inside thoughts on China and beyond

Common Prosperity

I remember him well, that young Uyghur man.  He was just sitting there, behind a table on the side of one of Kashgar’s dusty alleys. Selling his bread. Not selling anything at all. In his mind a thunderstorm. Lightning flashing from the eyes. His stare could kill. A deep growing hatred, uncontrollably visible, against the ruling Han who seem to get all the good stuff. Well, not from him!

I had to think of him when I heard president Hu Jintao’s speech to the nation. Very likely forgetting, and if not that, then surely well-ignoring his Uyghur subordinates, emperor Hu spoke these memorable words during his New Year address last week: “We will continue to work with the people of all countries to jointly promote the building of a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity.”

Had it been 5 years earlier, his words would have received less attention than the always tears-pulling speech of Miss World -whom, by the way, was elected in China this year among her beautiful competitors; just to say: there are elections in China- but now, his words are scrutinized carefully by such temporarily leaders as Merkel, Obama, Putin and Patil, whom all have been quick to pay tribute to world’s upcoming number 1 and accept the unavoidable portion of humiliation while polishing their weapons that can be sold to China soon. With China literally buying out most of Europe and the rest of the world, what else can they do but to kneel for the new king?

In this spirit of growing self-awareness and determination, the rest of China is transforming into a neo-feudal society. With income gaps rocketing as fast and huge as the skyscrapers around us, the first ripples appear in the China’s own harmonious waters.

Take for example You Qian and Hen Qiong, both 27 years old. They really loved each other and that had started during their early university years, quite some years ago. The plans were made. The lives were merged. The future was dreamed.  She, Hen Qiong, came from the countryside where her parents were smalltime farmers. You Qian’s fuerdai parents had been able to climb the economic ladder and become wealthy and influential in the last 2 decades.  On their first visit home – Hen Qiong’s first visit to her future parents-in-law – the dream quickly turned into nightmare and by the end of that glorious day, scattered into thousand pieces. You Qian’s parents pressured him to break off the relationship, even threatened to stop paying his bills and BMW. He eventually gave in and jumped the wagon to keep his car, dumping his long time girlfriend with the following wise words:  “I am not mature enough yet to know and my parents are older and more experienced in matters of love so I better obey them.”

Well done, boy! Confucius would have been proud of you! Surely your parents, who dropped you off in the pre-kindergarten boarding school when you were barely 3 years old, so they could continue living their own lives in different cities, each with their own group of friends and affairs and concubines and mahjong tables and shopping malls, leaving your grandparents to check you out weekly and spoil you in the weekends, surely these parents are the Confucius example to guide your life. You Qian’s parents want to see him marrying into a family with equal assets and status. Some more is OK too. And daddy is busy building guanxi and has already talked – or to be more accurate: drunk- with some business relations and latest news is that a deal is on the way. A win-win for both, really.

A couple of years ago, our 19-year old house helper, a farm girl fleeing poverty and looking for a better life in the city -and surely with potential- one day did not return from her hometown visit because a local matchmaker hired by her mum had found a match. Transactions were made that same day. Another dream scattered.

As a Westerner in China, this blows your mind. Are we in the 21st century here? Or the 12th? Don’t these fuerdai and matchmakers and parents and modern young Chinese know that in this century, young people look for true love? But then, this is China. A recent research has revealed that for 70% of all Chinese college students, money comes first when looking for a partner. And they are not looking for a business partner! It does explain why You Qian’s parents are worried. And why business men are looking for love when away from home, only to end up with naked sex and a lighter wallet. And why 90% of the marriage problems are caused by money and property disputes.

With a sea of billionaires and an ocean of migrant workers, when will we realize that the ripple could well be the start of a tsunami? Is this the harmony of Hu’s new world? It seems that in all the excitement, many Chinese are forgetting the wise words from one of their early ancestors: “With money you can buy a house but not a home.”

4 responses

  1. I have to admit that You Qian and Hen Qiong are not their real names but pseudonyms. It’s kind of word play: ‘You Qian’ literally means ‘have money’ and is used to describe a rich person; ‘Hen Qiong’ means ‘very poor’….

    January 22, 2011 at 10:58 am

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