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  • Transcriber: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Camille Martínez

  • Helen Walters: Huang, it's so good to see you.

  • Thank you for joining us. How's your 2020 been?

  • Huang Hung: My 2020 started totally normal.

  • In January, I went to Paris,

  • did my interview for the fashion week there,

  • came back to Beijing on January 22nd,

  • and finding things a little bit tense

  • because there were a lot of rumors.

  • Having lived through SARS,

  • I wasn't that concerned.

  • And on the 23rd, I had a friend of mine from New York come to my house

  • who had a flu,

  • and we had dinner together,

  • and another friend who came,

  • who left the next day for Australia for vacation on an airplane.

  • So we were not taking this terribly seriously

  • until there was a lockdown.

  • HW: And we've seen that echo around the world.

  • I think still some people find it hard to understand the magnitude

  • of some of the measures that China took.

  • I mean -- what else are we missing about China's response in all of this?

  • HH: You know, historically,

  • we're just two very different countries

  • in terms of culture and history.

  • I mean, these are two completely different human experiences for its people.

  • So, for China,

  • when the lockdown happens,

  • people are OK.

  • People are OK with it,

  • because they think that's what a good parent should do.

  • You know, if a kid gets sick,

  • you put him in the other room,

  • and you lock him up and make sure that the other kids don't get sick.

  • And they expect that out of the government.

  • But when it is outside of China, from America, it becomes a huge issue

  • of the right political thing to do

  • and whether it's infringing on personal freedom.

  • So the issues that you have to deal with in a democratic society

  • are issues that one does not have to deal with in China.

  • I have to say that there's a word in Chinese

  • that doesn't exist in any other language,

  • and the word is called "guāi."

  • It is what you call a kid

  • who listens to his or her parents.

  • So I think, as a people, we are very "guāi."

  • We have this sort of authoritarian figure

  • that Chinese always look up to,

  • and they do expect the government to actually take the actions,

  • and they will deal with it.

  • However much suffering there is,

  • they feel that, OK, if big brother says that this has to be done,

  • then it must be done.

  • And that really defines China as a separate mentality,

  • Chinese has a separate mentality,

  • as, say, people in Europe and America.

  • HW: That sense of collective responsibility

  • sometimes feels a little absent from this culture.

  • At the same time, there are, I think, valid concerns

  • around surveillance and data privacy, things like that.

  • What is the balance here,

  • and what is the right trade-off between surveillance and freedom?

  • HH: I think in the internet age,

  • it is somewhere between China and the US.

  • I think when you take individual freedom

  • versus collective safety,

  • there has to be a balance somewhere there.

  • With surveillance, the head of Baidu, Robin Li, once said

  • the Chinese people are quite willing to give up certain individual rights

  • in exchange for convenience.

  • Actually, he was completely criticized on Chinese social media,

  • but I think he is right.

  • Chinese people are willing to give up certain rights.

  • For example, we have ...

  • Chinese mostly are very proud of the payment system we have,

  • which is you can go anywhere just with your iPhone

  • and pay for everything,

  • and all they do is face-scan.

  • I think that probably freaks Americans out.

  • You know, China right now, we're still under semi-lockdown,

  • so if you go anywhere, there's an app where you scan

  • and you input your mobile phone number,

  • and the app will tell the guard at the entrance of the mall, for example,

  • where you have been for the past 14 days.

  • Now, when I told that to an American,

  • she was horrified,

  • and she thought it was such an invasion of privacy.

  • On the other hand,

  • as someone who is Chinese

  • and has lived in China for the past 20 years,

  • although I understand that American mentality,

  • I still find I'm Chinese enough to think, "I don't mind this,

  • and I am better, I feel safer entering the mall

  • because everybody has been scanned,"

  • whereas, I think individual freedom as an abstract concept

  • in a pandemic like this

  • is actually really meaningless.

  • So I think the West really needs to move a step towards the East

  • and to think about the collective as a whole

  • rather than only think about oneself as an individual.

  • HW: The rise of antagonistic rhetoric between the US and China

  • is obviously troubling,

  • and the thing is, the countries are interlinked

  • whether people understand global supply chains or not.

