Nope! I don’t mean running around outside an idling car at a red light. I do mean irrationality, confusion, and panic; three words synonymous with the nation of China. The country has so many rules and regulations that their rules and regulations have rules and regulations. Additionally, many people subscribe to a vast array of superstitions too. Between the Communist Party and thousands of years of cultural development, the mainland can feel very alien to any westerners who step foot on their soil for longer than a two-week vacation. These are some of the stories…

#1 – Fireworks

I’m going to go out on a limb and state plainly that everyone reading this knows what fireworks are. They were invented by the Chinese (along with gunpowder – one of the four great inventions) back in the 7th century (the ratio of chemicals in the mixture hasn’t changed since that time). Now, for my American readers, fireworks signify freedom as they are commonly used as the climax to our Independence Day celebrations in the middle of summer, when millions of people gather in parks, on front lawns, and in the streets (coastal residents on beaches) to witness the visual spectacle that are the multicolored flashes exploding high over our heads in the night sky.

They Rarely Look Like This...
They Rarely Look Like This…

But what might be interesting to learn about the Chinese is that they seem to care little for how fireworks look. What concerns them is how they sound. Furthermore, while they are typically sounded for good luck, they are also sounded to ward off evil spirits at any time of day, even when the sun’s high in the sky. Fireworks in modern China are used multiple times in a day, from the largest metropolises to the smallest villages to commemorate small business openings, funerals, weddings, and other celebratory occasions.

So when we are trying to sleep in the middle of the night (at 3 am) or even in the middle of the morning (at 8 am) and we hear some snaps, crackles, and bangs outside our windows, you can bet your bottom dollar the Chinese are at it again (even on random Tuesdays), warding off evil spirits with their gunpowder fire-crackers.

#2 – In the Line of Fire

When living overseas, it’s important to keep abreast of local laws so as to not find yourself sitting on the opposite side of a policeman’s desk, awaiting an interrogation. Life in a foreign country can be very scary, however, keeping your head down, going about your business, and knowing the lay of the land will pay back your efforts tenfold. Recently, Jen and I found ourselves face-to-face with a situation just like this.

Waiting for the Paperwork to be Completed...
Waiting for the Paperwork to be Completed…

It all began with our trip to India and Nepal (2 months after we left, the Kathmandu Valley was all but destroyed in a massive earthquake) in February. We returned to China without too much aggravation and began working a few days later. Unbeknownst to us, we were committing a felony. The back story is that the school we work for is part of a larger company; that company, has permission from the local and federal governments to employ and house foreigners in certain designated areas. The school isn’t located in one of these designated areas so for the first five months of our contracts, we were living somewhere we weren’t supposed to be. And the authorities were completely unaware.

So by the time they caught up to us, we found ourselves in some pretty hot water, and the police wanted to “teach us a lesson”. We were summoned to the police station in Wujiang (45 minutes from where we live, and no big deal to the cops since they assumed we were living a mere five blocks away). Apparently, there’s a law on the books…

Order of the President of the People’s Republic of China No. 57. Article 39 states, “For foreigners who reside or stay in domiciles other than hotels, they or the persons who accommodate them shall, within 24 hours after the foreigners arrival, go through the registration formalities with the public security office in the places of said residences.”

The school, specifically the woman who recruited us to work here, casually mentioned her want of our passports for something she failed to disclose. What’s more is that she didn’t disclose the importance of this action. We had no idea that we were breaking any laws, and she didn’t bother telling us. Adding insult to injury, once we arrived at the police station, we found out she had already lied to them about the reason we hadn’t registered our return. Caring more about her job than ours, she covered her own ass and left us in the middle of the proverbial street to be thrown under the bus!

The Paperwork - Now that that's Clear and Straightened Out...
The Paperwork – Now that that’s Clear and Straightened Out…

In order for the school to not get fined and in other sorts of trouble, she ordered us to fall on the sword for her (how many cliches can I fit into one blog entry?). We agreed until we realized the police had produced a written document reporting what we had said. It was their version of a sworn affidavit! And we essentially perjured ourselves to keep this woman out of trouble. You can imagine how livid I became at that. Anyway, the moral of the story is: know the laws before you get there. Obviously you cannot learn them all, but you can make an effort to know the important ones, and the rest of your time, just do your job and get home.

#3 – Firewalls

Finally, it should be of no great surprise that as a communist country, China restricts the flow of information into and out of their mainland. Foreigners living abroad care very much about communicating with friends and family members at home, but also checking their favorite websites (news, social media, or otherwise) for a variety of reasons. Staying connected just helps to ease the homesickness.

At any rate, the Chinese government has been diligently working to increase the security of their own multimedia including but not limited to the internet. CCTV, for example stands for China Central Television, but it might as well stand for what the acronym implies in the western world: Closed-Circuit Television as the government dictates which programs, foreign and domestic, are allowed to be shown and which get blocked. The world wide web cannot escape this fate either.

Within the past year, the firewalls within China have tripled their effectiveness such that any site with even a link to Facebook is rerouted to a dummy page, and thus frustrating the user. However, last month China switched from defense to offense with the launch of their Great Cannon a supplement to their aptly named Great Firewall. Essentially, the Great Cannon fires back at any websites trying to bypass they nation’s online censorship.

The Great Flow Chart
The Great Flow Chart

The cannon steers traffic of individual users, halting their browsers from loading certain pages (similar to a firewall) including the New York Times, but wait… there’s more. The cannon allows the government to pick and choose which organizations to target, specifically those who attempt to “hostile” sites that report on corruption in China’s government, or simply disagree with their practices. The idea is to stop the infiltration of western ethics on an unknowing Chinese population.

The scariest part isn’t that the user himself is being used as a weapon, but that if China decides to use their cannon for more sinister motives, they could (for all intents and purposes) launch an attack on a major U.S. website during a critical time or event, election day for example (one made by U.S. News and World Report in an article last month). If you haven’t heard from us in a while (particularly on social media), this is the reason, and I, for one, will be very glad to be leaving the People’s Republic next month.

Until Next Time…

-Justin

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One thought on “Chinese Fire Drills

  1. Scary story about breaking the law. As for the firewall, Living in the West, esp the US, has many great advantages and freedoms as you’ve learned. With, those though comes the negative aspects of the societies. The US has gone so far that the country has an “anything goes” attitude which results in people saying whatever they want with no thought to the consequences, the ACLU defending the dumbest principles, and a general “we should be allowed to do whatever we want because it’s a free country” attitude. So while it’s certainly inconvenient and for sure a little over the top, maybe restricting access to many western ideas isn’t such a bad thing. I’m left with the image of the ACLU suing a Chinese restaurant over a patron burning her tongue on hot moo shoo pork because the restaurant didn’t post signs that said “our hot food is hot”.

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