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Translation: Living in an Era of Change – Era of Acceptance

Last month, Xinhua News had an interesting piece of “被时代” – which translates roughly to “era of being forced” or “era of acceptance.” 被 (bei) in Chinese indicates a passive clause.  Thus when you get hit (撞), you say 你被撞了.

According to an Internet poll, the most popular Chinese character of 2009 was “被.” Why?  Part of the reason is that living in a society charging full steam ahead, many Chinese no doubt feel they are losing control of their lives. But the more important reason is that it provides a satirical platform for many to express the indignity many average Chinese have suffered at the hand of social inequity and irresponsible governance. Here is a rough translation of the Xinhua article.

Introduction – They weren’t kidding when they say the “Era of Acceptance” is coming. With few appreciating what is really going on, the Era of Acceptance is suddenly upon us. Whether you are forced to accept a job or forced to participate in volunteering activities, we are all in the same boat. Knowing what is coming does not help, since the Era of Acceptance is already upon us with a vengeance.

Accept to be represented at the local hearing – the City of LuoYang held a public hearing on July 31, from nine to noon, regarding water rate adjustments for residents of the city. According to reports, it was proposed during the hearing that rates would increase 40%. Amazingly, of the 18 or so participants at the hearing, barely 1 voiced any opposition to the rate increase!  No one can really complain now. Water rates will increase 40% for residents across the city this year.

Commentary: public hearings are an imported concept. Unfortunately it seems that in many cases we have learned only to follow the form, not the substance or spirit of hearings. Despite an air of legitimacy, many hearings are rigged. Local big shots routinely hire their own people to participate in public hearings . These “citizen representatives” then vote to push through resolutions to give the results of many government decisions an air of legitimacy.

Accept to be employed – only July 12, a graduate of the Northwestern School of Law discussed a curious situation he found himself in. Nearing graudation, he was notified by the school that he had accepted an employment contract with a company in Xian. The student had never heard of the company, but that didn’t matter. He was congratulated to be employed.

Commentary: trade schools throughout China traditionally report the employment rate of their students. Of all the metrics used to measure schools, the employment rate represents for many the bottom line especially as the job market tightened. Now a curious trend has occured. Instead of proving real assistance for students to look for work, some unscrupulous schools have resorted to awarding pre-made “contracts” to students. Students upon graduating are forced to bask in the “fake” glory of being employed but will in reality be on their own in loooking for a real job.

Accept to have commited suicide – in March of 2008, reporter Li – who has reported on the corruptions of a former local official in Anhui – died suddenly in a local hospital. Among the activities Li dug up included the illegal occupation of farm lands and the construction of a luxury office complex by the previous local official. The official report says that Li commited suicide by hanging while in the hospital. However, the family of Li vehemently refutes that version of the story.

Commentary: the conclusion of the official report has been highly questioned. Li never showed any tendency of being suicidal; the report did not cite any solid proof of suicide; and the family remains adamant that Li did not commit suicide. Whatever the truth of this situation, one problem China does have is the abuse of power by local officials. Whenever powerful officials and ordinary citizens clash, the officials are bound to win.  To prevent such incidents from occuring, it is important to enact tighter supervision and management of how the government governs.

Accept to haved achieved a good standard of living – in February of 2009, a province-wide phone survey was conducted for in Jiangsu to obtain various statistical data regarding the state of economic development in the province. The local govenrment in the Nan Tong township, in anticipation of the survey, announced for all its citizens the correct answer to give when contacted by a surveyer. If the surveyer asks for information relating to per capita income, a farming family is to give an answer consistent with the fact that family makes on average 8500 yuan per person. For a family living in a city, the answer is 16500 yuan per person. Consequently, the citizens of Nan Tong township was able to achieve a very good standard of living miraculously almost overnight!

Commentary: there is a Chinese proverb that describes unrefined thievery as “stealing a bell while covering one’s ears.” This proverb describes the situation in Nan Tong well. But is the problem of ‘manufactured consent’ limited to the township of Nan Tong? It’s doubtful. Such problems are probably widespread in China. The scope of ‘manufactured consent’ is probably also not limited to just responses to surveys on “good standards of living.” Depending on what’s at stake, there is really not a single subject matter that is off limits to manufactured results.

Accept to have achieved tremendous economic growth – Only July 28, the National Statistics Bureau announced that the total income per capita growth of people in cities grew at 11.2%, people in rurual areas at 8.1%, people in townships at 7.1%. Many netizens in China however expressed doubt at the the veracity of overall good news.

Commentary: No one knows better than I the state of my income – just as no one knows whether my shoes fit better than I, no one knows the state of the water better than the fish, and no one knows how cold or warm I am than myself. Over the last couple of years, my income has not grown much – yet the price of everything else around me has grown: the gas, the meat, the vegetables, the rent. Adding insult to all this is the fact that even as I age and my salary has not kept up, my workload has increased.

