It has been a few days since I returned from behind the great firewall of China and I am still kind of processing the experience.
I saw one thing in Shanghai that struck me to the core and remained with me through the whole trip. As we left the subway station I saw a woman she was in the kowtow position kneeling with her head on the ground, she had a bowl in front of her with a message in mandarin that I couldn’t read.
She had clearly done this before and had done this for some time as she had a sponge under her forehead to keep it from being directly on the pavement and had a black plastic bag over her body to help protect her clothing. It was winter and the temperatures were barely (if at all) over zero degrees (Celsius).
As the child of immigrants I was brought up to never give money to people like this woman. According to the logic of my upbringing beggars are cheating the system. It was acceptable to be poor and to struggle – but only if you did it a certain way if you bought into the system – the myth of the self made man. If you worked hard then eventually you would be rewarded for it. Beggars however are not working hard. They are trying to take away other peoples hard earned cash by making them feel guilty and awkward and you should never succumb to their ploy.
In Asia when so many people have risen to the middle class from nothing, where the dream of achieving middle class status or higher is the basis for almost everything you do this attitude is very prevalent. So this woman in order to get enough money to survive and to prostrate herself on the concrete in order to move people enough to give her spare change.
I don’t believe Asia is unique in this regard. Those of us raised with class privilege are often brought up with a strong mistrust of those who do not have class privilege. If they were not defective in some way then they would not be in the situation.
A woman anyway should not have to have her face on the concrete in order to inspire pity in the crowds around her. Each of us should have enough common decency to accept that people are doing the best they can in whatever way they can and thus do the best we can to help each other out whenever we can without questioning their motives and doubting their integrity.