What surprised you the most you when you first came to Europe?
The notion of critical thinking in education is one of the things that stroke me most. Everyone is encouraging you to be more critical in European countries. I think this just shows the fundamental difference between the ideas of education in China and the West. In China, critical thinking is forbidden because as an individual, your responsibility is to fit in the society, to become a screw that is a small part of the huge national machine, and your individualism has to be compromised to serve the greater national interest. I think it’s definitely not the case in the west. That is to say, if Chinese individuals become more critical, then the government won’t be able to control the society that easily and might lose their power.
Another thing that surprised me was the low efficiency. Looking at the building in front of our house, it has been in works for the whole year and isn’t even finished. For a building of that size, it would already have been over by now in China. That’s not the only thing I’ve noticed with low efficiency. When it comes to politics, it takes a lot of time to implement a policy because you need approval from parliament, but it’s still better because it considers a lot of people’s interests.
In general, I noticed that the natural environments are well preserved and people tend to enjoy doing outdoor activities. The lifestyle is different. Europeans normally have way more holidays than Chinese citizens, and they know how to enjoy life. It’s just very laid back and chill.
European modern democracy is increasingly being questioned. What is your take on it?
Well I think this is just a natural spiral and rising process. Now you might feel the democratic values are being challenged and undermined, but I believe they are just temporary setbacks. Liberty, democracy and the rule of law are the basic elements that everyone can benefit from and that ensures the society to head towards to a fairer, freer direction. So people in the west should stand by these values firmly.
How do Chinese citizens react to the Chinese government?
I would say the majority of Chinese people are quite satisfied with the government. The reason for that is because Chinese culture and ideology are completely different from the West. I know some common values like freedom of speech and democracy are the core of everyone’s daily life here in the west, but it’s not the case in China. Looking back at history, China has never been fully exposed to such values or ideologies, and because of the internet censorship, Chinese people don’t really know what they are missing and they tend to believe what they are told from state owned media and their education.
The other thing is that the communist government really has done and is doing a lot of things that are in the majority’s interest, such as pulling out millions of poor people out of poverty by making beneficial policies towards the poor. Plus, the fast economic progress in the past few decades has proven the government’s capability in certain areas. In short, the communist party really knows how to maintain their legitimacy: by brainwashing, instigating nationalism, and by making changes that can be seen to showcase their capability.
What has Xi Jinping accomplished to help China?
He changed the economic structure and eradicated the poverty issue in China. He implemented policies that created lots of job opportunities and also built a lot of economic flats for people to live in more modern conditions back in 2012.
Can you explain how censorship takes place in China?
You have to use your ID card to access any services and facilities, such as buying a SIM card, taking a train, registering on social media, etc… This basically means no matter where you go, what phone call you make, and what you say online, you are always under surveillance by the authorities. This, along with the social credit system, undermines people’s freedom to do anything, and you have to be careful of every word you say both in real life and online.
How is the LGBTQ+ community perceived? What are the daily struggles?
If the government was to find out that you are gay, you wouldn’t face charges because as long as you keep it to yourself, it’s fine. But, if you want to organize an activity or give a speech about it, it would be different. All books, websites and TV shows relating to the LGBT have been censured, so basically the majority knows nothing about this group and some people even naively believe LGBT is an epidemic from the rotten western culture. In terms of its struggle, I could give you a lot of examples since I was a volunteer in the LGBT society in my university.
Firstly, there is an organisation made up of parents from the LGBT community. It aims to unite LGBT families and these parents really wish to do something good for their children. In 2017, a few parents went to a famous dating market in Shanghai. It’s a place where all the parents who want to find a blind date for their children come and meet together. Within 15 minutes, a group of police came, arrested these parents and detained them for a few days without any charges.
Another example is one from last year in Beijing. During the LGBT month, a group of university students were doing interviews with people passing by in the streets. They aimed to let more people know about LGBT month and their rights. A lesbian was waving a rainbow flag when a group of police arrived and ordered these students to stop interviewing on the street and leave immediately. The students refused, so the police started beating the girl, I mean kicking and punching, and these students got arrested and no news about this later on as all info related to this was instantly banned on internet, no discussion was allowed. To clarify, I saw the video myself on Twitter.
A third example dates back to December 2018. Dua Lipa had a concert in Shanghai, during which a girl took out a rainbow flag and started waving the flag. Immediately, a security guard came and asked her to put away the flag. She refused and immediately got punched in the face by the guard, and more guards gathered to help beating the girl. I saw the video myself on Twitter as well, I actually didn’t know this incident until I accidentally saw Dua Lipa’s post on Instagram. And again, any sensitive words related to this was banned on internet.
Finally, in May 2019, Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage and became the first country in Asia to do so. Such news spread all across the world while in mainland China, little people knew about it because the mainstream media chose not to report with the intention of not letting people be exposed to such progressive actions.
China is never a civil society, it’s always been authoritarian and all the reforms and policies are top down, any bottom up initiatives are just not going to work in China. All protests and strikes are illegal unless you get permission from the government, and of course the government would never allow these things to happen, so literally no protests and demonstrations have happened since the Tiananmen Square one.
Are labour conditions in China worsening or improving?
The trend now in China is “996”, which means working from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week. This has become a social norm now in fields including IT, accounting and finance, engineering and construction, as almost every company wants to exploit their employees and the law is never effective in terms of protecting labours’ rights.
Another reason is that there are no real labour unions in China, so every individual is weak and powerless in comparison to their employer. Why don’t we have labour unions? Because the government won’t allow it and people are told to be obedient since early education. Very few people would choose to unite and stand against this horrible social norm. This is not just in China but also in other developed economies like South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, where working overload and overtime is prevalent. I believe it has something to do with traditional culture and people’s way of thinking as well.
Do you think the situation in China is going to change?
I think it’s getting worse. Xi Jinping changed the presidential terms: before you couldn’t do more than two terms, but now it’s indefinite. Some people are in favour of this because they think he’s a good president.