Monday, February 15, 2010

Meeting of minds along the east river

A chance meeting with a Chinese man at a bar along the river Dong He River in Kaiyuan gave rise to an interesting discussion as China entered the Year of the Tiger. In one context Mr Wang wasn't your average Chinese citizen, given he originally came from Mongolia. His views were also not that usually expressed by people in China. Having expressed one's desire to return to England when the year-long contract was up, he said it was good decision. The relatively young man had somewhat strongly critical views about his fellow citizens. "Everyone spits," he said, "You wouldn't spit in your home so why would you spit in the public?"

He also observed that most westerners had better habits, saying that Chinese ate with their mouth open and made a lot of noise when eating. Westerners also tended to obey the rules of the road better, he said. "Here in China drivers will ignore red lights at night," he said. While there may be some who will break road traffic laws in Britain and across Europe, most do abide by the rules. In China, especially in rural areas, one can never be quite sure that a vehicle will impact yours when traversing a junction through a green light. Lane drifting is extremely common and the use of indicators is extremely rare.

On discovering my wife had attained British citizenship, he was even more surprised at our continued presence in China. "Go home," he said, "and don't come back to China." It wasn't intended as a prejudicial dislike to foreigners, however. "China has a lot of problems," he insisted. While saying that the small provincial town of Kaiyuan was nice, it too suffered from pollution problems. He then moved on to criticising China's shirking its responsibilities at Copenhagen. This was a far cry from the usual banter expressed by many people one had encountered in Beijing and, of course, within the Chinese media.

His critique did not stop there. "China has no human rights," he said. Talking about the one-child policy, he said families and lives were destroyed by the government. "People have their homes dismantled if they have more than one child," he said. His vision for the future was not of a harmonious society much spoken about by China's leaders. "China will collapse one day," he said, "There is too much corruption amongst officials." Gordon Chang wrote of similar problems faced by China in his 2001 book 'The Coming Collapse of China'. Chang sees it from a western perspective, augmented through his own Chinese roots and understanding. However, Mr Wang's views were formed from direct experience and understanding.

"I hope to send my son abroad," he said, expressing his deeply-held belief that China's apparent growing economic status would be short-lived. Even amongst western commentators his views are relatively unusual. Many talk of China being the next super-power and some already estimate it to have become the second largest economy. But there are many fundamental problems existing in the country which need to be addressed if it wants to maintain its position on the world stage. Earlier in the evening while watching China's annual Spring Festival Gala performance on television, one could not help but laugh at the blatant propaganda. During a song performed by singers from Xinjiang the words bore hallmarks of Orwellian double speak. "The Government policies are good," rang out one line. "If they're so good why was there a riot?" one Chinese viewer exclaimed. Perhaps not everyone is blinkered into believing China is a 'harmonious society'!

tvnewswatch, Kaiyuan, Yunnan, China

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