An Interesting week in China

Written by Julen Madariaga on March 18th, 2011

So many things are happening outside China right now, I have the strange sensation that the roles have been reversed, and for once we are the onlookers instead of the targets of all eyes. It feels relaxing, and I note it’s had a great effect on the Chinese TV as well. After the absurdly oppressive weeks leading up to the NPC, they are now taking some time out.

bow japan flag

Some things I liked watching this week:

  • The coverage of the Earthquake continues to be great. Contrary to what some feared, the official media has prominently displayed the CCP leaders bowing to the Japanese flag, and some touching videos of Sichuanese victims remembering how Japan helped them in 2008. The hero of today? Not a soldier, but a young Chinese student who has decided to stay put in her post in Sendai, to continue with her duty in spite of the danger. I found it all really moving, perhaps because it was unexpected.
  • Another outside event: China has abstained from vetoing the UN resolution that allows “all necessary measures” against Libya if Gaddafi does not hold fire immediately. The same day the CCTV has openly explained this to the public, stating the possibility of foreign countries to intervene in Libyan affairs. I wonder if this would have been presented differently, had the tsunami not distracted attention from the Jasmine ideas—the vote itself would have probably been the same, it looks like there was no other option.
  • Finally back to China: there has been this amazing story of the salt, you can read it all in this interesting post. One of those crazy viral chains that spread like wildfire in China. Someone started a rumour that salt is essential against radiation, and within hours there was a nation-wide run on the convenience stores:


An interesting phenomenon that this blogger explains as lack of political trust. I agree, and I add the following:

What is really remarkable about China is that the hoarding was so completely irrational. I mean, why would you get salt of all things? Anyone can go on the internet and see third party information to check about the salt. The first thing I did Tuesday is goggle “salt iodine radiation” to find some expert advice.

It looks like Chinese people don’t have this instinct of looking for different sources, perhaps due to years of media control. In the end, this is not a story of distrust, but rather of blind trust: the trust of all those absurd sms chains started by some Zhejiang guys (salt merchants?) saying that you need to get salt.

What is it that makes Chinese society so conductive for viral chains? My guess: not only distrust of the government, but also the lack of a liberal education and the instinct to search the truth for themselves.

To be fair, it was mostly older people and uneducated peasants that acted this way, there is still hope for the young generations. My colleagues at work found it all rather funny, and I received lots of jokes. They were also spreading like wildfire on kaixinwang.

The Japanese are queuing to get water. The Americans are queuing to get iPad 2s. The Chinese are queuing to get salt.

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