to talk about what it is like for them to be a religious person of a particular religion. There are about dozens major faiths active in the world and hundreds or thousands of cults. They are incredibly complex. And understanding how they work requires scholarship. It should be completely irrelevant whether the scholar is an atheist or a person of faith. It's like saying you can only talk about a disease if you have a disease or you can only commentate on a sport if you are a top athlete.

@dialnz Actually, anecdotal evidence is most dangerous when it appears again and again because of confirmation bias. The first appearance of an anecdote makes the next appearance more likely. But it says nothing about how representative that anecdote is - that's when you need research. Anecdotal evidence is perfectly fine but it is only evidence of itself not a wider trend.

-- @techczech
 said on
June 18, 2012
@techczech. Hmm, do I detect a whiff of rational fundamentalism here? We're not in disagreement about the dangers of anecdote. One aspect of that is how 'confirmation bias' itself can influence how events subsequently play out in the real world. Events that form real measurable data. Anecdote - its causes and effects - is, itself a part of the data to be examined. Whether the anecdote is an accurate index of the 'real state of affairs' does not mean it(they) can be ignored. And, as I am saying, anecdote can have a formative influence on how things really are.
 said on
June 18, 2012
@dialnz,

Fixed. You're right that this was a problem on our end - sorry for the trouble!
 said on
June 18, 2012
@Xiao Hu,

Do you mean that MONEY has replaced God and the old generation of sages forever?

And since Money did it, the process cannot be reverse anymore?

The world will keep going like this? Because we already in a society worshiping money, all over the world, not only China. Maybe North Korea is different, but the leader's family also worship money and material. The reason why most ordinary people don't worship money is maybe the strict media control. Then, it brings another question, is media control good?

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com
 said on
June 18, 2012
@zheren,

'Right things are universal', totally agree! It's just that different people seek it and explain it from different directions.

--Amber

amber@popupchinese.com
 said on
June 18, 2012
@Xiao Hu

Which notion is that? The one about atheists not being fit to talk about religion? Or the one about society needing religion as a basis to ground its morals on?
 said on
June 18, 2012
@ subscribedl,

Let me start off by first writing that my “general comment” was not directed at you, but rather the podcast panel and atheist in-general. If it was a reply to your comment, it would have been addressed to you. Also, I did not know you might be an atheist until your comment dated June 18, 2012.

You actually touched on something very important to understand in your comment dated June 17, 2012. You wrote “Both Christianity and Buddhism can provide models of the same beliefs being held by both despicable (deserving hatred and contempt) and laudable (deserving praise and commendation) actors.”

I (a Catholic) agree with this statement completely – well said. Also, Blaise Pascal wrote “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” And Blaise Pascal also wrote “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which feels God, and not reason. This, then, is perfect faith: God felt in the heart.”

Did it ever occur to you that the “laudable actors” are actually the ones who practice their faith faithfully? And the “despicable actors” are the ones, who know better; however, chose to go against the teachings of their faith to achieve selfish gains? The “laudable actors” feel God in their heart; while the “despicable actors” do not have God in their heart.

--Zheren (哲人)
 said on
June 18, 2012
@华金 ,

“Smart School Boy”,

You are not a true “atheist”. You are a Catholic who chooses to turn your back on your faith simply because your faith does not permit you to do what you want to do.

There is a big difference (at least the way I see it) between turning your back on your faith because your faith does not permit you to do what you want to do, and a simple rejection of the belief in God (being an atheist).

Also, your whole reply to me was biased by your hatred of Catholicism.

And also, I did not “bash” other people’s beliefs - I looked for what we have it common. However, you clearly attempted to bash my beliefs.

Additionally, I’m not dismissive of atheist. They have a right to say what they want; however, it would be nice for them to first state that they are atheist before they start discussing religion.

And finally, I’m quite interested in where a true atheist draws their morals from:

• If a true atheist grew up in a predominately religious society, did they learn their morals from the religious society around them?

• If a true atheist grew up in a predominately atheist society, where did they learn their morals from?

