Shitty People Being Shitty to Other Shitty People, But Not Always

It can seem like there are days here where I see nothing but shitty people being shitty to other shitty people. Today I saw some girls shove a blind man out of their way. There’s no shortage of cars cutting off pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars because everyone is in a hurry and thinks their own time and safety is more important than others’. I hate when people park right in the middle of the road or on a sidewalk, completely blocking the flow of traffic for everyone else because someone was too lazy to go find a parking spot while they ran into 7-11. Or how about the famous incident of the little girl getting hit by a car and no one stopping to help her while she died in the street a few years back? Seeing shitty, selfish, greedy behavior like this all the time can really bring a person down.

However, I have managed to find a group of wonderful, wonderful people who are the exact opposite of all this. Volunteering is a pretty new concept in China, a lot of Chinese people don’t even really understand what it means. I’ve been working with a couple of animal rescue organizations and a Trap Neuter Release organization in Shanghai and have had the opportunity to get to know some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s refreshing to work with them and to be reminded that not every single person in Shanghai is a shit bird who couldn’t care less about the people around them.

These people dedicate so much of themselves to trying to ease the pain and suffering of animals, especially stray animals. They spend countless hours and their own hard earned cash bringing stray animals to the vet and then placing them in homes. I work mostly with the TNR organization and one of the members, a guy named Steven has become a bit of a hero to me. He spends most of his mornings before work at the vet checking on his strays, goes to work and then spends most of his evenings catching stray cats in neighborhoods (mine included) where TNR programs are on-going and then goes home to a home full of dogs and cats that he fosters until they can be placed in permanent homes. You’d never think he was anything special if you just saw him on the street. He’s just a regular guy. Him and a few others have spent months pursuing official NPO status for the TNR organization and just recently got it approved. They’ve designed this amazing plan for not only carrying out TNR, but also dedicating time and resources on educating people on proper pet care and how to prevent the growth of Shanghai’s stray animal population. I’ve learned that many Chinese people have some really interesting and sad misunderstandings about pets and pet care that end poorly for our furry friends. They are trying to educate people against this kind of unscientific, superstitious thinking.

Another unsung hero is Chris Lau, founder of ThinkAdoption who at any one time has about 20 pets in his home. Some of them are his own, most of them are waiting for adoption. I myself have two cats and I feel that they take up a lot of my time (they’re so messy!), I have no idea how people like Chris can hold down full time jobs and then manage to care for so many animals! Especially in a large city like Shanghai where you can’t just put the dogs outside in your yard while you go to work. It takes remarkable dedication and selflessness.

Some people have asked me why I spend so much time and money on trying to help stray animals instead of trying to help people. I have two reasons. 1. The situation of all stray animals was caused by humans – people not being responsible pet owners, releasing them when they become a burden and not de-sexing them. I feel like we owe it to them. 2. People indirectly benefit from taking care of the stray animal problem. How? Well, stray animals can sometimes carry rabies. I saw a news report yesterday that said that 10 people in Beijing died from rabies last year because of stray dogs. Stray cats make a lot of noise at night when they’re in heat, so de-sexing them solves that problem and also helps them to lead longer, healthier lives. I am frequently woken up by the cats in my neighborhood fighting or getting it on. I’ve managed to spay/neuter 5 of them already, but I probably have 10 more to go before we have the problem mostly under control.

If anyone is interested in learning more about these organizations, I recommend you check them out on Weibo or WeChat. Search for ThinkAdoption, PPAR (Paw Pals Animal Rescue) or TNR Action at TNRaction.com.

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The Red Carpet Treatment

I finally started my new job and I’ve been crazy busy for the last few weeks. I spend most of my time in smaller Chinese cities touring facilities and carrying out inspections of security programs at said facilities. For some of these facilities, a foreigner showing up is a big deal. I’ve observed some really interesting stuff the last couple of weeks that has lead to no small amount of embarrassment for me. Let me explain.

First of all, it’s important to understand that I am not high up in the company. I have a team of really fantastic Chinese co-workers who are all doing the same job as me, but they are more experienced at it, as I have just started. I have a background in what I’m doing, but I am new to the company and to their way of doing things, so I rely heavily on my co-workers for coaching and advice. Also, I am the only foreigner on our team. Well, the only non-Asian foreigner. However, in spite of being the same “rank” as my co-workers and far less experienced, I get treated very, very differently when we’re doing site visits. For example, at one point last weekend we had to go through a metal detector screening using hand held metal detectors. My Chinese co-workers went first, no big deal, but when it was my turn, I was asked to “wait a second” and they literally pulled out a red carpet for me to stand on while they did the screening. HUMILIATING. Later (this happened at multiple sites), when it came time to order lunch for me and my team, the facility staff ordered regular old cheap Chinese take out for my colleagues, but ordered something special for me…expensive pizza from Papa John’s. That was also humiliating and actually a huge pain in the ass because they’d already ordered a ton of Chinese food (that was thrown away) that looked fine and I was starving, but they made me wait an extra 90 minutes for the pizza because they didn’t want to give Chinese food to a “foreign guest.” Part of that was obviously their pre-conceived idea that a foreigner can not eat Chinese food or use chopsticks (it was mentioned). I am also starting to suspect that Chinese people think their own cuisine is disgusting (just kidding…). I don’t even eat pizza because it makes me sick! But them going out of their way to order special food for me left me with no option but to eat it because I felt guilty, but it also forced me into a situation where I was proving their point of “see? foreigners love pizza and hate chinese food!” Also, I got super sick from the pizza. Additionally, I don’t like having this divide between me and my co-workers. I’m sure they understand that I didn’t ask for special treatment, but I have to wonder if over time there would be any resentment caused by me constantly being given better treatment than them for the same exact job.

Ok, so I get that Chinese people just really want to be good hosts and make sure I’m taken care of. I get that. On one level it’s quite touching, but mostly it’s just super embarrassing. Nothing makes me happier than when Chinese people just treat me like everyone else. There was this restaurant that I used to go to and when I went in, they’d throw a menu at me and an order pad and say “write your own order down!” Just like they did to every Chinese person who went in there. I didn’t get babied, I wasn’t coddled and they even made fun of how ugly my characters were. I loved it. (My characters are so ugly.)

