Why I’m Leaving China

By the time you’re reading this post, I’m on a plane with my wife, bound for the United States, where we plan to live at least for the immediate future. I generally attempt to avoid getting personal with this blog, but in light of some recent events I thought I’d take a moment to explain my reasons.

First, let’s get one thing straight: this has nothing to do with Yang Rui. Yes, he did threaten to sue me and suggest that the police should “investigate my background” after I called for him to be fired in a Weibo post. (For more on his original post, see this). Although the outpouring of vitriol on weibo that followed certainly wasn’t pleasant, none of that had anything to do with my decision to leave, which had been made long before Yang Rui shoved his foot into his mouth (and halfway down his own throat) on weibo. I do plan to address the whole “Yang Rui incident” in a post in the near future, so stay tuned.

Anyway, why am I leaving? Obviously the biggest reasons are personal; I don’t want to get into any of it here except to say that I think it’s what’s best for my family at this particular moment. It’s not anything scandalous or secret, though, I just don’t feel the need to broadcast much about my personal life. However, there are other things that helped reinforce this decision that I think are worth discussing here because they represent major problems China has yet to fully own up to.

[Update: Oh, fine. Since everybody feels it necessary to speculate about my life, here are the personal details, as well as proof Yang Rui had nothing to do with it.]

I like breathing

The first is the air pollution. It’s almost cliche to complain about the air quality in Beijing; it’s terrible and everyone knows it. People here just deal as best they can. Some wear masks outside, and those wealthy enough buy expensive air filters for their homes. Most people just grin and breathe it. I wore masks from time to time, but for the most part, I just breathed it in, too.

Here’s the thing, though: as a foreign citizen, there’s really nothing forcing me to live in Beijing. It is, in many ways, a wonderful city, and it’s probably the most fascinating, exciting place I have ever lived. However, it was also killing me. That’s not really hyperbole; cancer rates in Beijing have risen 60% over the past decade even while smoking rates have remained steady. Studies this spring confirmed a link between air pollution and premature death, even in places far less polluted than Beijing. A World Bank report reportedly found that in China, poor air quality causes nearly a million premature deaths each year. That might not sound like a lot, but some back-of-the-napkin calculations based on China’s death rate show that more than 8% of all deaths in China are premature and related to air pollution.

I’m sure there are plenty of arguments to be made about those numbers, what defines “premature,” and whether or not scientists can really be sure those deaths are all linked to air pollution. But that doesn’t really matter. If you’re in Beijing and you have functioning eyes, you know that things are not healthy. Here’s a picture I took from my apartment last year. It hasn’t been doctored in any way, nor is this even a particularly unusual sight in Beijing (it was taken as part of a series of photos I took each day from the same spot for a separate project).

Looking at that and thinking about your own lungs is bad enough. But thinking about my wife, and thinking about having kids, it gets worse. If my wife were pregnant, would I want her breathing this? Would I want my small child breathing this?

Obviously there are millions of families in Beijing, and they deal. Certainly, we could deal, too. But the question I couldn’t stop asking myself was why should we? On a personal level, it’s a more difficult choice than you might think, at least for me. I like my lungs, sure — they’ve treated me well thus far — but I like Beijing too, and whatever else one might say about this city, it’s never boring. But adding a wife and hypothetical future kids into the mix, the question gets a lot simpler for me. Given the choice to be elsewhere, this just wasn’t the right place to put down deep roots.

Eating is also fun

The other big reason — and this applies to all of China, really — is food safety. Things have simply gotten to the point that it’s impossible to feel confident that what you’re eating is healthy, or even real, unless you’re on a farm. Check out this site, for example, which lists the food items that have been publicly reported in food safety scandals over just the last 8 years. I’ll wait a while for you to finish scrolling through that massive list, which includes basically any food item you can imagine. Oh, each name doesn’t represent just one scandal either, some of the more common food items have scores of reported problems associated with them.

Of course, that’s just what has been discovered and reported publicly. Buying only imported food is a solution, but it’s a highly expensive one; above my means, and above the means of the vast majority of Chinese. And while organic foods are gaining popularity here, they’re also expensive, and there have been scandals involving fake, not-really-organic “organic” food, so even that isn’t entirely safe.

