Questions

One of the truly annoying things about everyday Chinese people when there’s a huge political flap on (like the one right now over the islands) is that they always, always, always drag America into it. Now it doesn’t usually bother me when someone criticizes America. It happens in lots of places, and at lots of times, so you can’t let it get to you. The annoying thing in China is that people will bring it up a propos of nothing at all. Let me give you an example.

Yesterday I took the bus to the post office so I could pick up a package from my sister. I got it with no trouble, then went to the bus stop to go back. I had no sooner walked up than a middle-aged Chinese man who was probably a construction worker or some other laborer (he had dark, tough skin, which is always an indication of someone who doesn’t have a lot of money) said, “Where are you from?” I told him, and he immediately said, “America and Japan are always doing terrible things to people!”

See what I mean? It isn’t that the sentiment itself is inherently annoying, but rather the timing. Who in the world introduces themselves and immediately says, “Your country sucks”? It wasn’t even a question. He didn’t ask, “Why do America and Japan do terrible things to other countries?” There was no request for information; there was merely the expression of an accepted fact. It was as though he had said, “America is a country bordered by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans!”

I immediately answered him, “Do you think my government represents what I think?”

“Oh, no.” (Which begs the question why he would even say what he said in the first place.)

“Good. Don’t assume I agree with my government.”

Preachy, yes, and it didn’t really have much to do with what he said, but one gets tired of that thing after a while.  It’s hard, too, because you can’t really get angry at people like the man at the bus stop for their opinions. The ideas are being drilled into them by a very active and insistent state-controlled media. Take any newspaper off the rack these days and you’ll see multiple stories about Japan’s perfidy, and several going after America, too. More insidious, though, is the way these days Japan and America are inherently linked in the media. Many headlines merely say Mei Ri (the characters for America and Japan, but put together) when referring to political powers intruding into China’s affairs, which in its tone makes it seem as though the two countries are intrinsically linked in their policies, goals, and even character. I find this helps me to be more patient. If everyone you meet is being fed the same line of propaganda, getting angry at them for their opinions is a little like getting angry at a computer for executing a command someone else gave it, especially here, where it’s very hard indeed to get a hold of media that doesn’t toe the party line.

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