Another thing that kept happening is something that ALL foreigners have experienced. You open your mouth and say “ni hao” or “xie xie” and the world stops. Every Chinese person in the room is falling over themselves complimenting your AMAZING Mandarin. Even if that’s all you know. At times, the encouragement can be nice, but it can also reach a point where it’s just kind of insulting, even though I KNOW that’s not the intent. Knowing that Chinese people are just trying to be nice when they say things like this hasn’t really kept me from being annoyed by it. I think I finally came up with a comparison that explains why this makes me so uncomfortable: Let’s say you have a small child who goes to kindergarten and then comes home one day and tells you that they have a new teacher at school who teaches Chinese. Your kid then says “ni hao, xie xie, ni hao ma” whatever. Your kid is 5 years old, so you get really excited and you say “Wow! GOOD JOB! You’re so smart!” blah blah whatever people say to little kids who learn something. You’re excited that your kid picked it up so quickly. If we take that same scenario and your kid is an adult who comes home from work or college or whatever and says the same thing, your reaction is probably going to be not so enthusiastic, maybe like “that’s great, keep it up!” And you’ll go on with your day. In fact, you might even wonder if there’s something wrong with your child. Basically, my point is that we have different standards of success for small children and adults. When it comes to foreigners and Mandarin, we all get the 5 year old’s standard of success, which is somewhat insulting. I mean, we all sound like 5 year olds at some point in the learning process, but that doesn’t mean we actually only have the intellectual capability of a 5 year old (in most cases). I think one of the reasons why non-Asian foreigners have such a hard time learning Chinese is because of this. Chinese people won’t raise the bar on us and start expecting more. They don’t tell us when we’ve said something wrong because “awww, she’s trying, that’s cute” and some foreigners I suspect, believe the compliments and don’t realize that Chinese people are just being nice and maybe don’t push themselves as much as they would if Chinese people were less forgiving about it. How many of you have been told “Your Chinese is better than mine!” by a Chinese person? Come on! Who’s going to believe that? I’d almost think they were making fun of me except that most Chinese are simply too nice to do that. Again, even though I know it’s not the intent, I still can’t help but feel a little insulted when a Chinese person freaks out over me saying one word in Chinese. To me, it implies a combination of “we didn’t think you were smart enough to learn this language and we didn’t expect you to respect our culture enough to learn the language.” I think they owe it to themselves to expect that foreigners who come here long term bother to learn the language at least a little.

A Furry Friend in Need!

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My new neighborhood is full of stray cats, which breaks my heart. I love animals, but especially cats. I hate to see any living thing suffering, particularly animals who have so little say in what happens to them. I recently discovered that Shanghai has a TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) program and I have volunteered to help organize events and capture stray cats to be brought in for spaying/neutering, before returning them where we found them. Some people may think that returning them defies logic. Why not adopt them or put them to sleep? Because cats are territorial and if you remove them from an area, then more will just move in and with extra resources and territory, instincts will kick in and tell them to reproduce. Keeping spayed and neutered strays in their original territory prevents the growth of the stray population in more than one way.

I’ve been feeding a litter of kittens I found for the last two weeks and they seemed to be pretty healthy (except for conjunctivitis, which I am treating), with the exception of one, small black kitten. She is the smallest of the group and seemed mostly ok, but I made sure to give her extra food and keep the other kitties from stealing it from her. It wasn’t enough. She began leaving the safety of the bushes where they live and wandering around listlessly in the lane, where she was vulnerable to cars, mopeds and pedestrians staring at their phones instead of where they are going. When a stray begins approaching people like that, it’s typically a cry for help. They know they’re in trouble and asking for help the only way they know how. I ignored it and thought she would get better on her own. I came home from the gym one night and found her laying on the sidewalk, pulling herself around in circles with her front legs, unable to move her hind legs. I put her into a box and brought her into my house. I wrapped her with towels and turned on the heat to stop her shivering and fed her. I began looking online to see if I could find a veterinarian that took emergency calls, and of course, no one answered their phones. I finally remembered my contact at the TNR program who helped me find a vet that would see her so late (it was about 9:30pm when I found her, after 11 before I made it to the clinic, which was a million miles away). When I finally got there, he was really kind and patient. I think he took good care of her, but he really didn’t think she would make it through the night. She did make it through the night, and seemed to be a lot better the next day. She had blood in her urine and still couldn’t walk or go to the bathroom by herself. Today she had no blood in her urine, but still, no walking or relieving herself without someone pushing on her belly to get it out. The vet took some x rays and couldn’t find any spinal damage or other abnormalities, so he thinks she has nerve damage near her hips. The good news is that she has feeling in her toes and he could see her muscles moving when she was trying to poop, even if nothing was coming out. He said that with the right kind of care, it’s possible that she could regain use of her legs and bowels, but that will mean having a person available to help her go to the bathroom a couple times a day and providing physical therapy like treatment to help her nerves regenerate. She has a shot, but not without the right kind of person to help her. I wish like hell I could be that person because I have a hard time believing that someone else would give her the right attention, but also because I blame myself for not taking her to a vet sooner. Starting next week I’m going to be on business trips until December, so I just can’t do it. I really hope that some of you can help me spread the word or even volunteer to help this poor little kitty. She doesn’t have fleas or any contagious diseases (I had her tested) and the conjunctivitis of her eyes is getting better every day and will completely heal without any blindness.

A Bit of a Touchy Subject

I have something serious I want to discuss, but before I do that, I want to mention that I added another Chinese language learning resource on my Chinese learning page. It’s the Chinese Grammar Wiki, which maybe everyone else already knew about, but I just discovered and I love it. I’ve been reviewing the basics and re-solidifying my foundation in basic grammar.

Ok, so the thing I want to talk about today is sexual harassment, specifically in China. Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, lots of things change very quickly in China and I think that the nature of sexual harassment is one of those things. During my first time in China from 2003 through 2005, sexual harassment happened, but it wasn’t a regular thing that happened every day the way it seems to be now.

