View From the Wall

What We Chinese Fear Today

In this issue, Huo Shui takes a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to the myriad challenges confronting China today. Beneath the humor is a candid look at the very serious concerns that are on the minds of many Chinese. His conclusion does not provide any immediate answers but serves as a challenge to the Chinese church and to all who would seek to share a message of true peace within the Chinese context. —Editor

People have said the twenty-first century is the Chinese century. According to the People’s Daily, China’s GDP is US $1 trillion for the year 2000—1/8th that of Americas. China’s foreign reserves are the largest in Asia and her economy is growing at an annual rate of 7 percent. However, China’s people do not seem impressed by these numbers. To the contrary, although we may have more money than before, we also have more fear within ourselves.

What do we fear? Is it the invasion of imperialists? Not at all. China is a major nuclear power. Though it does not possess a large stock of A-bombs, it does have a dozen or so. Do we fear the former Soviets who have attempted to destroy China? No. Russia is busy dealing with its own internal troubles—the old “big brother” has become very poor. (That’s a good thing—we Chinese do not have to study the demanding Russian language anymore!) Do we fear that Taiwan will declare her independence? No. China has missiles and a large military force. Idleness is no great virtue; soldiers do not mind going to war when China is in trouble.

Do we fear poverty? No. Though there are millions of Chinese struggling on the poverty level, many Chinese have so much money in the bank they don’t know how to invest it. With piles of goods in shops begging for attention, people no longer greet each other by asking, “Have you eaten yet?” While beggars are present during the day, it is said that they beg to make a fortune and enjoy a good restaurant meal in the evening. By all means, everyone has been freed from the fear of starvation.

Do we fear being unable to find a spouse? No. Matchmaking agencies, scattered around like corner stores, are enjoying a growing business as they try to find that perfect complement for pairing people up. Do we fear being unable to find an apartment? No. With ads all over the place, real estate agents are always eager to help—they just want to kick themselves for not being able to sell us the whole building!

Do we fear we will be unable to find a job? No. Job fairs are held several times a month while online job fairs are available all the time. As long as one is willing to work, there must be something for a person to do. It is a different situation if an individual is not willing to work certain jobs. Some time ago, when a large group of workers was laid off, it was of great concern to many people. Interestingly, now that more factories have gone bankrupt and more workers have been laid off, fewer people are seen idle.

Do we fear being lonely? No. Nightclubs and bars are all over the place with women ready to chat, dance, and drink with their customers. Cell phones, beepers, IC and IP cards make communication unavoidable.

Suddenly everything—good or bad, old or new, necessary or unnecessary—has popped up in China to help fulfill people’s desires; but something is still missing. That something is peace in the heart.

It’s understandable that people do not have peace: the Chinese have been like that since ancient times. As a proverb says: “To worry is to live, to be care free is to die.” No wonder then, that whenever we Chinese meet for an important occasion, we all stand up together and sing, “The Chinese race is at the most dangerous moment….”

Being Chinese, we keep our worries inside ourselves and never reveal them to others. We care too much about our image to let others look into our inner struggles and fears. That’s why, when two of us meet and greet each other with “How have you been lately?” the answer has to be “Everything’s great!” despite the fact that we all know that can’t be true. How can one declare “everything’s great” while living in China?

The truth is every Chinese person has something to bother him or her. The average person and an official will worry about totally different things. While I am not sure what officials nowadays worry about, I am sure of what they do not fret about. They do not worry about political corruption, commodity pirating, smuggling, murders, illegal investing, land-deprived peasants, brain drains, factory closures, the Mafia, collapse of bridges, gas explosions, floods, environmental pollution, the extinction of species, erosion, smog, Falungong followers, prostitutes, heroin addiction or foot and mouth disease. In a word, the Communist Party is so great it does not yield to any kind of fear. The average person, however, does not have this level of control. The term laobaixing meaning “good old populous folks” has a new meaning today: “constant (lao) frustration (bai) spirit (xing).” People have enough to eat now, but as soon as they leave their homes, they are confronted by tons of trouble.

The first kind of trouble they encounter are things that have been “faked.” There are more imitation items now than real ones! We have wines, liquors, cigarettes, and cars locally made that are marketed as brand name products; there are underground factories with their “lookalike” products; there is imitation jewelry, poor quality electronics, suits of poor quality fabric sold as if they were of the best. Not to be overlooked are forged diplomas, forged receipts, counterfeit renminbi bills—even fraudulent police and armed forces. Newspapers tirelessly warn people of water-injected beef and watermelons, turtle meat that has been boosted with “morning after pills,” bottled mineral water that is actually directly from city faucets, leather shoes made of paper, sulphur-smoked “wood-ear” mushrooms, flour mixed with plaster of Paris and corn starch-based Viagra. Buying books? There are plenty of stolen ones to choose from. Want to see a movie? Try a pirated copy.

The second type of trouble the Chinese encounter is a state of disorder and lawlessness. Things can be fine until one leaves his or her home. Outside are those wielding a knife threatening you for money, those wearing official uniforms just looking for reasons to fine you, and those set up to trap people. It would be better to stay at home—just so gas doesn’t leak in your apartment or bombs don’t explode in the building. One never knows when the next explosion will be!

If a person becomes sick from all these worries, he does not dare see a doctor. A cold will cost a few hundred yuan, a surgery over 10,000. If one complains about the expense, he will be told he is not invited to the hospital. If he dares to go to court with a lawsuit, he will become exhausted.

People are starting to think the only safe place to be in China is in jail. They prefer immediate pleasures such as alcohol and playing the lotto to escape from the present. They show no interest in ideologies or future planning; they have no concerns over ethics or morals—they believe those are the business of government officials. Instead, they believe in one truth: ordinary people must work their way up to buy bread to feed their family; then they must have energy to worry about having a happy family life.

What if they cannot survive like this? They may choose to keep themselves clean from worldly filth to preserve peace of heart. However, they will get into greater trouble because the government will find fault with them—they will be called cultists.

An old saying goes: one ceases to worry when debts are too overwhelming. Ordinary people figure that to live well they need to hang on tightly to their money when they go out, keep their doors at home locked securely, and resolutely distrust everyone. For those who want to remain good at heart, there is not much to do except dream that one day a good emperor (in today’s parlance a communist party secretary) will come take care of them.

Is this twenty-first century China? You diligent, brave, smart and kind Chinese, where are you? You hardworking, resilient, optimistic and joyful Chinese, where are you? You honest, righteous, modest and polite Chinese, where are you? Chinese people, when will you speak out your fears? When will you unveil the mask on your face? When will you live up to the good virtues of your ancestors? When will you have true peace in your hearts?

Translated by Ping Dong.

Image credit: 33746 by Jim Gourley via Flickr.
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Huo Shui

Huo Shui (pseudonym) is a former government political analyst who writes from outside China.View Full Bio