In this era of fake news, mass media is controlled by governments as a tool to manufacture consensus and achieve their political goals. To promote the China threat conspiracy, nearly all western media are focusing on some particular sides of China. Now because of coronavirus, China has been, once again, pushed to the frontier of media war. Many social media users are supporting/spreading whatever information they get with the wrong picture of China and without rational analysis (I will comment on some of them in my next article). Therefore, as an anarchic thought-speaking machine, I have the responsibility to present the real China as objective as possible. Since there are too many dimensions of a society, I try to cover the major ones.
Note: some of the data used in this article might not be accurate to date but good enough to project a correct image of China.
BUSINESS, ECONOMY, AND LIVING STANDARD
China has a massive market for consumer business development. Not only because 20% of the world population is aggregated in 6.3% of the world landmass, but also the rise of the middle class. This group of people is especially willing to spend more and more money on improving their living qualities. The bad cultural tradition of the need to ‘keep face’ has influenced many to pursue things that make them feel like in a higher social class. It’s a disaster for the mind but a blessing for business.
China does have strong manufacturing capabilities with lower costs. However, many things are not reliable unless there is a good control plan directly implemented by stakeholders or customers themselves. It is not that the factories want to take advantage of foreign investors, but the old mindset businessmen want to take advantage whenever they see possible. There is no inequality here. It’s the same for their fellow Chinese and for foreigners.
In terms of starting a company, it is much easier now but still too complicated compared to some countries, for example, Sweden. And it is exceptionally challenging for non-profit organisations. China has not paid enough attention to the development of NPOs. Therefore the policies and regulations regarding NPOs are not mature at all, let alone supporting them, which makes it almost impossible to operate NPOs in China the way it should be.
Oh, and if you are planning to do business with old school Chinese people, you need to learn the Chinese way of reciprocal. Many relationships are enhanced by ‘presents’, and many deals are closed on the drinking table. Political corruption is suppressed but business corruption is still a big problem.
There are many analysis regarding the Chinese economy. Here I only focus on the actual impact on the Chinese people. The two major investments of people are in the stock market and real estate. The other forms of investments are either not as popular or the profits are too little.
The rise of the middle class in China has brought a large community of individual shareholders. ‘Playing’ in the Chinese stock market is cheap (fees are much lower than that of the US), especially for average salarymen who don’t have a great fortune to place big orders. The sad thing is, Chinese schools have not educated people of rationality, most people are just following the trend, listen to some so-called specialists without analysing by themselves carefully, and end up losing money. This has also made the Chinese stock market very unstable, unpredictable, and unreasonable.
The real estate industry has been booming in China since long ago. Many middle-class Chinese people have multiple apartments in different cities or even countries. The investment-driven demand is so high that the housing prices in big cities has been rocketing up, leaving young people unable to afford their own homes without the help of their parents.
Most Chinese people have savings, with or without investments. The baby boom born mid-aged people have lived through hard times. They tend to be more conservative in regard of money. Plus the social insurance is not good enough to cover everything, savings are necessary just in case. This ability to save money is like a superpower in the time of coronavirus. People are less impacted by the confinement even if their salaries are temporarily cut by big percentage.
Some media have projected Chinese people as super rich. Well… every country has super rich people and many Chinese tourists do spend crazy money buying souvenirs, a lot of them luxury goods, while abroad. But that doesn’t mean the country is rich, or all the people are rich. In fact, most of the Chinese families don’t have the luxury to travel abroad even once in their lifetime. There are many areas where people still struggle for survival. China is big, however, job opportunities are only abundant in a few big cities. Parents from poor villages leave their homes to work in big cities, otherwise they won’t have income. Their kids are left behind alone at home, in a place that may not even have a proper school.
There is no escape from inequality if free market economy is regarded as something sacred. Young people are exposed to unbelievable pressures, especially in big cities. Living cost is so high comparing to average salary, that many of them depend on their parents to live an OK life. Luckily, cheap mass rental space are available in most places, therefore you won’t see many street people living outdoors, like in the US.