Just to be clear, I am not one of those overly sensitive types who thinks that any guy who says anything or looks at me is sexually harassing me. Like most women, I have way too much experience with the real thing and am very clear on what sexual harassment is. I’ve been sexually harassed in almost every country I’ve visited, so this isn’t anything unique to the Chinese either. I know the difference between a Chinese man looking at me because I’m a person who just happens to be in his field of view and people are naturally interested in one another, or a person who’s maybe just looking to see what I’m wearing, or a person who is simply curious or surprised to see a foreigner. I know what that kind of staring or looking is, I know what it feels like. What I’m talking about is the long, up and down gaze that rests too long on the breasts or butt, sometimes accompanied by a lecherous smirk and/or unnecessary commentary. Some men have gone so far as to touch me without permission, follow me, or even just straight up ask for sex. Just a couple days ago, I ventured outside of central Shanghai and was followed down the street by a man who was commenting on how pretty I am and how big my breasts are, while trying to make me look at him. I went into a subway because I knew there would be security guards down there and he followed me until I passed through the gate (I guess I wasn’t worth the 3 kuai ticket) and he stood outside watching me until I couldn’t see him any longer. It made me nervous and I felt very unsafe. We’ve all seen those videos of horrible things happening to people in China where no one helps other than to record the incident on their phone. What if that guy had decided to attack me right in the subway? Would anyone have helped me? I don’t know, but the fact that I even have to wonder if anyone would help me certainly doesn’t make me feel better about those situations.

I was talking about this with some friends the other day and all of my western female friends had similar stories. Our male friends were incredulous, even a little suspicious that we were exaggerating or somehow misunderstanding the situations. Their reaction, to be honest was a little hurtful. I’ve asked a number of female Chinese friends about these situations and they’ve all said the same thing – that nothing of the sort has ever happened to them, that they’ve never heard of it happening to any of their Chinese friends, and that they didn’t think most Chinese men would behave that way to a Chinese woman. There are probably several reasons for that. So why us Western ladies then? Why do we have to put up with harassment all the time? I’ll tell you why I think it is. We’re probably all thinking the same thing by now, which is that Westerners have a reputation for being “more open” than Chinese people. Western people have sex all the time with whoever they want without any social or emotional consequences. We’re all pretty slutty. How do we know this? From movies and TV, of course! If it happened in Sex and the City, it has to be real, right??

(Sidebar – Many English teachers in China encourage their students to watch American TV and movies to “learn about the culture.” This is a great idea, but only if the student has the ability to think critically about what they’re seeing and interpret it. For example, many Chinese people have the mistaken idea that life in America is like the Die Hard series, everyone has guns, we’re all running around shooting everyone and blowing everything up. Combine that with Sex and the City and we’re doing all of that in Christian Louboutin stilettos. The real take away from American TV and movies is that yes, we’re more open to the idea of seeing violence and sex on screen, but really we just love a good explosion and watching ridiculous high rollers living it up in NYC because most of us will never do that. It’s fantasy!)

However, in spite of the unfair conclusions drawn from American media about how slutty I am, I think there is at least one more culprit. In 2003, it was very fashionable for any and all companies to use white people in their commercials and advertisements. It didn’t matter what the product was, white models were required. There were white people in ads for cars, clothing, restaurants, all varieties of products. Now, I think that many Chinese brands have shifted towards using Chinese models because of pride in their product, pride in their country and pride in Chinese beauty. Obviously, I think this is great. I think it sucks that the whole world seems to be leaning towards one standard of beauty – white, tall, slender, blonde, etc that nearly no one in the world can attain aside from those with Northern European heritage. Anyway, so now that more and more Chinese brands are using Chinese models, more foreign brands have even started to as well. I think that fewer and fewer Chinese are willing to accept the message that “white people like it, so should you!” However, the ads that almost exclusively still use white women and not Asian women are ads that are related to anything of a sexual nature…lingerie or condoms, for example. I was in a store the other day and I noticed that the posters and displays around the store used Asian models, except for the lingerie department where the ads featured white women. I saw a commercial on TV recently that struck me as odd from the beginning, but I couldn’t say why. It showed a white couple in their house, she was making dinner and he was reading the paper (very 1950s, I know) and they sat down to eat, but suddenly, the woman ripped her clothes off (at this point the commercial no longer seemed weird), jumped on the man who then lead her into the bedroom. The commercial turned out to be an ad for Jizbon condoms. What seemed weird was seeing a white woman portrayed as a wholesome housewife, but it quit feeling weird when she was being portrayed the way I was used to seeing white women in China. (Of course, women are also objectified and sexualized in American ads too, but we objectify ALL women, not just white women, which of course, doesn’t make it ok.)

I realized that I had somehow subconsciously become used to seeing white women portrayed only in a very sexual light. If that way of thinking could be unknowingly taken on by me, someone who had only really been subjected to these differences for two years, then how does that affect the attitudes of Chinese people, specifically men towards white women? I’m going to guess that perhaps that subconscious relating of white women and sexuality is much stronger. You know what? I think that really sucks. Not just because now I get to walk around being treated like nothing but a one dimensional sexual being (by some people, not the majority, but enough to make me uncomfortable on a fairly regular basis), but also because these ads criminalize sexuality and sexual behavior. They label it as something “foreign,” “not for Chinese” and thereby take away the right of Chinese women to be overtly sexual if they chose to be without being unfairly labeled in the same way that I am. I believe that a person’s sexuality is theirs and theirs alone to decide when to turn it off and on and how they want to embody it or display it. They should get to do this without judgement and without preconceived notions about how sexual they are or aren’t, or how sexual they should be.

I suppose I live in a fantasy land because as of yet, I don’t know of a single country where this is reality.

On a completely unrelated subject…

I went sky diving last week. This is huge. You don’t understand how terrified I am of heights. Those ridiculous videos popping up lately of people climbing skyscrapers in Shanghai make me want to throw up. I don’t even like walking on bridges. I’d had it on my “40 Before 40” list, but not really in all seriousness. I kind of thought maybe I’d come up with something better and replace it, but things don’t always work out how we think.

This all came about when I suggested to my husband that we do something “exciting” for our anniversary.  I should have been more explicit because what I meant was a trip to Peru or a long weekend in New York City. Instead he booked us two tandem jumps in Colorado. I freaked out and then he did this coddling thing where he tells me “you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, I’m sorry…I wasn’t trying to make you do something you didn’t want to.” I hate being coddled or treated like a baby (I’m sure he knew what he was doing), so naturally I had to go through with it.

