As we pass the Forbidden City, my Chinese friend Kun points to the surveillance cameras that are to be found everywhere on and around Tienanmen, and I take pictures of them. We keep on, walking faster than everybody else on Chang'an Avenue, the very nexus of political power in China. We stand out, and we are surrounded by soldiers and police. I decide it's time to talk politics.
With the giant portrait of chairman Mao Zedong on our left, I ask Kun if he has been inside the Forbidden City. He has not. I ask him why. Doesn't he like chairman Mao? Oh, it's nothing to do with that. But his life is jazz, and jazz only. Kun needs every day and every hour for rehearsing, practicing. He has no time for monuments or sight-seeing.
The very same morning I had shown him Facebook. I have a proxy program that makes the Internet accessible to me, also in countries where it has been blocked by the authorities. Kun is not overly curious, but asks me what Facebook is? I tell him, it's is like a Western QZone. Kun nods. He is of course on QZone, China's answer to Facebook. 530 million users, while Weibo has merely 230 million.
I tell him, in Europe, many people believe that his generation is dying to be on Facebook. 24 year old Kun looks puzzled. Why? "Many in Europe and the US think that many in China think that Europe and the US is better than China." "No, no, no, no, no ... China is my country," he says. "Well," I say, "in Europe, some people believe that if people in China could, they would all run away to the West." Kun doubles over, laughing. He looks at me, incredulous, "No?" "Oh, yes." Kun is shaking with laughter.
When arriving in Beijing, I expected to spend the next ten days in a society with rigid social control and a multitude of restrictions and taboos. I was also assuming a lack of individuality and a comprehensive set of collective norms that would make Beijingers a homogenous lot.
They were not. I expected social control, but Beijing embraced me with its vibrant chaos. Beijing is a happy city, with total freedom of individual expression, even if you flag a cannabis banner in your storefront window and spout dreadlocks. Mini-skirts are high fashion, you can drink your beer in the streets, you can walk with your ghetto-blaster on your shoulder blaring hiphop, you can do exactly as you please. The police won't even frown at you. I looked for all the miniscule signs of social repression that one might find in Belarus or Iran. I saw absolutely nothing of the kind.
It took me just two days to realize this, and as the week progressed, I came to understand that everything I had been told or had read in preparation for my Beijing quest, was severely biased by Eurocentric prejudice and a number of arrogant, post-colonial misconceptions. And in the following posts, I shall tell you all about it.
As we take the stairs down to the underground passage that leads to the Tienanmen Square itself, Kun looks at me with a serious face, "There is one thing I don't like about China." Once again, my preconceptions overtake me, as I expect him to give me an indication of political discontent.
A sad expression settles on his face: "There is no jazz in China. China is pop. That's very bad."
* In September
2011, Morten Jorgensen travelled to Beijing in China for research on his
forthcoming novel BRENT. This series expresses his non-novel related
reflections on China and China's relationship to the West.
THE NEXT RESEARCH TRIP
5 years ago