Good and evil. Yin and yang. Night and day. East and West. Yes, China and the U.S. are very, very different from one another. For example, in the U.S., people stop at a red light. In Shanghai, the traffic lights are more like guidelines--pedestrians must cross the street at their own risk, no matter what the traffic light says.
A lesson about work accidents and compensation really opened my eyes to another, and in my mind, more important, difference.
One of the work accidents my students were to assess was about a man named "James". James had worked a long, hard day and was tired. The floor had been cleaned recently, and the company had taken the proper safety precautions by putting up one of those big yellow "WET FLOOR" signs. However, James had taken out his contact lenses because his eyes were sore. He missed the sign, slipped, fell, and hurt his ankle.
"Who's to blame?" was the question asked in the lesson.
"Well-l," most of my students said. "It's James' fault, really. If he'd left his contacts in, he would've seen the sign and been more careful."
American corporations and insurance companies: *Applause and cheering.*
"But," my students continued, "it's the law: the company should pay."
American corporations and insurance companies: "Huh?!"
"Is that really the law in China?" I asked.
They all nodded--four different classes, about a dozen different students. In their eyes, James may have been careless, and the students even said he was to blame--but he was still at work. The law in China says this: Chapter III, Article 44: "No production or business units may, in any form, conclude agreements with their employees in an attempt to relieve themselves of, or lighten, the responsibilities they should bear in accordance with law for the employees who are injured or killed in accidents which occur due to lack of work safety." (Look for yourself at : http://english.gov.cn/laws/2005-10/08/content_75054.htm) In this case, the company had put up a sign, but James was still hurt at work. James probably wouldn't make the same mistake twice, but while he recovered, his company would take care of him.
When I told my students that the situation in America would be quite different--that there was no similar law, and that corporations and insurance companies would do just about anything these days to avoid any kind of payout--my students either shook their heads or gave me blank looks. To them, a company not taking care of its workers--regardless of cost--was unthinkable.
For a country that constantly gets blasted in our media for human rights abuses, I find this fascinating.
After all my travels in this world, I've come to value American freedom and independence with a fierceness that most homebodies will never feel. At the same time, there's also the sense in America that the word "independent" is synonymous with "alone", as in "You're on your own." "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! If you can't, you deserve to die."
It seems to me that China is more of a "We're in this together," society. Yes, I've only been in Shanghai for one month, but I did live in China before. I remember what a big deal it was for my family to live in Qinghai--how hard the Chinese tried, with what little resources they had, to look out for us. Everything from fancy banquets to accompanying us out of the country in May 1989--right before the protests at Tiananmen Square.
Am I romanticizing China by saying they're a cooperative society (at least more than America is)? Perhaps. There is a value in accomplishing something on your own: it boosts your confidence when you know you can take care of yourself. But sometimes I wonder: Would it be that bad if Americans looked after each other a little more? How much would it really affect companies like Nike and Walmart if they took better care of their workers? Is it that bad to get help sometimes?
This is so cheesy, but I have to ask--I really want you to think about this--If Jesus were in charge of Walmart, what do you think he would do?