Shanghai Impression: Part 3

 The overall problem in China I experienced and made it harder to adjust here was traffic problem. Cars did not read the sign at all in most cases. Shanghai drivers could not be exempt from this criticism. Still, while I was in Shanghai only, I thought urban legends about Chinese traffic accidents were a little overstated. However, when I visited other cities, I realized that it was not overstated at all. Especially, when I went to Xian, known as the city with the highest car accident related death cases, I was more surprised. Traffic example only sheds narrow light to understanding morality of contemporary Chinese, but in many cases, not only limited to this, Shanghainese often shows more refined sense of morality then people from other cities.

How so? Are they somewhat born to be better person? Not quite. It’s more relevant to what happened in recent century. Cultural Revolution and uprising of Red Guard brought about significant change in common Chinese people’s psyche. Before then, Chinese ethic was mostly grounded on Confucianism, through a mechanism called hierarchical discipline. Cultural Revolution whole-heartedly undermined the very ground and mechanism. Tradition and Confucian symbols were attacked as being anti-communist and the most important rule in Confucian world – 長幼有序 – was annihilated by Red-Guards. Meanwhile, Shanghai was tightly protected from such disorders by 周恩來’s special orders. This shows how contemporary Shanghainese came to have different mindset, compared to the totally renewed other contemporary Chinese people.

Now we move on to poor hygiene. I remember visiting 張家界, a small town in 湖南 省 known for its tourism, especially among Koreans. Overall look of the city was extremely different from that of Shanghai. It lacked infrastructure, had massive slum and not a small number of motels didn’t even have hot water. This city, apart from East Coast of China for about 1000km, showed me how economically diverse – and bipolarized – whole China is. At the rich end, there would be Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and other East Coast cities, while inland and western regions will be at the other end.

Concept of hygiene will be different in each cities depending on their economic level. Therefore, when Shanghainese feel repented about outlanders’ poor hygiene, it not only shows the difference in hygiene but also in whole economy. Shanghai is a port city, which has always been full of trades. Easily accessed by western investors, its economy stayed in starkly different level from other regions. In world education ranking, Shanghai competes Number 1 with Korea and Hong Kong, while its mother country stays in two digit ranks. Economically speaking, it is almost a different country from elsewhere.

Then loudness? This is more relevant to different values people hold in Shanghai and other places. We can compare Beijing and Shanghai. When I spoke in Korean in Shanghai, I’ve not seen that much people reacting. We must know that there are way more Korean students in Beijing than in Shanghai, and therefore, people here are more likely to be surprised by my presence than people in Beijing. Now, when I went to Beijing, some of them even asked me for my number. Also, the time I spent in becoming friends with each other was way shorter with Beijingers than with Shanghainese. These two comparisons show that Shanghainese are often more introverted, and care less about surroundings or others’ business. Beijing people were extroverted and extremely curious. This doesn’t seem to be only limited to Beijingers but to other Chinese as well.

Clearly, Shanghai is a peculiar city. Its people show a lot of difference from people from other places of China. It is not strange that Shanghainese feel difference and become exclusive towards other Chinese due to the stark contrasts in economy, psychology and values. It is also understandable that Shanghainese sometimes feel more familiar with other Asians – such as Japanese, Taiwanese and Koreans. Such a peculiarity is charming, yet for its coexistence and cooperation with other regions in China, exclusionism needs to be loosened. After all, it’s a part of China anyway and Shanghainese come from all parts of China; just as my language partner being Northeast person, my best friend coming from Xinjiang, and my significant other born in Henan.

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