Chinese Stories in English
Paranoia Strikes Deep
On my first trip to China, in 1981, we entered the country by train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. The trip took four or five hours, including a lengthy stop at the border for a passport and visa check. (I've been told that the trip takes about two hours nowadays, and the formalities are handled at the station after you get off the train.)
The border crossing back then was a military check-point. After the train came to a stop, we sat waiting for several minutes not knowing what to expect. Then four soldiers armed with pistols and dressed in combat fatigues came into our car. One of the soldiers stood at the head of the car and one went to the rear, and I suddenly remembered that I had an American magazine in my backpack with a rather uncomplimentary article about the Chinese Communist Party. The other two soldiers started walking slowly down the aisle checking passports. I was quite relieved to see that they weren't looking in people's luggage, but I didn't completely recover from the paranoia until the soldiers got off and I was able to ditch the magazine.
That same trip, by the third day in China I'd already had my fill of shopping. When the tour bus pulled up at yet another store, I told the guide I just wanted to walk around for a while. She told me to be back at the bus in 30 minutes.
When I got back, the guide proceeded to tell me in detail everything I'd done for the whole half hour. I'd gone into a store and bought a drink, talked to an old man, etc. I asked her if she had spies following me.
She laughed and said she'd just listened to the people talking on the street – "Hey, did you see that FFG! He went into Zhang's store and bought a soda, and he talked to Old Li, then he crossed the street and…."
At least, she claimed that was how she knew what I'd been doing.
In 1983 I attended a summer session at a school in Beijing. There were special dorms and classes for us foreign students. Most of the Chinese students were gone on vacation, and the few who were still on campus usually kept their distance from us during daylight hours. At night, though, if we went out walking around campus, the Chinese students would sometimes come up to us to practice their English.
Their teachers had told them it was OK to talk to foreigners for that purpose. They were reluctant to be seen doing so, however, because it might be noted in their records, and they were uncertain what might happen if the Party changed its policy in the future.
People don't have such concerns these days, which is a good thing, I guess. But last week I got buttonholed by middle-aged man who was trying to learn English on his own, without much success. I didn't mind at first, but after about five minutes I started wishing for the good old paranoia days.
After a false alarm last fall, this blog has indeed now been blocked in China by the Chinese Communist Party. I don't believe the reason was political. I suspect it was the photo of armed guards that I included in my post about Chinese banks (here). Chinese security types are nervous about that sort of thing. I've deleted the photo, even though that particular horse is long gone, and am waiting with bated breath for a midnight knock on the door.
I'm pretty sure paranoia is involved here somewhere. But I'm not sure whether it's them or me.
Update: An hour after posting this, I decided to try one more time to view this blog without using the software to get around the "Great Firewall". Surprise!!! I was able to see it!!! I guess it's not blocked after all, or maybe no longer blocked, or maybe never was blocked. I give up trying to understand this particular aspect of life in the Middle Kingdom.
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