A father and his seventeen-year-old son are arguing about the boy’s future. The father, the boss of a lucrative coalmine, slams his fist on his son’s wooden desk.
‘You’re going to New Zealand for four years to study English!’
‘New Zealand? But I want to stay in China, I love China, this is my home, my friends are here!’
‘No! You’re going to New Zealand!’
On the conscious level, the son believes his father is angry because he (the son) is not showing respect to his father, and this is probably partly true. What he doesn’t realise is that a lot of his father’s anger is, in essence, the temper tantrum of a child.
Part of the tragedy here is that neither father nor son realise this. The dynamics of their relationship and in particular their arguments remain unexcavated.
The child within the adult encounters and clashes with the adult within the child. Thus, their argument is violently stubborn and unrelenting, and apparently beyond compromise.
Yet, what makes this antagonism and hostility between father’s inner child and teenage son’s inner adult even more confusing and sad for both father and son is a lopsided Confucian philosophy, one that demands filial piety but not parental kindness (although it could be argued that the parents believe their actions are rooted in kindness), plus the belief that this culture or tradition of Confucian hierarchy is as much a part of China as the mountains of Sichuan, for example. Thus, it’s not even that this tradition should not be questioned, it’s that it cannot be questioned. Like, you can’t question the Yellow River, can you? It’s just, you know, there.
The father – whose perception of the argument is being shaped both by his inner child (with all its self-absorption and potential for tantrum) and by his implicit awareness of Confucian hierarchy; my son should RESPECT me! – cannot understand his son’s verbal defiance, his son’s anger, his son’s failure to immediately comply.
The son’s inner adult, meanwhile, cannot understand why his father will not allow him the responsibility of making his own decisions.
But he will go, the boy, to New Zealand, and years later will return, and he will be a haigui, a sea-tortoise, speaking English with a Kiwi accent, and his exposure during formative years to whatever it is Western Culture signifies will – even when he has returned to China – have removed him psychologically from China. In his hometown he’ll feel like a foreigner, and that’s a very lonely thing, to feel like a foreigner in your hometown, more lonely than being a foreigner in a foreign place; he’ll have been doubly uprooted, unable to fully fit in in New Zealand and unable, now, after years in NZ, to fit in at home.
If the boy, now young man, was a character in a comic and a thought-bubble spawned above his head, here’s what might be scribbled inside: Thank you father, mother, for what you have done to my mind; where once I felt at home and connected, now I feel lost and lonely, dispossessed. You’ve made a homeless person out of me. And now… Now you want me to get married? To a girl I don’t even love? According to your clocks now it’s time for me to get married? Am I allowed any say in anything at all? I’m 26 now, no longer a child, yet you persist in treating me like one. I hate to think of it, but in my darker moments I do sometimes think of it, even though I love you, I still love you, I do, but I kind of sometimes look forward to your deaths, mom, and dad.