People have been eating with chopsticks since the 4th century BC. In the below video, historian Edward Wang explains why the chopsticks in China, Japan, and Korea are all unique:
The Chinese developed longer chopsticks in the 10th century to share food. Sitting around tables, they needed an extended utensil to reach dishes further away.
The Japanese used smaller chopsticks because they believed in maintaining a spiritual cleanliness. Japan’s chopsticks are also pointier because they eat more fish which allows for easier removal of bones.
Koreans have been using metal utensils since the 7th century; historically, to avoid arsenic poisoning from perceived enemies. The chopsticks are also flatter and more durable, which saves material and makes them tougher for Korean BBQ.
Done is better than perfect, in some cases, as in updating a web design or app. But in China, ‘almost’ is a pervasive and dangerous mindset. Known as ‘Chabuduo’ or ‘good/close enough,’ can have disastrous effects when it comes to building everyday things, especially infrastructure.
James Palmer is a foreigner living in China and writes about his close encounters with Chabuduo, including everything from shoddy apartment pipes to broken front doors, poisoned food, to half-built parking lots.
Carelessness leads to death; one government official says there’s a deadly explosion every month. State-controlled tv even suppressed the news after the Tangshan chemical plant explosion in March 2014, killing 55 and wounding hundreds.
The Chabuduo attitude may come in handy on a farm when you have to use an old cloth to stop a broken pipe, but its substandard practices fail at scale in cities and at chemical plants where building with modern materials and following safety instructions prevent catastrophes.
For all Trump’s scaremongering on China, he’d be better off pointing to the people’s willingness to cut corners, their attitude of “good enough for government work.” But he’s more concerned about the thing China excels: making iPhones.
Craftsmanship is about care and expertise, not about faking competence and skipping the fundamentals. Half-ass effort yields half-ass results. Poor quality reveals itself eventually.
“In the end, what perpetuates China’s carelessness most might be sheer ubiquity. Craft inspires. A writer can be stirred to the page by hearing a song or watching a car being repaired, a carpenter revved up by a poem or a motorbike. But the opposite also holds true; when you’re surrounded by the cheaply done, the half-assed and the ugly, when failure is unpunished and dedication unrewarded all around, it’s hard not to think that close enough is good enough. Chabuduo.”
One of the key traits of any artist is to protect against and take advantage of the contradictions. It goes back to what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about intelligence: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
In this video, Chinese dissident/artist Ai Weiwei explains why he calls Beijing his home.
“I wouldn’t think Beijing’s a prison for me. But Beijing is definitely a prison for freedom of speech.”
If you forward to 4:20 in (here are the screenshots), you can see how Weiwei plays off the state supervision, a kind of inspirational friction that energizes him to create art that expresses “freedom of speech.”
Nevertheless, his celebrity compatriot Jackie Chan embraces the China’s constraints on freedom.
“I’m not sure if it is good to have freedom or not. I’m really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic. I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”
Despite their contradictory views on Chinese modernity, it’s clear that both artists love China the same, just for different reasons.
Bonus 😕: The Germans have a saying for concurrent possibilities of “Yes” and “No,” called Jein.
Of course China is growing faster than Europe. It’s easy to grow fast if you starve and impoverish your people, and then suddenly introduce a free market with imported technology, international trade and almost no environmental controls. That’s catch-up.
Good artists copy. Great artists steal. China is accelerating faster than all of us but will the Big Bang approach pay off? There’s something about Europe’s integration that’s more gradual, and natural, kind of like the 50 States.