AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

China ramblings

As the third largest country (according to some definitions) and the most populous in the world, as well as having the 2nd largest economy in the world you’d expect China to be busy. It was!

There are people everywhere in China and there is construction happening all over. Cities are generally clean with many people employed as cleaners by the government. There is a police presence where ever you go, not that they do anything. Being a police officer is seen as a good job, so much so that you buy your way in as even though the salary is low the bribes are not.

China is a police state, one in plain sight. Whereas in Nazi Germany and under the Stasi regimes of Communist Europe the secret police were secret, in the sense they didn’t wear a uniform. The fear and paranoia stemmed from the fact that you didn’t know who was a member of the government and you didn’t know who’d be talking to who. China has taken a different approach. The official line is that they exist to prevent extremists whereas the reality is they create an omnipotent government. The state has eyes and ears everywhere. Although most of the police do not do anything, the uniform of the government is in your face, and the x-ray machines also exist to seem as if they are protecting the people. I suppose to some extent they may be but when you enter a museum you don’t expect to be frisked, patted down and have to show a passport just to look at a porcelain jug! The state of perpetual fear plus the constant stream of propaganda has created an apathetic nation. Why stand up if you get arrested and disappear plus why say anything when the economy is growing? History proves that people become more extreme in their views when there is an economic downturn, Nazi Germany being a prime example and the UK’s recent recession saw many people switching to the ‘right’. People are fickle indeed. The Chinese economy has been growing since the 1980s when China in effect became a Capitalist nation. The reforms of Mao were undone and yet he is still used to represent the state despite none of his policies and ideas being enacted. He banned gardens and started the cultural revolution, which destroyed Chinese heritage because he though people were to blasé. Now the government restores and rebuilds their heritage and encourages visits to gardens. Despite this, I spoke to a girl about China. She was not happy with the Chinese government and wished that she could vote for a government (or more realistically to democratically remove a bad one). She was frustrated by the red tape that existed to set up her own business saying it cost 200,000 RMB to register a company. She currently worked in a 5 star hotel for the government. She probably saw the excesses of the Politburo and saw the wheels of government being greased. The police state has existed since 1949, it is just part of the system, an everyday occurrence such as cleaning your teeth. You do it without thinking.

People feel happy in crowds and following the crowd. It is hard to be different and stand apart. With 1.4 billion people this sheep mentality is exacerbated. One person stands up to wait at the gates to get on a train, 30 seconds later there will be a 100 people. I believe this is because of two things, both are interlinked. The first is the revolution, the purges and the fear factor. The second is the fact that you are told what to do all the time, there is no freethinking. Point 1, the purges saw many of the Intelligentisa removed from society (leaving a society with no intelligent freethinkers) and a police state was established meaning you don’t do anything different from the crowd. The second point – a purge of information means that a vaccum exists and this has been replaced by the government who tell you where to stand on the train, how to get on a train. How to buy tickets, how to walk though a gate, why the Imperialists are evil and why the Chinese Patriotic government knows what is best. It’s true that many people have a sheep mentality but I don’t fear the consequences if I turn the opposite way to others. You throw an egg at a politician in the UK you get into a bit of trouble, you throw an egg at a picture of Mao you get 17 years in a Chinese Labour camp.

