Fifty years is ample time in which to change a world and its people almost beyond recognition. All that are required for the task are a sound knowledge of social engineering, a clear sight of the intended goal — and power.
— Chptr 6, “Childhood’s End“ by Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) (wiki)
Clarke’s book is one of my favorite science-fiction stories — a short book with great writing and an amazing plot. I am rereading it after some thirty years. The book was written in 1953–the year before I was born–and like many of Clarke’s books, speaks of technologies in our grasp today but barely imaginable back then. Clarke was a unique genius.
As I read this quote this morning, I thought of my times in China and the contrasts between the Mainland and Taiwan.
China’s civil war ended in 1949 with the Nationalist capitalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek fleeing to Taiwan with 2 million refugees. Redolent of the process of evolution through geographic isolation, here too, this seeded the beginning of the evolution of two different Chinese cultures.
Taking several month holidays from my home in Japan, I first visited Taiwan around 1984 and then visiten the Mainland in about 1984. The contrast was huge. Though both these nations had politically oppressive regimes — where dissent was not tolerated — Taiwan had a prosperous, industrious and polite culture unlike the homeland in the Mainland China.
Through that experience I discovered that it took only two familial generations to completely change a culture. Culture is a tenuous fluxing thing. Culture is not homogenous and it is unstable. And the communists had destroyed much of the beauty of the Chinese culture from only a few decades ago, with the remnants however clearly visible in Taiwan. [see my post: “Does Culture exist“]
I was then again spent went to both Mainland China and Taiwan in 1996 for a little more than a year — 15 years after my first visits. The transformations had continued in all their complexity. Though the mainland had gained much more personal freedom, the scars of the communist social engineering and power remained.
I’m not sure of Clarke’s political positions or if he was foreseeing historical futures in this novel as he was scientific futures, but the quote left me reflecting and wondering.