Again, people can and do deal with this. I’ve been eating the food here on and off for four years, and while my stomach has protested from time to time, it hasn’t exploded. Again, though, when forced to wonder ‘why choose to eat this stuff?’ I don’t have a great answer. Not that the food anywhere is entirely safe, of course — certainly it isn’t in the US — but there are plenty of places safer than here. And again, thinking about kids and a family, why choose to put down roots in a country where milk power, in one form or another, seems to make kids sick in a new way every year?

I realize no one really gives a crap about why I’m leaving, but I mention this because I think it’s as significant a problem as economic and social factors when you look at the trend of Chinese elites leaving, or sending their families out of, China. Corruption is a huge problem, sure, and if the economic slowdown continues that’s only going to increase the flow of people leaving. But I think there are probably also plenty of people like me who are less motivated by politics and economics than they are by the safety of their families and/or their fondness for their own lungs and digestive systems.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by China’s political situation. For someone who truly believes China would be better served by a system that afforded its people, at the very least, a free press and the true rule of law, this has been a depressing couple of years. Depressing, soul-crushing and occasionally terrifying. But if I’m honest with myself, even with the political situation, I really think I’d be staying in Beijing if I felt like I could breathe safely.

I don’t think I’m alone there. I know plenty of families in Beijing, and it’s not my intent to criticize anyone else here; I’m just trying to explain my own rationale. But these are issues everyone here struggles with. And for those Chinese and foreign who, like me, are lucky enough to have the means to move elsewhere, some are going to make that choice. As the data on pollution gets clearer, perhaps more are going to make that choice. And while China has made some strides in agreeing to report things like PM2.5 publicly in some cities, I unfortunately don’t see the pollution problem disappearing anytime soon.

This isn’t really even China’s fault. OK, yes it is, but it’s also a fairly natural (if disgusting) stage of development. I don’t know if industrial-era London every looked quite this bad, but I gather it wasn’t the cleanest place ever. The thing is, though, would you choose to live in industrial revolution London?

That choice, I think, is part of China’s problem. As Chinese salaries go up and the education system gets better — and here’s hoping those things do improve despite what’s looking like a fairly ugly bump in the economic road — more and more people are going to have the same choice I have.

What does this mean for the blog?

Absolutely nothing. As longtime readers may recall, I lived in the US for part of 2009-2010, and my blogging output only became more prolific during that time. There are some impending changes — all for the good, I assure you — but it’s not quite time to announce any of that yet. In the meantime, regularly-scheduled curmudgeoning will resume as soon as I’ve slept off the last of the jet lag and dealt with the slowly-unfolding nightmare that is my life as the owner of a motor vehicle.

You may also notice a trend back towards more translations, as I tend to feel more inclined to translate things while I’m in the US just to keep my skills sharp…or make them less dull, anyway. However since I’m reading dozens of news articles in Chinese every day for my day job at this point, I make no guarantees with regards to more translations. (The other problem is that a lot of my favorite blogs have really dried up as their owners move to microblogging and weibo or Twitter, and there are already plenty of great blogs that deal with what’s being said on microblogs. Here’s one excellent one.)

Are you coming back?

Yes, obviously. I have written this fairly pragmatic post instead of an emotional, bittersweet farewell piece because I have every intention of returning with some frequency (visa permitting, of course), and every intention of staying fully engaged and more up-to-date than I have ever been before even while living in the US. This, again, touches on the big plans I mentioned above that I’m not ready to share publicly yet, but suffice it to say that China and I will never be strangers.

One Last Personal Note

I do want to take the time to apologize to many of my friends in Beijing, who may find this news a bit of a shock. I was trying to keep my departure plans very quiet on the off-chance that Yang Rui actually did have friends somewhere in the PSB and might attempt to fuck with me or my wife in some way. My email has been hacked before, so I wanted to be a little careful even with that — perhaps a bit paranoid but there were people out to get me. It’s terribly depressing to me that that’s the sort of thing I even had to think about, but if I’ve learned one thing from the whole Yang Rui experience it is not to underestimate that man’s ability to be a petty bully. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank all of you properly for all of your help, and for generally making my life here awesome.

But of course, I will have the opportunity to do that, the next time I’m back in China (or the next time you’re back in the US for a visit). Next time I’m back in the ‘Jing, the drinks are on me.

