While waiting for the train to head out, a girl asked if I could switch seats with her. She wanted to sit with her friend. I agreed, a little grumpily, but in the end, I’m glad I switched. I sat next to a really fun, eclectic group of Chinese. At first, we had simple conversation, but as we became more comfortable with each other, our conversation became much deeper. There were three couples: Xiao Gang & Yingying, Xiao Chen & Xiao He, and an artist and his girlfriend (prostitute?). While hitting the later hours, Xiao Gang, a funny guy that spoke in a lot of idioms, asked me what I thought of Chinese men. I said that Chinese guys, at least the ones that I come across the most, are often interested in money, in buying cars and houses…more or less superficial things. They are also very traditional, in that they want to find a wife and expect her to follow gender social norms: cook, have a kid, be dependent on them. Of course, I’m generalizing and not all Chinese guys are like this, but he did ask a question where I would need to generalize.
My response brought up a conversation about social issues in China, like high housing rates and the pressure of getting married. They asked if in America women care about a man’s background and his money situation before getting married. I said it depends on the person, but I personally don’t consider money as a big factor in finding a significant other. This then somehow led to a conversation about politics. Xiao He took away from my response that the American government is much more developed than China’s. I said “how so?”
“Because we aren’t free to say our opinions here. That is why our government is backwards.”
What he said made everyone a bit uneasy, since you shouldn’t say anything like that in public, like an open train car compartment surrounded by over one hundred Chinese. They were talking about how it’s best to be in a locked, private room to talk about such things. However, his response incited more discussion on the corruption and inadequacies in the Chinese government.
“Kelin (my Chinese name), did you know that there are 10,000 ‘sensitive words (敏感字）’ on the Chinese Internet? If you write them, you will be monitored, or your post will be deleted, or you can’t even type the word out at all,” Xiao Gang said. I was aware of this, but not of the specific number. When I visited a friend in Shangri-la, he told me never to write the word Tibet or send an email about Tibet to anyone who lives there. The police would capture them for questioning or even arrest them for years in order to avoid any conspiracy.
As we continued the controversial conversation, Xiao He’s wife said half joking and half serious, “if we keep conversing this topic we will be kidnapped when we get off the train.” She said this multiple times with a hesitant laugh through the night. Xiao He kept on telling her to stop mentioning it, so to stop scaring me, but I wasn’t scared. Even though I also felt a bit uneasy talking about the faults in the Chinese government in such a public place, I found the conversation worthwhile. Also, I think they would be in more danger than me. I was more nervous for them. It’s strange that they even have to say things like that…but it does actually happen. People do get kidnapped and aren’t seen for years. They are normally placed in labor camps and have very little rights. How awful it must be to be hesitant when speaking your mind, and to even be scared for you life if you speak a little out of line about the government.
Xiao Gang works in the media industry and brought up how 99% (or somewhere in the 90s) of newspaper articles or reports are all twinkled down from the “top,” in this case the government. Everything is copied from the top and spread to the masses. There’s no creativity in the media, and if there is, then the article will most likely be banned. He said that the “Southern Weekend” is the best, most reliable paper out there. I’ll need to check it out! The leader of the paper had his work banned because he didn’t follow what the government wanted him to write.
The group would change the topic once in a while to avoid talking about sensitive topics, but they kept coming back to politics. I think it was nice for them to find a group of open-minded, like-minded individuals in one compartment in a train. I think I also added to their interest. Having me there to talk with about my country, a place very different from their own, was a unique experience for them. It’s too bad they were too nervous to go deeper into the discussion.
This conversation in the train is a good example of how people live in China. A certain way of thinking is engrained in the Chinese populous, and if one tracks away from that mindset, the person is aware of the danger that comes with it. Therefore, people are afraid. To be more specific, they are afraid of their government. Nietzsche would be proud. Of course, if you don’t step out of bounds, then there is nothing to worry about…but that means you have to follow and believe everything the government tells you is fact without second guessing. Or you can pretend too. Is that freedom?
My Chinese friends in the train with me viewed this kind of control as unhealthy for their society. I wonder if this perspective is becoming more prevalent? At the moment, it seems like fear between the Chinese government and its people is reciprocal. One side fears instability and revolt, while the other side fears detention. This fear among the populous is not widespread, I’ve met many Chinese who love their country and their government. But, there is a growing minority that’s becoming more skeptical. The Internet and its anonymity has become a tool for this generation to spread their opinions, even with the obstacle of the Great Fire Wall of China. I think this generation has the potential in making a difference in the next couple of decades…
This is probably the most controversial posts I’ve written yet. I’m really happy to have had enlightening conversation with the group of travelers. This kind of conversation is uncommon, especially among strangers, so I thought I would share this with my followers/family.
After arriving at the train station, we took a picture of all of us and then split ways. We did not get kidnapped after all! I then took a bus to Lugu Lake and will be staying the night in Lige.