Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Xie Xie and Zaijian

Today is my last day in Beijing.

It's my last day living in the Chinese capital after three years, two months and about three weeks.

I came here in April 2007 eager to have a greater understanding of the country and to find out if it really is going to be the next superpower.

When you first arrive, you are impressed by what it has achieved so far and think it has so much potential to be greater.

The people in general are good, honest folk, but their lack of common sense and basic skills can lead to frustration. Just go to any restaurant and flagging down a fuwuyuan or waitstaff is a test in patience, as they'd rather ignore you.

The newly-constructed buildings look shiny and sleek, but after a few years they are still unoccupied, or look run-down due to the low-quality building materials or lack of management.

And then you begin to see the numerous contradictions in the country, like how in the constitution people have the right to petition the central government and many make the journey to Beijing. But once they get to the capital, they are whisked away and thrown into "black jails" where they are illegally held for days, months, weeks before being sent back to their hometowns.

People spend their hard-earned money to buy an apartment, only to have it confiscated later by government officials who have sold the land to developers in return for kickbacks. The developers take over these properties by cutting off the gas, water, electricity, and then even sending thugs to beat up the so-called owners of the place.

While the country's GDP was at double digits for several years until last year at 8 percent, and holds some $2 trillion in US Treasury bills, these mind-boggling numbers do little justice in explaining the real situation in China.

The income gap between the rich and the poor is staggering to see in person. The Liu family living on the border between Beijing and Hebei Province at the Simatai section of the Great Wall live the simple farmer lifestyle, waking up with the sun, tilling the dry patch-work fields and eating mostly vegetable dishes before going to bed early.

Meanwhile the uber rich have no qualms ordering everything expensive on the menu, force each other to drink baijiu and smoke up a storm before leaving behind several dishes barely touched. They also think they own the road, especially when they drive SUVs.

How the wealthy gain their riches is an interesting mystery, while how the majority of the population scrape by on a few thousand RMB a month is another.

There's no question that people's lives have improved significantly in the past 30 years, but at what cost? Rivers and lakes are so polluted that "cancer villages" are springing up near these water sources. Climate change has also resulted in dried up river and lake beds that decades earlier were teeming with fish.

It seems like Beijing has a strong consumer culture -- people buying up all kinds of things from clothing to cars, everyone carrying at least one shopping bag. There is so much noise pollution, hypnotically telling people to buy more stuff, or on-going public service announcements that are so vague they hardly mean anything.

But this is the way the government wants things to be run -- it doesn't want its people to know too much or to think they deserve more. It continues its mantra that China is a big country and so managing it is a big task.

However, when you look at it, the Communist Party of China has had over 60 years of experience in governing the vast country and the world's largest population. One would have thought that by now it would know how to administer the place in an efficient and effective manner.

But the only way the CPC knows how to do this is mostly by force.

This was seen in how Tibet and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region were governed and these two areas in particular continue to see repression. Instead of trying to understand and integrate cultural differences in policy, the Chinese government believes economic development will create harmony.

Ah a harmonious society. Practically everyone I know here mocks President Hu Jintao's slogan. How can there be harmony when there is such a discrepancy between the rich and the poor, environmental degradation, a persistent consumer culture and lack of respect of people's rights?

It's really all about the Party. It's not about improving the welfare of the people or creating a better environment. It's about preserving the Party's power. At any cost.

Which is why it was reported today that best-selling author Yu Jie was taken by police for questioning on Monday. They threatened to imprison him if he continued with his plans to publish a book criticizing Premier Wen Jiabao.

They warned him that Wen was no ordinary citizen and that the book, China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao would harm state security and national interests, which could lead to a prison sentence similar to rights activist Liu Xiaobo.

"People cannot tell the truth," a friend remarked to me the other day over lunch. "If you do, you get into trouble."

But some believe it is important to forgo all personal consequences and try to tell the truth for the sake of the greater society.

Tan Zuoren was jailed for five years for trying to help those who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake almost two years ago; and Liu for 11 years for helping to write the Charter 08, calling for multi-party elections among many things.

And there is also Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer who was detained by police, illegally I may add, and then released, and now detained again and no one knows where he is.

The government is terrified of these people -- scared of them for saying that the emperor has no clothes on.

But it is true. How can there be any civil society in China when basic human rights are ignored, and actually trampled on? How can China ever become a great power when it cannot stand dissent or criticism?

Meanwhile we in the west cannot compare China to ourselves -- it must find its own way in establishing a just society, and looking back at its past can give it some inspiration.

So on this note I bid zaijian.

Thank you Beijing for teaching me a lot of things about China I didn't know. The country is still a work in progress and hopefully the Party leaders will make the right choices for the people.

After all, it is the People's Republic of China.


Anonymous said...

What a great treatise! Love your writing. CS

ks said...

a good summary of the thoughts on today's china. one needle stick sees the blood, that is what the chinese says. china needs another revolution to have really a 'big turn over'.

ks said...

a good summary of the thoughts on today's china. a needle stick sees blood. so the chines saying goes. china needs another revolution a really big turn over for the people.

Sean said...

revolution will just lead to another commuist party.
I believe what kind of people lead to what kind of government, most chinese need to have some common sense first i guess.

Anonymous said...

I read your post and agreed. I see the new SOHO buildings and I also see how they remain empty for years and years. I love China and spent years making my way out here. I came out in my gap year and then came back after university. I just fail to see this country that will shake the world.
Corruption runs through everything. The poor are very poor and the rich are obnoxiously rich. I read about China helping Greece or Argentina and I think, 'But what about the peasants in the south west? What about the migrant workers? What about migrant workers' children? What about spending money on sorting out the country internally instead of pretending to the world that the country is like HK but on a vast scale?' Have you seen the new Karate kid? It gives off the idea that Beijing, and therefore China, is riiiich and that everyone lives in China buildings.
Good luck in HK, I will read your blog.