Big man, small man

This concept of big man, small man(da ren, xiao ren) has a very long history in the Chinese culture. The rich and powerful were called da ren while the poor and weak were called xiao ren. This was rooted for centuries that it became part of the culture and character of the Chinese people. And the poor and weak submissively referred to themselves, very naturally, as xiao ren when speaking to the da ren. In the palace or among officials, they went one step further by referring to the servants and those of lower ranks as nou cai or slave servants.

By accepting and acknowledging such demeaning terms, the weak and poor were psychologically defeated and accepted their stations in life as people with lesser or no rights vis a vis the rich and powerful. This kind of mentality seems to be so deeply engraved in the bones of some Chinese people, even those in modern Singapore, despite receiving western education that preaches equality and democratic rights of every citizen. There are still Singaporeans who believed and willing to accept that they are less equal than the rich and powerful, that they are the xiao ren in life.

The Indian Singaporeans could be bettered off here after breaking away from their caste system when some are da ren or bigger da ren and some xiao ren or smaller xiao ren in a similar sense. Just by their names they could tell where and what cast the person is. With the influx of the higher castes and richer India Indians as new citizens or PRs, some of the caste system and antics are starting to seep into our society. The lower castes would be shunned naturally. But a Samuel Jacob or a Peter Vincent will keep the new Indian citizens puzzled. Where did they come from, some Tuans from Britain. It is quite an ingenious way to discard and break away from the stigma of lower castes by the adoption of a western name. Now all is equal in some ways.

I am not too informed of the Malay Singaporeans and their perception of their position in society vis a vis the royalties. Fortunately we don’t have royalties here and all is equal.

How relevant is this da ren and xiao ren mentality to modern day Chinese Singaporeans? Ingrained deeply in their bones, and in their blood, the xiao ren are full of humility and self deprecating behavior. They still cannot understand nor accept what democracy and the rights of citizens mean to them. They cannot see themselves as equals even to those elected as their representatives in govt. They still look up to them as the da ren, to listen to, to obey and to do what they are being told. No questioning of their authority or bad decisions that were detrimental to their xiao ren interests. Just accept the position and status of xiao ren and remain, and live life as the unthinking and obeying xiao ren. And the da ren will insist that the xiao ren know their place when talking to them.

I was rebuked for addressing our da ren by names in all my articles, in TRE. In the minds of the xiao ren, this is no big no small, not knowing our position in society. Talking or addressing da ren, one must show respect and humility. How can xiao ren refer to a da ren by name. Very unbecoming, very unacceptable. Obviously that xiao ren has never worked in a MNC before.

From the chat sites, it is often repeated by the bloggers that the xiao ren must plead with the govt to have mercy on them, to change policies to be nicer to them. Their gripes are mostly about obscene housing prices, foreign talents taking away good jobs and unable to take out all their CPF savings. And they could only think of pleading with the govt to be kinder to them, to make housing prices not so expensive, to take in lesser foreign talents, to let them have a bit more of their CPF savings.

In their xiao ren psychic, they never know that they can vote out all the da ren that does not serve their interests and vote in a govt that will work for them. They even fear the govt will come down hard on them like the old days of imperial China. They forgot that their CPF savings are their money. So they choose to plead with the govt like xiao ren pleading to da ren.

The precedents set by the Hougang and Aljunied voters did not seem to wake up the xiao ren mentality. They are still locked or trapped in being xiao ren for good. No amount of education, enlightening of their rights to be equal to every citizen will shake them out of their mental prison. Hey, the ministers that were voted out are now ordinary citizens like you and me.

The surprising change is that the China Chinese have actually discarded this ancient entrapment and are freer as a people. They will protest and fight for their rights as an equal, the rights that every citizen has. There will still be oppression, but they are fighting. They no longer fear authority. The have been liberated from the yoke of the past embedded into their DNA as xiao ren. They no longer called themselves xiao ren anymore. They will demand for their rights as citizens of their country.

The xiao ren of Singapore should learn from the unrefined China men and women on what it is like to be treated equally among all citizens. No doubt there are still many da ren in China that are still corrupt to the core in power politics. But things are improving with many been caught and hanged. The table is turning, and time to learn from the students.


Anonymous said...

"They even fear the govt will come down hard on them like the old days of imperial China."

Not imperial China, something closer in time and geography.. "like the 1960s of Operation Cold Storage", otherwise known as the "da4 dai2 bu3" among the elderly Singaporeans.

WL said...

The China Chinese will protest and fight for their rights because they have learnt that to trust those in authority, you do so at your own peril. When push comes to shove, you stand up and be counted or you perish without a whimper.

Anonymous said...

Only the rational, independent and radical thinking folks are able to liberate themselves.
The rest are followers, slaves if not xiao rens.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi WL and guys,

Thousands of years of cultural and political indoctrination about the mandate of heaven and fate have made a people submissive. This was one of the traits that Mao tried to erase during his cultural revolution, to create a new people not imprisoned by past outdate values.

In a way Mao had succeeded and there is a new will in the new China Chinese, unlike the remnants of old China Chinese here, daft, compliant and fearful of authority and da ren.

WL said...

Hi redbean,
Have to disagree on Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Mao used fear to ensure a compliant population. He encouraged the citizens to tell on each other to keep them in check (Mao went from ren to da ren). People became fearful and suspicious - what they said in public belied what they thought in private. I have met Chinese intellectuals, now in their 60s & 70s, who had been through the Cultural Revolution. Their tales of living in that period were sad and heartbreaking; so many lives wasted, so much talent and potential squandered. It was when Deng Xiaoping opened up China that we see that country slowly reformed to what it is today.

agongkia said...

Mr Bean,
Sorry,you have overlook that there is also another type of xiao ren who is capable of getting one into trouble without the victim knowing.These xiao ren can actually be a Da Ren.And Da Ren can actually be a xiao ren.

I heard Yue Fei met a DaRen who is also a Xiao Ren.Da Ren can be a xiao Ren and xiao Ren can also be a Da Ren.If you are a Da Ren,dun be a xiao ren,if want to be xiao ren, dun be a Da Ren.
There is a saying to say that 2 types of people one must not offend.Nee Ren and xiao ren.
Da Ren is not mention because no one know that many of them are actually xiao ren.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi WL,

You are right that the Cultural Revolution was a very destructive and frightening experiment. It was ruthless and brutal and dragged China several decades backward.

Those were times when some rulers, including Pol Pot of Kampuchea, were experimenting with starting a country from year 0. In a way the cultural revolution had this as one of its goal. Wipe out everything, good or bad, and start anew. Many talents were killed, treasures destroyed...

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi agongkia,

This is another definition of xiao ren which described sneaky bastards. Yes, snooping around trying to do others in. And they can be people in high places, and low places.

The internet has a low of such low lives, making it as a profession, to earn a living with no morals.

Anonymous said...

Well, the Chinese has a saying that whence the wily/foxy canine species(cai-lang or xiao-ren tang tao) rule, there wll be chaos.
Maybe we are into such an era.