Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Reason Number 50 - The Voice of China

`Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 97
“We have asked thousands of questions over the past twenty years and carefully considered each reply. We have read stacks of articles, documents, papers and reports, seeking one answer that seems impossible to find. 

Chinese people often wish to impress upon us the fact that 5,000 years of history holds great richness and meaning. But for as long as we have been in China, and as many times as we have put our ear to the ground to listen, what is it that we hear?

Absolutely nothing.

Who do Chinese people ‘think’ they are? Who do the Chinese people think they will become? Who do the Chinese people think the rest of the world wants them to become?

As we said in our introduction, this book has no balance. Some readers may feel that it also has no sympathy or comfort, and that it seems totally lacking in empathy. 

It is difficult to have these emotional qualities in a society that does not itself reflect them. It is hard to write positively about a people who care so little about each other, and indeed care so little about the rest of the world. The citizens who made the fake milk power to financially enrich their lives while babies died were not hardened criminals. The ‘chemists’ who make fake drugs which are delivered to patients and will surely cause the death of those patients are not lifetime crime barons. The owners and operators of the mines that catastrophically eliminate thousands of lives each year are not competing to see who can cause more deaths. They are all, most certainly, gentle, loving family men when they go home at night. They are ‘just’ average people in today’s China.”

So there you have it.

Fifty reasons.

`Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 98
“It is not for the authors – or indeed anyone but the Chinese people themselves – to define greatness for China. But it is for the world to inform China that the automobile, CO2 emissions, and rubbish, all products of peaceful development, will not aid the achievement of greatness. Greatness for China must come from its uniqueness, its individuality of concept, its singular perspective. From the dream of what China could be.

But if this dream never becomes real, surely part of the world will die along with it. If this dream does not fill the world with cures for cancer, succor for the environment, and spiritual fulfillment for all the planet’s people, who should be found guilty?

If the Chinese people cannot grasp what their thousands of years of history really means, if they only listen to communist political theorists who merely offer ‘peaceful development,’ spoken in a single breath, then they will lose the chance to change humanity. And Armageddon will come. Apocalypse. 

Greatness shouts from the rooftops. Greatness is heard throughout the canyons of business. Greatness should echo across the planet.

But the voice of China is mute. 

And so is China’s greatness.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Reason Number 49 - Daughters, Wives, & Mothers in Fear

`Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 95
“One of the key problems holding back women is their under-representation in politics and business. Though China does have some prominent women, such as China’s Vice-Premier Wu Yi (cited as the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2006) Xie Qihua, chairwoman of China’s biggest steelmaker, Baosteel, and Ma Xuezheng, a senior vice president of computer manufacturer Lenovo, (named by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful women in business in 2006) these cases are very much the exception. 

Wu Yi is the only woman at the highest level of the Chinese government, and Xie Qihua was the only female boss in her industry until her retirement in 2007. Ma Xuezheng also retired in 2007 for ‘personal reasons’ though Forbes hinted this was to do with problems in Lenovo’s takeover of IBM’s global PC business.

China’s political and business culture is a world of men. Only 20% of members of China’s National People’s Congress are women, and only about 16% of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. China did not get its first female governor, Gu Xiulian, until 1983. Nationwide, there are 15 million female officials, accounting for 38% of the total number of officials. But most of these 15 million serve at a low level. Only 9.9% serve at provincial or ministerial level. And at the highest level of government, just 2% are female said media in 2005.”

And even Wu Yi has now retired – replaced by a man. The one thing, more than any other, that unifies all my experience of China is the unhappiness of its women. The consistency with which my female friends tell me tales of harassment, belittlement and sheer contempt is implacable. 

I don’t recall ever hearing from any woman in China that she feels she is treated equal to a man.

`Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 96
“It is true that China has some laws that at least address domestic violence. Yet these laws are both weak and unclear. China’s revised Marriage Law of 2002 does outlaw marital violence. But it does not say how violence is to be defined, leaving victims in a legal grey area. China’s previous marriage law, drawn up in 1980, did not mention domestic violence at all. Between 2001 and 2005, just 10 sexual harassment cases were heard by China’s courts. Of these, just one plaintiff won. One!

