The dao of China
As most books will tell you, China is a very diverse country. There is the myth of the unified Chinese state, which was behind the events narrated in The Three Kingdoms; but in reality, the north and south are different, and the centre is different again. Even today, the country is not quite as unified as most people would like to think. The central government has become progressively weaker since 1976, while provincial governments are more likely to ignore Beijing’s diktats and do what they like.
There’s a lot of civil unrest, but that’s local dissatisfaction. Probably everyone digs out quotes from Outlaws of the Marsh (aka The Water Margin), declares themselves loyal to the emperor, and gets medieval on corrupt officials. I’ve seen quite a few protests, but these are of the authorised kind. Everyone sits or stands around, and nothing much happens.
It’s all part of the massive changes in this country. The government likes to remind everyone that the country is developing rapidly and getting richer. But there are still a lot of places in China where things haven’t improved, and China is still a Third World country in terms of average incomes. There is a massive disparity between the people with the money, who are typically (vulgar) conspicuous consumers, and people on more modest incomes who are more mean and miserable than they need to be.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is really just unbridled capitalism. The corruption, which is often at the root of people’s disaffection with local officials, is endemic. In Outlaws of the Marsh, the outlaws have all crossed swords with corrupt officials, yet they are corrupters themselves. When any of the characters are imprisoned, they lavishly distribute bribes to the guards and prison officials. The heroes who are meant to be fighting corruption are corrupters themselves. But it’s all part of the culture.
Down the centuries, students of logic must’ve asked their teachers, “Is this for real?” until one day someone made the observation that if the Chinese had invented logic, it’d be just like Western logic. Wrong. If the Chinese had invented logic, it’d be arse-backwards.
There are no specialist tradesmen in China. If something needs to be fixed, and you have the tools, you’d probably be as the skilled professional who’d come to look at it. The repair was often temporary at best, and it wasn’t unusual for it to make things worse.
The old 938s from Tongzhou to Beijing may have rattled along, but at least they had plenty of seats. The new 938s wouldn’t even have had half the seating capacity of the older buses, which would’ve forced even more people to stand. I wonder whether there’s a logical reason for this such as an old bus designer saying to a younger one, “Very nice, but where’s the room for the stretchers?” because some official had had the bright idea of using buses as ambulances in case of war.
Basically, nothing here quite works properly. Buildings rise at a phenomenal rate, but the quality of work and materials would probably shorten a Western buildings inspector’s life expectancy by twenty years. The blocks of flats go up, but there never seems to be anyone to fill in them. What is new looks five years old within a year.
But that’s the dao of China.
18.06.13. Edited the formatting and made some minor additions to the text.
Looking at the paragraph about wealth in China, nothing has really changed in nearly eight years. I’ve seen more luxury cars in Wuxi than I’ve ever seen in my life – Porsches, Aston Martins, Audis, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis. And alongside them go the people who are too cheap to replace the brakes on their electric scooters.
The Western press often talks about the Chinese middle class, but they seem to be referring to the people who can afford Audi A4s, A6s or better, and series 5 and 7 BMWs, which are way outside my price range and yet I am middle class. This group would appear to be closer to middle management. They have a bit more money and a limited amount of power, but they’re not the elite.
I’m not sure whether China has a Chinese middle class (how would they be identified?) or the bulk of the population mostly inhabits the ends of the financial spectrum. There is also the little matter of middle-class culture which I have yet to see here. Among its characteristics would be courtesy (my car does not make me blind to other road users) and consideration for others (I know to keep my voice down, wait patiently in a queue for my turn, not have a lit cigarette in a lift, encourage my children not to say “老外”, and not spit).