Accept to have volunteered – according to a May 2009 report, parents in Tong Lian County of Chongqing told of a story where the school asked them to voluntarily contribute 9000 yuan on “Teacher’s Day” to support the schools. When some complained, the school told them their options was either to voluntarily contribute or to withdraw their children from school. During an interview, the head of education of Tong Lian County stressed that parents have contributed to all funds voluntarily.

Commentary: an arbitary collection of fees is an arbitary collection of fees – no matter what you call it. Many local officials collect not only the normal fees, but additional fees that they force parents to characterize as “voluntary donations.” For the good of their children, most parents will bite their tongues and do whatever it takes to ensure their children get an education. Officials may justify such “donations” however they want, but in the end, it is just a cover up for a corrupt practice.

Additional Commentaries – the “era of acceptance,” more than anything else, is a condemnation of governance that has at times gone berserk. The term caught on because people realize that against a powerful unjust government, the average citizen really have little recourse. When sensitive events occur, people do not have the freedom to speak up and to criticize; people have accept to be fed the standard dose of cover ups, lies and deceits. In the best of circumstances, people can only hope that some media outlet – or some vigilante netizen group -will expose the truth.

Accept to be prosperous, to live in a Harmonious Society – why do schools force parents to pay additional fees but insist to call such fees “voluntary donations”? Why do work units fire workers but insist the laid off workers to agree to “voluntarily resign”? Why do government officials shrug off responsibilities where responsibilities are due and take credit for achievements where credits are not due? The answer is that these acts make our society look beautiful and peaceful.

To achieve the mandates set by the central government, we have resorted to manufacturing a sense of prosperity, a sense of harmonious society. We have all signed on to agree to be prosperous, to live in a grand harmonious society.

The Era of Acceptance as an expression of loss of freedom, loss of individual dignity – people’s acceptance of their duty to donate, to go missing, to volunteer, to accept employment, to be happy, to be prosperous – ridiculous as these notions are – also provides an outlet for people to express their outrage. Sure there are exaggerations, but the surging popularity of the word 被 (bei) do express the helplessness many people feel in their daily lives – in dealing with the many inequalities that exist in Chinese society.

Additional Food for Thoughts – the notions of the Era of Acceptance represents a collective awakening by Chinese citizens of individual rights. Without a collective awareness of individual rights,  individuals would not be able to assert their own rights on in specific instances. The social undercurrents behind the notions of Era of Acceptance is not difficult to explain. But as the authority and the populace begin to awaken and pay more attention to individual justice, where will all this eventually lead to?

The notion of Era of Acceptance as a platform for discussing individual rights – in reality, there is nothing funny about violation of individual rights. Victimhood in reality and victimhood as bantered about on the web in the context of Era of Acceptance should not be mixed. Nevertheless, the victimhood expressed by netizens are important. It is a first step to developing awareness in the public regarding what their rights are and for people and government to work together to creating a truly harmonious and just society.

The relationship between individual rights and government’s authority – the wildfire popularity of the Era of acceptance represents both an awakening amongst Chinese citizens of their individual rights as well as milestone in the the way the government adjusts how it should govern. It would be tragic if the result of the push back by citizens is a meek or confused government. The government should be proactive and take the lead to address the issues head on. The government needs to honestly assess how it governs and look at how it can encourage and promote the development of awareness of individual rights amongst the populace.

As the Chinese netizens become more powerful and influential, the government needs to continually assess every aspects of how it governs. Rather than allowing the Era of Acceptance to continue, the government must work hard to expose the truth, starting with openly acknowledging the many violations many of our citizens have suffered.

  1. March 15th, 2010 at 00:30 | #1

    Very interesting piece!

    After reading your translation, Allen, I have some random thoughts on the article:

    1. The more parents become aware of these corrupt “voluntary donation” practices, the less they will be willing to tolerate when such things happen to them. So, I think the media having the ability to expose these types of crimes is a good thing. Too much of media supposedly looking after the interest of citizens could turn into media manufacturing unnecessary concerns, such as what we see in the West and is not a great thing either.

    The case of the dead reporter really indicates the seriousness of the corruption.

    2. On the local hearing example, it’s interesting also. I thought China’s experiments at various cities or villages of differing policies is a really wise thing. They watch carefully, and if some works out well, they adapt them everywhere.

    3. After 3 decades of growth and climbing out of hunger, people are increasingly looking more beyond their door steps. It wouldn’t be practical for school officials to have asked for excessive “voluntary” donations a while ago, because nobody had extra rmb lying around.

    The on-going industrial revolution is probably the biggest force for change and “acceptance.” I agree with the conclusion paragraph. The government will continually have to watch out for evolving needs of society and address through improving governance and policies.

    I don’t think this will happen in China any time soon – but once we see budget deficits like we see in the U.S., then we know governance has started going into hell. (Ok, some might say, rather, that’s citizenship responsibility going into hell.)

  2. Wei
    March 25th, 2010 at 22:26 | #2

    I don’t really things that it is any where near as bad in China as you had claim, there maybe happening to a few people, but I don’t think it is that common place.

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