Even Beijing, the center of law making, did not hear its first sexual harassment case until 2003. The woman in that case, Lei Man, lost because she was unable to provide proof of her claim, and because medical authorities for the defense diagnosed her as ‘suffering from paranoia.’

Sexual harassment is also a problem in China due to the cultural reticence to talk about sex. This reticence means children are very rarely taught about the dangers of sexual abuse. ‘People in China have read of cases of sexual abuse in other countries, but many do not seem to realize that it’s a problem here as well. Many children and parents simply ignore it and know little about it’ said Chinese media in 2004. The sexual abuse of children was not made a criminal offence in China until 1991. It was not until 2007 that China’s Ministry of Education released a guide, to be taught in schools, telling tell minors of the dangers of sexual abuse. The concept of ‘street proofing’ children appears to be unheard of in China.” 

Friday, October 03, 2008

Weekender -- Hospital Visit

My first experience of Chinese healthcare, then.

This was some time back, in April 2000, or so. I had been in Shanghai a few years by that time, and I had been loving it – expect for the couple of months leading up to that April. Most every day at that time was misery and stress. 

Not, I should say, my sensitive soul lamenting at the plight of the Chinese people. No.



By god they hurt. I’d had the odd bit of arse agony back in the UK, but nothing like this. I guess it was the change in diet.

I remember the day I was in the Watsons’ drug store, by the Portman, and I saw there on a shelf – glowing like a grail, a carton of H, Preparation H. What bliss! It was that moment in Handel’s Messiah,  when the band sing “And god said, ‘Let there be light' and there was........."  and then the pause, followed by "....Light!” A fine, wonderful bit of music and quite what I felt when I saw the H. 

And – a slight aside – wonderful though ‘The Messiah’ is – glorious, expansive, moving music – it has fallen foul of the Commies. The Academy of Ancient Music, a fine UK based ensemble, was due to give a public performance of this at the Beijing Music Festival. But then the scumbag Chinese government decided to insist it had to be an ‘invitation only’ gig – which meant the general public could not attend. Likewise, a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, intended to raise money for the Sichuan quake victims, was cancelled. The reason for this being that the thugs and goons who run China did not want this ‘christian’ music played, for fear it might turn more Chinese people into believers. Now, sure, in the 21st century, like also the 20th C, to genuinely believe god exists is either a sign of moral cowardice or mental illness. But to ban some of the greatest music humanity has produced is simply risible, absurd. And to ban it even when it is intended to help people who are suffering in China! These guys are the leaders of 20% of the human race, and they are clods and cretins. 


So I grabbed the H, paid my 49.50 yuan, and scarpered to the lav. I’d never used Prep H before (but every schoolboy knows what it is) and when I slapped it on – oh, the bliss, the cessation of pain. I could feel ‘em shrinking, tingling, retracting. What joy!

And what a contrast to my prior attempt at medicating my poor arse. At that time I could speak no Chinese, and so I had to make do as best I could. I went into one small pharmacy and inspected what they had for sale. Most of it, being written in Chinese, meant nothing to me. But I did see one product that sounded familiar – Tiger Balm. Balm! Balm sounded good to me. My arse needed some balm. Balm was what I wanted. 

I should, of course, have focused on ‘Tiger,’ not ‘Balm.’ I did not. I brought it, took it home, and applied it.

Only the once. Just the once.

Anyhow, fast forward to the blissful days of Preparation H. That was good. I remember its greasy, aromatic, fish-oil smell with pleasure.

But this was when I got an early lesson in how to live in China. And that is – if you see something on the shelves you really like or need, buy as much of it as there is, or as you can afford. Because sure as shit it’s like to be gone the next time you look for it. So it was when I went back to the Watsons, the shelf empty, a promised land no longer. Worse, far worse than being stood up on a hot date. More annoying even than arranging a hot date and finding (this has happened) I have actually invited a bloke, not a woman – and what a boring type he was. That’s a tale for another time.

