Assoon as we set out last winter vacation, on the roads which lead me back to myremote, poor hometown, I realized there was still no change. Our car bumpedalong the narrow dirt road, and several times I thought we were going tooverturn. When we finally finished this perilous journey, what came into myvision was the exact two-roomed bungalow that I could remember from 20 yearsago: a dusted bulb which gave out dim light; two wooden single beds on theverge of falling down; and a small black-and-white television which displayedsnowflakes more often than clear images. And this was the legacy that I wouldinherit someday in the future.

Latermy cousin came to have a word with my dad and told us his wife had diabetes. Withall his money being spent caring for his wife, my cousin could not pay back themoney he borrowed from my dad after being fined for having a second child.

Ifelt sad. They had given birth to her despite not having enough money to raise herand her little brother. Having a second child is not allowed, according to the“single-child policy,” which has been in effect in this country for nearly 30 years.But I can see why they insisted on having her: Having more babies means morefortune and luck. And given the unequal enjoyment by citizens of medicalinsurance, depending on whether you live in the city or the country, ruralfolks raise “enough” children to prevent themselves from living a lonely andunsecured old age.

Thereis a main bus stop in front of our campus. Sometimes when a bus comes, “ladiesand gentlemen” would swarm to the door, pushing each other with no regard forold and young, just to grab a seat or squeeze on before everyone else.

Isaw many elders encourage kids to jump the line to buy tickets and then pushand then grab seats. If the kid is successful, he or she will get praised as ifthey had learned a skill that equips them to be the future masters of the nation.

Ifelt sad. Everyone seemed egocentric, concentrating only onself-advantage. 

Someargue that we act like this because limited goods once forced people to pushand jostle to grab them or else suffer hunger.

Butwhy should we still suffer from that psychology despite peace and prosperitytoday? What happened to honoringthe elderly and taking care of children, keeping great order, and beingaltruistic?

Oneday I came across a 1984 article, “Why don’t we Chinese get angry?,” by LungYing-tai and published in Taiwan’s China Times. I was greatly enlightened: My sadness is actuallyanger in disguise.

Lungcriticized Taiwan during the 1980s, writing, “In a society ruled by law, peopledo have the right to get angry. If you are tortured (by the street traders),you should at first stand in front of them with arms akimbo and say to themangrily: ‘Please YOU get lost!’ If they don’t, send for the police. If youdiscover the street and the police work in collusion — that is more serious.This fury should burn until they (the police) eliminate the evil trends and getdisciplined. But you do nothing but close the doors and windows cowardly,shaking your head and shrugging your shoulders.”

Tomy disappointment, she is still right today.

Inmy residential quarters, if a neighbor makes noise at midnight, people usuallyonly complain with a few words and close the door and windows tight. We weretaught not to criticize or stir up trouble in order to avoid unnecessarytrouble. This seems to confirm an inherent flaw among Chinese: excessiveself-protection. We only care about how to protect and maximize our owninterests and try not to get involved with other people’s affairs. Thus wewithdraw, never complain or express dissatisfaction. We do not want to changethe present condition, as long as we can live smoothly regardless of improvedconditions.

Igrow sadder. As one of the “hopes of the nation,” I, a college student, shouldbe full of passion and dreams for an ideal future. But when faced withunpleasant scenes, I have no courage to announce my grievances but just remain“sad.”

Iwill change my attitude. I will air my anger. I will influence others to changeif the shabby houses greet my eyes again. If the anger cannot bring aboutchanges, I can only get sad. But I believe sadness will not come back any more.

In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?