inside thoughts on China and beyond

Power Struggle

China is cut in two. No, not another revolution or uproar, not here, most Chinese are far too busy to think about their rights. Although there was a call for protest earlier this week via internet and the location chosen for this ‘Jasmine’ march in Beijing was very symbolic: by McDonalds. Only one visitor showed up: the US ambassador. He still claims it was just a toilet stop. Being photographed without a hamburger in his hand, what else could he say?

No, China is cut in two, but rather than ensnaring myself politically, I prefer to keep it plain and simple and talk logically; geologically; climatologically; anthropologically. You see, it’s the big Yangtze river we can blame for this. Starting high up in the Tibetan Plateau, then rushing through high cliffs on its way down to the wide delta by Shanghai. This river has caused division for centuries. Beifang and nanfang. North and south. It has blocked armies going from north to south. (Although the hordes of Genghis Khan did make it to the south but soon got homesick and rushed back to their steppes.) It has stopped the good and tasty food from the south going north. Wheat in the north; rice in the south. Large baozi (bread buns) filled with tasty, sweet meat south; tasteless steamed buns of dough called mantou in the north. Somehow the Northerners keep forgetting to fill it. Giants in the north; midgets in the south. Ruling happens in the north business in the south. Bureaucrats in the north; merchants in the south. It has always been like this. Chinese in the north find the southerners wild and uncontrolled; you can imagine what southerners think of those in the north…

The cold is in the north, and thus, many years ago, it was decided to give central heating to all cities and towns in the northern half. Rulers need to be warm. And because the government determines temperature  and timing, everyone is suffering frostbite during the first 2 cold weeks. But that seems fine with everyone since no one is heard complaining about it; “doesn’t the party know what is best for us?” It was not long ago that couples needed the party’s approval  to get married, which they often got because it was the party that had coupled them  in the first place. But what is more; go to any cold northern city after the heating is turned on and you will see people in their homes wearing only T-shirts, sweating away, often opening windows to let some of the heat out. That’s why it is called ‘city heating’.

The south never got any heating at all. We do open our windows though. Here, even with temperatures just above freezing point, windows are opened to let warmer outside air in while even inside still wearing 5 layers of clothes.

When I came to China with my family, we decided to live as our Chinese neighbors: no air-condition heating, just here and there a mobile electric or gas heater and our 5 layers. Each winter my family practically lives on 1 square meter around that small heater. We have become very close. But if we really want to warm up, we go for a ride. In the early years on our bikes, but now in the car. Nice and warm in the traffic jam. That’s where we would often see our neighbors. But most of our Chinese neighbors have long since moved along with time and are all enjoying air-condition heat in their homes and so has most of Chengdu, as long as there is power.

And I was just about to type away when the power went off. Not that this never happened before, but we haven’t experience a power-cut for quite a while in our part of town. Now, on a cold and dark day like this, they cut the power. No light, no heat, no wifi. Back to the car!

But this is nothing compared with what officials did in a small city (only 2.3 million people) up in the north of China. Because the central government had set spectacular environmental goals and a new power plant was not in operation yet, the old coal power plant was ordered to close down for the rest of this winter. It literally left 1000’s of families in the cold, but so be it. China’s history is drenched with examples where it was OK that people suffer and die if it benefits the progress of the community as a whole. Or just the progress of the leaders, for that matter. As true patriots and servants of the people, they don’t mind suffering, as long as it is done by others. This I learned, when I asked why the power was never cut in the previous complex I used to live: it so happened that we had some powerful neighbors back then. Unfortunately, they didn’t come with our new apartment. China is clearly cut in two: those with power and those without. And we, we are without…

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