I put it out of my mind until we were actually suiting up at the dive center. I thought there’d be some formalities or a class or something, but no. This place was very chill and the only instructions we received were brief as we were getting dressed and waiting for the truck to bring us to the plane. I was sure I would screw it up and send myself and my jump master plummeting to our deaths. However, it turns out that he’s a lot more competent than that and we landed safely. It wasn’t even that horrifying except that I was the last one out of the plane and as he shoved me up to the door, the plane started to turn so we had to sit there for about a minute while the plane completed it’s turn and leveled out. During this time, I had the unnecessary chance to stare out the door at the ground for way too long while I waited for him to shove me out, which is exactly what he did. The free fall portion only lasted for about a minute and then he pulled the parachute. Free fall was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, but we were so far up that it didn’t seem like the ground was rushing at us. It was just surreal. After the parachute was out and the wind wasn’t so loud,  it was so peaceful and beautiful, just floating to the ground. I was actually kind of disappointed when it was over. I really hadn’t thought I would enjoy it as much as I did, much less want to do it again. My poor husband on the other hand, got really nauseous from the free fall and had a headache for the rest of the day. If I go again, I’ll have to find someone else to accompany me.

It did occur to me while we were drifting down that I would never go sky diving in China. Primarily for two reasons. The first is safety. I wouldn’t trust that safety would be the primary concern or that the jump masters would necessarily be well trained for any and all emergencies. Or that the pilot wouldn’t swing back around and hit us. The second reason is because of how tightly controlled their air space is by the military. The PLAAF might catch wind that a foreigner was sky diving and they’d think I was a spy trying to get into some facility. They’d probably send a fighter escort to make sure I landed somewhere safe, but they’d probably hit me too. Basically, I don’t see myself coming out of that experience alive. Besides, how much fun would sky diving be in all that smog anyway? I doubt that sky diving would be super popular in China.

Passport Photo Conspiracy Theory!

I’m currently in the process of applying for my work visa and it seems like every time I check my email, I have a message from someone in some department somewhere asking me to mail or email passport photos to them. This morning, I was informed that immediately upon my arrival back to Shanghai, I have to have a medical exam (no surprise there), and the hospital is requiring that I bring NINE passport photos with me! This is starting to get a little suspicious! I’ve applied for lots of student visas, tourist visas, residence permits, etc in the past and I’ve always thought it was weird how many passport photos everyone always seemed to be asking for. Seriously, what the hell are they doing with all these photos? I know I’m not the only one who turns over (seemingly) hundreds of photos to different Chinese agencies each year. There’s only one logical conclusion to be reached here…Chinese people are trading our passport photos like baseball cards. I’ve figured it out, I’m on to them. Every time someone requests more than one photo, it’s because they’re keeping the extras (they probably need at least one for records or whatever) to add to their own collection of carefully curated photos and/or to trade with friends. “Hey, Lao Zhang, I’ll trade you my hot blonde, the Saudi baby, AND the guy with the epic beard for your photo of the fat Korean guy with the mole.” I guarantee that hundreds of conversations like this take place every day across China in various visa processing offices. I imagine that there’s probably a point system for different photos, based on how rare they are or maybe based on how good/weird looking the people in the photos are. Photos of well known celebrities are probably the most prized ones, so I suspect whenever famous people try to apply for Chinese visas (especially NBA players), they get asked for dozens more photos than any normal person. However, they’re rich and have assistants, so it’s probably not as annoying for them. 

 

Welp, that mystery is solved. 

Human Rights in China – An Analysis of the CCP’s Views

Even though discussion of rights was taking place long before, the emergence of the terms quanli and renquan wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century.[1] Serious discourse of human rights began at the end of the Qing dynasty as scholars were questioning the use of Confucianism in a modern society, with many people equating it to democracy 民主.[2] Many Chinese students were studying abroad and came into contact with western works that gave them new ideas about human rights and individual freedoms. These concepts spoke to the Chinese students who were frustrated with conditions in China and were seeking new ways to improve Chinese society and government.[3] After the fall of the Qing, movements such as the New Culture movement and the May Fourth movement strongly encouraged concepts like 个性解放 and the protecting of individual personality.[4] Once Communism began gaining a foothold in China, the focus of human rights trended more towards economic rights. The necessity of negative and positive rights were seen as being pre-requisites for achieving larger societal goals and a balance between individual and collective interests was needed.[5] By the early 1930s, the GMD and the CCP had both reached the conclusion that human rights were unnecessary, albeit for different reasons. The GMD had labeled human rights as “outmoded, unscientific, and unsuitable to Chinese conditions” while the CCP had determined that human rights only served the bourgeoisie.[6] In the 1940s during the war with Japan, the CCP began voicing support for human rights, using individual rights as a means to gain more support for the CCP over the GMD. Many Chinese saw human rights as necessary for preserving humanity and defeating the Japanese.[7] In an effort to create a presence in an international organization, the GMD sent a representative to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.[8] Once the CCP took control of Mainland China, the CCP government frequently received criticism from scholars within China and abroad for its human rights violations. The treatment of Tibetans, the violence of the Cultural Revolution, and the quelling of Tiananmen are examples of events that drew negative attention to China. The criticisms received from international bodies regarding human rights were quickly dismissed as being unwarranted interference in China’s internal affairs. In the 1970s, China signed the two human rights covenants, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, China never ratified the ICCPR.[9] The Gang of Four fell and Deng Xiaoping led the charge on new reforms, giving the Chinese hope for improved human rights. China joined the UN and by default, international discussions on human rights and even became a member of the UN Human Rights Commission in 1982. Even though China was an active participate in human rights discourse abroad, the topic remained off limits domestically and was not practiced, as shown by the 1989 Tiananmen incident. China returned to its earlier stance that western countries shouldn’t interfere with Chinese affairs, and denied that anything beyond what other countries do had happened.[10] After the sting of Tiananmen wore off somewhat, human rights did finally become more of a domestic topic. Chinese leadership decided that more research was necessary and that China needed to redefine and strengthen its official human rights policy. The Chinese government began publishing white papers on human rights in 1991[11] and made an official statement at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in 1993.[12] In spite of all this progress, there is still a long way to go and some would argue that the progress has been too slow or negligible. People are still being “disappeared,” freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited, citizens have their land taken away, and forced abortions still occur.[13] Below I will examine a few state sanctioned human rights related documents. Naturally, there is no shortage of counter opinions, but state sanctioned documents and official statements are more relevant to the discussion of how the government views human rights.

