inside thoughts on China and beyond

News and Other Secrets

A young fellow came and sat down with us. He looked fresh from college, smartly dressed in the newest sportswear. Smelled as if he had just taken a dive in a bottle of cheap Adiddas aftershave. We were to discuss the use of his swimming pool -not his, of course, but the one he manages for his boss – who was reported to be 40 years old and hopefully more matured. We were close to making a deal when Adiddas boy asked: “Do you have any Japanese students?” It came to me as a surprise and the essence of this question didn’t dawn on me until after I said, “Yes, some; and Americans, Dutch, French, Taiwanese, you name it! All great kids!”
“You can’t bring the Japanese. They are bad.” He didn’t say that last sentence but I clearly heard it. When he realized how ridiculous this must have sounded from one  still wet behind the ears and surely barely out of his split pants – the Chinese environmental friendly and cheap solution to the early-years diaper need; you can literally see them peeing all over the place – he added quickly that his boss had stipulated this. “I’m just doing my job, sorry.” That was the end of the deal and my first encounter with the result of a government’s effectively stirring-up of a collective anger as if the Japs had left only yesterday, fueling the people’s emotions and increasing need of national unity, political distraction and a common pride. This was one year ago.

Here, you will never find these stories in the newspapers. Ah, newspapers! One of the pleasures I really miss here in China. The sensation that comes from unfolding a newspaper after a days long work. Letting the world go by knowing that there isn’t really anything you can do about it. Drought in Africa while you sip your coffee. But the emotion it stirs up in you creates a sense of belonging and self righteousness and is worth the paper and time.

Well, that’s what I miss. And so, even the China Daily will do. Kind of China’s paper version of the Voice of America; freely printing away anything the party allows and keeping out what is not good for the people. Not that there is any choice: the China Daily is in most of China the only English paper available. But the time has past that China had just as much papers as it had provinces. Magazines and periodicals were in thin supply and printed on even thinner recycled paper made to look unattractive as befits the communistic era. That was the time that cars were small and rusty from day one; villas were unknown and the apartment blocks were joyless gray with blue windowpanes and prison bars sticking out as monkey cages in front of it. Back then, all that was OK because there was no competition, no one who cared and no one who dared. These magazines are still there – just as some of the gray living quarters that still stand in the shadow of high skyscrapers; as prehistorical bones found around Chengdu, small reminders of a time that no longer exists- but on the shelves they are now overshadowed by glossy magazines of all sizes and topics. The publishing market is exploding and so tempting for western media empires that Murdock married his way into the Middle Kingdom and Maxwell gave up trying.

The content is improving though. Global Times – never heard of it before, but there it is- from 2010-09-30 mentioned a survey among China’s city and provincial governments about transparency. China has a “transparency watchdog”. That alone is good news! Only 2 of the 43 government bodies barely made the open-information requirements set by Beijing as did only one-third of the cities. Tibet and Taiwan were not included. You wonder why. Nor was the USA. Maybe next year. At the bottom of the list was Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Luckily that only the facts were out and no analysis or possible explanation or solutions were given. Just the naked facts; true transparency untroubled by irritating and irrelevant opinions. And most Chinese seems OK with it. “Don’t our leaders know better?” They don’t wonder. Whether this willingly blind submission is due to their so tempting and yearly increasing pay-check or the patriotic urge to beat Japan and conquer USA or behavior ingrained in the Chinese culture over many centuries of imperial rule or a recovering Confucius awareness or all of this together, one must admit that the party’s approach to developing and modernizing China has been very effective. Some confuse it with democracy.

The West should be happy. They are not. Like the older brother that jealously disposes the success of the younger brother, or a big bully that sees its victim outgrow him and awaits trembling in cold sweat what is to come. After a century of slicing up, drugging, humiliating and even massacring China and it’s people, the powers of old can all but wait. The child we once beat is now the adult we so desperately need to stop us from going down the cliff. Will he want to hold our hand, and honestly, why should he?

If the present is a window to the future, let’s face it. For several weeks now, the first Chinese Nobel Prize winner is locked up in the cold north; the South China Sea islands and every drop of oil in-between and underneath are claimed by China causing clashes with Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines; Churches are built with government support but 400 Christians ready to attend a conference in Singapore were forbidden to leave the country. These are the enlightened days to get rich and shut your mouth. And you’re fine as long as you don’t mention ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ or ‘Tiananmen Square’ in one sentence.

And once again riots against Japanese companies and expats have stirred the cities. The police and military that otherwise are so quick to suppress are now playing mahjong on the side of the road. Two Chengdu girls wearing traditional Chinese dresses from a famous Chinese dynasty of long ago; a period of time when China greatly influenced the Japanese culture, were forced to undress because the gowns were thought to be Japanese by the mob, mostly students. So much for the historical knowledge of this future generation of intellectuals. But then, you can’t really blame them in a land where history is rewritten every other decade.

At the end of the day, no matter who and where you are, it is not the hurt from the past that will move us forward, but the never ending opportunities of the future. And maybe it was for that reason that my daughter said: “Dad, can we eat at the new Japanese restaurant tonight?”

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