How to Become a Thinker: a Chinese Room


March 21, 2021 by The Citron Review

by Wenxin Tang


Part I

First, you don’t get to see surroundings as they are. The grass is a green arrow that penetrates people; the mansions are behemoths that conspire to slice and eat you. You look down at the playground at a school, and students in the same uniforms are jogging in a circle as they are told. You didn’t wear your glasses, and it is pretty hilarious to you. You see tons of lactobacillus forming a chain and running around.

You observe a Chinese room. A girl moves to another seat and talks about the movie she watched last night. Another girl responds by expressing her crave for the actor in the movie, and they both scream with excitement. After a while, they return to their seats. You are upset to witness this scene, and out of nowhere, you simply feel the strong sense of how isolated they are, and the closer they stand to each other, the more you feel their individuality, and therefore they are destined to go back to where they were as an isolated person. Their talk builds connection among themselves, which creates the illusion that they will connect eternally, but then the seat reveals the truth that they will be apart to stay alone. 

In the blank space of a Chinese textbook you comment, “This article is totally racist, how can editors select it?” Your teacher throws a piece of chalk at you, and you calmly say, “Do you have so little ego that you oppress students with violence?” Everyone looks at you with pale faces, and the teacher merely says, “Go to the principal’s office.” You go outside the classroom and roam the running track, reflecting on your teacher’s behavior. You realize you are getting an awful education, which all the students, teachers and parents never attempt to challenge. Those with privileges in your school tend to play fool means: to achieve their purposes, taking advantage of the power gap to tame the children. You begin to question and doubt. 


Part II

Be questioning. Is the bank just a house of deceptive candy and canning chocolate? Why is there a social commonsense like who can wear dresses and who can dance? The dress is merely open underneath whereas pants fit the leg, but they both shield the body, which isn’t too different after all. And then you go deeper, and wonder why people are so shy about the body at all? They lock the door when they go to the lavatory and shower alone. You ask adults about this, and they reply, “When you grow up, you will see.” At that moment, you make up your mind that you will never say these things to your children, as you are irritated by generation gap and it is hardly anyone’s responsibility to pinpoint the problem and explain.

They say, “I love you.” What is this “you”? Is this you the embryo that is in your mom’s uterus? Is this you the ideal and symbol that they imagine before they have you? Is this you the baby that does only have a vague sight and undeveloped mind? Is this you, the lively you, that has lived for 18 summers? Is this you the person who has an entirely different experience as who you are now? 

Your parents visit relatives during Spring Festival and bring gifts for them. They talk about a person being kidnapped on the news, their children’s grades: and pretend to be interested in what others are saying. You ask your parents why they fake-smile, and they reply typically, “When you grow up, you will see.” You hear this answer thousands of times, and you are certain that you have a more intuitively accurate understanding of the world than tamed adults, but you are fed up with the fact that you can’t express them. You write in your journal, If I become a parent in the future, I will never give this answer to my child. You think with unbounded instinct.


Part III

Be empathetic. When you hook clothes, you sense that they are in pain. You paint the paper yellow, blue and purple. You sense that a strong color is needed, and you cut your finger and let the blood drop forming a rosy ribbon of carnival. You dip the brush into the ink and press it on the Xuan paper. You spray the water onto the paper until the paper is immersed in water. The pigment flows on the surface of the water, and you lift the paper, letting colors interact. Ink dissolves in water and the outline of the pattern is vague; it looks like a deer, a lotus, and you keep painting. You think with imagination.

You see people talking about daily life, with rings on their fingers, and arrogant eyes. You have no desire to join. You find the world is merely a projection of your thoughts. You notice suffering in the world, and you can do nothing about it. You realize that you merely complete your life. Even if you do something, your help can hardly exceed the extent of others’ ordeal. Have a continuum of thoughts, from the waitress with her earphones, to the fact that she might be communicating with her boss, to the question of why she came here. You add more fiction to the story, and think that she might not finish her college. Why? You think that she might have become pregnant during college and got her expelled. You begin to regain interest in the world. You think by creating fictional images and stories.

You then become drawn into thinking; you walk in the streets and all of a sudden, stop and close your eyes, frowning as if your mind were focusing on thoughts; you stop in the middle of streets and let the pedestrians glance back at you, or stop in the middle of zebra-striped crossings, and let the vehicles brake and drivers shout aloud at you, “What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy?”

Others say you are neglecting homework, eating, hygiene, and your real life, that you are doing strange things all the time. But you go on thinking and retreat to your mind palace where you have planted numerous trees of thoughts since the age of six. You feel as if you were refreshed by sunlight in your home of thoughts. You feel the water from your left fingers, to your left shoulder, to your mind, to your right shoulder, to your right fingertips. You dance in the elegy of wind.


Wenxin Tang is a twenty-year-old writer, dancer, and visual artist attending New York University Shanghai. She majors in Humanities, with a double minor in Creative Writing and Dance. This is her first published nonfiction piece, and she is glad to embark on the journey of nonfiction writing. She is a poetry editor at Bright Lines Confluences and her poems have been featured in several magazines. Identified as a neurodiverse writer, she writes against the perceived normalcy and dives into the mad muse of language.


One thought on “How to Become a Thinker: a Chinese Room

  1. A wonderfully first published work of creative nonfiction. Fiercely original.

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