A prominent scholar of Human Rights in China is Li Buyun 李步云, who served as the vice-director of the Human Rights Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.[14] Li differentiates the different types of human rights by the ways that they are realized and exist – due rights (应有权利), legal rights (法定权利), and real rights (实有权力).[15] He defines due rights as the rights that people ought to have and that they only exist within the context of social relationships.[16] Legal rights are due rights that have been institutionalized by law. He points out that this doesn’t mean that there are no due rights outside of what has been codified by law. The act of codifying due rights simply ensures enhanced protection of due rights.[17] Real rights are the rights that people actually enjoy.[18] Li distinguishes between the due rights he discusses and the Western concept of natural rights 自然权利. Li believes that the key difference is that natural rights are constructed on a historical basis of idealism and do not take into account the difference between what ought to be and what is.[19]   Li also goes on to say that the origins of natural rights and due rights are different in that natural rights come from human nature and that due rights come from not only human nature, but also from the level of development of human society’s material and spiritual culture.[20] Li states that although human rights correlate to human desires and interests, desires and interests cannot be the sole consideration in determining what human rights are because humans do not live in a state of isolation – there is interaction between other people, groups, and society with an emphasis on property and economic relationships.[21] Li believes that due rights can be in flux and that the existence of due rights varies depending on exact conditions.[22] Furthermore, Li’s analysis of human rights comes from a Marxist standpoint that acknowledges the importance of class in determining the amount of rights that are enjoyed by an individual, whereas natural rights in a Western context are assumed to be universal.[23] Li acknowledges that many countries have large gaps between due rights, even those that are codified by law and real rights. He provides the following reasons for this: the conception of legal institutions and the legal consciousness of a country’s leaders, the level of development of political democratization, the level of development of a commodities economy, and the level of development of society, economy, and culture.[24]

Another document published in 1991, the first White Paper on Human Rights in China seems to follow one of the basic trends of Li Buyun’s paper discussed above. The White Paper emphasized that the most basic human right in China was the right to subsistence 生存权. The paper cited multiple examples of exploitation and violence carried out against the Chinese people by foreign powers that had violated this most basic right and maintained that the Chinese were now trying to secure the right to subsistence before solving other human rights problems.[25] The White Paper goes on to discuss the large number of exorbitant taxes put on Chinese people by corrupt governments throughout history that had also impacted their right to subsistence. Due to China’s relatively recent socialist transformation, the Chinese people were then able to begin concentrating on improving production means and increasing economic growth, this would allow Chinese people to solve the most basic problem of not having the means to subsist. However, since China is still a developing nation, there are limited means to pursue further human rights at this time (1991).[26] The White Paper requests on behalf of the people that the Chinese government continues to maintain national security, improve production, rejuvenate the economy, and improve national strength in order to ensure that the right to subsist will not be threatened.[27] The White Paper shares a couple of common themes with Li Buyun’s analysis – human rights are flexible and can come and go depending on the exact conditions of a country, the emphasis on bigger, national goals rather than individual rights, and the emphasis on economic rights/growth are all present in the White Paper. The Chinese statement made at the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights reinforces these views. Human rights “are closely associated with specific social, political, and economic conditions and the specific history, culture, and values of a particular country. Different historical development stages have different human rights requirements. Countries at different development stages or with different historical traditions and cultural backgrounds also have a different understanding and practice of human rights. Thus, one should not and cannot think of the human rights standard and model of certain countries as the only proper ones and demand all other countries to comply with them.”[28] The speaker, Chinese representative Liu Huaqiu goes on to state that human rights are completely out of the question until poverty and lack of adequate food and clothing are no longer problems.[29] He also emphasizes that individuals are not to put their own interests and rights above those of the state or society and that human rights cannot impede social stability.[30] Liu Huaqiu repeats the earlier Chinese sentiment that human rights are an internal affair and other states have no right to make accusations on the matter or attempt to interfere, as doing so would amount to infringement of another state’s sovereignty and possibly result in instability.[31] Liu praises the UN Human Rights Charter, but states that interference in another country’s human rights conditions is a form of power politics that run counter to the intent of the Charter.[32] He ends the statement by asking other countries to respect China’s right to formulate its own policies on human rights in light of its own internal conditions.[33] Again, this document varies very little from the themes presented by Li Buyun and present within the 1991 White Paper.

More recently, the Chinese government also published their twelfth Five-Year Plan as well as the report on Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012. The Five-Year Plan mentions the term “human rights” only a few times in chapter 55 while referencing promotion of the legal system in a way that would strengthen the guarantee of human rights.[34] The Plan still mostly emphasizes economic growth, expanded production, and wealth disparity and emphasizes environmental concerns and domestic consumption. The guiding principles laid out in chapter 2 include; scientific development, continuing to open up and reform, improve the social welfare system and peoples’ livelihood, promote steady and rapid economic development, and promote social harmony.[35] The document goes on to state in great detail the needed improvements in many areas, but the bottom line of most goals is still the basic right of subsistence. Although the Five-Year Plan mentions human rights, the fact that they are still tied to a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” and “legislation related to accelerating transformation of the economic growth mode” as well as the infrequency with which human rights are mentioned tells us that human rights are not only an after thought, but that they are a means to the ultimate end of securing economic growth. The reference to a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” could be interpreted to mean that the Chinese legal system will continue to view human rights as derogable, depending on the current conditions of the country. The underlying basis of this document hasn’t deviated much from the documents mentioned earlier from the early 90s.

The Introduction of the report on Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012 includes again, a strong emphasis on the people’s right to subsistence, “China combines its human rights endeavors with economic, political, cultural, social and ecological construction, prioritizes the people’s rights to subsistence and development, and endeavors to promote the comprehensive and balanced development of their economic, social and cultural rights as well as their civil and political rights.”[36] The report states “China is a developing country with a vast population and fraught with larger regional differences and resource, environmental and ecological strains as well as conspicuous problems from unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development.”[37] From the very beginning of this document, the Chinese government shows that the overwhelming goal of the PRC is economic in nature and the second quote reveals the attitude that perhaps now is not the time to be bringing the issue of human rights to the forefront of all the social issues that China is dealing with, that the conditions are not ripe for human rights. The Report adds that several laws protecting human rights have been added to the Chinese legal frame, such as the addition of “respecting and protecting human rights” to Criminal Procedure Law.[38] There is mention of improving and ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities, access to fair trials, and of improving the conditions and services (legal, counseling, sanitation) available to detainees.   In chapter 6, the commitment to international treaties such as the ICESC and the CAT are reaffirmed and mention is made of the hard work being done to ratify the ICCPR.[39]

The Chinese view of human rights is mostly economic in scope and beyond that, mostly an afterthought for the time being. Chinese leadership seems to view human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc as luxuries that only rich, developed nations can afford. That isn’t to say that there hasn’t been major progress in the last few years, but it does mean that China will continue to delay serious thought on the matter at least until some undefined level of prosperity has been reached. This being the case, China probably did not sign international human rights treaties with the intent of never fulfilling them, but rather with the intent of using the same approach the Chinese government uses for any kind of change – slowly, over a period of time and only after thoroughly testing the waters. In the meantime, the emphasis on economic human rights of the Chinese people will continue. Basically, the Chinese government does not currently feel that providing human rights that can be typically found in many Western countries is appropriate for it’s own people due to the potential of negatively impacting economic growth.

