I am going to write a series of blogs based on my recent visit to China, and today I start with a very serious theme, a highly sensitive and a political one. Is China still a Communist country, as she has claimed to be, or has she gone completely off colour red and adopted her arch enemies’ speciality, Capitalism?
Yes, China is still governed by the Communist party, the one party system of rule which has been in power since 1949. There are no other political organisations within China which have any power to challenge that, for now, or anytime soon. There is no doubt that over the past two decades or so, China has allowed more freedom of speech, increasingly welcoming new attitudes to Western cultures and foreign influences. Still, the fact remains that China is a highly controlled society and what is politically acceptable and what is not is dictated from high above. For a very simple yet telling example, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube are all banned in China, despite the internet revolution. Those of us who make regular use of such social media would think they are pretty harmless, aren’t they? For me, being native Chinese and having lived under the most devastating Cultural Revolution, I understand why China felt the necessity to make religious/spiritual groups like Falun Gong an illegal cult or house-arresting some prominent political dissidents. But Facebook? Can someone really start a revolution to overthrow the Chinese government? Perhaps I am being naïve here.
Freedom of speech? Yes, it is now much better. Before, we could not mention any political leaders with a slight trace of negativity in our tone but with utmost respect and devotion. Even a careless spelling error could end up with you in prison or even killed. Horrifying but it had happened to many ordinary people. Now if you want to make a joke about certain corrupted officials or furiously attack some foreign governments and their policies, that is OK, and even encouraged; especially on line. But, here is the point I am trying to make, there are different rules in China. As a Chinese national, you are probably entitled to voice certain concerns or even criticisms against certain government agencies, BUT if you are a foreigner, then attacking Chinese policies becomes utterly unacceptable. Worse still, if you are Chinese British or whatever nationality you happen to adopt in the West, you’d better shut up. For one thing, if you disagree with a Chinese person about certain aspects of their lifestyles or voice any negative opinions about certain Chinese issues, you are condemned, to a lesser degree, ‘too damn westernised’, or more seriously, being accused of ‘forgetting your ancestors’ and ‘betraying your country’. The latter once upon a time would have been punished by death, and even death could not wash away your shame! At least that is no longer the case, for which I should be forever grateful!
Inevitably, the topical issue of war in Libya was brought up in one of many dining occasions with friends and family. One of my brothers started attacking the West for ‘interfering in other country’s internal affairs’, especially Britain, France and America. I didn’t have to defend the West for their overseas policies, as personally I didn’t see why they had to go into war in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. But it didn’t matter, the tone of my brother was obvious – it seemed to be my fault! Why? I married an Englishman and I acquired a British citizenship. Isn’t that sufficient for me to take the responsibility of what the British government has decided to do, since no one else would be present to hear the Chinese people’s grievances against the imperialist Western powers?
In another debate about Japan, I happened to mention that I donated a story in a book to raise money for Japan earthquake. Oh big mistake! “I wish all Japanese were dead!” That was the response.
Not for a moment do I think that we should forget what the Japanese did to China, and the massacre of Nanjing in 1937 should always be remembered and written into history books and taught for generations to come, so it can never be repeated. Still, the answer shocked me and saddened me in equal measure. I was angry too. “If you feel so much hatred towards the Japanese, why are you driving a Japanese car or have a Panasonic TV? If you despise the West so much, why are you wearing the branded western goods, carrying a D&G bag and wearing Nike shoes? Don’t you think that is ridiculous and self-mocking?”
Of course, I didn’t say all that to my brother’s face, because there were other embarrassed guests present and I had no intention to create confrontations or spoil the meal for everyone, but I did write him a five page letter that night and gave him a piece of my mind. Not sure if any of it would go through though, as he has never been out of China. But he does know everything: “I read a lot on the Internet”. Oh really? Do you know that everything you read is actually censored by the Chinese government and you only read what you are permitted to?
Fortunately I read from an internet survey that only about 10% Chinese people wished harm to the Japanese and the overwhelming majority do not. Times are changing, and people’s attitudes and perceptions will too.
Now about the commercialism which is now affecting China to a massive scale. When I left China for the UK in 1988, China was a different country. Economically there is no doubt that China has witnessed a miracle, which has transformed millions of people’s lives. With a much better living standards and amazing transformation of infrastructure, its economic boom has to be seen to be believed.
I’m sorry to have to put a damper on this majestic development. As with many good things in life, such marvellous achievement comes with a price and negative impact. China is now more crowded, noisier, more polluted and more hectic than ever before. The newly created rich, the so-called middle class and aspiring ones, are staggering in their numbers and the wealth they have acquired in a very short period of time, and through incredibly easy means are simply overwhelming. The demands and love for luxury goods are incredible and it was a truly eye-popping experience for someone who thought she knew China.
My sister-in-law asked me to buy her a Chanel bag in the UK, which has a price tag of over 30,000 Yuan in China, more than most teachers’ yearly salary there. I thought: What the hell? Why would someone want a handbag that expensive? With that money, I could have supported a few poor kids through their education. There are still millions of children in China who could not afford their school fees.
Anyway, this blog is turning out to be a very long article, so I’m going to stop here. In my next blog, I shall continue my rant against capitalism in China and its many pitfalls, as well as its wonders. Do drop by again soon and let me hear your comments.
Thanks for visiting!