Besides, China is a very safe place to live in. It is inevitable that in such a huge land some areas might be less safe. But in general the life threatening crime rate is very low. Pick pockets are seen mostly in crowded places, same as everywhere else in the world (except for a few exceptionally safe countries like in North Europe).
CULTURE AND VALUE
China is a country of long history and rich in traditional culture. Travelers have easy access to unique cultural experiences anywhere in China. Many are even spread around the world, for example Kungfu, Taiji, Taoism, and the splendid food culture.
The best era for Chinese art was perhaps the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It was China’s ‘enlightenment’ and ‘renaissance’, which was over 300 years earlier than that of the western world (1300-1600). People in that time honoured intelligence so much that they enjoy gathering together to exchange opinion on thoughts and art very frequently. Even political rivals could put aside conflicts in office and talk about art without mental barriers. However, the average aesthetic ability of modern Chinese is a disaster – a big lag behind western world. An important reason is, good resources are blocked outside of the famous great firewall of internet. Importing books for sale in China is also under strict censorship. Art is something not passively accessible to the mass majority of people (eg. unlike most parts of the world, Chinese are not usually allowed to doodle in public). It is only accessible if a person is especially attracted to certain kinds of art and actively looking for such resources. People are the victims in this case.
Some traditional mindsets are so out-dated but still popular in China. For example, it is still common to require the boyfriend to have new apartment ready and present the girl’s family with big amount of money in order to get married. There are still people asking for the gender of a fetus and get abortion if it’s a girl.
The generation born during the baby boom are now mid aged. This generation grew up in the era of Mao. Their personalities and cognitions are shaped by the extreme personal worship towards Mao, and extreme repression of ‘improper’ political outlook. Many of them are brain washed so profoundly that they believe their current life is the best they can get, and is only achievable under the leadership of CCP. No judgement here since it’s not topic related. But in a sense, they are happy people. It is interesting how ‘beliefs’ make people happy. This group of CCP believers in China, as well as the loyal religion believers in India, have achieved similar peacefulness for life to some extent. Additionally, traditional Chinese culture, as well as mass media in China, all promote the idea of ‘the happy medium (中庸之道)’ and ‘happiness lies in contentment (知足常乐)’. This notion is good for the majority to live a peaceful life without too much ups and downs. They are content with mediocre life of repeating every day, like happy Sisyphus. This way the people are ‘domesticated’ and they listen to the government more than people in other countries – an important reason why the confinement in China during coronavirus is easier to carry out. At the same time it also makes people too tame to rebel. You don’t see many protests in mainland China because of that, and even if they do, the actions are soon suppressed before it gets big. Therefore, grassroot organizations in China are hard to influence the society, no matter how good they are.
The low internationalization level also contributes to the ‘stubbornness’. People living in more internationalized cities, for example Shanghai, are much more open minded. However, even in the most internationalised cities of mainland China, foreigner percentage is very low. Shanghai has a foreign residents percentage of only 0.6% (foreign nationality), which is very low comparing to other influential big cities in the world, for example, Tokyo (3.98% foreign nationality), New York (36% foreign born), London (36.7% foreign born), Paris (14.8% foreign nationality) (source: various from internet). If a foreign face appears in tier 3 cities or even less developed areas, people may stare, smile, or even form a circle to ask simple questions with their poor English, or simply to say, ‘welcome to China.’ The Chinese have long been exceptionally friendly towards foreigners. Exceptionally friendly, or even worshiping. Because of that, there used to be many foreign guys who couldn’t make a living or attract girls in their own country came to China, and lived a privileged life ever since. However, even in such an information closed society, information are flowing every day and changing people’s mind little by little. People started to realize foreigners are not that different after all, and for a period of time there were popular articles analysing why Chinese girls are so easy to foreigners and get hurt most of the time, and a slogan was shared everywhere on social media, ‘get out, foreign trash!’ Still, no judgement here. It’s only obvious to see the Chinese society does not welcome ‘playboy’ lifestyle, and it’s getting more difficult to hoax Chinese girls.
I prefer not to dig into the irrationality of those girls mentioned above. They are victims of Chinese education, the biggest disaster of all. It was already a disaster decades ago, and now it’s even worse.