Faced with the empty shelf – double, tripled checked and other areas of the store searched – I asked an assistant for help. I’m not really the type to be embarrassed by this sort of stuff (I think I already told the tale of taking Mona on a shopping expedition for extra-big condoms – to use with a new Western lover of hers, after our relationship had become just platonic), but the assistant was somewhat ill at ease, uncomfortable, red-faced as he told me “We will have more in soon.”

That was bullshit, of course. I went back several times over the next couple of weeks. Never any H. Always the empty shelf… always the embarrassed assistant. 

A week or two more of the pain, and sitting on my chair wriggling my butt cheeks as tight together as possible, thus to squeeze the throbbing pile back inwards, was enough; I headed to a hospital, the one just near Huaihai Lu and Shaanxi Nan Lu. And since I spoke no Chinese at that time I had to rely on my then-girlfriend to come with me to assist me in finding the right doctor.

We did this easy enough and the doc took a look at my arse, sucked in his breath, shook his head, tutted, the medical equivalent of kicking my tires, and suggested I book an operation. ‘You’ll need a few days off afterwards’ he said, which, with the May holiday week upcoming, was easy enough to arrange. Then he wrote out a prescription for a several-day course of laxatives. Gotta clear out the arse, see.

Only, it did not work – first dose – no effect. Second, third – not a thing. I drank down the whole prescription. Zip. Went back to the pharmacy, got more. Perfectly useless. 

Operation day comes round. I go back to the same area I’d met the arse doctor before. He greets me, and gives me a gown to put on. I do so, and look about me for the way to the operating room.

No operating room. The doc indicates a raised, tiled slab, right there in the public area, surrounded by a low wall. I lie on it while he injects my arse with anesthetic. Gives it a few moments to work, then dives right in. Gets his assistant – a young woman – to hold open my arse while he, with a scalpel, cuts out a bunch of the piles therein. It is a pretty uncomfortable operation, and gets more uncomfortable as it goes on – and it seems a lengthy process, 10 or 15 minutes. I feel a rising sense of sickness and weakness, and put it down to all the blood I feel I must be losing out of my arse, though I doubt it was really that much.

And all this while my girlfriend is standing there watching, and random patients walking by take a peek, me on my side, my arsehole wide open to the world. And I can feel that damn scalpel scratching around inside me. As this is going on I think of my brother.

See, piles runs in the ChinaBounder family. The ol’ man, the brother. Brother had his fixed a year or two prior, and for his operation they just stuck some sorta’ probe up his arse which put elastic bands round the piles – they then shrivel and fall off over a few weeks. Quick, easy, painless. So I gotta say I did rather curse ‘Bloody second rate Chinese hospitals with their old fashioned outdated equipment.’ But that was unfair, as the doc was doing his best.

The doc announces he is done. Gives my arse a clean up and prepares to swathe it in lint. But not so fast doc – for now, after a week of laxatives, now I need to take a shit. I get to my feet, find myself weak, and have to rely on my girlfriend (how remarkably patient she was with me!) to escort me to the toilet – which is, of course, the typical Chinese squat toilet. But I barely have time to think off a curse before I crouch and let fly a simply phenomenal amount of turd. It feels pretty good, I gotta say.

Of course this being a Chinese toilet, no matter in a hospital, there is no paper. So I have to stagger back to the poor ol’ doc, all besmeared in shit, and collapse back onto the table, where he tuts and gets going with the swab. 

And then he writes out one more prescription, gives it to my girl, and, while she goes off to the pharmacy to get it, I sit wan and weak in a chair – sit carefully – and think myself moderately heroic. Thence to a taxi and home. Arse seems good. I sleep.

I wake. Arse on fire. Arse agony. Oh to bring back the piles, trade them for this pain. True, the body has no memory of pain, and I do not now remember the pain itself – rather just the awareness of it. Remember from time to time pounding my fist on the mattress for the pain – and one time thumping my girlfriend really hard, waking to pain out of a doze and not knowing she was lying beside me. She was cool about it. Shame I ended up really hurting her a year or so later.

