Every once in a while I have a catch-up lunch with a couple of mates I’ve known for about 30 years or so. They are good blokes: accomplished in their chosen careers, love their families, content and comfortable with their place in the world and also deeply proud of their indigenous heritage. I wouldn’t say they are in their twilight years, perhaps more likely tracking somewhere in the ‘mid- to late afternoon’ range, but they are what I would call salt of the earth people.
These fellas came from meagre means, working class as ‘working class’ can be. Their parents didn’t have much but they made damned sure that their kids had better opportunities in life than perhaps they did. Probably what I’d call ‘obscure old fashion love’ where actions speak louder than words and success is measured by what their parents went without.
Our conversations are predictable, interesting and sometimes insightful. They’re mostly book-ended with humour, more often than not at the expense of our own individual misfortunes. To an outsider we may appear heartless or unsympathetic, for example, we rolled around laughing after fully work-shopping the news that one of us has an impending operation for an enlarged prostate. Who knew that such a subject could create such imaginative and amusing possibilities? In reality (but not obviously), there exists a genuine empathy and a quiet concern, but here the ‘unspoken’ screams louder than the words we frequently scramble to find.
The beauty of the interaction is the level of undisciplined etiquette, where we always start more yarns than we finish, as a simple impromptu subject can unleash a continuous dialogue and a hundred embellished stories. It’s where annoying interruptions around the ‘table of knowledge’ are not only appreciated, it’s openly encouraged (in fact, expected) as the most serious conversations degenerate into nonsensical avant-garde poetry or philosophy. This is what happens when you fuse a couple of beers with bullshit!
This week’s linguistic tour brought us to a discussion on the ‘Rise of China’ and their global influence in our world today. What we found interesting is the irony of the journey China has taken in the short span of our lifetimes. We remember the 1966 Cultural Revolution, the failed 10-year movement to purge all remnants of capitalism, where the death toll was reportedly between 5 and 10 million. The numbers are staggering, incomprehensible; there was a shocked silence of disbelief around the table. Is that right, 10 million?
The only one of us who has travelled to China proceeded to school us on 1960’s Chinese history, as we learn that one of the consequences of the Great Leap Forward was the 1959 to 1961 ‘Great Chinese Famine’ where it’s reported that deaths due to starvation are estimated as ‘at least’ 43 million people. What? The numbers are unbelievable, what sort of pain and anguish does that translate into? Why didn’t I know about it and why is everything about China described as ‘Great’?
Adding to the conversation, I admitted with a degree of ignominy that I had only just learnt that 285,000 people had starved to death in Somalia during the 2011 East African drought. How did I not know about this? What was I doing in 2011 that was so self-consuming that I was not aware of this catastrophe, yet I was all over the 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima disaster where approx. 16,000 lost their lives? I later learned that 300,000 Somalians also lost their lives in a similar famine in 1991-92.
These numbers are mind-boggling, yet everyone seems preoccupied, ‘being Kardashianed’ or staying busier than ever posting selfies on social media, then stressing as they wait for the ‘likes’ to feed their narcissistic place in a fake world. Between 1998 and 2004 3.8 million died from disease and starvation in the Congo and in 1996 an estimated 3.5 million people starved to death in North Korea. Would it be racist to suggest that white societies would react differently if these deaths had occurred in white societies?
What can I say, I’m feeling embarrassed that this has been allowed to happen in my lifetime while I was busying myself surviving in a safe middle-class world, subsisting in a cupboard with blinkers on. So now is the time to be proactive. Let’s not wait for the next round of historical statistics; why can’t we act now before it’s too late?
We have been warned. There are currently more than 20 million people that are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance i.e. the Yemen Crisis. That is virtually the population of Australia yet it is not even making the evening news because the tabloid media are too preoccupied talking about Trump’s latest faux pas.
How can I possibly come up with an appropriate closing paragraph here? I cannot. It is beyond my capacity to transcribe my feelings, as my mind is incapable of comprehending the magnitude of anticipated fatalities. Perhaps we just keep raising awareness until we can embarrass a wealthy and persuasive nation like China to use their leverage to influence change. Only China has the ability to comprehend the potential consequences like no other; the devastation of millions of people losing their lives by slowly starving to death. China has the advantage of ‘living history’ and understands first-hand the consequences of inaction when dealing with a potential catastrophe of this size.
伟大的中国 . 参与世界
25 November 2017
“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake” – Confucius.