There is no proper philosophy classes in China, at least before entering college and majoring in philosophy. What they have in school is a class called ‘mind politics.’ Materialism is taught as the only correct theory to look at the world, teachers refer to idealism as totally wrong and bad and does not worth studying. It’s a disaster for Chinese students’ critical thinking abilities. The education itself is structured in such a biased way that there is no room for students to decide whether they would prefer materialism or idealism because no input on idealism was given. Ironically, Chinese society is built upon interpersonal relationships and empathy, sometimes too much. Moral abduction is very common in Chinese social media. People lose their freedom very easily because of all those inhumane unwritten moral codes. For example, one should not live far away from the parents if they are still alive; not having kids is just being selfish and not respecting ancestors; changing nationality is treason; a public figure is a scrooge if not donating big money during disasters, etc. And a lack of sense of privacy lead to social condemnation to those who don’t obey. Rationality, to see things objectively, one thing important in materialism, as solely taught in schools, is not practiced in reality. It seems the schools manufactured people’s minds to look at so-called ‘facts.’ But never taught them how to identify true facts from fake ones, nor how to dig out other factors that may influence that ‘fact.’ They educate people to believe in what they see and then control what they can see through media. The great firewall is the best example.
Schools in China now put great pressure on families. Some teachers even post homework only in parents’ WeChat group. If the parent is too busy then the kid might not even know there is homework to do. Everything not good about the kid is the family’s fault. Interestingly, it is the opposite in Japan. Families have put too much responsibilities on schools. It would be better somewhere in between.
The college entrance exam had changed the life of many after the 70’s cultural revolution. However, in this era the current form of the exam is destroying many people’s life. Unlike SAT, in China there is only one chance every year to take the exam. Deviations are big when sample size is too small. It’s a no-brainer common sense but obviously the education bureau of China doesn’t know it. If you want to take the exam again it’s another year wasted, and no guarantee the next exam will reflect how good you really are. The whole process of exam, college application, and enrolment is intensively taken place one after another, leaving no possibility for a gap year.
Chinese education has always taught people to unite but never mentioned anything with regards to privacy. When talking about privacy, people would automatically relate it to things that ‘couldn’t be seen in daylight.’ In China it is common to be asked by a stranger if you’re married, how much you earn, how rich you are, when you meet for the first time. People are just curious, no bad intentions. Also it is still common to see kids pee on the street with a parent helping them to undress and dress up again. They think it’s just a natural thing to do, no shame or anything strange. It is also often seen Chinese people taking a walk after meal in pyjamas on the street. They don’t mind exposure of a large part of their own personal life, and they think it would be strange if someone does mind. No harsh judgement here. Some habits are definitely not good, some, however, you can say they are frank, or down to earth friendly. But all are related to the education they have had. Luckily, with globalization, the younger generation now respects privacy much more than their ancestors.
Not many people like to read. Even fewer people like to read serious content. Online romance stories and magical / hero fictions are the most popular categories, many are really low quality. After that are ‘how-tos (be successful, keep healthy, mostly)’ written by way too many ‘specialists’. Independent bookstores are hard to survive in China unless they do many other things besides selling books. In small cities, you may find it difficult to look for books that keep your mind up speed with the world. The bookstores are filled with exercises for all kinds of domestic exams. A good city cannot be without a good bookstore. This is really a disaster.
POLITICS AND POLICIES
Many Chinese citizen have never ever voted for anything politically, nor do they know how. Anyway, there is only one ruling party, everything is decided within the party. Politics used to be very dirty games, it still is now, but we’ve seen good changes in the corruption problem since Xi came into power. Although not eradicated yet, it really is much much better than before.
Regarding to foreign affairs, China has a tradition of ‘人不犯我，我不犯人；人若犯我，我必犯人‘ meaning if you don’t offend me, I won’t offend you; if you offend me, I will offend you for sure. Therefore, if you see China has a reaction, it is usually indeed a reaction, although sometimes the government may be too sensitive that they overreact. So the concern level of China intentionally start a flight shouldn’t be too high (but you never know for sure. The dividing of nations triggers stupidities, as always).
