Modern day mainland Chinese society is focused on one object: money and the acquisition thereof. The politically correct term in China is “economic benefit.” The country and its people, on average, are far wealthier than they were 25 years ago. Traditional family culture, thanks to 60 years of self-serving socialism followed by another 30 of the “one child policy,” has become a “me” culture. Except where there is economic benefit to be had, communities do not act together, and when they do it is only to ensure equal financial compensation for the pollution, or the government-sponsored illegal land grab, or the poisoned children. Social status, so important in Chinese culture and more so thanks to those 60 years of communism, is defined by the display of wealth. Cars, apartments, personal jewellery, clothing, pets: all must be new and shiny, and carry a famous foreign brand name. In the small rural village where we live I am not asked about my health or that of my family, I am asked how much money our small business is making, how much our car cost, our dog.
Mark Kitto’s essay “You Will Never Be Chinese” in The Prospect, is a fascinating look at what it’s like to live in China and earn money. Originally from the U.K., he’s lived there for 16 years, and has tried to build a life for himself and his family—the Chinese Dream if you will. He hasn’t been able to achieve it, and has decided to leave. Basically, you have to acquire as much money as possible because you’re going to be paying for your own education, medical bills, and pension. You have to buy property and jewelry, and hide your money, because the banks are non-commercial and, according to Kitto, “the stock markets are rigged.” Plus, Kitto built a multi-million dollar magazine business in China, only to have it seized by the government (which has a tight rein on the Chinese media). So even if you do achieve some sort of dream, there’s still the chance that you can have it taken away from you.