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Adrift in China

By Cecily Clayton


When I was young I would sometimes read about how ‘civilizations come and go’ and wondered what such a phrase might mean. Being young I could not conceptualize what that might entail, or have any idea of the process involved.

Today, I am no longer in doubt. Today, I am witnessing this very phenomenon, and am part of this phenomenon here in China. As a western person looking out at the world from this country, I am witnessing a very real rise and fall of nations, fluctuations in economies, a shifting international political topography and the assimilating force of the global market economy.

Every day it becomes increasingly clearer to me how we are all caught in global systems, systems that need the unsuspecting, the suspecting and even the informed, needing anyone and all to sustain the ultimate system - the relentless roll of globalization driven by the market economy.

How did we get into this position? Why? Are we content to go along with this compelling process?

These are questions that have answers, answers needing to be explored and understood thoroughly if there is any chance of altering a life draining process of assimilation on a cataclysmic course. 

The market economy is designed to keep us consuming, the governments encourage our participation in these systems which I see as debilitating financially, emotionally, spiritually etc. Here in China, and in other Asian countries, changes are phenomenal, the rate of these changes even more phenomenal as overnight cities are being rebuilt. Wherever you turn people here are interested in learning English, learning to speak English being part of the furious emulation and appropriation of the ways of the westerner.

And why wouldn’t they do this? After all they want the good life that we enjoy and the freedom that we have, a freedom that comes from holding global power. Now in learning English and appropriating our ways, Asian nations have the ways and means of legitimately appropriating power for themselves - as is their right.

But what does all this ultimately entail for these people? Australia was a once developing country now an overdeveloped country, a country that is restructuring, resizing, renegotiating at home and for its place in the global market.

As a theologian I am also a teacher, and teachers are interested in the future. The future arises from peoples’ unvoiced or voiced lived experience. Here in China I can see the rise of consumerism and its effect as people are being mesmerized by a new found freedom, a freedom of choice that will leach their souls.

On the other end of the scale our Australian society now struggles with a loss of identity - the demise of 'the lucky country'. Many people like me need to leave Australia to be able to live, to find good employment and enjoy a low cost of living. Other Westerners in a similar position are also represented here in China, and I feel sure that if I were to dig beneath the surface, the reason would be the same - the negative effect of global market forces are squeezing us out of our own countries. 

My struggle to discover and articulate my ministry as a theologian would seem to be intimately bound up with the current Australian situation and what it can mean for a single person to try to live there - a chance to speak about and to those who are also being forced to exit their countries, leaving family and friends they love – exiting ‘the Lucky Country’.

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