Foreigners gobsmacked by Shanghai cab spittoons reads the headline of a Reuters report. The report refers to the reactions of “foreigners” to the spit bag idea, but only seems to cite a letter written by a foreigner into the Shanghai Daily. If we had known journalism could be this easy, we could have saved ourselves a lot of tuition money. But one thing’s for sure. We need to spend more time reading British, because we had not idea what it meant to be “gobsmacked.”
Shanghai is the biggest boom-town in history, according to a feature from the Guardian UK. The reporter gives another take on the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Shanghai. Here the reporter describes as one of the official dudes from SMG gives an out award during the China Fashion Awards:
He’s so alien, so totally out of place, that I half-expect him to speak in the synthesised electronic tones of R2D2. He’s here to present the Male Fashion Icon of the Year award, and as a man with spiky red hair steps up to accept the prize, they form a tableau vivant: old China meets new China. Can this really be what ex-president Deng Xiaoping meant when he talked about ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ almost 30 years ago?
The insights keep piling up:
But I learn later that that’s how business is conducted here, namely by the traditional virtue of guanxi. Or in other words, through elaborate social relationships rather than on merit.
The reporter then proceeds to tell us that people walk into luxury stores with “plastic bags full of cash” and that the worst offense that you can commit if you’re in this circle is to give someone a fake (e.g., fake bag, purse). No we don’t doubt that these statements have an at least an iota of truth to them, but they veer a little too much towards the hyperbolic for us. But we’re Oriental and value restraint, especially when it comes to prose style.
The point the writer seems to want to get across is how the world of the nouveau riche in China is just part of the greater madness that is China. She quotes the one “sober” guy at a party she’s at: “This is what the whole of China is like! It’s like being in a dodgy club! And never knowing if you will be able to get a taxi out!”
Later on the writer discovers the dark reality behind all this glitz and glamor:
I attempt to do a bit of research on the internet, but the server seems to be down. There’s no Wikipedia, no BBC, no New York Times. And only then does the penny drop: I’m behind the great firewall of China.
Naturally, she asks her interviewees about politics, democracy, and human rights:
‘And what about democracy?’ I say. ‘Hmm? Any thoughts on that?’
‘We can vote for representatives. But our problem in China is that we have too many people. It’s impossible for us to have true democracy. The country is too big,’ says George. They could be reading off a script entitled something like Young People in China Don’t Give a Stuff About Politics. But they really don’t.
‘What about human rights?’ I say, a plaintive note rising in my voice. ‘Like detaining prisoners without trial. Like torture.’
‘Like Guantanamo?’ says George. ‘America has the same problem as us.’
It’s a fair point, but largely a rhetorical one. They really aren’t interested. They were toddlers at the time of Tiananmen – in their experience, Chinese policemen provide security at red-carpet events. And everybody’s getting better off: industrial profits grew by 30 per cent in the first 10 months of last year, investment by 27 per cent in the same period. Total retail sales by 14.3 per cent – in just one month, October.
Yeah, we get it. This is yet another introduction to China for people who’ve just emerged from a cave and want to know what’s happening in the world’s most populous country, etc. Yes, we get it, the reporter isn’t from around these parts, gets kind of wide-eyhttp://authors.gothamistllc.com/mt/mt.fcgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=91816&blog_id=15#ed, over the top, intellectually gobsmacked. Yes, we know we bitch and moan all the time. But can you blame us?
Image from musicomh.com