No need to fear. I am alive and well in the Northern capital of the Middle Kingdom, which is to say Beijing, China. The sky is blue, the food is good and the DVD's are a buck a throw. Around the Worker's Stadium Azure Magpies are building nests. And I have a lot of friends here, so it's good to be back. We go to Hohai and drink Yanjing beer for forty cents a bottle.
The internet has changed greatly since I first came here ten years ago. Currently it seems blogspot, wordpress and wikipedia are blocked (and Rense, curiously). However via an unblocked route I may post to, but not read, this blog. I can read the comments as they come in but not comment myself, ha ha.
And this is censorship, sure. But censorship is a funny thing. When done well censorship should more precisely be described as 'absence'. As ever, the absence of things is less noticeable than the presence of things. We all know what's absent in the Western media. Politically, there's no discussion beyond the agreed upon shadow play. Culturally there's almost nothing past a mad obsession with whatever is new and most worthless. Philosophically (not that the media likes that word) there's little other than an all-pervading, centrifugal individualism.
In attempting to discern the absences here, let's just say - China is intensely 'foreign'. It can overwhelm. Spotting the absences is both difficult and easy, ha ha. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just focus on culture.
There is no Survivor or Big Brother here. There are no shows which pit individuals against each other in contrived trivial orgies of lying and cheating. There are no people voting each week for whom they hate the most. There are no dramas featuring serial killers who pretend to be normal. I have never seen sex or titillation on the TV here. Subsequently there is no Desperate Housewives or Dirt or anything even close. There are none of those tedious high-school snot-fests. Nor is there anything like Seinfeld here. Perhaps such depictions of worthless people spending their lives striving for, and arguing over nothing, strike the Chinese as idiotic. Who knows? Perhaps most crucially, the adulation of teenagers is completely absent.
But the results are easy to see, provided one can get past the shock of culture. On warmer evenings, people relax outdoors in an agreeable social fashion. Teenagers with unpretentious haircuts and clothes sit with the adults enjoying conversation. Once you twig to the fact that teenagers here do not have an attitude it's actually shocking. They do not argue with their parents. They do not go off to the mall and sulkily 'hang out'. They're far more likely to be whapping a shuttlecock around with their mother. No really! Flyovers and other places free of trees and powerlines are popular for kite-flying. In front of the Worker's Stadium every day I see people ballroom dancing, doing tai chi and other similar variations of the gentler martial arts. Tai chi is a martial art, you know. The main thing is that all of this can be summed up as ‘simple pleasures’. Chinese people broadly are not jaded. It's astounding how refreshing it is.
It's changing, of course. Kids here play computer games too. And every single thing produced by Hollywood (either for the big screen or small) is available here on pirate DVD. But they are viewed as foreign. The effect they have on the culture and the people are minimal. Chinese culture remains dominant. There is no chameleon-like sub-group here re-interpreting their culture for them. I’m entirely certain the government here exerts control to prevent shows such as this. Is this censorship? I expect so. But gee it's nice to see a culture that isn't driven by a perverse combination of angst and trivial self-obsession, that instead prizes family and harmony, and lacks snotty teenagers.