Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wasai---George Washington and the Cherry Tree

In one of my first classes as an English teacher in Taiwan I made, what was for me an amazing discovery. Everyone had heard of that story of George Washington chopping down his father’s favorite cherry tree and then confessing “Father I cannot tell a lie, it was I who cut down your cherry tree.” It is remarkable when you think about it that such a simple story that may or may not have happened half a world away is well known in Taiwan. I was even more surprised to read in a book by Richard Hartzell that he had studied many works of Chinese literature and asked many students if there was any comparable story in all of Chinese literature. Neither he nor any of his students could find a story in all 5,000 years of Chinese culture with a similar moral--that you should speak truth to power even if it is a very inconvenient truth to swallow. Sure enough, I could find stories where the wise man tells one thing to one person and then the opposite to another presumably because it is the state of mind of the listener that is to be considered, but no story to praising the habit of telling the truth even if it very uncomfortable.

Ever since then I have wondered how much this could be responsible for the smooth operation of things here in Taiwan. Unless you watch the evening news you will see very few people getting angry in public and almost no disagreement on any issue. As a teacher I have been completely unsuccessful at every attempt so far to stir up a disagreement or a debate in any classroom, no matter how hard I try to encourage it! There seems to be a remarkable ability to frame and reframe opinions and viewpoints to smooth over any possible differences of opinions. Is this one of the secrets for a calm peaceful society? I wonder, if George Washington had been Chinese, what would he have told his father?

Submitted to Wasai Taiwan by: Tim Allen (Hsinchu)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What about that one story about something like a group of brothers (historians) who refused to make a false record downplaying their master's involvement in a murder, and were executed as punishment?