THE GULF BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
Review by Chris Newman, April 2022
Western and Oriental perspectives on the same thing often have different meanings for both the observer and the participant.
If you are a Westerner and observe or participate in a situation, your Western cultural programming will define its meaning.
And if you are an Asian observer and experience or observe the same event, you will interpret it from your Oriental cultural programming.
Because of our differing mental frameworks, Westerners and Orientals often talk past each other. The demands of intercultural communications blur distinctions and allow for misinterpretation.
This brings me to the movie Unsilenced a powerful and gripping drama about the Chinese Communist State’s (CCP) persecution of a group of young Falun Gong practitioners.
In 1999 the CCP began its crackdown on this spiritual movement. Unsilenced is a well-produced testimony of bravery, cruelty, persecution, and obsession that resulted from the State’s intervention in people’s lives.
It will touch the hearts of Westerners and Orientals alike. But in quite different ways.
Based on the storyline and images, my Western interpretation of the movie recognises the individual’s classic fight against the system for freedom of religion, human rights, and freedom of choice.
For decades I heard testimonies of Communist authorities behind the Iron Curtain persecuting their Christian compatriots.
As a Catholic schoolboy, I learned of Christians in Ancient Rome persecuted for their faith.
Surely this story about Falun Gong practitioners undergoing harsh treatment by agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a parallel case? The Falun Gong members deserve my sympathetic support.
As I watched the plot of Unsilenced unfold, a brief scene caught my attention. Like a stain on a spotless shirt, the dialogue exposed an unexpected accident.
A CCP agent is reflecting on the rapid rise of a home-grown spiritual movement in a Communist country.
From its beginning in 1992 to the onset of CCP persecution in 1999, Falun Gong rocketed from nothing to one hundred million members.
That was during the period of Deng Xiaoping’s social liberalisation.The formative years of the movement were under CCP approval.
Then the CCP leadership realised this baby was growing into a giant. Falun Gong recruitment at universities enlisted thousands of new members every week.
The Chinese people’s hunger for spiritual food brought this unexpected outcome. The CCP liberalisation policy had gone too far.
How would the authorities react when the fruit of their social policy threatened the security of their Maoist State?
This psycho-political predicament introduces the pivotal moment in “Unsilenced.” The CCP official declares that Falun Gong would soon be more popular among the Chinese than the Party.
He concludes that the people’s love for the Party would fade, and their love for Falun Gong would flourish.
To the average Westerner, this situation is a typical outcome in the “marketplace of competing ideas.”
To the average Chinese mind then and now, any person who would replace love for the Party with love for Falun Gong is guilty of the unforgivable crime of disloyalty.
Westerners value freedom above loyalty. We give our commitment because we are free. To the Oriental mind, the Western world, with its random groupings and celebration of individualism, is chaotic and messy.
Orientals value loyalty above freedom. They submit themselves to the dictates of their group. In turn, the group protects them.
That is the Oriental system of hierarchical control. Providing each member acts with loyalty, the top-down social order assures everyone of limited social freedoms.
These contrasting perspectives completely change the interpretation by both participant and observer, of events in each society, East and West.
Unsilenced is a Chinese story about what happens to a person inside Chinese society when they are disloyal to the group.
In this case, the CCP is the controlling group that senses an unexpected danger from its own members.
The Western journalist who seeks to rescue the fugitive Falun Gong students from CCP brutality acts with humanistic compassion or Christian charity.
Unsilenced does not show us his moral compass because that is not relevant to the narrative.
There is another moral dimension to this tale. The journalist has a westernised Chinese secretary. She plays a deceptive game and presents him with the gift of a beautiful oriental vase.
Inside the vase sits a concealed CCP microphone. The unsuspecting Westerner is most appreciative of this act of apparent Eastern generosity.
Outside in the street, the CCP agents, hidden in their van, are eavesdropping on our journalist. They suspect he will contact the fugitive Falun Gong members.
The secretary’s appearance as a “modern professional Oriental woman” conceals her compromised morality.
She expresses disdain for Falun Gong and suggests the journalist take his US employer’s advice and avoid them.
A modernised Chinese tells a Westerner that persecution of innocent young Chinese students is acceptable.
Behind her lurks a CCP agent who controls her through fear and threats of harm. This is the CCP’s China, an ancient story of despotism, secret agendas, betrayal, and compromised virtue.
Unsilenced depicts realistic situations where CCP agents apply brutal tactics and torture to their young and innocent Falun Gong captives.
Publicly the CCP employs hostile media propaganda and outright lies to discredit the Falun Gong organisation and, by proxy, all its members.
They enlist the Chinese population, most members of which are programmed into the Loyalty worldview.
The central CCP premise is that any citizen in their right mind would persecute the disloyal traitors and assist the lawful CCP authorities to apprehend such despicable people.
In 1999 after seven years of State acceptance, the sudden CCP change in attitude caught the Falun Gong practitioners entirely by surprise.
For their commitment to the innocence and ideals of Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance, the four main characters suddenly became public enemies.
They protested peacefully by handing out leaflets and hanging banners declaring the goodness of Falun Gong. But the harshness of the CCP response soon had them running for their lives.
What the CCP agents did not understand was the deeper motivation of the Falun Gong practitioners.
These were gentle souls who believed they were taking personal responsibility to support the advance of Chinese culture and civilisation.
The idea of hurting the CCP would never enter their awareness. This social fact proves Unsilenced is not about religious persecution.
The CCP was not interested in religious ideology. Its goal was to exterminate a rival social movement competing for the soul of the Chinese nation.
Both examples of the Chinese world view reveal tragic blindness. The CCP’s Maoist perspective cannot recognise or embrace the spiritual needs of the people and their ancient traditions.
In turn, the Falun Gong teaching cannot equip its practitioners to comprehend the existence of manifest evil as it dwells within individuals and in Chinese culture.
The Western mind is not accustomed to thinking about loyalty to culture and group. Our culture gives priority to individual choice.
Each person is free to belong to any group and share their commitment to any cause. The caveat of the Christian-based Golden Rule is not to harm any others in the process of your journey.
Christian teaching instructs us that evil lurks within the heart of humanity, and the solution comes through an individual act of deep repentance.
In our naivete, Westerners often assume that Asian cultures function just like ours. They have modernised, made concrete hi-rise buildings, wear Western clothes, drive cars, and use computers just like us.
Unsilenced shatters the myth of sameness. Unfortunately, very few Westerners will see that truth, for their cultural programming creates a different world.
While Oriental cultures value personal loyalty above individual conscience, they will always restrict and persecute their members.
Group leaders control their followers by keeping them in inferior positions while demanding their loyalty.
That tradition means that persecution awaits those who seek to develop their souls beyond the status quo spirituality.
The innovators and pioneers of new ways look like disloyal traitors. In the Western context, we regard such people as cultural heroes.
Those who would shape group loyalty to enforce stifling agendas become despots over their fellows.
In either case, Oriental societies are stuck in a cultural straitjacket of psycho-social-spiritual oppression.
Unsilenced is a credible version of the Easterner’s cultural predicament. This movie opens a door for understanding between East and West, but too few understand how to turn the handle and discover the secrets.