ZHANG DONG PING: My dreams can be divided into different phases over the course of my life. When the Cultural Revolution ended, I was still a little boy, so later I had the chance to apply for university. During the Cultural Revolution, this was very difficult because people were selected by social status and recommendation, not by entry exams. Only towards the end of Mao’s reign did the government start to use entry exams. I think the competition was no less fierce than at the Olympic Games. It was a very impressive moment for me. After passing the exams, I starting having recurrent dreams in which I failed the exam and couldn’t go to university. I guess I had these dreams because I passed the exam. If I hadn’t passed, I would probably have dreamt about passing the exams and going to university. Dreams are always a reflection of what one most needs, hopes, fears, desires or strives for. While I was studying at university, I still had this dream quite often, as well as other ones. For example, I would dream that I failed in an exam or that I was cheating and got caught by the teacher, things like that.
When I started working, I started having dreams about travelling by train. The university I went to is quite far away from my hometown. I missed my family a lot, I never stopped thinking about them. In those dreams I wanted to take a train to travel to my hometown, but I always missed the train. At that moment, the transportation system in China was not very good, there were no buses to my hometown, no planes, the only way to get there was by train, and the train only went a few times per week. It’s quite a long trip, too. When I went home, I always worried that I might miss the train. So that’s probably why I dreamt about missing the train so often. Some time later I got a job in Taiyuan, now I have my own home and don’t need to go to my hometown so often. So my heart relaxed.
When I had been working for many years, I started to realize that I wasn’t learning anything new. So I started having dreams about going back to school, until I actually enrolled for an MA degree. But then my worries about failing exams started to show up again in my dreams. I always dream about the things that I’m afraid of. For example, I never dream about gaining social status or becoming rich. If I won the lottery one day, I would probably dream about losing all my money, or if I gained social status, I would dream that I’m nobody. I think that dreams show us the things we are not taking into account when we are happy and relaxed. Here is another dream, which may be related to some difficulties I was having recently. Some time ago I encountered problems in my job, I realized that I wasn’t getting as much out of it as I was putting into it. So I started having dreams in which I was walking down a road that led to the school in my hometown, and there was a stairway on the road. I tried to climb up the stairway but it suddenly broke into pieces.
I’ve been working for many years now, always in jobs related to management. I like to analyze things, so my job is to make feasibility studies for engineering projects. That’s different from what people do who work in the social sciences, or what writers or artists do. They might be good at describing something visually and with feeling, but I prefer to describe things logically. Maybe some people describe their dreams more visually, how things looked like in the dream. I’m always trying to analyze my dreams in terms of logical aspects. Maybe that’s because thinking in this way has become a habit for me, through the education I had and the experience I gained in my job. I think there is more clarity in describing dreams in this way, with logic and analysis. But other people may prefer to describe their dreams as one picture after another.
A lot of different scenes appear in my dreams. For example, I dreamt about a small train station on the way back to my hometown. It was snowing. I was standing on the platform and couldn’t buy a ticket. Or I dreamt that I went to a school that I seemed to know, I went to the dormitory where I had lived, on the 5th floor. In another dream I entered a classroom and I felt that I had been there before, there was a garden outside with a little well, and many of my former classmates were sitting in the garden. There was a little bridge, I crossed it and reached a road, a very long road ahead of me. Those dreams are about the university that I went to.
I work very hard every day but there really isn’t happening very much at my workplace, so I don’t dream about my job very often, only sometimes. Once I made a serious mistake at work and lost my position. I didn’t lose my job but I was downgraded. I dreamt that I had to go to work in a factory, but then I became a manager at that factory. I had to manage some kind of process. The director came and complimented me on my work. I lost my position and then I dreamt about regaining it. Now I’ve come to terms with this failure and to tell the truth, even if I had a chance to regain my prior position, I wouldn’t do it. This failure used to be a huge burden, but now I’ve overcome it. I now see things from a higher viewpoint, I’m no longer seeking recognition through my work.
My ideal dream is not having the need to work. I don’t like working, especially in this society, no matter whether in China or outside of China. I feel that work doesn’t have any meaning or value for life. If you ask me how a person should live, I would say something like what Marxist theory says about the communist society. Human beings are not living in order to work. Working is a burden, in fact here in China everyone, from the president to normal people, even the president of Beijing University says that the thing he most dislikes in his life is working. So if one day I don’t have to work anymore, that would be great. The people of my generation who are around 40 years old, they were raised with the idea that work and career are everything in life. So maybe they all dream of not having to work anymore. The younger people are taking things easier, they have more individual lives. But my generation was educated by the Chinese Communist Party for many years, we take our job as everything we have, we work all our lifetime no matter whether it’s a good job or a bad one. The job always comes first, then the family. We regard success in our job as success in our life. It’s not like in America where the job comes second and the family comes first.
I no longer think that way. I feel pity for my generation, because the way we look at our life and the way we look at success makes our life miserable and a failure. I think we shouldn’t work so much and instead be truly ourselves, be free as human beings, not tie ourselves to our jobs. Maybe as society progresses and people have higher incomes, everyone starts to think this way. If everyone had enough food and didn’t have to worry about their daily needs, then maybe they wouldn’t think that work is everything. What I want to do now is work for what I like, do research about life and human beings, what is most important in life, how not to make it boring, how to make life valuable not only for myself but also for others. I want to know how to start a life and how to end it, what is the future after life ends, why we live, what life is, how we can live in harmony with nature and with the Tao, what is the place of human beings in nature. I want to find the answers to these questions and maybe bring some revelation to other people as well.