There’s a story associated with the above picture that is insightful and funny, and interestingly relevant in these times.
I was in China, spending time in the Pearl River Delta, where I was visiting various factories in Shenzhen and Dongguan, in an attempt to understand manufacturing changes in China. I decided I also wanted to visit rural China, so I could better understand the demographic changes happening across the country, to understand why people would move to the Pearl River Delta. I had a talk to give in Guilin, which is famous for the upright karst formations and the Lijiang River.
So my guide and I went to Guilin, and planned a side trip to Longji (The Dragon’s Back), in the mountains, famous for its terraced rice paddies. Longji is also in the heart of the Zhuang ethnic minority, people who do not identify as Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China.
We stayed in a broken down hotel with little water, and the infamous hard Chinese beds. After we checked into the guesthouse, it was time for a stroll up and down the mountainside. Anyone who’s been to China will tell you that mountainous regions are famous for steps, and Longji was no different.
At various places, there were overlooks. And on those overlooks were young women dressed in native costumes. For a fee (something like $2 US) they would pose with you. There were three on this particular overlook, and two were being pushy. The young woman in this picture, though was holding her peace off to the side.
So I selected her. We had a very fun 10 minute situation where we posed in the standard poses. I bowed and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. She smiled.
I then continued around the rest of the loop, using my bad Mandarin to raise hell with the old women who occupied a different town square up the mountain. “Why are you not wearing a wedding ring?” they asked. “Because I’m not married,” I replied. “But you should be married,” they said. I replied “But I have no money!” They started laughing. “Well that’s why maybe you shouldn’t be married!”
Some humor is truly transcultural.
After the remaining walk, I trundled down to the small bar in the village, ordered up a Tsingtao, and sat down. There was Wifi, and I turned on my computer.
After about five minutes, a beautiful young woman came walking directly toward me, in modern dress (she had a Tommy Hilfiger sweater on,) literally making a beeline. It startled me a bit, as she stuck her hand out. Of course, she was the young woman earlier up on the hill, in the costume.
With the aid of Google Translate, we spent a delightful hour of conversation. She explained to me her life. “1/3 of the season, I am getting a B.A. in Accounting in Guilin where I go to school. 1/3 of the time, I am in the costume, making money for my family and to help pay for school. And 1/3 of the time, I am helping my father behind the Shui-Nyu (the water buffalo) planting rice.”
What she had offered was a view into a transitional society — one moving from Tribal value sets, that were obviously still very strong, to a future where Performance/Goal-based thinking and Legalistic/Algorithmic rule processing would dominate.
Understanding this is vital in communicating with people about the virus. Different Value Sets will be receptive to different messaging, with different complexity. I am writing for the top of the complexity stack in my posts. But if you want to communicate down the stack, you have to realize people can only understand what they are developed to understand.
An example. If I were coaching her on what to tell her grandmother, this is what I’d say. “Nǎinai/Ama, I love you. And now, to honor you, I will take care of you as you stay in this corner of the house and do not go out. One day, you will play with my grandchildren.”
It’s not that hard.
Closer to the Western milieu, for all those that are authorities, I would recommend remember the Little Prince — especially, when the Little Prince visited the planet where the King had set up shop.
From the book, online here (Chapter 10) —
For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.
“If I ordered a general,” he would say, by way of example, “if I ordered a general to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not obey me, that would not be the fault of the general. It would be my fault.”
“May I sit down?” came now a timid inquiry from the little prince.
“I order you to do so,” the king answered him, and majestically gathered in a fold of his ermine mantle.
But the little prince was wondering… The planet was tiny. Over what could this king really rule?
“Sire,” he said to him, “I beg that you will excuse my asking you a question−−” “I order you to ask me a question,” the king hastened to assure him.
“Sire−− over what do you rule?”
“Over everything,” said the king, with magnificent simplicity.
The king made a gesture, which took in his planet, the other planets, and all the stars.
“Over all that?” asked the little prince.
“Over all that,” the king answered.
For his rule was not only absolute: it was also universal.
“And the stars obey you?”
“Certainly they do,” the king said. “They obey instantly. I do not permit insubordination.”
Such power was a thing for the little prince to marvel at. If he had been master of such complete authority, he would have been able to watch the sunset, not forty−four times in one day, but seventy−two, or even a hundred, or even two hundred times, with out ever having to move his chair. And because he felt a bit sad as he remembered his little planet which he had forsaken, he plucked up his courage to ask the king a favor:
“I should like to see a sunset… do me that kindness… Order the sun to set…”
“If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry
out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?” the king demanded. “The general, or myself?”
“You,” said the little prince firmly.
“Exactly. One much require from each one the duty which each one can perform,” the king went on. “Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.”
Here is hoping that our authorities remember that their subjects are under stress, and ask what is reasonable. Empathy is the cornerstone.