I am getting close to a new travelling record here in China, pretty soon it will be the country I’ve spent more time in than any other country except for Sweden. And strangely, still the one that I cannot wrap my head around. It keeps on luring me, taunting me, fooling me and thankfully amaze me over and over again, and just when I think I can pin it down – even decide whether I like it or not, something happens to change my mind. It is odd building up a relationship to this country, because, just like the cool guy in school, everyone talks about China as if it’s something scary, aggressive and distant, but when you’re on the inside, it’s quite warm, friendly and really not that pompous at all. Just as united as the government stand under Xi Jinping, just as diverse are the inhabitants of China. Just as determined and strong willed, calculating and manipulative as the leaders of this country seem to be, as little concerned with world politics are its people. Smiling unknowingly most people would never understand why foreigners would be scared of China. Friendly, nervously helpful, laughing and joking, energetic and outgoing – no matter what impression of a powerful military strength the Beijing administration want to give – I haven’t felt threatened, distressed or afraid for one second in this country. The respect I meet, the helping hands, the sad acknowledgement when someone doesn’t speak English, the wide eyes of admiration just simply for being here is just warm and flattering. I meet these same reactions from province to province, north to south, country side to cities, they are all proud of their diversity, but in this welcoming warmth, they are united. I must say, every place and person leave me feeling slightly warmer than I was before.
Why we look upon China as a threat or as something big and scary, is simply for the fact that we don’t talk about Chinese people, we talk about a few politicians on top of the staircase. Talk about the Chinese people and you will have to change your mind. First I only saw the great masses in the hyper modern cities with the same annoying tendencies as you see in any other capitalist country: Teenagers dress like wannabe-fashionistas, selfying the shit out of every social media app available. Business people take five flights a week and doesn’t really consider why that should be of any problem to the world. People are developing a hunchback thanks to constantly looking at their phone, and yes, there are plenty of near-accidents with people walking and swiping at the same time. This made me miss the simplicity of rural Bishkek or Dushanbe, an unfair comparison in many ways. But when you break the glass of this exhibition, when you break character and actually interact with any Chinese person, their eyes widen brightly, a smile, and a shy laugh, both for men and women, girls and boys.
In so many of the dictatorship, or ”non democratic” countries I’ve visited, the people are the friendliest. Most humble, easy going, even quite goofy. Why is that? A psychological defence mechanism? Not being able to deal with reality? Or is life not too bad after all when one is being taken care of by leaders like Xi Jinping?
Hard core management has its flaws but the more I search for them, the more they turn into positives. I don’t want to be too political, cause I know that Xi Jinping takes a lot of problematic decisions, sacrificing some to save others, but I really look hard to find the people on the edge of society. Even in the rural villages, hours away from closest town or city, people seem to be rather okay. They work hard, men and women help out with the physical labour and yes, they don’t live in abundance but they show no desperation the same way I have experienced in other parts of the world. Instead, food is cheap as chips, housing can be found (materials and labour for building them are cheap too!) for most people and I haven’t seen any real homeless problem. What I see is a load of nonsense jobs, sure, like sweeping the leaves off the streets in the beginning of autumn (when there will be more tomorrow) but this allows for people to make a living, scrape together the few kwais they actually need to survive. People don’t complain, they don’t try to sell you stuff you don’t need for money not worth it. They mainly laugh at my obvious displacement and confusion, and sometimes I find it annoying, sometimes I can laugh with them. And every time I laugh with them, I see how they can cope with their politics, with their history, with the world’s perception of them. I think we all should start laughing at our leader’s decisions, at the chaotic and painful history we try to take pride in, and most of all – at how other people see us.