Mo Yan laughs during the discussion with young American writer John Randolph Thornton. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com/Guo Jing]
Related: Interview John Randolph Thornton on his Beautiful Country
Only when we view ourselves objectively, can we make a sensible judgment of others; it is an arrogant person who views others as weak and poor.
This was the view expressed by Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, during a dialogue with a young man from the United States titled, 'How the World Imagines and Writes about China' on Sunday.
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John Randolph Thornton, a 22-year-old Harvard student and author of the book 'Beautiful Country', speaks with 58-year-old Chinese writer Mo Yan on his view of China with regards to the need for empathy.
"I think many friends around me in America all have different and varying levels of understanding China. Without coming here, without studying the language or studying the culture, you can't really have an accurate view of the place. During the time I spent here, my understanding of China, of Beijing and of the culture here really became a lot more complex and a lot deeper. It's really key for my generation of Americans to learn more about China, to come here and develop a fuller understanding."
To experience empathy one must be able to put himself in another person's shoes to try to understand their feelings and the reasons behind their actions. Randolph expresses his sense of empathy towards Chinese people throughout his book.
Thus, compared to many Westerners who believe stereotypes about China, Randolph takes a more comprehensive view towards the country where he had spent a year whilst still a teenager.
Mo Yan praises Thornton's view and says that empathy helps enable smoother communication between people and countries.
"If an American could see things from China's perspective, he would be welcomed by the Chinese. Conversely, if you impose your ideas on others, no one would want to be your friend or neighbor. There is an old Chinese saying -- never impose onto others what you would not choose for yourself. I further believe that even when a practice has been proved successful in your country, you have no right to force other countries to follow it."
Mo Yan supported his view by sharing his experience of entertaining foreign friends abroad. Many friends told him that Westerners prefer going Dutch, whereas he believes that in China people prefer paying the bill when entertaining to demonstrate their hospitality towards their friends. So he insisted on paying the bill and didn't find the foreign friends displeased.
Mo says that through this story we can know that sometimes Chinese people also view foreigners in a Chinese way and mistake their thoughts. From the perspective of human nature, people are not that different.
Through relating to others via empathy, we can begin to view them more objectively. But before that, Mo Yan thinks that we should first try to understand ourselves better and be modest.
"Developing an understanding of yourself, your country and also your school is an essential course of life. Those who can assess themselves correctly will judge the outside world objectively. An arrogant person must view others as weak and poor. So we need to be fair, rational and modest."
Literature provides a good platform for empathy. It gives people access to understanding other countries and people objectively. Randolph says he wrote the book Beautiful Country to introduce the Chinese experience to the United States and promote, even if very little, cultural exchanges between the two countries. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7