Having spent almost a week in Shenzhen, I can’t say I did much. I spent the first few days immersed in some well-deserved and much-needed moss-gathering: I hung around the hostel, wrote a few letters and a lot of e-mails, took care of some outstanding pieces of business (Light Fellowship requirements, etc), updated the blog (as you know by now), read a bit, and wandered the neighborhood in which the hostel is situated. There’s actually a lot to do in the city proper, if you want to go to an amusement park or a flower garden or the beach - however, my last few days were marked by a lack of enough money to enter the first, interest to visit the second, or sunlight to merit the third. Still, I’m happy with my visit, and there were a few memorable moments. But first, let me enlighten you with the highlights of my Wikipedia and museum learning:
Shenzhen has, depending on who you ask, either thousands or only thirty-one years of history. The area itself has been inhabited since the late Neolithic, as some recent archaeological digs attest. For most of its history, it was a collection of small seaside settlements that relied mostly on aquaculture (as it turns out, this is actually a word, and it means exactly what you’d think it might), as well as the trade derived thereof (we’ll call that “aquacommerce”)… probably with a healthy mix of aquasports and aquaparties when folks needed to relax. People from the Shenzhen area had some measure of control over traffic up the Pearl River to Canton (Guangzhou/广州), farmed the same camphor that gave Hong Kong ("fragrant harbor") its name, revolted against foreign influence, formed into workers' groups and went on general strike against the Nationalist government's policies, and did the sorts of things that a lot of other towns did but which one would find in the museum of a city that wants very much to prove that it has a history.
See, Shenzhen-as-city is incredibly young, entirely a product of the Opening & Reform. When the government began designating Special Economic Zones, to be open to investment and receive government aid (mostly in the form of soldiers/engineers, it seems; the central government itself had very little money at the time), Shenzhen was one of the first to be chosen. It was seen as an "experiment," later a "miracle," and finally a "model": in 30 years, a cluster of fishing villages has grown up into a financial-business-tech-etc center of 4,000,000 people. Although the county-turned-city seems to be promoting culture (I was living next to a group of modern art studios built out of a former industrial complex), like Hong Kong it is scoffed at by many educated Chinese as a "cultural desert." To be honest, I did get the feeling that I was living in a plasticized wonderland, and Shenzhen is notable for its hyper-commercialization, high standard & cost of living (comparable to Canton and Shanghai), and few cultural offerings.
Things I amused myself with instead:
1. Being impressed by really cool architecture.
2. Taking cute photos.
3. Fiddling with my camera's exposure and taking artsy photos. (Yes, I know you can do this with fancy cameras and/or Photoshop, too.) My two favorites:
The two-part building in the background houses government departments; the bridge-like covering seems entirely aesthetic.
4. Exploring, and parkour-ing a tad. Whether it's because of the architecture or the lay of the land, a lot of the buildings in Shenzhen are both terraced and open, with one level blending into the other to the point that I got thoroughly confused more than once. (Also, because the climate is so warm, you'll find trees and flowers even on the roof... which makes things even more mind-boggling, not to mention pretty.) At any rate, I had a blast wandering (sometimes in circles), and found a nice place to practice a bit of climbing and jumping. I'll come clean: I hurt myself in the process and in the end I got so many strange and concerned looks that I settled for a small moral victory and then desisted.
Made for parkour
This is a roof of a multi-floor bookstore... and also the same level from which the shot of the city government offices (see above) was taken. I don't understand it either.
5. Getting involved in altercations with the police. As I was passing the government offices on my way back to the hostel, I noticed a ruckus at the main gate of what seemed like the equivalent of Shenzhen's city hall. It seemed that a crowd of people (~40) wanted to enter the building, and were being blocked by a dozen or so policemen. The group, which seemed to be made up mostly of working-class men led by a female organizer (lawyer?), eventually moved back and settled down on the lawn just outside the building. I was told that they were there en masse to sue their employer, who they said had treated them badly. I wasn't clear on the situation or the regulations for entering City Hall, and frankly it wasn't any of my business, but as I was walking past I saw something that made me really, really angry: One of the policemen was using a video camera to record the group of petitioners.
It was clear that he wasn't doing it to have a record of the incident in case something went wrong and there was a police brutality lawsuit, an argument which only seems plausible in a liberal democracy. No, he was very methodically panning across the faces of the crowd, and he turned the camera off when he had finished. It's a tactic of intimidation that I've seen in videos before but never in real life, and the message it carries is very simple: "We have you on tape now. We know who you are."
Within liberal-democracy paradigm, this means absolutely nothing. But in China, it's a loaded statement. Here, you can be beaten to death for opposing the City Management, sentenced to forced labor for "subversive" Twitter comments on sensitive issues, or "disappeared" for trying to visit the wrong person; a debate teammate was just down the hall when one of the Tibetan students on campus here was dragged out of her room by police, probably for protesting the announcement that all core classes in Tibet will be taught in Mandarin by 2015.
Foreigners are a relatively privileged class in China: unless we're particularly troublesome, we generally don't have to worry about police kicking down our doors or arresting us on trumped-up charges, or beating us if we start saying and doing things we're not supposed to say and do. But your average Chinese citizen don't have that protection, unless he is already in the public eye, has connections, or is part of the government himself - and sometimes even that isn't enough.
