If only the Chinese weren’t so terribly mediocre. Yes, now in the big cities they are increasingly more or less educated—but that makes them more or less blinkered because they have acquired from Western civilization only that which is mediocre and utilitarian in it, mechanical and repeatable—engineering and industrial production. They stand beside the West as the famulus Wagner stood beside Faustus: their learning comes from the same books as that of the Western Faustuses, but with the difference that to them the lesson-books are sufficient and they are not gnawed by any doubt, or haunted by transcendent dreams or redeeming tragic flaw.


               The most terrible thing is that they have multiplied the half-educated, brainless and smug type of Western mediocrity on a vast scale, in millions and billions of uninspired clones. But no, I am wrong: the most terrible thing is that they are so successful. They have learned from the West how to use machines and money, electronics and numbers, and it becomes obvious that there are enough of them to look forward to the equally mediocre dream of becoming masters of industry or masters of their world. They have omitted from human civilization everything that is aimless, playful, aspirational, passionate or fantastic.  It would not be half so bad if they would only infuse their materialistic and socially conformist lives with something of the greatness of the imagination which once lived in their ancient culture—-Lao Zi, Mo Zi, Zhuang Zi, Zen (Chan) Buddhism, the drunkenness of Li Bai reaching out to embrace the moon,  or the questing spirituality of Xuan Zang or the mischieveousness of the Monkey King Sun Wukong. But of these things they only know the “correct” answers for their “Gao Kao” or college entrance exam, and they have never read the whole text of these purported classics of their literary and philosophical heritage, let alone assimilated its spirit or dreams.


               As a result, they have omitted everything that was human in Western civilization and adopted its practical, technical, businesslike and utilitarian side, while leaving behind lifeless and dormant the spirituality and moribund imagination of their own tradition. Their dreams and aspirations, always with the notable exception of a problematic handful of alienated and marginal intellectuals, artists and exceptional individuals, who like the Biblical poor, “are always with us,” extend no further than the worship of the “Tsai Shen” or the flabby and mindless “God of Wealth” which enjoys a cozy niche in so many homes, or the adolescent dream of a recovered “Chinese Greatness” which is coextensive with an ever increasing bulk of material GDP or the reflexive cohesion  of an unquestioned authoritarian state whose God is “stability,” namely the stability of the hold on power and position of those reposing anxiously at the top of a vast pyramid of conformity and mediocrity. 


               But! This pitiful caricature of a civilization is doing splendidly! GDP increases in excess of 8% per annum, and newly coined billionaires multiply exponentially! It is building technical monuments such as the Three Gorges Dam—the world’s largest, high-speed “Bullet Train” systems—the world’s longest, even Magnetic-Levitation lines,, and mounting the very heavens to orbit men and circle the moon challenging the West’s formerly exclusive technical domains. (We avert our eyes avert for the moment to ignore the hundreds of millions of migrant industrial workers underpaid, exploited, and locked into a “HuKou-less” underclass unable to enroll their children in urban schools where they work, the dangerous Gini Coefficient of income inequality setting newly minted billionaires beside dispossessed itinerant peasants, the environmental degradation of a scarred landscape and disappearing realm of “nature,” the ever-unending carnage in unsafe illegal coal-mines operated through the collusion of billionaires and corrupted Party officials,   and the phantom jails into which “unauthorized petitioners” and “troublemakers” are kidnapped upon arrival in the national capital by hired thugs and shipped back to the provinces by local officials anxious to squelch embarrassing evidence of their malfeasance before it might reach the public eye and embarrass their superiors.)


