China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



2011 Nov 28 in The China Beat


Copyright 2011 Rian Dundon.


He says he’s lost his city and his society. We drive past a group of demonstrators protesting land seizures. He points out the scene and the gaggle of police cruisers nearby and grins in English “this is Chi-na”, emphasizing the play-on-words between “Chi” and “Chai” (chai, or 拆 being Chinese for “dismantle” or “demolish”). He sees the city’s recent prosperity through a filter of isolation, exclusion, and greed. Tells me how the doors are all closed. How peoples’ sense of self worth is determined by the number of contacts in their cell phones. How they are drifting further apart even as they become more connected. And his city is showing growing pains. The dust and traffic from construction is unbearable but it’s the gnawing of something else that gets to him. Something darker and more sinister. M. tells me I don’t understand the real China and he’s right. He speaks of death and the loss of dignity as his country develops itself into oblivion. Into a casket. He says that for every building project and commercial housing development in the city (there are hundreds) there will be a handful of laobaixing who kill themselves over having to leave their homes. Old people who can’t just up and move to the suburbs and who would have nothing there to live for if they did. And the mingong, the migrant workers who labor at these sites day and night? Just last week one plummeted to death 100 meters from his apartment. Was it in the newspaper? Never. This is blasé, everyday stuff. He asks me how can I ever understand this as a foreigner. As an American no less. How can I relate to the violence of suppression and denial that haunt this place. His country. The new culture. And how can he put faith in a society that eats itself to death, let alone the government that watches it happen. Now the city is rushing to clean its image ahead of inspections from Beijing. But what is the price of being classified as a “civilized city”? M. laughs when he thinks about his mothers crumbling public housing complex in Hexi where only the buildings visible from the bridge are being “renovated” with a coat of white paint. “What’s the point of fixing the outside when the inside is what’s rotten?”