That final prescription the doc gave her was for arse healing medicine – traditional Chinese arse healing medicine. It was a bunch of bits of bark and twig which I was meant to steep in hot water, let cool, and dip my arse in for half an hour a day. I did so. Zero effect, as far as I can tell. The pain subsided in three or four days, and I’m pretty certain it would have done so with or without the TCM. But that is the grand con of TCM – it is ‘slow acting’ – which is another way of saying ‘makes no difference to the normal healing process, but if you believe in it, it’ll make you feel better.’

The first post-op dump was sheer agony, of course, even coming several days after the scalpelling (soup diet only up til then) – but things healed up pretty good after that, and soon it was a bliss to be able to walk the streets normally, not waddle like a duck, butt cheeks clenched together. 

So all in all I was pretty pleased with my first experience of Chinese healthcare. And the bill for it – around 2000 yuan – seemed a fair price too. They did try on a little con, wanting me to pay 6000 – cos I was a foreigner, you see – but my girl would have none of that and let them know it.

Easy enough.

But without that money, even if I had been really ill, had been dying, I’d have been on my own. There’d have been no healthcare for me. If you’ve got plenty money life in China is pretty good. If you only got a little – or indeed only have the average wage for which so many tens of millions toil – then life is brutish.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reason Number 48 - Red Medicine

`Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 93
“China announced the results of its first national survey of mental illness in 2007. This survey found the country had nearly eight million people suffering from schizophrenia, and that 30% of them do not take drugs for the problem, either because it is ‘too troublesome’ or they fear side-effects. Doctors said the number of patients with mental health problems was on the rise.

Additionally, China has at least 26 million sufferers from depression, with many more undiagnosed. Ten percent to 15% of those attempting suicide, and 50% to 70% of all people who commit or attempt suicide, suffer from depression. But 90% of sufferers get no treatment, and most clinically depressed people fear being stigmatized for their illness, because, say doctors, Chinese society simply does not understand depression and tends to blame the individual.

Poverty, not depression, drove a couple in central Hunan Province to suicide in 2007. The husband, 38-year-old Chen Zhengxian, suffered from hepatitis-B and kidney stones, among other ailments, but could not afford medical care. Chen and his wife tied themselves together with a rope and leapt into the River Yangtze, leaving behind a 12-year-old son and Chen’s mother. They had spent their life savings in 2005 on medical treatment for the son, and still owed more than 8,000 yuan from that time. They could not even afford to pay the 60 yuan fee for the family of four that would have given them basic medical insurance.”

I’ve always found Chinese hospitals pretty efficient. They’re not quite as spick and span as a Western hospital – or even a Thai hospital – and their equipment is a bit beat-up and out of date. But of course China is a developing nation and so I do not expect to see parity with Western hospitals. 

I’ve also always found Chinese doctors to be efficient and polite and knowledgeable. And I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes – half an hour at most – for treatment.

But then, I can pay for it. I have the money, and a few hundred yuan to me is nothing much. Also - I am white, and as I have said many times before, white skin is a badge of privilege in China. Add to that the fact that the doctors are nearly all highly educated and enjoy the chance to practice their English, and there are seldom any problems for me in getting treatment. Plus of course I know a bunch of doctors from my teaching work, so from tooth pain to heart trouble I can pretty much call up a specialist. 

If I was Chinese, of course, and in particular one of the millions of poor in China, it would be a totally different story. I would be one of the hundreds of timid, lost and harassed folk I see wandering about the place every hospital I go to.

But any readers wandering by know that, and I know that, so no tub-thumping. Instead I shall tell you about my first trip to a Chinese hospital – tomorrow.

`Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 94
“Other dangers abound. In 2004, State media announced that 390,000 people had died prematurely from unsafe injections, without giving a time-frame. Three hundred and ninety thousand people. 

Thirty percent of immune injections and 50% of therapeutic injections were unsafe, said the report, adding that in China’s poor western rural areas, more than 70% of ‘disposable’ syringes intended for single use were in fact reused without effective disinfection measures. 

Though disposable syringes cost just 1 US cent more than a reusable needle, they are seldom used. While China has the manufacturing capacity to make 1.7 billion disposable needles a year, sales are stuck at only 100 million a year.

Another 200,000 people die a year just using drugs improperly.”