Shanghai and Beijing – The Godfather, Parts 1 and 2

 

Back in 2004, I was sent to China to help implement Process Engineer Training in Shanghai, my first trip to Asia. The training was focused on properly applying the scientific method to aid in problem-solving. I made several more trips to China over the next ten years (as well as trips to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore), and I learned many things about communist China:

– The downtown architecture of Shanghai is like Godzilla meets The Jetsons with a dash of fireworks-influenced design.

– Always eat in restaurants, never from street vendors.

– Assume that your hotel room is bugged and everyone you meet will report anything you do or say.

– Always say “No” to any young woman who asks, “Do you want to party?”

– The popular tourist shopping locations, like Yu Gardens, offer a ton of cheap products, made by slave labor, and all of them are Godfather-like fronts for the CCP. And everything, especially watches, purses, and DVDs, is poorly made, even in shops that look legitimate.

– My VP and I went shopping in Yu Gardens. He’s a staunch Progressive, now retired near Portland (may he recognize what he helped unleashed). Paradoxically, he’s a hard, merit-based, hard-nosed competitive negotiator. We were told not to patronize anyone off the main shopping area because they were not govt-sanctioned. My VP was looking for a knockoff Prada purse and wasn’t having much luck. A young man came up and encourages us to follow him out of the main shopping area to a kind of shed with a flimsy covering curtain. Inside, he had a wall of purses. My VP found what he wanted and started negotiating. At that time, the value of Chinese money was very low compared to the dollar, so he was arguing for a discount of perhaps one or two dollars. Meanwhile, I looked glanced around the small 30×20 area and noticed a woman coming down some vertical stairs nailed to a wall, from a small square cut in the ceiling, carrying a baby. I looked up through the opening and saw reflected in a mirror up above a bedroom. I went up to my VP and said, “This isn’t a shop. This is their home.” He walked over, looked up, and paid the man full price.

– The night views are stunning, especially of The Bund, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and Nanjing Road. The nuclear power consumption is massive, and the millions of lights and fully lit roads remind you of what American cities were like before all the power consumption nonsense, with lower-watt yellow lighting replacing full, bright incandescent. American cities are now dark. Chinese cities are fully lit.

– Riverboats sport HUGE TV screens (plasma back then, LCD and beyond now) with advertising.

– Hundreds of brands and styles of smartphones everywhere. With such a massive consumer population, much more customization is evident. Remember, the larger area of Shanghai has a population of over 25 million, in a country population of billions. They are not impressed by our largest cities.

– If you like REAL reflexology (foot massages that are painful, but after, you feel like your walking in clouds), you can find 60- to 90-minute sessions for very cheap. Ask your flight attendant on the way to China for recommendations.

– There are so many people everywhere that everyone takes it in stride when a taxi or motorcycle/moped hits a pedestrian. Well, not the pedestrian.

– Any of your initial touristy excitement fades in a couple or three days. There is a nauseating sameness to all the apparent variety.

– Don’t be surprised when at the airport your plane is suddenly halted on the runway for a couple of hours while the Chinese military practices maneuvers overhead.

Beijing is different. Where there is a decided police presence in Shanghai, there is a military presence in Beijing. The difference in the feeling is very stark.

– Beijing is smog. There are clearly no constraints on pollution. My visit was before the Beijing Olympics and high-rise hotels were being built everywhere 24 hours per day. You could see the wielding torches all night long. (Shanghai, OTOH, is near the ocean, so its air gets wind-cleaning.

– If you go to that famous Peking Duck restaurant, you’ll notice, like other restaurant owners, this owner has pictures hung in the long entryway with himself and celebrities. Like Castro, Khrushchev, etc.

– Do NOT order the all-duck dinner, where everything from the appetizer, first course, second course, main course, and desert are all made out of duck. You will NEVER eat duck again!

– The Summer Palace is the most beautiful tourist attraction.

– The Great Wall (the little bit you can see) is interesting, but the bus ride there will scare the bejeezus out of you. Tiny two-lane road with cliffs, and pull-down seats that fill the walkway between the main seats, so you are packed in like a sardine.

– We took the Tienanmen Square / Forbidden City tour with a Chinese guide. There was a countdown clock above the square. The guide explained that it was counting down to the Beijing Olympics. Before that, it counted down when China would get back to Hong Kong. Next, it will count back when China gets back Taiwan. Nobody laughed under the massive portraits of Mao.

– The Forbidden City was being remodeled for the Olympics, but it was an interesting walk-through. Leaving the City, you are greeted with dozens of people holding children, many with missing limbs, begging for money.

