I have enjoyed my few days so far in Beijing, all the feeling of a hexie society. However, that is only the superficial view of one man. According to this Tianya post (连接) from a mainland Chinese also overseas, the under-currents are not always so smooth. Many of those on TIanya, feeling their own discontent with society, applaud this post as being critical but balanced.
Last year, I ran into my ex-girlfriend on MSN Messenger. She was pregnant, and without much meaning I reminded her to be careful with her baby’s health. Just ordinary topics, like a reminder that she should try to breast-feed after birth. I don’t know why, but she suddenly responded sharply: “Don’t think that our life in China is worse than yours. Our classmates are all doing great; if we wanted to go overseas and play, we could. You should just stay in America; there are so many people going overseas these days, even if you came back, you wouldn’t have an advantage.” She continued, in great detail and color, to brag her happy life with her husband. I calmly told her, I never felt I had any sort of advantage over you, and China’s future has plenty of hope.
I admit, my classmates are all living well in Beijing, including my former girlfriend. Their standard of living is higher than mine. Their houses are bigger than mine; even while I’m trying to save on rent, they’re trying to buy a larger ome. Their cars are better than mine; I bought a used car with good gas mileage, they’re driving new SUVs with style. And don’t even bring up food; they can eat out regularly, and I still wait for sals before buying meat.
But from what I have heard and seen, I am not that optimistic about China’s future. I didn’t tell her about my concerns. She’s so competitive; I’m afraid if I said anything she’d feel like I was competing with her.
I went to Beijing once last year. The sophistication of Beijing is difficult to find in the US. But the turbulence in China deeply disturbed me. Although I am in the US, I’m only here to study and work for a short amount of time. I still plan to return to China, because that’s still my motherland. But many of the things I see in China makes me very uncomfortable.
My classmates, both those from high school and university, typically make 10000-20000 RMB per month. Some make as much as 30000-40000 RMB, with the worst making at least 5000 RMB. The great majority live very good lives. But I’ve also seen that in the forest of restaurants in Beijing “help wanted” signs calling for waiters/waitresses: 800 RMB per month. When I see those passionate, young waiters and waitressess, and then think about their income… this sort of economic gap makes me restless.
My little cousin came to Beijing from Shanxi after university. She’s living in the house my mom bought to retire in, a 70m2 home near the 4th Ring Road (East). She’s paying a symbolic rent of 600 RMB per month and taking care of the utilities. I went to see her, and although she has 4000 RMB in income, she’s afraid to spend anything on dressing up. She says that her mother (my aunt, still in a small town in Shanxi) is unemployed, and she can’t waste money.
On the roads, people will argue and even start raising fists over the littlest things. These little conflicts that can be solved just by both sides giving a little, or understanding each other a little… inevitably escalate into cursing and fighting. Cars on the road will fight for even a minute’s advantage, and people will fight for a win over the littlest thing.
In the bank, the people who had been patiently waiting in line after grabbing a number, will start to fight and curse to be in first in line as soon as even one other person tries to cut ahead. I went to find a security guard, and asked can’t you do something about that person who cut in line, and let the rest of us restore order. The security goard said, go find the manager! I didn’t know you needed a bank manager to take care of a line-cutter… if there’s really a robber, I can’t imagine the guard can do more than calling the police.
I went to a police station in Haiding district to take care of something. An old man brought in a little dog, I think he was there to file for a temporary residential permit in Beijing. The police told him to take the dog outside. It’s as if he didn’t feel safe about the dog, and refused to go outside. The police officer followed up by asking him for a dog permit; if he wouldn’t show a valid dog permit, they’d confiscate the dog. As I saw a conflict about to erupt, I quickly ran over and tried to talk to the old man, saying, “grandpa, if you trust me I’ll watch your dog outside, and you can finish your paperwork.” The old man’s face was full of suspicion, “I don’t know you… this dog’s my baby.” I said trust me, I have no reason to take your dog, just finish what you have to do. And I waited outside for him to finish his paperwork, and then went in to do mine.
The truth is, the police in this station still treated people with a very good attitude, and were pretty courteous to the grandpa. I went to a different police department in Chaoyang district, and the police there had far worse attitudes. Everyone had a ferocious expression, and these young officers were ordering around the people who came in for help, didn’t show a hint of respect to those who were older. And they were complete barbarians to those who came from outside Beijing.
Riding the buses, everyone’s eyes are red with greed, searching for seats. As soon as someone stands up to buy a ticket, someone else can stick their butts in there… and a battle begins. I chose to stand to one side the entire trip, wouldn’t sit even if there was a space. I think that these seats aren’t really that important, not to a young person. What they’re fighting for is really a concept, a feeling, something that might be extremely important to the current generation of young people.
