Sunday, May 11, 2008


ChinesePod recently did a lesson drawing on the popular television drama "Struggle" 《奋斗》 and its portrayal of the conflict of values between the pre- and post- 1980s generations in China.

I've been watching Struggle on and off for about five or six months now, and have been back on it again recently with a vengeance (coincidentally, the ChinesePod lesson was on the exact same episode I had left off on, which made it very easy to get back into the show).

It's an interesting show. The protagonist-- a recent college grad with a passion for architecture design and skinny women-- is pretty much the raw essence of Youth: arrogant, determined, moody, idealistic, selfish, demanding, and confused. Despite all this, he's still very likable; anyone under thirty is likely to find some way of identifying with his "struggle for life, for progress, for love."

To a lot of young Chinese, the show is full of realistic situations that arise from unrealistic circumstances. That is, "this is probably how I would feel if I were the illegitimate son of a billionaire real estate baron eager to brand my name on the world." Which, of course, most people are not. A fair criticism is that the show is really about one spoiled kid that has too much money, too many girlfriends, and not any real "struggle" to speak of.

But to a lot of other young people (particularly Westerners living abroad here in China), this privilege might not seem so unfamiliar. I certainly have been given an incredible amount of opportunity in my lifetime, and the quest to translate that opportunity into achievement while simultaneously chasing love, art, friendship, and enlightenment often leaves me feeling uncertain and overwhelmed at times, and I think I'm on the pretty well-balanced end of the spectrum to begin with.

Philosophically, I have a pretty complex relationship with struggle. On the one hand, I have an existentialist desire for constant self-improvement: I always want to be better, stronger, wiser, and more passionate than before. I'm not interested in competing with others, per se, but rather engaging my own self in a struggle for a greater life experience.

On the other hand, I have a deep appreciation for the Daoist's wuwei 无为,the principle of inaction, and greatly subscribe to the proverb 顺其自然,or "follow the course of nature," all of which leads to a more relaxed, hands-off approach to leading one's life. With this in mind, "struggle" seems like a futile twist in the wind, worth a sad chuckle as you sip your tea and contemplate the beauty of maple leaves. Maybe the best things in life are the ones you don't have to fight for.

How do you struggle?
Is life a fight or a boat ride?
This is a really interesting question to me, and I hope we can get a discussion started here about it.

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