I was happy to leave China. And happy never to return.

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  1. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    Could you get a feel for how the general populace felt about how the CCP runs the country ?

    • #1
  2. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Could you get a feel for how the general populace felt about how the CCP runs the country ?

    The same way you feel when the Godfather is behind your neighborhood and businesses. Half programmed to accept the benevolence of  rulers, and half who pretend. Shanghai has the illusion of capitalism, although it’s real for a subset who tow the line. Beijing more oppressive.

    But the group consciousness there is much stronger than the individualism we all know so well. You can’t really understand it until you’ve been there a couple of weeks. It dictates so much behavior.

    • #2
  3. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I wonder how long the WUHAN lab was in business and studying gain of function then? 

    • #3
  4. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    I wonder how long the WUHAN lab was in business and studying gain of function then?

    Since the masses mostly were routinely wearing masks against all the other viruses the Chinese gifted us, I’m sure something was going on. But it took Fauci to steer more money their way and set himself up to personally profit from vaccines. 

    • #4
  5. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    But the group consciousness there is much stronger than the individualism we all know so well. You can’t really understand it until you’ve been there a couple of weeks. It dictates so much behavior.

    I’d be interested in hearing more of your observations on that point.    My impression from what I’ve read  is that the attitude you mention is pervasive and ingrained for hundreds of years.   And that US policy makers are unappreciative of that fact.

    • #5
  6. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    But the group consciousness there is much stronger than the individualism we all know so well. You can’t really understand it until you’ve been there a couple of weeks. It dictates so much behavior.

    I’d be interested in hearing more of your observations on that point. My impression from what I’ve read is that the attitude you mention is pervasive and ingrained for hundreds of years. And that US policy makers are unappreciative of that fact.

    At the macro-level, the East-West difference is probably embedded for thousands of years. Books may give you some idea, but being in country for a while opens doors that are hard to articulate.

    One example: I was in Shanghai to do an org assessment. A neutral team interviews about 25% of an organization on three topics: organization, processes, people. While talking to one engineer who was clearly upset, I attempted to get to the root cause of his concern. It took several questions and this is what I learned: He was upset that an engineering colleague in Beijing had not received a promotion. The group identity was so strong that it was as if HE had not recieved the promotion.

    I saw this kind of thing manifest in other ways, and realized over time the challenges of Western management styles working in Asia.

    Another challenge relates to multiple generations and how differently they manifest a group consciousness. This is particularly obvious in Japan. A book like Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands may provide info on an older generation that does not apply to a younger one. Western influences do provide some paths to individuality, but in a hybrid mix with the group.

    Hope this helps.

    • #6
  7. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Interesting.  I have a restauranteur friend who for years has been under contract to run some dining facilities at Olympic games.  The company who hires him asked him to do so in Beijing.  He said, “sure,” and arranged for an orientation / planning trip.  He found it . . . interesting.  Indescribable air pollution, filth, hideous smells everywhere.  Inadequate trustworthy supplies of any sort.  All water was going to have to be trucked in.  He came home, called the company, told them, eh, NO.

    I know only bits of his former life.  I do know that it was fraught with, let’s say, adventures.  Apart from the fact that it became obvious that he knew a heck of a lot about many things that he didn’t talk about, there was the spent LAW hanging on his office wall.  At least I always assumed it was spent.  Any time he travels outside the continental United States, a body guard is assigned to him.  On his return to the U.S. he called the body guard and gave him the news.  The body guard responded, “THANK YOU!”  I can only guess.

    • #7
  8. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Excellent post Mark. Daughter an investment banker who made several trips to China. Liked Shanghai; Beijing gave her the willies with the absurd traffic and  pollution.  Does not want to go back. But her brother will be getting married to a Chinese girl in a Shanghai suburb next year. So arranging our trip. 

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    Another challenge relates to multiple generations and how differently they manifest a group consciousness. . . . A book like Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands may provide info on an older generation that does not apply to a younger one. 

    There is a significant difference between the generations in China.  

    About five years ago, I read two books by Zhu Yongxin. One of the topics he wrote extensively about was the cultural impact of the one-child policy. Before the policy became the law, China had a very strong family-centered culture, one that Americans have always felt a certain affinity with. Families had lots of kids, and intergenerational households were the norm. 

    Family life is critical to a country’s political stability. It is the unseen political force that shapes our world. A government can do whatever it wants to people no one else cares about. But it cannot get away with that if a person has a loving family. Ergo strong families are key to keeping government power in check, and such families are fewer in number in modern China. 

