From the moment you land in one of China’s international airports, you’re struck by the immensity, modernity and futuristic vibe of everything – like a giant Texas on speed. On the way to your hotel, you’re amazed by the excellent roads and the number of skyscrapers being constructed. The sparkling new subways are decades ahead of New York City’s, and the electronic mopeds that buzz by remind you of the Bladerunner movie. China seems to be on a roll, and a fast one at that.
But then you notice something strange – the airline terminals are deserted, the luxury malls have no customers and very few of the thousands of new high-rises are inhabited. You wonder if the Chinese are planning for the (remote) future – or if it’s all a sham. Just like the pretty girl who mimed to the National Anthem during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, while the ugly little duckling with the beautiful voice had to hide behind a screen; the Chinese are masters in make believe.
“Look how big and powerful we are!” they seem to say. As if tourists would look in awe at the cities crammed with buildings and no parks, where the smog is so dense the sky is never blue anymore. Or are they trying to convince their brainwashed citizens that their communist/capitalist concept is superior to the Western equivalent, and that China will soon take over the world? It must be the latter, because every foreigner we met had come to the same conclusion: it’s all for show. Just like a movie set, where you open the magnificently ornate door on stage only to discover the disappointing reality behind.
The citizens are methodically lulled into ignorance. There is no access to Facebook, Twitter or independent blogs. Foreign online media pages time out so often they are almost impossible to read. Any anti-Chinese web sites are blocked. According to their warped history sources, not a single student was hurt in the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre. East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia gladly gave up their independence in 1947 and 1949 respectively, and of course Lhasa was very peacefully freed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1950. Only those who were there can testify that several hundred people died in the Beijing student attacks, and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, Turkestanis and Inner Mongolians perished during the invasions. But the common Chinese know nothing about this. Propaganda rules. Domestic sites allow no comments, and the internet is awash with Chinese trolls trumpeting out their government’s lies while hiding behind English names.
The lack of information doesn’t stop there. Nutritional education doesn’t seem to exist. The Chinese are slowly poisoning themselves with toxic toys and chemically produced “foods” like fake walnuts, mock apples and artificial eggs. Their daily noodle soups are laden with synthetic ingredients and topped off with tasty MSG. Most grocery stores don’t sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, they are full of vacuum packaged meatballs, sauteed beef, chicken feet, boiled eggs – you name it. If it’s in plastic – bring it on!
It’s really a shame, because pre-communism, China was such a vibrantly rich culture. The Great Wall, thousands of Terracotta Warriors and Chinese Opera are just some of the few amazing examples that remain. While Mao Tse-Tung did his best to erase the past by destroying thousands of medieval houses, Buddhist temples and invaluable artifacts, the current government is somewhat smarter. In a quest to restore the image of the country’s grandeur, they are restoring ancient quarters by tearing down entire blocks and replacing them with brand-new replicas reminiscent of Fisher-Price castles.
Unfortunately, the people are not changing as fast as the streetscapes. TV-shows, newspapers and billboards all provide advice on how to act when traveling at home or abroad: don’t yell, don’t spit, don’t cough in someone’s face and don’t cut in lines. But the Chinese don’t seem to understand – or perhaps care. They are so used to public bathrooms without doors, often just communal rooms with holes in the cement floor, that if given the chance to use a toilet with a door or one without, they will pull their pants down and poop right in front of you.
Just like an old lady smoothing her wrinkles with too much make-up, the obvious cannot be concealed. China is a police-state that controls their citizens by fear. Security checks in subways, train-stations and malls ensure the Chinese never forget that Big Brother is watching them. Cameras follow their every move, and their ID cards are checked and recorded everywhere they go. Anyone who protests or speaks the truth is arrested.
Still, China is an emerging super-power that cannot be ignored. Their economy is growing at an alarming speed due to the mass-production of chemically doubtful products, coal and mineral mines and depletion of their occupied territories. In addition, their investments and the unlawful exploitation of developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America are not only plentiful, but very lucrative. Only days ago, 168 Chinese citizens were arrested in Ghana for illegal goal mining.
Yet the world bows and obeys China. No one wants to argue with the red giant, because they know that one day soon this plastic economy may rule the world. No matter how much they oppress their people, censor the internet and limit free speech, and how they abuse the citizens of the occupied territories, no one dares to say a word to the face of the Chinese. In the interest of making another dollar, eyes are closed and objections swept under the carpet.
However, not everything about China is bad. The cities are remarkably clean, in par with Singapore. Their trains are fast, efficient and always leave and arrive on time. They have excelled at providing information in the subway – even though everything is in Chinese, it’s impossible to get lost. The preserved natural areas are gorgeous.
And of course the pandas are very, very cute.