               But have they yet contributed any Ideal to world civilization beyond the Ideal of Quantity—the omnivorous God of More? From his former disciple and servant, this Oriental Wagner, the Faustus of the West has to date learned only the hollow echo of the “secret of success” and mediocrity. But all this takes time, it is offered in rebuttal, and the reform in China is only a mere thirty years old. The next generation—the children of cardboard and real-estate tycoons, freed from former want, will soon awaken from a wasteland of vulgar materialism, conformity, civil cowardice and spiritual vacuity and bring forth a revival of the “Spiritual East” or even a new humanist Renaissance. We devoutly wish them well in this long-awaited further evolution and spiritual renascence, though with the lingering doubt it may not arrive much before the long awaited “classless society of pure communism,” the Messiah, Mahdi or Maitreya.  Alas, the continuing parallel failure in the West to realize the promise of its own ideals in the debasement and spiritual emptiness of its own rootless and “dumbed down” pretensions to “civilization,” its Post-Modern commercialism and consumer materialism, random violence, its “boob tube” culture of re-runs and 3D remakes of fifty-year-old teen-comics, gun fights, “big games,” and “reality shows” (Un!), sensationalist sex and violence, now turbocharged in the Internet age with the “mouse Potato” or SmartPhone obsessions of jaded pornography, gambling sites, mindlessly homicidal or time-filling video games and “Tweets“ coterminous with the effective attention spans of their users, all leave little cause for hope from either East or West. 

Copyright Robert Sheppard 2013 All Rights Reserved






About robertalexandersheppard

Robert Sheppard , Author, Poet & Novelist Pushcart Prize fof Literature 2014 Nominee Professor of World and Comparative Literature Professor of International Law Senior Associate, Committee for a Democratic United Nations (KDUN) E-mail: rsheppard99_2000@yahoo.com Robert Sheppard is the author of the acclaimed dual novel Spiritus Mundi, nominated for the prestigious 2014 Pushcart Prize for Literature in two parts, Spiritus Mundi the Novel, Book I and Spiritus Mundi the Romance, Book II. The acclaimed “global novel” features espionage-terror-political-religious-thriller action criss-crossing the contemporary world involving MI6, the CIA and Chinese MSS Intelligence as well as a "People Power" campaign to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly on the model of the European Parliament, with action moving from Beijing to London to Washington, Mexico City and Jerusalem while presenting a vast panorama of the contemporary international world, including compelling action and surreal adventures. It also contains the unfolding sexual, romantic and family relationships of many of its principal and secondary characters, and a significant dimension of spiritual searching through "The Varieties of Religious Experience." It contains also significant discussions of World Literature, including Chinese, Indian, Western and American literature, and like Joyce's Ulysses, it incorposates a vast array of stylistic approaches as the story unfolds. Dr. Sheppard presently serves as a Professor of International Law and World Literature at Peking University, Northeastern University and the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) of China, and has previously served as a Professor of International Law and MBA professor at Tsinghua University, Renmin People’s University, the China University of Politics and Law and at the Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, China. Having studied Law, Comparative Literature and politics at the University of California, Berkeley (Ph. D.Program in Comparative Literature), Northridge, Tübingen, Heidelberg, the People’s College and San Francisco, (BA, MA, JD), he additionally has been active as professor of International Trade, Private International Law, and Public International Law from 1993 to 1998 at Xiamen University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Graduate School (CASS), and the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. In the US he serves as a Professor at Kean University, as well as having taught at Bergen Community College and Pillar College in NJ. Since 2000 he has served as a Senior Consultant to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Beijing and has authored numerous papers on the democratic reform of the United Nations system.
This entry was posted in China and the West, Chinese Culture and the West, Essays of Robert Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, Robert Sheppard Author of Spritus Mundi Novel, Social Commentary, Social Commentary by Robert Sheppard, The Failings of China's Modernization, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I left a lengthy response, which was erased. In essence, my response was in full and sad agreement with Robert Sheppard’s point of view. The blog itself was beautifully and convincingly-written by someone who is keenly aware of the subtext of the American culture and how it has poisoned other cultures, especially China. If there were a rating system, I would give this article 5 stars for both passionate and accurate writing, and believable content.

  2. beingserbian says:

    Great post. I wish there were more bloggers writing intelligent stuff like this.

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