Some Beijing’ers still discriminate against those from outside, and this has nothing to do with their cultural background. At a post office, I saw a Beijing person arguing with someone from elsewhere. The Beijing person was dressed well and seemed to be perfectly cultured, but used the most crass and disgusting words to curse the outsider. He could only see the non-standard putonghua spoken by migrant workers, and their less than perfect exterior… but it’s as if he’s unaware that every building in Beijing has mixed in its construction the sweat from these outsider migrant workers. They’re trading their labor for the thinnest of compensation, and they’re the ones who’ve brought Beijing its sophistication and success.
China has been reforming and opening up for 30 days, and some people have had their standards of living dramatically improved. That is something that can not be denied. But as Deng said, let some people become rich first, and then reach down to help others, that way we can all together walk towards shared wealth. This phrase is far from being realized, and in fact, we’re going in the opposite direction. Now, it’s the poor who are getting poorer, while the rich are getting richer. The middle class has the trend of dividing into two opposite poles.
The biggest achievement of opening up and reform is increasing the people’s productivity. But although productivity has clearly improved compared to 30 years ago, but when compared to medium-developed countries, the level is still far too low. High efficiency in China has instead depended on very hard work. In other countries, any work above 8 hours per day, the employer will need to provide double the pay. This must happen very rarely in China, so that the title of “Factory to the World” that China has earned through its low cost, in my eyes isn’t any sort of high praise, but instead an evil label generated by the pressure of foreign capital and buyers applied on ordinary Chinese workers.
America’s most dominant area isn’t their military equipment; their dominance comes from the US dollar. 20 years ago, they used their dominance over the dollar and ferociously feasted on Japan’s 30 years of development. Now, it looks like they’re set to feast on China.
The RMB has been appreciating… and for those making 10000 RMB a month, that’s a good thing. But for those making 3000 RMB or less, its a nightmare. If it cost 3000 USD to go overseas and vacation, it used to cost 25000 RMB, but now only costs 20000 RMB… those making high incomes are happy! But a consumer product that used to be exported for 100 USD, can still only be exported for 100 USD… it used to translate into 820 RMB of which 100 RMB would be the worker’s income. But now, it’s only being exchanged for 700 RMB… how much is left for the worker’s income? If workers want to maintain their original income, they have to produce more goods and maintain the factory’s profit margin. The workers workload has increased, but pay has remained the same or even decreased. And combined with higher costs in China, the RMB’s appreciation is punishing the people at the lowest layers of society.
China seems to have accumulated large amounts of green bills, and our Premier Zhu used to even brag about this, talking about it everywhere he went. But after buying large amounts of American debt… although I’m not clear on the actual amount, I often see Americans secretly celebrating.
Chinese people are accumulating dollars; Americans are raising debt. But dollars are printed by the Americans. America forces the use of dollars on the international oil trade, and that means they set the prices. China is the “world’s factory” and petroleum is really as valuable as gold to the industry. Don’t focus just on gasoline costs, that’s only 10% of petroleum. In order to maintain industrial production, the Chinese government has been offering subsidies. And even so, just a slight raise in oil costs leads to huge complaints from industries and the people. In contrast, the United States is letting oil prices soar; 8 years ago, gas in the US cost less than 2 USD per gallon, and now its almost 5 USD per gallon. During the same time, minimum wage in the United States has grown by over 50%. And what about those earning the lowest wages in China, how much have their incomes increased?
Americans are using Chinese people’s money to attack Iraq. In 2007, military budget was 500 billion; 2008, 800 billion. The great treatment Americans give their soldiers is famous, with currently enlisted soldiers earning no less than average white-collar workers. And veterans after retirement can enjoy lifetime health insurance, with double pensions after retirement. Soldiers can attend school for free, not to mention an additional supplement. The rent they pay is lower than average people, with the difference made up by the government. When old soldiers buy a home, the property tax they pay is also lower.
These advantages, once you do the math, you’ll figure out that the bill is really being picked up the Chinese people. The dollars that China has in its reserves, the money that China has leant to Americans… how much oil and gold could it purchase 3 years ago, and how much can it purchase today?
So, the wealth of the Chinese people are being gradually swallowed by America. Why? Because the right to control this wealth isn’t in the hands of the Chinese people. The right to control this wealth belongs to some officials and experts, and whether unintentional or not, they have not properly protected this wealth, and the United States has been stripping it away using under-handed methods.
And related to this, some officials are corrupt and have taken advantage of holes in supervision; they then use their feet “democratically”, running to Western counties. The country’s money, the people’s money, they might not take proper care of… but their own money, they’ll never spare a cent. When their children and spouses arrive in the West, they can immediately buy villas and brand-name cars, completely different attitudes from normal emigrants.
And as the number of people doing this increases, then the number of Chinese who still trust the Party and government is leading them to a xiaokang/wealthy society, will naturally decrease.