There is great pain in China. There always has been. The Yellow River, "China's Sorrow," ties that pain to the earth itself. It's not been a good earth to Chinese.
Chinese are bewildered. They have been bewildered since first contact with the West. They do not know what to do and spent the entire twentieth century trying to figure it out. They have failed, they know that they have failed, and they are humiliated because of it. With that pain comes sorrow. I see that sorrow and sometimes can feel it myself, in every contact I have with Chinese. It draws me in.
There does not seem to me to be any core of "Chinese-ness" that Chinese can fall back on in their bewilderment, no "soul" that they can take comfort in, to which they can return and say, "Whatever we are not, we are this." Mao Zedong claimed that the peasants--two-thirds of Chinese--were like "blank slates" and that therefore anything could be written on them, they could be made anew, in his image.
Maybe the peasants of China were blank slates, maybe the people of China were, when Mao took power in 1949, I don't know. I don't think so though, because I believe that all human beings have, and each human being has, a soul, a "this-ness" to which they can return. But I can't find it.
China today seems to me like a Potemkin village, a stage set only as deep as its facade. I have walked through the door of that stage set; there is no doubt in my mind of that. I have gone deeper into China than appearances. But in going through that door I can't find my way about. It seems I have stepped into thin air.