by Ernie Diaz
As above, so below. As within, so without. This is the most ancient of wisdom, and the most misunderstood. “Yeah yeah yeah, life is what you make it.” Truly, though, the more deeply the truism is understood, the deeper one’s power to change her life, if not the world.
There are plenty of media organs with a vested interest in making you see China as a harmonious society, boldly taking its rightful place on the world stage. Far more spin-doctors want you to fear the rise of a monolithic police-state, hell bent on being our economic overlords. There’s no reality, certainly not from either of that lot, only the maps in your head. China Expat sees the good, sees the bad, and uses hope as a compass. With that we give you the stories of 2011, by which some of you may delineate whole new territories in your maps of the Middle Kingdom.
It’s the criterion by which China noob is divided from old hand: the giving of alms. The Chinese watch the noobs and laugh ruefully. Call it callous, but so is the scam. In January, two couples were finally prosecuted in Beijing for running a blind beggar racket. Pimping the blind, disabled, and orphaned for change is organized Chinese crime at its very seediest, so it takes some expats years before realizing they may as well save their spare change in a jar and label it for express delivery to the local mob. However, the case set a precedent, the first prosecution since the law against organized beggary was instituted in 2006.
Despite what you may read in the Wall Street Journal, little Chinese online-time is spent trying to hack the Pentagon. Google Zeitgeist revealed that the most Googled term of 2011 was “Japan earthquake”. Nothing superficial about that, but the second most popular term was “Naked Marriage Age”. We’ve got a way to go in China before matrimony au naturel becomes trendy. The show is about couples getting married sans apartment or car, even without iPads. What’s the point, then – love?
Zeitgeist also revealed that the most interesting person in China for 2011 was Yang Mi. Haven’t heard of her? She was in Chinese Paladin 3! Even more impressive is her role in Palace, as the girl time-travels to the Qing Court and soon becomes mired in intrigue, thanks to her uncanny foresight. You want to invade China, do it during a Palace double episode.
With its righteous indignation reserves long exhausted, the world found it hard to linger on Rupert Murdoch’s big bust. His wife Wendi Deng, on the other hand, is a perennial darling of Chinese tabloid speculation. Her great leap and right hook to the poor joker trying to throw a pie at her man gave the West a wake up call. China has the world’s feistiest women, and they’re loath to leave the scrapping to the men-folk, not just Wendi, now dubbed ‘Tiger Wife’. So rest easy if you marry one, and curse the Fates if you’re born to one, at least one of the Tiger Mom stripe.
Li Na’s Racket
Women held up at least half the sky for Chinese sports enthusiasts this year. Yao Ming finally got off his aching dogs and retired, leaving a void not to be filled until we find another Han baller with a work ethic as overactive as his pituitary. In the meantime, we have Li Na, whose French Open win should have millions of sidewalk badminton players trading their shuttlecocks for tennis balls; get your safety goggles now.
Sina Weibo will re-form China, real name registrations be damned. Guo Meimei, kept woman, seriously misjudged the ability of a Weibo account to turn from vanity prop to prima facie evidence in a trial of your own summoning. Pics of Guo with her “little white horse” (Maserati) and “little Bull” (Lambo), sipping bubbly in first class while sitting on a pile of Hermes bags were merely sickening, not incriminating, until she intimated that she had earned the good life as a general manager at the Red Cross. The real Red Cross official, her sugar daddy, had to step down in the resulting furor. May more rot be exposed to shrivel under the harsh light of Weibo.
A Sorry Lot
Traditionally, saying sorry in China is not just an admission of error, it is a loss of face, and a surrender to the terms of the injured party. That’s why until this year, official sorries were saved for extreme PR damage control – negligent food poisonings, say. True, Conoco Phillips can go stuff their sorries in a sack, along with their board, to be tossed into the oil-slick Bohai Bay. But Baidu apologized to some lowly ripped-off writers, for hurting their feelings, of course, not for lost royalties. And DaVinci, purveyors of bombastic boojie furnishings, had to issue an official “so sorry” for not making it clear that some of their high-priced goods were manufactured in original sin – made in China, that is. Someday, call us dreamers, but maybe someday, waitresses will sincerely apologize for bringing the rice at the end of the meal.
Visionary (of shiny gadgets), business tycoon (being an abrasive bastard helped) Steve Jobs certainly left his stamp on our young century. But the outpouring of public grief on this side of Silicon Valley seemed more suited to the government-mandated mourning of a deceased Dear Leader. “When I head the news, I could not hold back my tears,” gushed Yu Minghong, founder of New Oriental Education, China’s top English-class mill. “Because of him, the boring world has become alive, because of him a drab world has become colorful.” Dude, it’s a mobile phone, not opium.
Sina Weibo teemed with similar encomiums. “Jobs is the spiritual leader of our time,” wrote @Xiongpeiyun. Misplaced religious fervor aside, Chinese worship of a scruffy American nerd made good bodes ill for neo-cons hedging their political futures on Sino ultra-nationalism.
It’s not ultra-nationalism, honest. You’d act the same way if you came back from summer vacation five-stone heavier than the bullies who used to take your lunch money. On welcoming Philippine President Pacquiao Aquino to China, Xinhua News Agency trumpeted “China has always made itself loud and clear that it has indisputable sovereignty over the sea’s islands and surrounding waters, which is part of China’s core interests.”
And sure, there’s been some recess-style rough-housing with Vietnam over South China Sea territory, but it’s not like China’s going medieval and bringing democracy to anybody. In fact, this October, China and Vietnam signed an accord for settling maritime disputes, and Wen Jiabao himself promised a Chinese fund for promoting maritime cooperation with ASEAN members. If things get heavy, China also appears to have a fund for Israel’s American missile overstock.