Sources:

[1] 徐显明,“宪法与人权保障,”暸望中国,http://www.outlookchina.net/template/news_page.asp?id=5797。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[2]徐显明,“宪法与人权保障,”暸望中国,http://www.outlookchina.net/template/news_page.asp?id=5797。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[3]张继良,中共人与中国人立法(北京:中国社会科学出版社,2004),33.

[4]张继良,中共人与中国人立法(北京:中国社会科学出版社,2004),33.

[5]张继良,中共人与中国人立法(北京:中国社会科学出版社,2004),35.

[6] Stephen C. Angle and Marina Svensson, ed., The Chinese Human Rights Reader (New York: East Gate, 2001), xxiv.

[7] 张继良,中共人与中国人立法(北京:中国社会科学出版社,2004),5.

[8] United Nations, “1958-1949 Yearbook of the United Nations,” 1950, http://unyearbook.un.org/1948-49YUN/1948-49_P1_CH5.pdf. (accessed Feb 25, 2014).

[9] 联合国,“人权事务委员会,”联合国人权人权事务高级专员办事处,2013年1月份,http://www.ohchr.org/CH/HRBodies/CCPR/Pages/CCPRIndex.aspx。(进入2013年2月25号)。

[10]张继良,中共人与中国人立法(北京:中国社会科学出版社,2004),51.

[11] 中央政府,“政府白皮书,”人民共和国中央人民政府,2005年6月2日,http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2005-06/02/content_3618.htm。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[12]  《人权与中国思想》,《财经文摘》2013年2月7日,http://www.21fd.cn/a/xinmeitishiyanshi/yejie/2013020756117_2.html。

[13] 中国人权,“强烈抗议‘中国再次成为联合国人权理事会成员国,”上海维权人士反中国成为联合国人理事会成 2013年10月25日,http://www.hrichina.org/chs/content/7001。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[14] 广州大学人权研究中心,“个人简历,”中国人, 2010年5月10日,http://www.humanrights.cn/cn/zt/qita/rqxz/lby/2/t20100510_586221.htm。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[15] 李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”334

[16]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”339

[17]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”334

[18]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”342

[19]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”337

[20]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”338

[21]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”338

[22]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”339

[23]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”340

[24]李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”342

[25] 中央政府,“中国的人权状况,”人民共和国中央人民政府,1991年11月,http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2005-05/24/content_488.htm。(进入2014年2月26日)。

[26]中央政府,“中国的人权状况,”人民共和国中央人民政府,1991年11月,http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2005-05/24/content_488.htm。(进入2014年2月26日)。

[27]中央政府,“中国的人权状况,”人民共和国中央人民政府,1991年11月,http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2005-05/24/content_488.htm。(进入2014年2月26日)。

[28] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[29] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[30] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[31] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[32] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[33] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[34] 5 year plan

[35] 5 year plan

[36] http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2013-05/14/content_2402180.htm – foreword

[37] http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2013-05/14/content_2402180.htm – foreword

[38] http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2013-05/14/content_2402180.htm – ch 2

[39] http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2013-05/14/content_2402180.htm – ch 6

A Chinese Correctional Facility

This semester I’m taking a class called Chinese Criminal Law.  It’s by far one of the most interesting classes I’ve taken here.  Professor Zhang provides loads of interesting case examples and likes to ask us how we think the case should have been decided.  Our answers are never right.  No matter how hard we try to think like a Chinese jurist, it’s difficult to break away from western principles of right and wrong and rule of law (which I’m not even sure is a thing in America anymore, pssh).  Chinese cases are typically decided according to political and societal needs at the time, as in what outcome would be more likely to ensure 和谐 (he xie), or harmony.  For example, there was a case in Nanjing relatively recently where an old woman was hit by a guy on a motor bike as she was getting off a bus.  A young man stopped to help her and then she responded by suing him and claiming that he was the one who hit her.  People were appalled that an innocent young man who had tried to help an injured old lady would then become the victim of a greedy lawsuit.  He became a local hero and a symbol of society’s slow descent to hell in a hand basket.  In the end, the young man won and the old lady got nothing in the settlement and as is tradition, she was required to pay all of his legal fees because she brought the suit and lost.  However, she appealed and during the appeal process, new evidence was brought to light.  Text messages were pulled from the young man’s phone that proved his guilt.  He had texted a friend saying “I just hit an old lady on my motorbike, what do I do?”  Even though the court and the judge knew now that the young man was guilty and had in fact hit the old lady as claimed, he still won the appeal and again, the old lady was forced to pay his legal fees.  Why?  Because he was such a hero that the Nanjing Government (the CCP has the power to interfere in the judicial branch and “help” decide cases where “necessary”) was afraid that the people would revolt if the case were overturned or that the impact on society – i.e. people being afraid to help strangers in need (already a problem in China) would not be worth ensuring legal justice.  While that outcome isn’t fair from a western standpoint, that same basic logic can be applied to most cases to try and figure out the logic used in making a verdict.  In most instances, Chinese judges do not publish opinions the way American judges do, so you can usually only guess  at the logic employed.

Aside from taking to us about specific cases, Professor Zhang also brings us on interesting field trips.  The last one was a visit to a Chinese correctional facility 社区矫正.  I use the term “correctional facility,” but it’s not the best translation since it really is quite different from what we would call a correctional facility in America.  Probably a better term would be something like “Community Rectification Program.”  The basic premise is that people convicted of petty crimes like small time theft, running gambling facilities or brothels (I don’t know that I would call that a minor crime, but they do), prostitution, etc don’t go to jail, but participate in a program run by local volunteers in an attempt to draw them back into regular society.  They don’t live in the facility, but rather in their own homes and they still go to work.  The rectification program is carried out in their free time and they have to attend classes like “correct political thinking” or anger management courses.  They do manual labor, but supposedly it’s only small stuff like picking up litter.  The participants have to check in once a week with someone similar to a parole officer and they need permission to leave city limits.  They had an office with a huge screen showing the location of all the people involved in their program.  The person in charge had no problem showing us how the software worked and pulled up several rap sheets to show us that included information like full name, address, phone number, place of employment, and their crimes.  This amused me because that would never happen in America out of fear of invading someone’s privacy.  Oh, China.  I wonder how the individuals who’s private information we were looking at would have felt about that.

