At some point way back in middle school I did something stupid and braty (something which I can no longer recall) that managed to alienate me from anything even closely resembling a social safety net for a number of years. By the time this all had simmered down I had bloated to nearly 300 lbs (some fat, some muscle and a 6’2″ frame) and lumbered around my god damn school like a fucking orca, with all the tinier fish swimming around. I didn’t give a fuck, and I still for the most part don’t. The concept of ‘losing face’ is meaningless to me. Who cares what other people think. Not only that, but I have throughout my life seen dozens of cases of people acting like complete fucking morons because they wanted to look good, or save face. I have no respect for that shit.
Particularly when it is a country doing it.
China has an inferiority complex. They see themselves as having an incredibly long history (they don’t really. Or rather, if you jimmy the game the way they have, then we all do) and therefore special and superior to everyone else. So they are struggling to understand why in the ‘developed-nation’ pissing contest, they are not higher up the ladder. And thus they are worried about how the rest of the world sees them. Normally, this just comes up as denial that they quotidian behavior one sees in China actually exists (No! We don’t spit in the streets!) But every now and there is a worldwide spotlight on China, and everyone has to tow the line.
I can’t imagine what it was like here for the Olympics back in 2008. My ordeal has come in the form of the G20.
For those who do not know, the G20 (group of twenty) is an international event where leaders from twenty countries come together to discuss finance. So, once again this is China’s time to shine, and to show the world just how far they have come from the terrible 60’s and 70’s, where this once prosperous nation took several step backwards compared to the rest of the world.
Nope. China has opted to go for the style pointlessly repressive nonsense that would tent up the pants of Lukashenko where he attending (he isn’t).
Ok, jokes aside. China does wants to make a good impression for the G20, but it would appear that China has no understanding of how the rest of the world works. The world tends to think that the sign of a healthy place to live is the hustle and bustle of people living their everyday lives uninterrupted. But that isn’t what China believes. They believe that the sign of a healthy place to live is social cohesion, regardless of whether that social cohesion is forced or not.
China really wants everything everything to go well for this G20, and so things have gotten a little draconian in Hangzhou of late. But it’s actually a strange intersection between draconian and ineffectually stupid. It would be draconian, if the typical person here had any work ethic or sense of social responsibility. They have tripled the amount of security theater all throughout the city, going so far as putting a guard with a metal detecting wand on my bus. These people don’t really do anything (as many of my student’s have pointed out), but the show is there to placate… I don’t really know who it is meant to placate.
As well I have been on a few occasions been asked for my passport while walking around my neighborhood (erm, in all fairness, I volunteered my passport. On both occasions the police officer stopped me, said something in Chinese, and not knowing what they wanted I just gave them my passport). The police officer tried to ask me a few questions, but between my having no competency in Mandarin and their having no competency in English, the conversation didn’t last long and I was allowed about my way.
Oh, but the inconveniences do not stop there. Many restaurants and bars will be shut down over the G20. Those that remain open must close at midnight. Large swathes of the city, notably many of the tourist area, will be restricted to the general public. Numerous business will be closed, and the government has offered incentives for people to leave the city, such as discounts to citizens of Hangzhou who want to travel outside of the city over that period. And these are the details that truly bother me. So, you want to show the world what a normal place you are and you do so by shutting down a city, crippling its economy, and making it appear to be a ghost town? How in the world does that impress anyone? It makes no sense. The world leaders are going to come here and think that the whole Chinese economy is a house of cards, and poised to collapse.
But here is a last anecdote to give you an idea of the lunacy that is involved. A colleague of mine is preparing to leave China. He did not renew his contract, despite liking it here, because he wants to return home to spend some time with his family. His work Visa expires during the G20. Now, normally when you are terminating your employment you are given a period of time beyond the end of your contract to settle your affairs before you leave. And my colleague was banking on this time, having even gone so far as having invited his father to China (some point after the G20) to do some last minute tourism. However, the visa office refuses to issue visas of any kind during the G20. So now my poor colleague has to leave the country weeks ahead of schedule. He’s being very noble about it, and I am not sure why.
If China thinks that resembling North Korea will make them look good, have they asked themselves why North Korea isn’t invited to the G20?