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Thursday, November 17, 2016

China: it's still communist.

Before visiting China, I had this confused notion that communism had been dialed back so far in China that it was almost more of an appreciated ideology than a practiced form of government. In some ways, especially economically, that is true. But the Chinese people, I discovered, are still very much oppressed in their everyday lives. We have so many freedoms in the United States that we take for granted - freedoms that many Chinese have never even considered available to them. Two particular freedoms stood out to me: freedom to gain access to information and knowledge, and freedom to own property.

The dearth of information available to the Chinese was constantly apparent. Right off the bat, there is the tiny little problem of all Google products being blocked. I had to use BING. The ignominy of it all. Then, of course, Facebook is blocked, too: just in case you run into someone else's opinion and it doesn't match Mao's (that also meant that my Instagram pictures had to wait until we got home!). The most frustrating blocked website, though, was our library site. I couldn't check out an e-book because heaven forbid you access any old non-approved library! A government that won't let you seek out information from non-vetted sources - whether it be from other people, writers and politicians, or whoever edited Wikipedia that morning - has something to hide from its people. This withholding of information was also demonstrated by the complete lack of signage around historical sites. I have been to empty battlefields with more informational plaques than in the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square combined.
The effect of this lack of outside written information is that the Chinese struggle to represent information accurately. The accepted propaganda-style writing bleeds into a variety of publications. I was reading a Chinese/English airline magazine during the flight from Beijing to Xi'an, and in an article about Frankfurt, Germany, the over-the-top language and hyperbole was rampant. Frankfurt was blithely called, "The financial capital of Europe" and "The most beautiful city in Europe", and some bit art conference was called, "The largest". The article wrapped with a story of a man in a German grocery store approaching the writer with sparkling eyes, tearfully telling him of how Merkel had just visited China, and the countries were friends, such good friends.
I have grave doubts any such grocery encounter occurred. It's like fact-checking doesn't exist. You don't question what you read, so why verify what you write?
I also noticed that the news is not only saturated with propaganda and the same overly-positive, nothing-bad-happens here style, but it's also obsessed with the United States. The bitter mentions in both the English language newspaper and on the news were constant. I watched a story that lasted about 15 minutes, focusing on blurry footage of Newport News. Clearly, it was supposed to be secret film of a new naval ship being built. After a while covering that, the footage switched to huge, glorious Chinese Navy ships steaming through the seas. All well and good, but the constant comparisons to the US just surprised me. They care about us way more than we care about them!

Everything is gray.

The "nice" apartments. All ugly to me. 
The issue of property ownership fascinated David and I because it relates to David's line of work. He's a property attorney, and much of what he does involves the government taking or obtaining use for land for the purpose of public health and safety, like levees or sewer lines (mostly levees, obviously. It's Louisiana). The endless legal research, negotiations, and payments are what gives him a job: but in China, they just take it. Each city we visited had some example. In Xi'an, Rocky, our guide, told us proudly that the farmers took up too much space in their own homes. So the government moved them all to giant high-rise apartments, farmed all that nice land their houses were taking up, and made all the farmers take buses to the fields every day. Brilliant! We heard similar stories in Shanghai and Beijing, and like I mentioned before, the Communist-Gray high rises were everywhere, stuffed with people whose houses or neighborhoods were demolished for new developments. In Shanghai, this occurred to allow the government to sell the property to a developer who planned a giant tower - not even anything to do with public welfare!

Towers of farmers
Those two issues are what really grabbed my attention, but there were other ways that communism reared its head; all of which combined to make me grateful to live in the U.S.A. It's a privilege.


  1. The access to information is what really kills me. I just can't imagine living there. But I guess that they have never had access to information so they probably don't know what they are missing out on. But it's still really sad. I feel the same way about North Korea. The use of propaganda is just so disturbing but the people there are not taught to question authorities (and are obviously afraid to do so). It's just really sad.

  2. Fascinating.

    Related to this, a few years ago I was interviewing (via phone) someone I wanted to be my point person in China to investigate claims of employee misconduct within our company there. During the interview, I explained that one job requirement was an annual trip to the US for our team meeting.

    He explained in return that he had been recently employed by the Chinese government, and thus would not be allowed to leave the country until a decade had passed from the end of that employment...

  3. Your trip is fascinating to me. I think I would be too scared to even attempt this trip. I would fear being imprisoned on some false allegation or something.....I watch too much TV, I supposed. Thanks for sharing your journey.