UPDATE: Because a bunch of people have asked, just to clarify: this doesn’t have any effect on the documentary film project either, we have already completed all the filming for that.

96 thoughts on “Why I’m Leaving China”

  1. To SKChueng:

    You are definitely a kissup whenever you see a white/Jewish man. Your name seems to be all over those blogs sphere controlled by those democrazy-spreading, fleadom-advocating and human riots -stirring foreign extremists. You are a typical 狐藉虎威 sellout.

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  2. To getout,
    you know so little of what you speak, which is evident every time you open your mouth. “democrazy”? “fleadom”? C’mon, only little kids with stunted intellects engage in silliness like that…yet here you are.

    So, do you actually have the balls to tell us where you’re posting from? Or will we only get that info at Custer’s discretion? Cuz man, the irony will be quite delicious if you’re calling him a “hypocrite” when he was the one who was in China while you were sitting on your tushy in a place like the US of A.

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  3. @getoutofchina
    Is this the best FQ attack dogs can do?
    Its like being gnawed to death by a dead sheep.

    SKC. Are you controlling all the tentacles of this global democratic octopus? I’ve read about types like you in James Bond novels.

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  4. Easy guys, Yang Rui (I don’t know for sure if ‘getout’ actually is Yang Rui checking in via VPN because of his beloved CCP’s censorship, but it’s a good working theory) is just blowing off some steam. He knows he’s got to go back to work on monday to talk the same crap he always does.

    @MFC – And that makes him right wing? Last I checked, the left’s pretty cool with free markets and democracy, and both the right and the left think there should they should be subject to checks and balances.

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  5. western liberal (and also neocons) elites and their supporters have this huge double standard: you do what i say and i dont practice what i preach.

    trying to force your ‘ideal’ values down the throat of the chinese people is essentially the same as forcing opium down the throat of the poor and defensless Chinese more than one hundred and fifty years ago.

    just look at what they have brought to the iraqi people. no, this was not the desire of the whole american people; it was a scheme by the neocons who lied thru their teeth in order for them to bring ‘democrazy, fleadon, and human riots’ to the iraqis.

    Chinese people don’t need those sexual pervert english teachers to lecture us about ‘values’, ‘democrazy’, ‘fleadom’ and ‘human riots.’

    those NGOs who support such activities are supported by people like George Soros, who delusionally believe that by spreading his and his tribe’s values, the world will be good for him and his fellows.

    but is it going to be good for the average people? inlcuing those in both develoed countries such as the US and developing countries such as China?

    illusion is an illusion.

    stop your preach of freedom of speech also. there is no such a a absolute freedom of speech. in the US, just look at those people like pat buchanan, helen thomas, ….

    stop lecture the chinese! it has become increasingly sick and pathetic.

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  6. LOL. No one is “forcing” ideals upon Chinese people. All the while, the CCP is “forcing” themselves onto Chinese people, so you should extract your head from your posterior and ponder upon that for a while. What Chinese people deserve is the opportunity to make governance decisions for themselves. If you decry people forcing Chinese people to do stuff, you should look first at the CCP.

    THere is no need (nor worth) to you flagellating yourself over what will or will not be good for average or Chinese people. I would simply let them decide for themselves, since they are undoubtedly a better judge of what’s good for them than you are.

    If you say that “western liberals” shouldn’t preach to Chinese from afar, then what are you doing? I suspect you are sitting in the US of A right now, since you haven’t even bothered with protestations to the contrary. If you disapprove of people telling Chinese people what to do while sitting in the US of A, so too that you should disapprove of yourself telling CHinese people what to do from the same position. But I suspect such a degree of self-awareness and intellectual consistency eludes you.

    You’re right, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. And no one is clamoring for it. So all you’ve got there is a strawman, which is pretty lame. But as I always say, you do what you gotta do.

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  7. The behavior of you guys are disgusting indeed hypocrite all the way long.
    Many of you guys have the same f*cking attitude: leave by saying “thank god I will leave this place because of …”.

    Well at first remember this, nobody forced you to come to China,nor you parents nor your God. Secondly, don´t try to change China when you are not a citizen of China, thirdly and last don´t spit on others when you leave.

    Thank you, have a nice flight and please don´t come back!

