Friday, June 22, 2007

Slaves to Ostriching

The brick slave case is so horrible in so many different ways that it leaves one groping for adequate language and thought processes to deal with it all. What strikes me most, however, in the accounts I've been reading, is how the whole thing was allowed and de facto encouraged by local police and authorities. A common excuse that I've heard -- echoed by friends here and media -- is that the brick kilns are isolated and remote, therefore nobody knew what was going on. Bullshit. In a country of 1 billion, 400 million people, how isolated can you get? Especially when you are in places like Henan, the most populous province in China. Also, the fact that teenage kids were disappearing en masse from the streets is only un-suspicious to the most intellectually dormant.

What is more likely: the unfortunate and pervasive trend of willfully shutting out "bad news" in hopes that it will go away. It seems that the desire for social stability is so great that many people in positions of authority here will ostrich their way into what inevitably becomes even worse news.

The following excerpt from Nanfang Zhoumo, translated by Roland Soong of ESWN, displays the kind of aggressive intransigience that is so disturbing. It describes a mother of a missing child pleading with the police for help:

At the various public security bureaus in Gaoping city (Jincheng), Hongdong county (Linfen) and other places, Yang Aizhi knelt in front of the office of the director and cried until they got a letter that asked the local public security bureaus to cooperate. With the letters, they were able to rescue several dozen child laborers.

Why do you have to beg the PSB to do something yourself that they should be pro-actively doing themselves? Are they in collusion with brick kiln owners? Perhaps occassionally. But what is more likely is simply the unwillingness to disturb the status quo, even if that status quo is child slavery.

There is, perhaps, a twisted logic to it: I can imagine an idealistic young policeman at the PSB, getting a tip that something is amiss. Telling the captain he's going out to investigate, when he gets called into the office...Do you really want to get involved in this thing? Imagine the paperwork! And what if you piss off the wrong people? You know, the local or provincial leaders might not look too favorably on a cop who shakes out all this dirty laundry... The young cop reconsiders and retires to his desk, whatever the Chinese equivalent of a doughnut is, in hand.

If they were really serious about rooting this kind of thing out here, they'd not only go after factory owners; they'd look for a PSB which had documented complaints about kidnapping and child slavery, and prosecute the PSB's leadership as well. As long as those who are supposed to uphold the law are not held accountable for doing so, the kind of willful, criminal blindness that undermines so many efforts here at progress will always win.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jobs Available: Young Brick Makers Wanted

Are you aged 6 to 16 and tired of those pesky parents and those droning teachers? Are you looking for a change of pace, and work that is challenging and builds character? Then we have a job for you!

The Tonggong Brick Factory seeks 1000 new workers due to, er, unforeseen staff reductions, for the exciting job of making bricks 23 hours out of every 24-hour day. Located in the scenic loess plateaus of Henan and Shanxi, our factories are your home away from home.

Your teachers and parents urge education, but that is SO feudal; we know where the real revolution lies, right? In making money! As we get rich off your brick making, you'll be treated to an experience that will teach you the value of hard work. One that may theoretically allow you to get rich yourself one day, after years of psychological help.

Aside from the totally un-remunerated nature of the work, benefits at our factory also include:

- Half a bowl of delicious straw-and-grass gruel a day
- free kung fu sparring and beatdowns from older factory bosses
- free weight reduction program (see straw gruel)
- free tanning salon effect from the hellfire-hot kilns
- a chance for friendly visits from local police and officials

If you are interested in this job, please simply linger in your neighborhood park unaccompanied and look for a shady character in a van. Or find us on the World Wide Web at

If Only I Didn't Know Now What I Didn't Know Then

Things I wish had known before coming to China...hmmm...

I wish I'd figured out that when I started studying Chinese, I was in a place where three languages were spoken, the least popular of which was the language I was attempting to study - Putonghua, Mandarin Chinese. A bit like going to a border town in Texas to learn the Queen's English...

And I wish I'd known that perfect pronunciation in the local dialect, Chaoshanhua, is achieved by pinching one's nose and forcefully shouting, all the while channeling the sounds that a Muscovy duck in ecstasy might make.

I wish I'd known that those Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movies, with the rapid-fire dubbed English, were not anomalies of translation: Everything in China is dubbed. The same strange movements of the mouth are present even here, with their own language, where the spoken word seems to come anywhere but from the actors' lips.

I wish I'd known the difference between what is publicly said and privately done is a difference of Great Wall-ish proportions.

I wish I'd known how much better Chinese food in China is than Chinese food in the States was. And how colorful the names could be: "Go Down in the Road Countryside, It is Made Up of Coriander and Pig Hand," "Pig Elbow that An Ancient Poet Liked Very Much," and "Fuck Black Pepper Bowl of (random Chinese character)."

I wish I'd known how two years can turn into four, and more, and how you could spend a life getting sucked into, "If I just stay a little longer, I'll figure it all out..."

I wish I'd known what now looked like, how hard it would be to leave the strangeness, the time you've put in, the luminously beautiful girl you speak to through the computer screen...

I wish I could not know it all again.