What I love about China is the way it defies pigeonholing. As the historian Yi Zhongtian puts it:
“The Chinese people are frank yet tactful, honest yet sophisticated, suspicious yet gullible, stubborn yet flexible, unscrupulous yet loyal, advocate etiquette yet often appear unmannered, stand for the golden mean yet are extreme, value the quality of being thrifty yet like to parade their wealth, maintain traditions when convenient yet love to chase modern fashion, believe contentment brings happiness yet often daydream about becoming overnight millionaires, believe the word of the fortune teller yet lack affiliation to any religion, like to form groups yet often fight, love to be controversial yet know how to smooth things over, do not like to be meddlesome yet love to gossip, know how to “seize the day” yet always talk about taking life easy…”
For every experience that leads an individual to form a certain opinion of China, there are numerous others that have lead other people to form the opposite point of view. Read through the comments in any forum where people discuss Chinese issues and you will find petty squabbling and one-upmanship around every corner: “Dude, are you serious? You must of had your head up your ass ‘cos it’s not like that at all. I should know, I was there longer.” Given the veritable smorgasbord of contradictions inherent within Chinese society, exchanges such as this are inevitable, but no less pointless. Striving for an absolute understanding of China is a fruitless endeavour, as there are arguably as many Chinas as there are people who stay there for any length of time.
Rather than attempt to grasp something that doesn’t exist, then, I prefer to revel in the madness that is modern China. This morning I read a story that had me shaking my head with disbelief, but at the same time smiling inwardly. Just as I was allowing myself to believe that China is a sexually conservative country; what with the sex toy
that was mistaken for a mushroom, the transparent dress that caused uproar on the metro, and the marble penis that was censored on television, I found out that a theme park in southern China is offering half-price admission to women wearing miniskirts. The deputy manager of the park explained that the stipulation “aims to encourage female visitors to showcase their beauty in summer” by wearing skirts measuring 38 cm or less. Mao would be so proud.