八卦 : gossip and the unfolding of fate

My inner anthropologist wants to set up the following story with theories about the importance of  fate (命) in creating and maintaining moral communities here in Shenzhen; my inner theorist sees how the matrix of Chinese understandings of family, immigration patterns, and rising Mainland wealth are changing possible ways of globalization; my base self just wants to blurt the juiciest piece of gossip I´ve heard in a while. Not unexpectedly, perhaps, I have decided to skip the analysis and take the low road. Ah yes, joys of ethnography qua blog entry, rather than conference paper or refereed publication!

¨He really is unlucky (倒霉 daomei),¨ my friend smirked, his use of daomei (rather than 不幸 buxing) indicating unlucky in the sense of hapless or pathetic, more the clown than hero of fate.

¨Spill the bagua,¨ I invited. Ba gua (八卦) are the eight hexagrams and the central element of divination in the Yijing. However, the phrase ¨spill the bagua (八卦一下)”means spill the gossip, in all its delicious forms, but most precisely, romantic gossip – who´s hooked up, who´s getting married, and, of course, the results of all this fooling around. This is important, yes, bagua is gossip, but it is also a story about how a human life is destined. Thus, as with daomei, language choice highlights the role of destiny in shaping a particular life.

Well, it turns out that friend Daomei´s girlfriend is an overseas Chinese, second generation sent back to the Mainland to learn Mandarin. The two hooked up and seemed to be enjoying themselves when girlfriend found herself pregnant. She went home to talk with her parents to figure out what to do. A while later, girlfriend returned with parents to talk with Daomei about getting married. Of course, Daomei hadn´t told his parents that he had a serious girlfriend so the parental introduction was awkward. Daomei´s father asked if Daomei was ready to take on the responsibilities of a family.

¨Yes!¨

The next question then was where the two would live. Girlfriend wanted to stay in the Mainland, so Daomei and his father went about buying a house and finding a more or less stable job for Daomei. Meanwhile, girlfriend and parents flew home to prepare to move to China. However, not long afterward, Daomei received a phone call.

¨I think we should live overseas.¨

¨What will I do abroad? I don´t even speak English that well.¨

¨Don´t worry about that. Lots of Chinese abroad don´t know why they´re here; it´s just a question of adjusting. Anyway, my father found you a job and an English program.¨

So, Daomei´s father sold the house and gave the money to Daomei to immigrate and start a new life abroad, ¨After all, son,¨ he said, ¨the money is yours to start your married life.¨

However, even as Daomei began his immigration paperwork, girlfriend miscarried. A second phone call.

¨We lost the baby.¨

¨What about us?¨

¨I need some time to xiangyixiang (想一想 ),¨ she said, indicating her decision to reevaluate the relationship. However, xiangyixiang is a weak expression; we also xiangyixiang about where we want to go to dinner or spend a holiday. All sorts of words might have been conventionally more appropriate – kaolv (考虑) or fanxing (反省), for example. But xiangyixiang it was.

So, Daomei went to his father, returned the money for safe keeping and asked, ¨What´s your next step?¨ The implication being, this is your chance to make a clean break and get your act together.

Daomei answered, ¨I think I need time to xiangyixiang, too.¨

His father sighed, clearly having hoped for a more resolute next step and said, ¨You do that. However, I´m not going to take care of (管 guan) planning your next wedding.¨ And guan as we know involves taking responsibility to insure the best possible result. In many ways, guan is the antidote to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – it is the human commitment to have things unfold according to a righteous plan. Think Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the decision to execute Jesus of Nazareth as an example of the resignation in Dad´s decision not to guan Daomei anymore; I have done what I can and can do no more.

The friend who shared this bit of bagua with me concluded with the comment that ¨The parents are really innocent (无辜 wugu),¨ and by implication had been wronged by fate.

2 thoughts on “八卦 : gossip and the unfolding of fate

  1. They sound really lost and directionless as parents, as a family, possibly in the marriage and as would be immigrants. America basically raised me because my parents were bad parents, bad spouses and frankly, one very flawed conflicted hypocritical and chauvinist father and an extremely sadistic Mommy Dearest. I want royalty payments for the coat hanger scene. I think America saved my parents, I wouldn’t say America saved me because a Hongkong or Chinese environment would have also raised me but America disguised my parents’ shortcomings as parents and allowed them to be Overseas Chinese who believed they were successful when in fact, they really weren’t.

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