I think the premise of the program seemed really good, but as with everything in China, it looks good on the surface, but seemed to have some serious problems floating just under the surface.  The first thing that stuck out to me was the fact that the people teaching anger management and even the “psychologists” were just volunteers (“volunteer” is used loosely here, from how it was explained to me, it seemed more like they’d been voluntold to do it). They had no professional training on these subjects and it seems to me that someone who is dealing with people who might already have mental or emotional issues has the potential to screw them up even worse if they don’t know what they’re doing.  The staff admitted that quite a few of their participants are people who have mental problems or are mentally retarded, rather than actual criminals who do things with criminal intent.

Also, the administration maintained that this program across China has only a .2% recidivism rate, which is suspicious to me.  It makes me think that perhaps the people being put into this program aren’t all criminals and are maybe there for some other reason, like a minor political offense.  Or, because regular police officers from the 公安局 rather than a judge have the power to place people in this system, it’s possible that this is just where they put people who attempt to make political trouble, or maybe even individual cops could send people there who get on their bad side.  In any event, if the recidivism rate is that low, then it probably means that the people who are being targeted by this program are people who are highly unlikely to commit crimes again, rather than the success rate really being that good.  Some experts suspect that this program might also be the replacement for China’s reform through labor program 劳教制度.  The Chinese government made an announcement not too long ago that they were doing away with the RTL program, but a lot of people are suspicious.  This Community Rectification Program has been in testing since about 2003, but wasn’t officially written into the penal code until about 2011.  It’s taken some time for it to get into full swing, but if this program were meant to replace the RTL program, then the timing would be about right.

I feel pretty lucky to have gotten a chance to visit a facility like this.  It’s something that a lot of foreigners don’t get to see, or maybe wouldn’t even be interested in.  One thing that was really funny that I need to point out is how many of my American classmates brought cameras with them.  “Excuse me, minor criminal?  Would you mind taking a picture with me for my Facebook page?”  Of course that didn’t happen, they didn’t let us go in until they had made all of the program participant leave.  The administration was afraid we’d ask them questions, which is interesting.  Like I said, the premise of the program is really good, but little things like that make me think that perhaps there is something to hide.  I sincerely hope that my suspicions are off base and that this program really is helping people.  If that were the case, this would be something we could use in America.  Our prison system sucks and legitimate and sincere attempts to draw people back into regular society would probably do more good than a lot of our current programs.

Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture 延边朝鲜族自治州

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A North Korean village viewed from the Chinese side of the border

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A North Korean railway station viewed from Chinese side of the border. Kim Il Sung’s portrait is visible.

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The fence constructed on the Chinese side to keep North Koreans out of China

 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China’s NE Jilin province in order to do thesis research.  I had never been do the NE before and had a great time there.  One of the people I interviewed was super cool and offered to drive me and my friend to see the actual border.  There were portions of the fence that had been beaten down or had stretched out sections of fence with foot paths leading up and away.  It was both creepy and surreal to imagine the people who had made those footpaths and what their stories might have been.  I learned a lot and not only about my thesis topic.

1. Korean-Chinese have managed to keep their culture intact:

I have visted a lot of so-called autonomous regions in China – Tibetan autonomous regions, Uyghur autonomous regions, Dai autonomous regions, etc, but none of them have had their culture as well preserved as the Koreans in Yanbian.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that in many of those cases (cough, Uyghurs, cough), there have actually been measures taken to suppress their cultures, their language, religion, etc.  Yanbian, specifically Yanji city was almost like being in South Korea.  There were Korean language radio stations and TV channels, schools that taught in Korean, all the signs were in Korean and there were a crap ton of Catholic churches!  Anyone who has been to both Korea and China has probably noticed that Koreans don’t tend to do things like spit everywhere, honk car horns for no reason, or shout into cell phones in public places.  I hold these behaviors in low regard as they are three of the things that annoy me more than almost anything in China (and non-stop construction noise).  Guess what?  Most people in Yanbian don’t do these things either!  It was such a nice break from China.

2. I had underestimated the level of ignorance on the issue of North Korean Refugees:

My reason for going to Yanbian was to do research on the issue of North Korean refugees in China, which is a pretty delicate issue during ordinary times, but with the recent release of the UN’s report criticizing NK for its human rights abuses AND dragging China into it, I wasn’t sure how successful this trip was going to be.  (The UN Report is heartbreaking, but I encourage everyone to read it because more people need to be aware of what’s going on in North Korea.)  I had a couple of contacts at Yanbian University who had agreed to let me interview them, but I needed to find more people to interview in order to make the information “significant.”  I had thought that no one would be willing to talk to me, which actually ended up not being the case.  However, the few women that I tried to talk to about it were completely ignorant, as were a large majority of Han people I tried to talk to.  Han people tend to regard it as a minorities issue, not a humanitarian issue, and therefore not their problem.  Women viewed it as politics and not their business…or something like that.  However, the Korean-Chinese people were on the ball for the most part and extremely knowledgeable not only about the refugee situation, but also about North Korean politics and history.  They credited this to being able to understand South Korean news broadcasts, which probably played a large role in their understanding of China’s international law violations in this matter.  I still found it shocking that so many people would be so ignorant about what was going on just a few miles away – as in, they had no idea about the despotic nature of the North Korean government and the fact that so many people are starving there.  When asked what he thought about North Koreans, one man even said “The women are beautiful, they’re so slender!” But when asked if he knew why they were so thin he said “I don’t know, I guess they exercise a lot.”  *GROAN*

3. Han men are creepy on Weixin:

So way back when I first started using Weixin (Wechat), I had this problem with dudes using the “people nearby” function and then sending me the creepiest messages ever, trying to get me to come to their houses or straight up asking if I would sleep with them.  I guess it’s because like in real life, I am a white girl in my profile pic and as everyone knows, white women are lose (thanks, Hollywood).  Eventually, I added the phrase “I’m already married and not looking for anyone else, thanks” to my profile and the weird invites slowed down, but were still too frequent.  Then I added “I’m already 30, married and not looking for anyone else, thanks.”  I didn’t get a single weird invite after that until I went to Yanbian.  I went to Yanbian with a female Chinese friend of mine and she had the idea to use Weixin to find more people to interview, which when she did it, it worked out great.  She got friend requests from some really great, normal, nice local men who ended up being incredibly helpful and we even hung out with them after the interviews were over.  Me, on the other hand, went back to getting messages from Creepy McCreepertons, who incidentally, were all Han.

