By Beatrice E. Rangel
In her novel The Good Earth
, Nobel laureate Pearl Buck (Sai Zhenzhu) envelops in poetic prose the urbanization of China and its discontents. It is a story of elite decay, the rise of entrepreneurship, and the positive aspects of instability, as the novel's protagonist gets the investment money that changes his life while protecting a scared victim during a violent looting.
Watching the images of Hong Kong protesters, one is reminded of this fundamental trace of East Asian personalities: conflict as a building tool. This vision probably originating in Confucian thought presents a form of civic engagement in politics more adequate to a century where technical means foster collective creation and content sharing.
Perfection according to Confucius was defined as lǐ
and this state of civic virtue was described as “doing the proper thing at the proper time, balancing between maintaining existing norms to perpetuate an ethical social fabric, and violating them in order to accomplish ethical good."LÎ
is what is behind the orderly protests in Hong Kong where protesters worry about avoiding creating discomfort for the rest of the population, about taking good care of fellow participants in terms of their safety and their contribution to rallies, and making sure there is no litter.
Streets are clean; protesters enter and exit in perfectly planned shifts and slogans and messages are constantly voiced in fixed intervals and are also renewed every 24 hours. Information flows about discussion with authorities and inputs are requested and processed before getting back to authorities.
In brief we are watching through our TV screens the rise of a mannered Information Age democracy in the Far East.
The ordered behavior of Hong Kong protesters contrasts remarkably with that of the Brazilians when discontent led to massive mobilizations aiming at expressing dissent with the World Soccer Cup spending spree. Unlike what we are witnessing in Hong Kong, Brazilian protesters took over main streets turning regularly maddening traffic jams into infernos; they also threw rocks at businesses and police alike; launched Molotov cocktails and caused damage that ran into billions of dollars.
Both approaches to protest also describe different realities and cultures.
Latin America’s corporativism cum mercantilism has created a civic culture whereby every social engagement seems to be a zero-sum game. Time frames are thus short and the best outcome is destruction of opponents.
In China, the emergence of LÎ
as a societal aspiration fosters development of a civic culture which sees urban life as a creative, participative and long term process. Thus building consensus is far more important than occupying territory or winning arguments.
This attitude has so far paralyzed Beijing, where authorities are now between a rock and a hard place.
Should they behave as they did in Tiananmen Square, the Government would be seen by the rest of the world like the Greeks saw the Mongols in ancient times.
Should they pay heed to protesters and allow citizens participation in the selection of Hong Kong's ruler, then they had better be prepared to start the long road to the creation of the United States of China.
Whatever the end of this story, the world has now learned about the civic virtues of LÎ
and followers will soon spring up in other latitudes. Another interesting angle of China’s rise as a world power. Also by Beatrice Rangel in her Latin America from 35,000 Feet seriesBeatrice Rangel: Will Latin America Miss the Broadband Development Target?
Beatrice Rangel: Kissinger’s World Order and Latin America
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Rangel: While US is Away, Latin America Rethinks Development Paths
Rangel: In the Midst of Riots, a Star is Born in Brazil
Rangel: In Mexico Cinderella Gets to the Ball while Colombia Gets a Chance at Peace
Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.