Did anybody read this article in last Thursday’s Times, about how local Chinese governments are forcing parents whose kids died in the Sichuan earthquake to sign (hilariously propagandistically worded) contracts granting them payoffs for the grief, in exchange for which they must agree to cease investigating or advocating for investigation of the surely shoddy construction of the schools in which their kids died? It’s the most emblematic thing about China I’ve read in a while, and goes well with a couple more delightful news items from this week: The Chinese Government Is Putting Up Great Walls in Front of Rundown Parts of Beijing So Visitors Don’t Get the Idea That It Isn’t a Perfect City of the Future, Which Would Be Embarrassing to China, and Whoops, Rampant Unregulated Growth Has Left Beijing So Polluted That Olympic Athletes Will Have to Wear Masks While They’re There, Which Would Be Embarrassing to China.
I find this all pretty fascinating. The New Yorker‘s been sending its critics all over China to review buildings and profile musicians lately, and the house-style cocktail party-chatter arts reviews and personality pieces can’t help but illuminate the scene and character of the country (or rather, the cities), but I’d prefer more pieces like this one, about changes in the nature of the economy (but not the structure of the government or mindset of the people) and how it affects a single family and their rural town. It’s the kind of on-the-ground reportage that gives a closer sense of the practical impact of the society’s structure. Which reminds me: for exactly that perspective, relayed in often cinematic narrative arcs and tracing pretty much the entire trajectory of Chinese Communism from Mao to now, you simply must read dissident journalist (and underground phenomenon) Liao Yiwu’s extraordinary collection of interviews, The Corpse Walker. And along those lines, Jia Zhang-ke’s films The World and Still Life are gorgeous, formalist (and existential) portraits of China’s place in the global economy, and how it trickles down to its foot soldiers.