The mass shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, shows how culture shapes personality trait and life destiny.
David Wenwei Chou (周文偉) is accused of killing John Cheng (鄭達志), a prominent doctor, and injuring five other Taiwanese Americans inside the church.
Motivated by his belief not to let Taiwan separate from China, Chou reflects an immoral universe filled with hatred and prejudice.
As a former director of the US National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, he has been associated with a culture that must be declared that of a terrorist group.
Cheng, a grand master in martial arts, sacrificed himself to save dozens of lives.
Johnna Gherardini, a medical colleague, described him as a “natural protector and healer,” while “his heroism saved so many people not only at that church, but throughout his career.”
Heroes liberate people from grave danger; evil pushes people into grave danger. The unmistakably different cultures Cheng and Chou represent are vividly recognized when this happens before our very eyes.
No country has a perfect culture. Even the US, due to polarized political divisions, has existed as a flawed democracy for six years. Gun violence, racial prejudice, wealth disparity, healthcare inequality and alternative facts only make US culture less admirable.
There are, nevertheless, distinctively strong and weak cultures.
Positive culture improves the integrity of institutions, and kindness and compassion in social policies. Conversely, institutional leadership, fairness and openness set an example to nurture better cultures.
Positive culture and institutions of integrity are the two legs a society uses to constantly move toward justice and equality.
Negative culture of hatred, superstition and violence consumes energy and resources, making progress difficult, wasting talent, spreading poverty and making life hard.
Moreover, rulers and institutions tend to be authoritarian and unreasonable. It is tough to break the vicious cycle.
China developed a great civilization with Confucianism, Taoism, legalism, Mohism and great wealth from industrial mass production. Unfortunately, ruled under a feudal system for thousands of years, China became autocratic and bureaucratic.
Lacking separation of powers to provide checks and balances leads to tyranny, cruelty and poverty, which thwarts courage, compassion and innovation.
Worse yet, disinformation and brainwashing steers people to become, for example, little red guards during the Cultural Revolution, as to inflict unimaginable cruelty to professors, generals, musicians or even their own parents.
Their zeal for national glory yielded the culture to the dark side.
Thus, it is easy to understand Chou’s action, which simply reflected the evil spirit in the Chinese Communist Party’s wish to devour Taiwan, and intimidate Taiwanese voices for democracy and freedom.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近坪) has the ambition for China to take on world leadership, but that will not happen without a strong culture.
As Northrop Frye said: “In an immature society, culture is an import; for a mature one, it is a native manufacture which eventually becomes an export.”
While China is an exporter of goods, it needs to import better culture to be mature.
A country’s membership in the world community is correlated strongly with its culture, just as Ruth Benedict described: “The crucial differences which distinguish human societies and human beings are not biological. They are cultural.”
Taiwan’s long rainy season often makes country roads muddy and slippery. Therefore, walking needs each step to be firmly pressed on the ground. Consequently, “one step, one footprint” has been the merit of Taiwanese culture, which shapes the life philosophy of common people to value honesty and truthfulness.
Moreover, the compassion from religion, the melting pot of different cultures and the long struggle against dictatorship all helped the Taiwanese cultural evolution to pursue democracy and freedom.
Then, the National Health Insurance propelled Taiwan to the top 20 of the world’s happiest countries.
It reflects the wisdom of Henry Beecher: “That is true culture which helps us to work for the social betterment of all.”
Laws and legal precedents accumulate wisdom to define proper manners. The International Court of Justice should issue restraining orders to stop China’s continual jet excursions around Taiwan. If China fails to comply, an arrest warrant for the Chinese president should be circulated for the crime of harassment.
This should press those countries still living in the wild west to abide by civilized codes and help their cultural evolution for the better.
Cheng is a shining example showing how true culture is carried forward.
James Hsu is a retired physics professor who taught at National Cheng Kung University, and is a member and former president of the North America Taiwanese Professors’ Association.
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