All Holds Barred

This from the “Here’s How” Handbook for American Troops in China:

Philosophy of Entertainment

The Chinese don’t necessarily demand excitement in their entertainment (although they eat it up when it does occur). They can be perfectly happy playing for hours on end with their children. It’s a pretty deep point in philosophy: which is the more sophisticated and satisfying pleasure – playing with the baby or watching the Cotton Bowl epic.

Street Brawls

The contrast between American and Chinese street brawls is instructive. A dispute at home that leads to blows usually proceeds with little interference from the sidelines and with the less bloody gentleman having proved he was in the right, or both of the combatants in the clink.

A Chinese brawl ordinarily begins, as do ours, with abusive language. One of the disputants having called the other a turtle egg, the second responds in kind for reasons of “face” if for no other. At this stage the role of the middleman begins. He may be almost anyone who has witnessed the beginning of the quarrel. He represents the public conscience which in China quite sensibly abhors violence. The middleman quickly sizes up the situation and steps in to restrain with calming hands and admonitions the more aggressive disputant.

A crowd soon gathers and rings in the drama. The two disputants then interrupt their abuse with impassioned statements of their respective cases. For the crowd is the public conscience itself. Unless he is so enraged as to be blind to all reason and caution, neither disputant will seriously attempt to hit the other. To do so would be to put himself in the eyes of the crowd completely in the wrong.

The brawl usually proceeds with abuse, accusation, counter-accusation, intermittent lunges and round house swings (which the soothing middleman is expected to check), remonstrances from the middleman and occasional coaching from the sidelines. The fight usually cools off when both parties feel that they have maintained or regained “face” as the case may be and a compromise is reached.

Sometimes a policeman is brought in. He usually takes the place of the middleman, listens to the arguments and then delivers his opinion – more to the crowd than to the disputants. The crowd nods its head and murmurs approval of a reasonable compromise, everyone goes home feeling that a sensible solution has been reached and the policeman returns to his post.

An average brawl like this (some of course get out of hand) reveals certain important Chinese attitudes. One is that there is no such thing as a private fight where two guys slug it out. Every man is a member of a community and the community has an interest in seeing that there is a minimum of disturbance in its midst. Another is that if you use abusive language toward someone, you make him lose “face” and he must somehow regain “face” or get back at you. Still another is that if you hit someone you are placed in the wrong and public feeling turns against you. A fourth attitude is that the best solution to a difference is usually a compromise which satisfies both parties. A genius for compromise id one of the outstanding Chinese characteristics. This is a natural development of the Chinese belief in reasonableness in human relations. Differences can usually be bridged if both parties are willing to argue it out.

Remember these attitudes when you’re in China and want to put your dukes up.

Political Correctness

Don’t say “Chinaman.” The proper word is “Chinese.” Although we say “Englishman” and “Frenchman,” somehow the word “Chinaman” has come to have a derogatory flavor.


One comment on “All Holds Barred

  1. Nathan says:

    In colonial Williamsburg, VA, a docent told the story how the public stocks were used more for gossip than for petty crimes such as tavern brawls, where the only punishment was the black eye or lost tooth. Gossip, on the other hand, now that is serious business. I wonder where Chinese culture lines up on this issue, with regards to saving face. The States have certainly moved in its position on this issue.

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