Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mao in the Rearview Mirror

Mao Tse Tung in Rearview Mirror
Shanghai, China

Before we even landed in Hong Kong, I had the distinct impression that we were being monitored.  The Chinese government knew exactly our travel destinations and our travel accommodations.  At any point in time, they could pinpoint exactly where we were.  I suppose you could say that it's not any different than the routine surveillance most corporations practice today on their unsuspecting employees.

This became more apparent to me as we headed further into China from Hong Kong.  As we prepared to take a ferry from the airport to the mainland from Hong Kong, we never saw our bags at customs but we were told that they would be waiting for us on the other side.  It was a huge leap of faith, but I had a feeling the government knew exactly that our bags would be well taken care of.  If you tend to be paranoid, then don't travel to China.

While I was able to access and publish to Facebook in my hotel in Dongguan, once I got to Shanghai (further inland) all bets were off.  It could have been because of the Asian Games going on the time, but it was quite an erie feeling.  The only way that I could access Facebook was via an expensive cell phone connection.  Facebook was blocked for the masses.

China has many bright points.  It is in the midst of an incredible industrial revolution.  It comes however at the expense of losing its architectural and cultural charm.  Most business people never get to see the old China, we get to see the miles and miles of factory dormitories and new apartments.  The proverbial Chinese dragon has been replaced by the tower crane.

As we drove from Suzhou to Shangai I happened to look at our driver's rearview mirror.  That's when I noticed a very familiar face and a reminder of where I really was;  it was the face Mao Tse Tung or Chairman Mao.  While this is a new China and capitalistic, the reminder remains that communism is the party of the land.  I wondered exactly who our driver was and who he worked for.

The new face of the old communist party could in fact be called China Inc.  It draws from the capitalism of the west and incorporates it into a uniquely Chinese spin to fund it's needed infrastructure and economic prosperity and stability for the masses.  The people are liberated to make money but the government dictates what you will hear and what you say.  We should not forget that there are some very basic freedoms that we enjoy as a result of our democracy.  Capitalism only provides economic freedom.  We should not confuse that with what democracy offers.  Deng Xiaoping believed that it didn't matter what color a cat was black or white as long as it could catch mice.  Deng was successful in transforming the China cat.

For several days, while we stayed in Suzhou, I could not be spontaneous and post on Facebook.  Now you know why.  By the way, we never could find mementos of the Asian Games, not even at the Shanghai Airport.  We couldn't find even one T-shirt commemorating the event.


  1. Fascinating account. I always find it interesting to visit communist countries that are new to capitalism. It's been my experience that these places seem to have gotten the moneymaking aspect down but are still naive as to the service aspect of things. They don't realize that good personalized service enhances the moneymaking. The places I experienced this was in Northern
    Vietnam and Estonia and Latvia.
    That must have felt strange indeed to be blocked from something like Facebook. I also experienced the blocked websites on my trip to Burma.

  2. I was wondering how "free" you may have been on your journey, whether you were watched as you took photos, or did you feel that you were being watched. I find it more interesting that you felt your "disconnection" from Facebook was a barometer of that freedom that many do take for granted.

    I think there the whole thing in China is more overt and not hidden in the backrooms. Here, we do have all these freedoms. Yet, day by day some of it is getting lost in the din of our disconnected connections. I'm guessing the greater communication in China still happens amongst the people and not just through virtual portals of reality.

    I'm not discounting technology. Technology enables me to accomplish things I never could at the level I can. The efficiencies it affords me is priceless. However, I fear we are all paying a heavy price with it as we forget how wonderful it is to have an actual conversation with a person and be able to look them in the eyes while doing so.

    Elements of the good is that you and I have "met" through several of these virtual portals. I would guess that a shared beer or wine may be in the cards some day as we can communicate.

  3. You would be a great friend to have. I am convinced of it.

    There's no substitute for the visual communication. Content and Context can be jumbled by words without intonation.


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