Economically, China is capitalistic with a highly centralised government. Everything is state owned meaning huge projects can be built without worry of opposition as they are dealt with. Remember the woman who refused to move house for the train line, they dug a huge hole around her house and waited until she caved in. More often than not the government gives a lump sum, less than the value of the land and tells them to get lost. Or the armed police pay a visit! Surprisingly, this policy has had more negative consequences than just economic hardship. Many farmers now sit at home eating fatty food and are becoming obese (The Economist). Centralisation means building is everywhere. Every city has new tower blocks, train lines are being extended, factories opening every day. Powerplants built. China is a powerhouse. It is however destroying the landscape. Since everything is big in China so too is pollution. Smog is everywhere in the summer months. While in Tibet, our guide said 10 years ago in May he had to wear a coat because it was so cold. We listened while dripping in sweat in 30’c. In China, areas see extreme weather with record highs and lows, plus the fact the seasons can no longer be predicted. Human destruction of the planet was clearly evident in China, we should take heed and actually do something, but we won’t because we are sheep. Some small steps have been made whether they are to do with climate change or saving money, either way it helps. Hotels more often than not either don’t provide consumables or offer big bottles of soap and shampoo. They also say they won’t change  the towels everyday, many do, but who needs a clean towels everyday anyway. Small steps. The biggest bug bear of mine was the fact that people throw their rubbish on the floor. China has tons of bins and yet people chuck their waste on the ground. Even in a beautiful national park the people would still rather drop their rubbish where they stand than walk to the nearest bin. Either they are incredibly lazy, stupid or just don’t care about their effects on the environment. A whole mentality needs changing here. This litter problem used to be the case in the UK and still is in some areas but we implemented fines and it seems to have worked plus educating people to put items in bins. Ultimately, China has the power and capacity to do good but just like every other example in world history of a revolution, power sits with the few and lines their pockets. It has done lots of good economically. In 25 years China has gone from an agrarian society to a world leader in many technologies. It has pulled millions of people out of poverty. It has the capacity to do much good and fulfill the Communist ideals but it doesn’t. No health cover, no treatment. We saw many people begging on the streets because they had an ailment either a physical or mental one that prevented them from working. The state throw them on the rubbish heap. Britain is more socialist than this and yet again I was reminded as to how fantastic our healthcare system was, coming 1st in the world. In the UK we spend less per person than developed nations but get a lot more for our money. America spends the most and yet has the worst system. The UK did come near the bottom on surivial rates though. Interestingly, despite America being the ‘enemy of the nation’, China is very American in its outlook. People live for shopping and love buying American brands. The wage difference between rich and poor is similar to America. Healthcare costs a fortune as in America. Fast food is huge and people ‘s diets are worsening. It’s amusing that everyone we spoke to thought America to be is bad place (the government needs an enemy, think 1984),yet they don’t realise just how American their cities and habits are.

Socially, I feel a big difference with my Asian counterparts. It still astonished me how people did not seem bothered about dropping food all over the floor or how it didn’t seem annoy anyone when the person next to them was chomping on their food or blasting out music. I suppose like the chavvy person on the bus listening to crap music, we dare not say anything for fear of the repercussions. In this regard we are similar to the Chinese, often unquestioning. In Britain we say we are reserved but seeing it in another country it seems a bit daft to allow things that irritate us to happen. Maybe I’ll try and follow-up on this at the end of my travels… But, this comes back to the state control and fear. You accept your situation and don’t complain.

Mobile phones are glued to everyone’s faces, especially in Hong Kong. People were warned to keep an eye on the escalator and not just the phone, another intervention from the state about how to use an escalator. I try to reflect on Britain and realise that in a place you live you don’t really look deeply and consider what’s going on. I know when teaching, phones were a problem with people texting one another in class. Do people walk down the street with them stuck to their face, I don’t remember? Maybe so, the British are a little quieter on their phones than the Chinese so I don’t remember. One big similarity is the number of spoilt children. Due to the one child policy, Chinese kids are extremely spoilt and often run riot, screaming in restaurants or being pains and are just ignored by their patents and are bought sweets. I guess we are all the same really, well aside from the spitting, gross toilet habits and different eating habits.

Walking in the countryside is a quiet and pleasant experience. You can walk miles in the Dales without seeing people. China is not like this, people are just there and quietness does not exist on these walks. Our experience at one of the main national parks was a very loud one, and also one which reduced the pleasure of being there. However, China is beautiful. Outside of the megapolis there is a really green landscape. Scarred by tectonic plates shifting, it has created granite cliffs topped with green trees. The Great Wall is surrounded by green. The national parks we went to were impressive with turquoise lakes and primeval forests. I really hope that China continues to preserve these places as it has, for example, investing into path creation, whilst detracting from the landscape slightly, does reduce soil erosion greatly and allows more Chinese to enjoy their landscape. Most places are accessible by public transport; could I even get to the Yorkshire Dales in a day from Leeds on a bus? I suppose this is what you can achieve without NIMBYs and fear of losing elected power in five years time!

I do believe that China has lost something though. It was once a great Empire, an innovator and was self-sufficient. It has destroyed much of its heritage. (I know Britain did too in the Industrial Revolution, with the removal of old housing). It has stopped the flow of innovation by making it difficult to set up your own business. It has stopped highly creative people and it has stopped people wanting to give something back. The founder and owner of Alibaba fears using his money for philanthropy because it would suggest the state is not doing enough, which it isn’t. He fears he would be investigated and have his money taken from him.

China will become the biggest economy in the world but the culture of fear; the people fearing to speak out as well as the government’s fear of the people mean it won’t achieve it’s full potential. Like the people who were born in the 1940s and endured the famines of the 1950, China’s growth will be unfulfilled and won’t reach the heights of others.

Posted from here.

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