If you want to know what it feels like to be famous, go to China.
You can walk around Beijing all day and hardly see a westerner and we stand out. Locals take sneaky photos of us on their camera phones. Others ask and introduce themselves, if they speak English and are confident enough to make the approach.
In one train station in Nanning, we end up at the centre of a huddle of locals, all intrigued for a glimpse of our strange faces. One young woman who is studying business English tells us we are the first foreigners she’s ever met. She is polite, sociable and speaks with excellent grammar.
That is not to say what is polite and sociable in China is necessarily what we would consider it. Hocking can be heard everywhere. It’s the kind of sound that I personally don’t enjoy hearing – someone clearing their throat or chest with force.
We used to do it as kids. Grogging we called it in Scotland, ‘hocking a loogie’ I think they say in the States. Or sometimes even ‘a greenie’.
Better out than in, is the Chinese take on spitting. If you have some excess or a bad taste in your mouth, get rid of it and why be ashamed of doing so. I understand the argument but I’d say that in doing so, you are producing a sound and sight that is off-putting for others around you but the Chinese don’t seem to mind, so why do I?
It’s a minor cultural difference and only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to China. It is a very different place. The first thing the media back home says, is criticism over the lack of democracy. A one party government. No voting. The Communist Party of China will always be in government.
It’s really not my place to say – it’s up to the people of China. It’s probably not your place to say either, unless you are Chinese. Westerners always think think they know best. If we have democracy in the UK – ‘Demos’ meaning people, and ‘kratia’ mean power – then how come all the rich people run everything? ‘Demos’ means people, and ‘kratia’ mean power but ‘the people’ have very little power in my country.
There’s much that’s familiar. Growing up in a remote part of Scotland, the first restaurant we had in my hometown that wasn’t a chippy or a cafe, was a Chinese restaurant. I recall looking at the menu for the first time and being afraid to order anything, for a fear of the unknown. Now Chicken Chow Mein is practically an British staple and the reach of Chinese food is matched globally only by Italian, or maybe Indian.
But then a moment later it’s all so different. Guards standing to attention at every train station entrance, provide a formal level of luxury security to all. Bullitt trains travel at lightning speeds from city to city, as locals dish out and share their collective train banquets. There is no first or second-class on the trains here – there are hard and soft seats, suggesting the type of ticket you hold defines the seat, not the person. A fully air-conditioned subway system provides the type of welcome relief from the summer heat, that Londoners can only dream of. There is universal luxury and security and nothing is to good for the average Joe in China.
If you are looking for critisms of China, we can only speak from experience. The visa was a pain in the arse. I had to give up my fingerprints but I am willing to sacrifice a little of my liberty, to reassure the Chinese people that I come in peace. And I expected to, and got more in worth from China, than I was required to give up.
Maybe you’d like to hear a more cutting analysis but that isn’t how things work here. It is government by consensus and that means finding commonground with the eight other complimenting parties. Besides at home, our two party system – because they cannot come to any kind of agreement due to the nature of our system – is creating a constitutional crisis. You might have heard of it. It is the shit-show that is called ‘Brexit’, and only idiots throw stones in glass Westminister palaces. So I’m keeping my head down and I advise you do the same.
It smells a bit pungent in parts of Beijing, as the mega-city sweats out a foul odour in the early summer heat but despite this walking around a Hutong neighbourhood is an unforgetable experience. We stay in a traditional Feng Shui arranged hostel, with an inner courtyard full of bright red lanterns and this is exactly what people come for. This is an ancient and developed civilization, with wisdom and ideals that are hugely appealing.
Take a visit to the Great Wall of China and you will see an incredible piece of engineering but delve a little deeper. The wall was built using slave labour and when you visit, you’re guide will teach you the lesson that this has taught China – the story of Lady Meng Jiang.
I went up to see what I could see. I will of course tell you but really you need to see it for yourself. I am reading ‘Ghostwritten‘ by David Mitchell on the steps of the Great Wall, as the wind whistles through the trees and the sun beats down. I am up the Holy Mountain in China. Just like the – young at first but now – old woman in this story learns, that writers are liars. And by extension of course, that all books contains lies. Each writer adds colour, or at least a little shading here or there. And so you cannot believe everything that you read about anything, including China. Nor what you have learned from the books at school or university. But also, you cannot believe what you are reading here and so you must go up the Holy Mountain and see for yourself. Without preconceived doctrine, with eyes open.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics, they call it. To be specific, it’s an economic system based on Marixsm-Lennonism and has been developed by each Chinese leader along the way, to best serve the people of China. Mao and then Deng. The most recent of which is Xi Jinping thought, which embraces a little bit of capitalism to have a diverse, robust, mixed economy. China has the best developing economy in the world right now, so its hard to argue with but of course argue is what we do…
Conservatives argue that it’s a capitalist system because China now has some free-market, but then when questioned a little deeper, admit that they’d never accept government run public transport or a public owned banking sector, such as China has. They prefer a banking system which has financial crashes like the one in 2008 and slow, uncomfortable train networks, where only those with the most money can find a nice comfortable seat with all the mod-cons.
Ask a communist and they’ll also tell you the Chinese system is not communism. The fact is that communism does not exist anywhere in the world. Communism is the goal of the Chinese system but with Xi Jinping thought, they believe that you must go through capitalism to get there, not round it.
And so it is socialism, with a mixed and diverse economy – a system where government works in harmony with private business and community ownership. The aim is diversification – ‘Yin’ working in harmony with ‘Yang’.
But what about the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989? I hear westerners say with outrage. Yes, this happened, it was horrific and hundreds, maybe thousands died. But what about the 120,000 people that have died in the last decade in the UK due to the Conservative government. Where is the outrage about that? Or the 60,000 killed by Pinochet and the CIA in the name of capitalism in Chile. Or the 2 million dead in the Vietnam war at the hands of the Americans.