  • Where do you think we head next?

  • HH: You know, this is the most horrifying thing that came out of this,

  • the kind of nationalistic sentiments on both sides in this pandemic.

  • Because I'm an optimist,

  • I think what will come out of this

  • is that both sides will realize that this is a fight

  • that the entire human race has to do together and not apart.

  • Despite the rhetoric,

  • the global economy has grown to such an integration

  • that decoupling will be extremely costly and painful

  • for both the United States and China.

  • HW: It's also been interesting to me

  • to see the criticism that China has received quite vocally.

  • For instance, they've been criticized for downplaying the death toll,

  • arguably,

  • also for trying to demonize Dr. Li,

  • the Wuhan doctor who first raised the alarm about the coronavirus.

  • I just saw a report in "The New York Times"

  • that Weibo users have been posting repeatedly on the last post of Dr. Li

  • and using this as kind of a living memorial to him,

  • chatting to him.

  • There's something like 870,000 comments and growing

  • on that last post.

  • Do you see a change in the media?

  • Do you see a change in the approach to Chinese leadership

  • that actually could lead to China swinging perhaps more to the center,

  • just as perhaps America needs to swing more towards a Chinese model?

  • HH: Unfortunately, not really,

  • because I think there is a way

  • between authoritarian governments and its people to communicate.

  • The night that Dr. Li died,

  • when it was announced that he died,

  • the Chinese social media just blew up.

  • Even though he was unjustly treated as a whistleblower,

  • he still went to work in the hospital

  • and tried to save lives as a doctor,

  • and then he died

  • because he contracted the disease.

  • So there was anger, frustration,

  • and all of that came out

  • in kind of commemorating a figure

  • that they feel that the government had wronged.

  • The verdict

  • and sort of the official voice on:

  • "Who is Dr. Li? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?"

  • completely changed 180 degrees.

  • He went from a doctor who misbehaved

  • to the hero who warned the people.

  • So under authoritarian government,

  • they still are very aware of public opinion,

  • but, on the other hand,

  • when people complain and when they commemorate Dr. Li,

  • do they really want to change the system?

  • And my answer is no,

  • because they don't like that particular decision,

  • but they don't want to change the system.

  • And one of the reasons is because

  • they have never, ever known another system.

  • This is the system they know how to work.

  • HW: What is wok-throwing, Huang?

  • HH: Oh, wok-throwing is when you blame somebody else.

  • Basically, someone who is responsible in a slang Chinese

  • is someone who carries a black wok.

  • You are made to be the scapegoat for something that is bad.

  • So basically, Trump started calling it the "Chinese virus,"

  • the "Wuhan virus,"

  • and trying to blame the entire coronavirus pandemic

  • on the Chinese.

  • And then the Chinese, I think, threw the wok back at the Americans.

  • So it was a very funny joke on Chinese social media,

  • that wok-throwing.

  • There's a wok-throwing gymnastics aerobics exercise video that went viral.

  • HW: But tell us, Huang:

  • You're also doing dances on TikTok, right?

  • HH: Oh, of course.

  • I'm doing a lot of wok-throwing aerobics on TikTok.

  • HW: I mean, a potential silver lining of all of this is that it has laid bare

  • some of the inequities, inequalities in the system,

  • some of the broken structures that we have,

  • and if we're smart, we can rebuild better.

  • HH: Yes. I think one of the silver linings of this pandemic

  • is that we do realize

  • that the human race has to do something together

  • rather than to be distinguished by our race, by the color of our skin

  • or by our nationality;

  • that this virus obviously is not discriminating against anyone,

  • whether you are rich or poor,

  • important or not important

  • or whatever skin color or nationality you are.

  • So it is a time to be together,

  • rather than to try to pull the world apart

  • and crawl back to our own nationalistic shells.

  • HW: It's a beautiful sentiment.

  • Huang Hung, thank you so much for joining us from Beijing.

  • Stay well, please.

  • HH: Thank you, Helen, and you stay well as well.

Transcriber: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Camille Martínez

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