    Furthermore, within modern middle-class Chinese families today, there is a lop-sided power dynamic where the family’s one child rules the roost, as they say. These kids bring that attitude into school with them, to the dismay of their teachers. 

    But there is some good news, I think. Zhu writes at length on how the younger generation is not motivated by socialism. The subject does not resonate with them. Well, of course not. Socialism was interesting to the Chinese middle class because it would assume some of their family obligations. Without those obligations, socialism has nothing to sell to the younger generation. These kids are all about entrepreneurship and making lots of money. That’s good for the western world, frankly. 

    Also, China has been sending a lot of young people to the United States for their post-high school education since the late 1970s when Zhou Enlai encouraged it and the CCP paid for it. And there is a strong Christian presence in China: 44 million

    I think it is impossible to say which way China will go over the next twenty years. 

    • #9
  10. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    Another challenge relates to multiple generations and how differently they manifest a group consciousness. . . . A book like Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands may provide info on an older generation that does not apply to a younger one.

    There is a significant difference between the generations in China.

    About five years ago, I read two books by Zhu Yongxin. One of the topics he wrote extensively about was the cultural impact of the one-child policy. Before the policy became the law, China had a very strong family-centered culture, one that Americans have always felt a certain affinity with. Families had lots of kids, and intergenerational households were the norm.

    Family life is critical to a country’s political stability. It is the unseen political force that shapes our world. A government can do whatever it wants to people no one else cares about. But it cannot get away with that if a person has a loving family. Ergo strong families are key to keeping government power in check, and such families are fewer in number in modern China.

    Furthermore, within modern middle-class Chinese families today, there is a lop-sided power dynamic where the family’s one child rules the roost, as they say. These kids bring that attitude into school with them, to the dismay of their teachers.

    But there is some good news, I think. Zhu writes at length on how the younger generation is not motivated by socialism. The subject does not resonate with them. Well, of course not. Socialism was interesting to the Chinese middle class because it would assume some of their family obligations. Without those obligations, socialism has nothing to sell to the younger generation. These kids are all about entrepreneurship and making lots of money. That’s good for the western world, frankly.

    Also, China has been sending a lot of young people to the United States for their post-high school education since the late 1970s when Zhou Enlai encouraged it and the CCP paid for it. And there is a strong Christian presence in China: 44 million.

    I think it is impossible to say which way China will go over the next twenty years.

    I’m somewhat curious how the Chinese people will react to the apparent removal of all restrictions on family size. After more than a generation of artificially restricting families to one child only, will people be interested in having multiple children? Will they have any cultural memory of how to raise multiple children?

    • #10
  11. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    Another challenge relates to multiple generations and how differently they manifest a group consciousness. . . . A book like Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands may provide info on an older generation that does not apply to a younger one.

    There is a significant difference between the generations in China.

    About five years ago, I read two books by Zhu Yongxin. One of the topics he wrote extensively about was the cultural impact of the one-child policy. Before the policy became the law, China had a very strong family-centered culture, one that Americans have always felt a certain affinity with. Families had lots of kids, and intergenerational households were the norm.

    Family life is critical to a country’s political stability. It is the unseen political force that shapes our world. A government can do whatever it wants to people no one else cares about. But it cannot get away with that if a person has a loving family. Ergo strong families are key to keeping government power in check, and such families are fewer in number in modern China.

    Furthermore, within modern middle-class Chinese families today, there is a lop-sided power dynamic where the family’s one child rules the roost, as they say. These kids bring that attitude into school with them, to the dismay of their teachers.

    But there is some good news, I think. Zhu writes at length on how the younger generation is not motivated by socialism. The subject does not resonate with them. Well, of course not. Socialism was interesting to the Chinese middle class because it would assume some of their family obligations. Without those obligations, socialism has nothing to sell to the younger generation. These kids are all about entrepreneurship and making lots of money. That’s good for the western world, frankly.

    Also, China has been sending a lot of young people to the United States for their post-high school education since the late 1970s when Zhou Enlai encouraged it and the CCP paid for it. And there is a strong Christian presence in China: 44 million.

    I think it is impossible to say which way China will go over the next twenty years.

    I’m somewhat curious how the Chinese people will react to the apparent removal of all restrictions on family size. After more than a generation of artificially restricting families to one child only, will people be interested in having multiple children? Will they have any cultural memory of how to raise multiple children?

    No. The older generation that did is basically gone. Not only that, there may be a temporary(?) delay in the process:

     Yes, you read it right:

    Feihe, China’s largest infant formula maker, said sales would drop sharply in the next one to two years since many women cannot bear children within six months of coronavirus vaccination — and thus delaying births.

     

    Hat tip, Diana West.

    • #11