The household registration system (户籍制度) is among the worst disasters of all China’s domestic policies. It not only restricts the purchasing of real estate, cars, but also on education, medical insurance, etc. Even if a person and the employer pays a lot of money every month for social insurance, if one gets sick in another city different from where the insurance is paid, then the social insurance is not covering that person’s hospital spending.
Besides, freedom is another worst disaster. There’s no need to say more about speech freedom in China. It’s notoriously ranked the forth last in the World Press Freedom Index. Not only the press, but individuals also cannot speak freely on the internet or in some specific areas of China (eg. Tibet, Xinjiang) either. There is strong censorship on every word published on Chinese social media. If something touches the redline (which has really low threshold), it’s very likely not allowed to be posted, or will be deleted soon after it’s posted. Coronavirus has worsen the situation of nationalism, which results in even more strict censorship and firewall.
The Chinese passport does not allow people to travel freely around the world. Visa free destinations are not much, many are island countries in the middle of an ocean (bonus for divers though). It’s slowly getting better. But for now, visa applications for travelling and business trips to major destinations such as Europe, North America and Australia are still very complicated, expensive, and time consuming. At the same time, you cannot compensate by having another passport because China is among the few countries that strictly forbid double nationalities.
TECHNOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT
China’s technology development is very fast especially in areas related to mass consumers. The huge market is the perfect playground to test and promote. Fierce competition drives innovation.
China is the frontier of big data technology. The government now is creating a ‘credit society’ in which everyone has a credit point. This point is based on historical data of personal credibility, for example, paying bills on time, etc. And it’s re-evaluated every month. People can apply for loans based on their credit points. The quota of the loan one is able to get depends on the credit level. Money is transferred into the applicant’s bank account immediately after application.
Peculiarly in contrast, while people are enjoying the benefit from modern technology, many traditional businessmen cannot even use an email box. Emails are not as popular in China (unless it’s a foreign related business or big corporation) as elsewhere in the world. It seems through the communication technology development process, China has skipped email. Traditional businessmen prefer using QQ or WeChat, despite the poor performance in document archiving and professionalism.
Unless very remote, the transportation inside China is quite convenient. High speed trains are connecting every major city and many small cities with a schedule much more reliable and procedures much more convenient than flights. Afterall, infrastructure construction is always a focus of the Chinese government. Also benefiting from infrastructure and the middle class purchasing power is the courier service. I have not seen any other country with a better and quicker courier service than China yet. In recent years, in addition to traditional shipping and courier services, a new form of express courier emerges in China’s big cities – flash delivery. It is used when the sender and receiver are in the same city. After placing the order, a delivery person will come to pick up the package and then finish the delivery in one hour. It is especially useful for urgent cases.
China is a big country with great diversity and abundant total amount of natural resources. However, since the population is also huge, natural resources are actually scarce per capita. Below is a rough comparison of some critical resources (source: middle school textbook):
|World Ranking (Total)||World Ranking (per Capita)|
China has enforced great emphasis on environment protection in the recent years. In many areas of China the air quality has greatly improved. Recycling is a focus for many cities now. However, it is not enough. Some parts of China is still lack of control. All the waters are contaminated. Rivers are carrying plastic wastes to the oceans, and there are trash washed to riverbanks and seashores. The percentage of fossil fuel energy (59%) is still the highest in the world. China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world combined. (Source: How is China’s energy footprint changing?)
Everything happens for a reason. Whether it’s the good side or bad side of China, China has become the country as it is today out of the history it has experienced. Same for all the other countries and everything, everyone in the world, in human history. There is no point in looking at any country with coloured glasses, especially not to its people. What we need to examine is not whether an individual country is good or bad, has threats to the world or not, but the human societal structure itself, the fact that we divide the world into nations. The wars – real war, cold war, media war, economic war, etc. – between countries emerge out of nothing but stupid national selfishness.
I started this article intending to provide only facts, without any analysis or personal opinions. But I found it really hard to shut up while writing it out. The opinions are mostly based on historical priori to justify the reasonability of the outcomes. Still, I hope it’s a helpful article to present a real China, of things not widely known, both good and bad. Please feel free to ask anything else you would like to know about China in the comments below. I will try my best to feedback timely.