I believe these questions are relevant to a discussion regarding "Morality Adrift?"

--Zheren (哲人)
 said on
June 18, 2012
@zheren

For someone who doesn't even know my first name, you seem to know a lot about my reasons for being an atheist, and about my supposed ”hatred“ for religion. I won't stoop down to your level by making unfounded assumptions about you and polluting the discussion with red herrings and ad hominem attacks.

Trying to discuss where morals come from with someone who believes they can only come from religion is as futile as talking about evolution with someone who believes that the world was created 6000 years ago. Your reasoning is so far removed from reality as to render any discussion about the topic futile. As I said, this place is above all for learning Chinese, and I hope to keep it that way. If you sincerely believe that secular societies cannot have morals, then you're welcome to your delusion.

However, here's an example of moral behaviour in the animal kingdom.

http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html

And here's a book about morality in largely secular countries.

http://www.neatorama.com/2009/10/12/can-a-godless-society-be-a-good-society/

It deals in particular with Scandanavian societies, which are mostly secular, yet have far lower crime rates than, say, the United States, which has a much larger number of devout people.

As for your cheap psychology and ad hominem attacks, it only shows up the shortcomings of your reasoning. Resorting to red herrings is a common tactic employed when trying to divert the subject and avoid having to confront the arguments laid before you. If you were being at all serious about this discussion, you would try to respond to the arguments that are made, rather than make personal attacks. Again, I refer you to my previous post and ask you what is moral about all those examples of religious norms, which you have not acknowledged at all. Is it perhaps because they show up the fallacy of your argument?

You can try and redefine the term to suit you all you like. But whether you accept it or not, the term "atheist" has its meaning inscribed in the very formation of the word. "a" means "no" or "without", "theist" comes from "theo" which means God, or deity. In other words, a "theist" is someone who believes in God, while an "atheist" is someone who doesn't. It really couldn't be more straight forward than that.
 said on
June 19, 2012
@华金,

Both actually.
 said on
June 20, 2012
Wow. I'm speechless.
 said on
June 21, 2012
@华金,

华金 said on June 18, 2012 “If you sincerely believe that secular societies cannot have morals, then you're welcome to your delusion.”

I never said that a secular society cannot have morals. I did write “I believe religion can help with the resurgence of high morals. Being a part of a religion unifies the people behind a set of morals. Instead of one person trying alone, there is support in great numbers.” A people uniting behind Confucianism and/or Taoism would have the same affect. Also, Confucianism is non-theistic.

And then I wrote of my admiration of both Christian (Catholic) Sages and early Chinese Sages. I then summed up what I wrote by saying “I guess "the right things" are universal.” I know you surely have a hatred of Catholics; do you also hold in very low esteem the Chinese Sages such as Kong Fuzi and Lao Tzu? Taoism (Lao Tzu) forms a philosophical and religious tradition. Confucianism (Kong Fuzi) is primarily a Chinese ethical and philosophical system.

Additionally, 华金 said on June 18, 2012 “…here's an example of moral behaviour in the animal kingdom”. Are you suggesting that we, Chinese and all other people of the world, should learn our morals from animals? Is your answer to the question “How can China reverse the decline in civic consciousness?” – study the behavior of animals? Animals have some good behaviors, however, they also exhibit many bad behaviors.

Furthermore, 华金 said on June 18, 2012 “I was raised a Catholic, went to Catholic school all my life, studied Theology at high school, …went on to study philosophy at university, which included philosophy of religion. And guess what... I'm an atheist.” You show yourself to be a very very unfilial child. Filial piety is considered among the greatest of virtues. Yet you do not seem to possess this virtue. Is not the greatest of virtues morally good? What makes you think you are qualified to discuss morals?

--Zheren (哲人)
 said on
July 1, 2012
Hi,

David Moser said that he has a paper out on "Weekend Buddhists." Is this paper accessible to the public, and if so how can I get my hands on it?

Thanks,

XC
 said on
October 27, 2013
This was one of the most dissappointing podcasts so far. A huge, interesting topic that was not given justice.

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