CHINA AND AMERICA
Dreamed 1997/9/23 by Chris Wayan
I'm in China, biking alongside a railroad track up through craggy mountains. They look strange and unstable, like heaps of crumpled paper in a giant author's wastebasket. Three Gorges country, I think.
A train passes me. More like a jointed streetcar or a zoo-train. It stops at a little station, and I catch up. A chatty holiday crowd descends. Curious, I pause to listen, but only get snatches of meaning--been too long since I've spoken Chinese. Not sure what's up.
I follow the straggling line of them, up a side path up to the right, leading to a narrow pass. Boulders have fallen and wedged in spots, turning it into a sort of tunnel. Beyond the pass, I can only get glimpses of huge red and yellow figures--giants looming above the floor of a valley--a playing field? I'm drawn by their vivid, symbolic colors. I squirm eagerly around the boulders, threading through the tunnel, dragging my bike behind me. At last I'm free. Yes, it's a stadium, the size of a valley. The Red and Yellow teams each have only one player left. But what a player! Red giant, yellow giant. Not just uniforms--all-red skin, hair, eyes! And all yellow. Like cartoon monsters. But alive, sweating, cursing, wrestling...
The crowd gawks at the scuffling giants... but it's a property of the valley that stature is hard to gauge here. Other giants are mixed in with human spectators, in fact you can't tell who's a giant, really. Yet all eyes are on the field, except mine. From the crowd's rapt reactions, I suspect this is no mere sports contest, but a duel of archetypes. Whose magic is stronger, Yellow or Red?
The loudspeakers burp and echo. A woman says slowly and plainly, repeating herself enough so even I can understand her careful Mandarin, "When the siren goes off, please leave the stadium at once. The duelers will assume that the last people to leave want to stay here in the Valley of the Giants--you will stay, as giants, forever."
The siren hoots and the crowd leaps for the tunnels in a panicky rush. I hold back, not especially wanting to be trapped in giant land, but afraid I'll be crushed alive--those exit tunnels are so cramped. I'm at a disadvantage with my bulky bike, too. I try climbing the rocks instead of squeezing thru a tunnel. Ironic--I came in idly and last, but they'll insist I unconsciously want to be a giant more than all these rabid, fickle fans.
And then I wake up......to find myself slumped in a chair, with people all round me chatting in Chinese. I nodded off at a banquet again! Halfway through my tour of China, and I dozed off AGAIN! No wonder, with all the booze they push on us. Compulsive hospitality.
My hosts ask about America's problems--the unbelievable level of violence. I say "well, it's too high but it's also wildly exaggerated on TV--most cops never fire a gun in their whole career. I've never personally known ANY murder victims." I add privately "though I've known people who HAVE lost friends or loved ones." Am I going too far the other way, defending America from its own media?
Talk shifts to Chinese politics. A local woman asks how America manages to be so politically stable without repression, why the Chinese have failed at it. "I think the problem's structural, not a lack of desire or even involvement. So little feedback in the Chinese system! Weak protection for minorities or groups out of power, so vying for power is desperate and policies aren't restrained much by public opinion." Then I clam up, feel like I said too much already. I wait for the American woman sitting next to me, who I admire a lot, to explain it--she's more articulate and probably better informed then I am, anyway.
Long silence. She seems at a complete loss! Must I step in to say the obvious? And I'm wary of being a cliche: Americans always promote formal democracy even when the form may be empty. But in China's case, it's true. They have passion, discipline, a work ethic, a scholarship ethic, long governmental experience... what they need is democratic structures, especially the self-correcting feedback loops of public input, more than anything.
And then I wake up... again... to find that all that postmortem analysis was a dream too.NOTES THAT MORNING
But as I write this last note, there's a knock on my door. It's my friend Alder. She says "I had a weird dream. Have you got a minute? I want to see what you think it's about."
ALDER'S DREAMSo half the stuff I thought was symbolic may have been spill-over. Not that the fact the dream was psychic EXPLAINS anything much... I feel I'm still missing the point... especially of those two giants. Red and yellow... what?
"I... I was in Asia. Maybe Japan? I enter this stadium through little tunnels. I fall face down in the mud. A sudden bright flash blinds everyone but me, because the mud was in my eyes. There's a blind stadium stampede. I lead my friends up and out a side way. One of my friends is a boy I had a crush on when we were teens. I hide the fact I alone can see--afraid I'll be mobbed by all these needy people. I feel I can only help a few--my friends."
A WEEK LATER...
I'm channelsurfing on TV, and stumble on a Michael Palin documentary. He's on a train through inland China. The tracks he rides up a canyon through Chinese mountains... Three Gorges country, straight out of my dream! I perk up and watch closely. When Palin and his guide in Chongqing sit down for a dinner and discuss the damage of the Cultural Revolution, I recognize my dream-dinner discussion, carried a step further. "The Chinese stopped trusting each other after the Cultural Revolution: the attitude became 'heads down, make money, keep your mouth shut, lock away your feelings.'"
And suddenly I see them. The Red Giant, Mao's selfless, heroic ideal, the man who moved mountains by hand, only to start smashing things in the end, a red Godzilla... And the Yellow Giant: the wary self-interest Chinese actually practice--not the racist yellow of Yellow Peril, nor the traditional Imperial yellow, but... just plain yellow. In American slang, yellow is cowardice. The Chinese are scared of politics, idealism... each other. Shut up, keep your head down, nose to the grindstone!
Two attitudes I carry inside me--having been raised by leftists. They wrestle in my guts, these swollen extremes: an idealistic, wilful, angry red martyr fights a yellow, cautious, antipolitical cynic who just wants comfort now, for me me me.
And the winner is... can we get the hell out of this stadium?
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