This time, I slightly outstayed the "foreigners' welcome." It may have been the photo I took, but it was probably just the fact that my hanging around on the sidewalk was starting to make the police nervous. At any rate, after ten minutes or so I was approached by two policemen. One asked my nationality, wanted to know what I was doing there, and demanded that I delete the photo I had taken. (I said I had already deleted it, and they couldn't find it so they let it drop. Actually, I had slipped my memory card into my pocket ten minutes before, when they angrily yelled over to me that I wasn't allowed to take photos there.) The other policeman was the camcorder wielder, and made sure he got a good shot of my face.
"Don't even think about taking that photo. Yeah, I'm talking to you." Oops.
I admit that, ever so slightly, it made me nervous - how many foreign Spanish passport holders could there be in Shenzhen at one time? (I considered lying about my nationality, but police have the right to check ID and I didn't want to give anyone real grounds to investigate me.) Fortunately, their threats and requests that I leave having worked their magic, I soon departed, and nothing seems to have come of it: after all, I'm back in Beijing.
But more on Beijing later. For now, I bring you an EJRT Production, a translation that I worked on this afternoon instead of doing other things that are probably more important. As you may have heard, coinciding with Hu Jintao's visit to America came the unveiling of a brief ad for China in New York's Times Square. It's the short version of a new 17-minute Chinese PR video, which will soon be showing in Chinese embassies. As I was watching the latter, I noticed some small discrepancies between the English audio and the Chinese subtitles (or vice versa), so I decided to re-translate from Chinese the portion about politics and law, as well as a section from the very end, and compare it to the English that they provide. It turns out that besides the obvious errors - with such a high production value you'd think they could have done a better job - a lot of the discrepancies are simply stylistic. That said, there are a few points of departure that I'm sure are intentional, and I've highlighted them below. I've also included the Chinese text at the end. For reference, this is the section beginning at 11:20 of the video. If you're not interested in these details, or in how I translate things (I wouldn't be either), feel free to skip to the end for the punch line.
I. In English (directed at the Western world):
Expanding Democracy with Stable Authority
Heroes of China have always struggled during complex stages of development to build democracy. It is not hard to imagine how hard this has been. Today around 900 million people around the Chinese countryside enjoy village voting rights. The world applauds such training for democracy; after all, before flourishing nationally, free elections must begin at the village level.
The National People’s Congress remains China’s supreme legislative body. Since the late 1970s, far fairer and more transparent “margin elections” have been used to elect NPC delegates. Here, the most important decisions in the country are made.
‘We can really feel we are the master of the country.’
‘People of our country feel happy because the development of our country is moving fast.’
This is China’s period of greatest change. A proper legal framework is starting to replace the habit of personal relationships as the principal weapon and defense for people’s interests.
‘Civilization of legal already exits in everyone’s daily life.’
‘The development of construction of democracy and legal system is improving everyday.’
‘Consciousness of law is increasing in China, and people know how to protect their right by law gradually.’
“I wish China will be more beautiful”
“China, More prosperity”
“China, More wonderful”
“China, Move on”
II. In Chinese (directed at Chinese viewers); retranslated into English by yours truly
Democracy, With Authority
In this complicated state of social development, sparing no effort to construct democracy has been the ideal of countless generations of great, aspiring people. That this process is arduous, winding, and even circuitous is not hard to imagine. Today, in the 900,000,000-person countryside, China has already realized elections of village leaders. The international community has noted that this is the beginning of a sort of “democratic training.” It is from Chinese society’s vastest, lowest level that democratic elections must be tried.
The body wielding the greatest power in China is the National People’s Congress. Here, decisions are made on China’s most important issues. Starting in the 1970s, procedures to determine whether qualifications are met have gradually brought about elections with discrepancies [note: as in, non-unanimous? More than one candidate?] that are fairer and carry more competitive meaning. In China, this is the greatest authoritative power, and no one is above it.
“We really do feel that we are the country’s masters.”
“Truly, our China has developed especially fast. We the people feel incredibly happy.”
This is an era of massive change for China. The ideology of rule of law has begun to replace the longtime way of ‘getting on in the world’ that people are used to; it has played the part of both weapon and shield, and had a deep impact on the people.
“Civility and the rule of law have already penetrated every aspect of ordinary people’s lives.”
“Right now, we are making rapid progress in building democratic rule of law.”
“The legal consciousness of the Chinese is getting stronger and stronger; we are gradually understanding how to use the law to protect our own rights.”
“In the future, I hope our homeland will be even more beautiful.”
“More and more powerful”
“More and more wonderful”
III. For reference: the original Chinese
4. The Punch Line
The bolded sections (discrepancies), side by side:
1. Expanding Democracy with Stable Authority (theirs)
Democracy, With Authority (mine)
Sounds nicer in their translation, doesn't it?
2. after all, before flourishing nationally, free elections must begin at the village level. (theirs)
It is from Chinese society’s vastest, lowest level that democratic elections must be tried. (mine)
National-level democracy sounds like a pretty set goal in their English version; the Chinese sounds more, shall we say, tentative.
3. personal relationships (theirs)
the longtime way of ‘getting on in the world’ (mine)
The latter sounds to me more euphemistic, less charged with blame.
4. “China, More prosperity” (theirs)
“More and more powerful” (mine)
I'm sure that this last discrepancy was no error. After all, part of the reason for this whole PR campaign - especially the Times Square ad - is no doubt to project a friendly face after a year of diplomatic knuckle-cracking by the Chinese government.
Will this ad help rehabilitate China's image, or work toward evening China's score in the soft power department? As I get ready to take the bus downtown and see the second (or is it the third?) Narnia with a friend, I can't help feel that in this respect, China still has a long way to go.