National Geographic : 2006 Jun
VOICES PETER HESSLER g but they've survived. And you can feel that. You can feel the toughness and a certain measure of dignity. But at the same time Sp you realize so many of these people were gifted, and had the f skills, had all the right values-were willing to make sacrifices k for the common good. And almost in every case their talents were wasted. And that's very sad, but very illuminating, and it has helped me value the sense that young people have today, be which is that if they work hard, if they study hard, and if they prepare well, there is an avenue for them to succeed. There isn't do the same fear of some political campaign coming out of nowhere and wiping out their hopes. It's really a world of improvement over what their grandparents knew. CARREL: If you look at the world today, it appears there's strong fundamentalism in different parts of our globe-the United States and Middle Eastern countries, and beyond. What is China's fundamentalism? HESSLER: Well, it's not at all the same. I laugh sometimes when people talk about the threat of China, as if this is America's great threat or great challenge. Really, I think Americans should be grateful that this is the kind of place they're dealing with. This generation of Chinese-you can pretty much predict how peo ple respond because they tend to act in their own best interest. It's one thing that's made living here easier in some ways. It hasn't been that hard as an outsider to function here. People seem quite rational-very, very pragmatic. CARREL: This new pragmatism you're talking about, you've described it as affecting the generation that was born more or less in the '70s. They've come of age in a new atmosphere. But the older generation who went through a traumatic period, especially the Cultural Revolution-it seems that a lot of those people learned to betray one another, to fight each other, criticize each other harshly, abuse each other. And there are memories of that. But people just don't care to confront it or talk about it. So I'm wondering: Does it have to be exhumed for China to move on, or is it becoming irrelevant to this practical new generation? HESSLER: That's a critical question. As an outsider, my instinct is always that eventually they're going to have to come to grips with this. But that could just be the way that I would like to deal with it, and the way that my culture might be more likely to deal with it. I had a conversation with somebody who had grown up in another communist society, in Hungary. And when we came to this point, she disagreed, and she said, "You know, maybe they're just never going to address it." ] China Specialist Listen to more of Peter Hessler's insights about Chinese culture-from the reverence for education to the pervasive ness of counterfeiting-at ngm.com/0606.