A few years ago, posters listing 12 values started popping up all over China. The 12 sets of 2-characters were then added to the front of buildings and everyone was encouraged to memorise them. School children would have spot checks to make sure they could recite them.
The 12 values are the core values of socialism. We believe that showing love and respect for people and places means taking notice of the things that make up their everyday lives and that they value — even [and especially] if those things represent a very different political ideology from our own.
So we decided to share this ‘everywhere’ culture with you so that we as adoptive parents can better understand our China-born children’s first Homeland.
The 12 values are: prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, friendship. We hope you enjoy learning about them…you might even be surprised by how many of these are values that are important to you as well!
You might be surprised to learn that the first of the 12 values of socialism is prosperity, and while there’s still large gaps between rural and urban areas in China, poverty reduction in recent years has been incredible.
In February 2021, China announced that 100million people had successful been lifted out of poverty and that absolute poverty [i.e. people living on less than $1.90US/day] was now less than 0.5% of the population. How did they achieve this? Mostly through a growing economy where many people moved into cities for work, but also through government policies that helped improve schools, roads and other infrastructure.
If you were surprised by prosperity being the first of China’s core socialist values, you might be a little confused by this one. Of course, democracy looks different in a Chinese context to what we’re used to in the West, but the idea of democracy in socialist contexts is not a new one.
We’re simplifying here, but although China’s government is led by the Central Committee, policy decisions are first discussed by the national party congress (more than 2000 people) and the decisions made are informed by this discussion. So in China, democracy [the voice of the people] is outworked by this wider debate before any decisions are made.
Cars not stopping for pedestrians? People littering? Not allowing people out of elevators before trying to get in? These things are uncivil and recently one of the big campaigns in China has been to create ‘civilised cities’.
There has been massive efforts poured into public education and — while the roads may still be a little crazy to drive on — for the most part, people seem more aware than we’ve previously known them to be.
Like democracy, the next of China’s core socialist values has to be understood in a different way to how we would understand it in the West. China, like most of Asia, is a collectivist culture rather than an individualistic culture. We can’t understand values like ‘freedom’ without putting it in the context of collectivism.
Collectivism stresses the importance of the community, so when China lists freedom as a core socialist value, it’s saying that everyone has the freedom to make any decision that doesn’t cause harm to the country or community. Is it still freedom? Yes, just freedom with boundaries.
To say China is diverse is an understatement. China is made up of 56 distinct ethnic groups which each have their own language, history, festivals, dress and customs. Geographically, this country is VAST covering deserts, mountain ranges, religious beliefs rain forests and grasslands.
With that in mind, you can see why harmony is an important element of keeping China unified, and why it’s near the top of the list of ‘core values’.
Justice is an important aspect of any community. Without it, preserving some of China’s other core values [such as harmony or rule of law] becomes much more difficult. But in a country a large as this one and with so many remote ares, how is this possible?
One main way this is made possible is through the role of Village Head and more recently, China’s ‘mobile courts’ have taken judges, lawyers, etc on the road to these more remote places. As China modernises and roads to villages have improved, justice is becoming more accessible for everyone.
The core value of equality is maybe a little easier to understand in China than some of the other values. Ever since China became The People’s Republic of China in 1949, the concept of everyone being equal has been widely accepted.
However, there have been times in the past 15-20years when your connections could go a long way towards keeping you out of trouble, but today that seems less common as the country has started to pursue equality again.
In the last 5 years there’s been numerous news reports of actors, children of politicians and business people being held publicly accountable for misbehaviour. So it seems that once again in China, equality matters.
Rule of Law 法治
Rule of law is another of China’s core socialist values and this definitely overlaps with justice so it seems a great opportunity to mention a related aspect of Chinese culture that is sometimes misunderstood by the China-adoption community.
The police are obviously one of the main ways the rule of law is upheld. Here in China, the police are seen as the safe-guarders and the protectors. Of course, they’re also there to catch criminals, but they’re seen as primarily being here uphold people’s safety. So for those of us who’s China-born children were found at/taken to the police station, it’s a reasonable assumption that our child[ren] was deliberately and thoughtfully taken to a place of safety.
This core value is unmissable in modern China…from the Chinese flags hanging everywhere to the red scarves worn by Chinese students.
Interestingly, this is also to most popular content for vloggers in China. Young, popular online personalities can make a lot of money by producing videos emphasising the strengths of the country and the weaknesses of other nations. Experts comment, that with more patriotic teaching in schools in recent years, this kind of content resonates with the younger generation in China.
The last 4 core values describe what kind of citizens they want Chinese people to be and dedicated is part of that. You can see this quality in their approach to study, in the Olympics…in pretty much every area of life. In modern China, the goal is to weave tenacity and commitment into the fabric of society.
While this value is one of the values that informs what characteristics Chinese citizens possess, this can also be seen really clearly in how schools, businesses and the non-profit sector is now governed. Integrity is essential. And to make sure people are acting with integrity, some new checks and balances have been put in place. This has included more school inspections and more financial regulations.
Of all of China’s core socialist values, this is probably the most self-explanatory one, and since this will be the last pre-scheduled post, I’m gonna take this opportunity to self-indulgently share a story…
We adopted our youngest from China while living in China. That meant that when it was time for her to apply for her British passport, I could take just her on the reasonably short flight to our nearest UK consulate. Like a lot of cleft babies, she would get ear infections and the flight wasn’t a good experience for her. At. All.
It resulted in an air flight attendant coming to ask who’s child I had and stated if she were really my child, I’d be able to comfort her. He refused to look at the adoption paperwork and reported me to the on-board marshal. It was an emotional and exhausting flight. And loud. He was shouting to be heard over her upset. It upset her more.
All the passengers around me were obviously uncomfortable with this whole exchange. The passenger in the seat next to me moved closer to the other side. A lady my daughter later waved to pretended not to see her.
And then it happened. Something hit my arm. I looked down and saw an individually wrapped candy and, sat in the window seat on the other side of the plane was the lady who’d thrown it at me. She was wearing a head scarf, she was deeply tanned and very wrinkled – she obviously came from a rural area. She was much older. She was friendly. When she’d gotten my attention with the candy she smiled, gave me two thumbs up and shouted ‘good mama.’ Friendship.
I could tell so many stories of Chinese friendships that have left a deep impression on me. And I’m grateful for all of them. I’m also grateful for your virtual friendships over the years as we’ve connected over our common goal to bring Chinese culture and connection into our families. Thank you.