The Book of the Week is “China Underground” by Zachary Mexico, published in 2009. This is an American journalist’s account of China’s state of affairs in the early 2000’s.
The author interviewed citizens in various walks of life to get a bead on the economic, social and cultural atmosphere in the nation. He found that entrepreneurs abounded in the “new China” but corruption and vice fueled a large portion of the economy. Bribery of government contacts was a crucial factor in making money.
Government censorship of all entertainment was draconian. People might have been getting richer, but they still feared getting arrested for exercising free speech. In early 2007, China’s prisons were filled with more journalists than any other nation’s– thirty-one to be exact.
The author encountered a leader of a Black Society gang that ran rackets in construction, karaoke bars and seafood importation. He also met a prostitute and a Nigerian drug smuggler, both of whom would stop their illicit activities once they earned sufficient money to do so. He visited a brothel disguised as a beauty salon, as prostitution was supposedly illegal. There was a black market in gay porn flicks. Another interesting factoid: The pay-by-the-hour hotel was located right next to the university in Wuhan. For, six or eight students lived in a two hundred square foot dorm room. Two hundred thousand students populated the campus. Wuhan is one of China’s highest-temperature cities in summertime, about one hundred degrees Fahrenheit daily. As in all the cities, it has visible, lung-assaulting air pollution.
Smoking was a given in public places of shopping, eating, drinking and touring; even hospitals (!) Many apartments sported solar panels to heat their water, so when the sun failed to shine, there was no hot water. The author learned that he could go to a public bathhouse’s sauna to take a shower, relax with drugs or alcohol, and/or a comfort woman.
As of 2007, the country still lacked widespread use of credit cards, so it was shut out of a whole host of economic sectors, such as online transactions, travel booking, entrepreneurial opportunities, etc. The Chinese education system focused on regurgitation of facts but neglected to teach understanding of concepts. Cheating was rampant; even plagiarism was pervasive at the best universities. No one wanted to lose face in a scandal with bad publicity, so officials looked the other way.
Such were China’s priorities.
All of this contradicts the belief that if a nation like China is evolving at a fast pace economically, then it must also be moving in a positive direction culturally and socially. Explosive growth has actually led to extreme income disparity, and resentment among the lower classes. Additionally, the rats in the “rat race” have an indifferent attitude toward deaths resulting from a lack of health and safety regulations, because that is the cost of economic progress in their society. However, even during the early stages of their industrial development, most other countries valued human life to a much higher degree than China.
Read the book to learn of the craze called The Killing People Club, the author’s interactions with a rock star, a filmmaker, and a graduate student, and much more.
Side Note: This blogger was bothered by the author’s frequent use of the word “couple”:
“…couple more overpriced beers…”
“…happens a couple times…”
“…for a couple hours…”
“…a couple other guys…”