4. Missionaries suck:

We went to Yanbian Technical University one day to try and find some people to interview. What I found instead were some douchey missionaries.  First, I want to say that I don’t have a problem with religion – I was raised Christian and still have those beliefs, even if I’m not the most pious person.  I don’t even have a problem with missionaries, but the majority of missionaries I’ve met in China have all been carbon copies of the two assholes I met in Yanbian.  My problem with missionaries in China is that they all have this “I’m sacrificing myself to come to this awful place in order to save the poor, dumb, ignorant Chinese who don’t know any better!”  They look down on China, on Chinese culture, on Chinese food, and they literally think that Chinese people are all stupid.  Meanwhile, most of them, but specifically these two, had been in China for over 10 years and couldn’t speak a word of Chinese.  So…you’re telling me that you think you’re going to come here, try to relate to people on a level that would allow you to discuss something as personal as religion, but can’t even be bothered to do it in the local language?  Fantastic, clearly you’ve got this under control.

I made the mistake of being too honest with them about what I was at the university for and they freaked out about how dumb I was for trying to talk to people about such a sensitive issue and when I told them that I hadn’t had much trouble getting people to open up so far, they couldn’t believe it and refused to allow me to interact with anyone else.  They were sneaky about it though.  I realized about halfway through lunch that the reason they invited us to have lunch with them (I didn’t want to, but they made it sound as if they knew someone useful I could interview) was simply because they wanted to keep an eye on us and make sure we left without talking to anyone, but didn’t want to miss lunch to do it.  The female one was bat shit crazy, I’m pretty sure.  She had crazy eyes and kept saying things like “We have people to protect!” or “We know too much!  We don’t even go on the internet because we know we’re being watched!”  First of all, anyone who actually knows anything sensitive, but important also knows to keep their mouths shut and act like they don’t.  Second of all, most foreigners are watched somewhat closely in China, but only the ones doing something illegal, like oh say…BEING MISSIONARIES really have anything to worry about.  Pretty sure the Bible says in there somewhere to “obey the laws of the land” and I don’t recall there being a caveat of “unless you don’t like them,” so sorry missionaries, you may not like the law, but don’t get butt hurt about it when you get busted for breaking them.  I couldn’t wait to get away from those two nut jobs.

Long story short, I had a great time in Yanbian and got a lot of really useful information for my thesis.  The food was amazing and they have makkalli and Korean style bathhouses.  Yanji city is highly livable except for the fact that I would be too afraid to make friends with any other foreigners there because a lot of them in Yanbian are missionaries.  Christianity and Catholicism already have pretty firm footing there, so of course missionaries like that are going to go where their job is the easiest.

Lying With Chinese Characteristics

My last post about that special Chinese style bluntness that we’ve all grown to know and love reminded me of a theory I developed some time ago to explain another phenomena that I observed frequently.  If possible, I’d really like to get input from other people to see if my experience in this regard was unique or if I’m just flat out wrong. 

My first time in China was about 10 years ago and I lived in a small town in Yunnan province for two years.  When I say small, I mean small by Chinese standards.  I think the population was around 2-3 million people. It was considered to be rather “backwards” by many Chinese…people I talked to then and even more so now can’t fathom why I would have chosen that location for language study.  It was an awesome town with very little foreign influence, the population wasn’t super educated on average or very wealthy.  There was a school that I was going to, a small teacher’s training college full of students from some of Yunnan’s smallest and poorest places.  Now that the stage has been set, here’s what I began observing…lies…lots and lots of lies about the weirdest shit.  One friend lied about having a degree in chemistry, another lied about having attended music school, almost everyone lied about how much money they made, everyone lied about where their hometown was, some claimed to speak languages that they couldn’t.   I had another friend who was probably at least 40, but claimed to be 28.   The list goes on.  I can understand lying to make yourself look good, I’m sure most of us have done it.  The thing I can’t understand is lying about stuff that is so obviously a lie.  My friend with the “chemistry degree” worked as a fuwuyuan at a laundry mat.  The guy “from” Hong Kong couldn’t speak Cantonese.  People who claimed to make tons of money did not own cars or homes or have great jobs.  The woman who claimed to be 28 looked 50.  My point is, it was soooo obvious to EVERYONE that we were all caught up in this web of lies, but no one ever said anything about it.  No one challenged anyone else on these things…”If you have a chemistry degree, why don’t you work in a lab?”  “If you’re from Hong Kong, why do your parents live here and none of you speak Cantonese?”  “If you went to that awesome music academy, why are you a bartender?”  So on and so forth.  These questions were never asked by anyone.  I can’t assume that my friends were ALL stupid and just didn’t see what  was happening, so the only logical conclusion I could come to was that this was all part of an unspoken social contract.  As in, “I’m going to tell you that I make a million dollars a year, you’re all going to ignore my crappy rented apartment, and in turn I will pretend to believe that you are smart enough to have a chemistry degree and everyone will feel good about themselves.”  I never did this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I had tried to call anyone out, I would have been the bad guy for not following the rules and making them lose face, instead of the guy who actually told the lies.  

There were other foreigners who had a hard time with this.  Generally speaking, Americans tend to be a pretty trusting, naive group of people and I can understand why someone would be hurt when they found out that their Chinese friend lied to them about where their hometown was…that they were actually from some shit hole village in Guizhou instead of Kunming like they’d said.  I think we just really need to think about how important that little stuff is in the long run and kind of get over it.  My Chinese friends might lie to me about whether or not they went to college, but I know they will be there to tell me whenever I gain any amount of weight. 

I haven’t really run across this situation since being back in China for graduate school.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m dealing with people who are mostly from China’s larger cities, they’re more educated, younger, more western influence, etc.  I really don’t know.  Maybe it’s a cultural difference between Yunnan and other places.  I’m curious to know if anyone else has observed this kind of thing and it what context it happened.