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  8. Pollution so thick you cannot see a block away, food filled with toxins, no rule of law and/or PSB goons potentially knocking on your door…. You know Charles, you should expand on those points, add more, and write a book called Why China Will Never…. Oh, never mind. If you did that, people would angrily accuse you of not understanding the real China. They would say you just did not look hard enough.

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  9. “Secondly, don´t try to change China when you are not a citizen of China”

    Oh, so the citizens of China are allowed to change it? For example, Liu Xiaobo? I remember he was given a seat on a committee to air his proposals freely and… oh wait, no. He was imprisoned for airing his views.

    “western liberal (and also neocons) elites and their supporters have this huge double standard: you do what i say and i dont practice what i preach.”

    So do the CCP Oligarchs: “Do what we say, but never say what we do”

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  10. narsfweasels

    oh thats remind me suddenly USA target WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a Terrorist for sending out truth evidence of the USA government.
    Oh wait! He does not even live in US,so US can´t get him, but still US is trying to catch him. Free speech? I LOLED That!

    Ob hy the way I promote CCP in USA!

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  11. horny western journalists and activists love sick and pathetic “dissidents” such as bobo liu and wei wei ai, and try to promote them to such a holy shit status. they are only fooling their own citizens. well, when it comes to china, their bias media fool their people all the time. it is just sickening.

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  12. For the record, getoutofchina is probably posting from the US. His posts have come through a couple different IPs, but all of them trace to a specific area of Maryland. The odds of a commercial VPN offering two different Maryland-based VPN connections in the same area are pretty slim (I’ve never come across one) but it is theoretically possible, I suppose.

    @ Troy: OK, I’ll be an asshole, but remember that you started it: if I wrote a book like that, people wouldn’t say those things because (a) I’ve done more than just vacation in China and (b) I don’t pretend to know what people are thinking without talking to them. As I said in my review, the problem with your book wasn’t really that you were wrong about China, it was just the sloppy, offensive way in which you carried out your research that made even someone like me want to disagree with your conclusions.

    Of course, I also wouldn’t write a book about China based on what I’m saying in this post because although I’ve lived in a couple different places in China over four years, I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can sum up the country’s future based entirely on my own experience and what I read in a couple of history books. (I am, of course, arrogant enough to put my own personal conclusions on a blog, though..)

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  13. Well, as expected ol getout is sitting in the us of a. Folks like him should just show some moxie with their convictions and start a communist party of America. It would be good use of their time.

    And captain kangaroo there, “promoting” the ccp in the USA. Definitely a fool’s errand, but he sounds like a perfectly good fool to take that on. He could probably recruit ol getout, since fools of a feather really should flock together.

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  14. @FOARP:

    Look, you keep putting the words ‘right-wing’ in my mouth even after I expressly told you that that’s not what I said, and I don’t appreciate having to repeat myself.

    That said, I think Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Barack Obama are on the political right, and I am not the only guy who thinks so (and there are good measurements for this sort of thing, even if you don’t hold truck with the political compass quiz). I consider it a basic requirement of being a leftist that you are sceptical of the privileges of capital vis-a-vis labour, particularly the way in which it is allowed to move between countries. George Galloway is a leftist. Nick Clegg is not. Get the idea?

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  15. this is what happens when you don’t have chinese friends in china. i mean really good friends, not the ones with broken english and can only discuss inane stuff with you. the ones who are funny (really funny) and also appreciate your humor, who love both china and the west, who are part of your life and joy.

    unfortunately the vast majority of foreigners never have, or never even tried to have, such friends.

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  16. Pollution so thick you cannot see a block away, food filled with toxins, no rule of law and/or PSB goons potentially knocking on your door…. You know Charles, you should expand on those points, add more, and write a book called Why China Will Never…. Oh, never mind. If you did that, people would angrily accuse you of not understanding the real China. They would say you just did not look hard enough.

    The UK and the US were the safest, cleanest, most just places when they were at similar stages in their development, apparently. Your idea boils down to “white people could do it, but Chinese can’t.”

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  17. @Custer: when I lived in China I had very similar feelings. I enjoyed a lot about living in China, but a small part of me died every time I heard my wife’s chronic cough. I can’t imagine forcing my children to grow up in such an environment when it would be so easy to simply go back to the US.

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  18. @ woodoo: I have plenty of Chinese friends (and of course, half of my family) in China. Not to mention a bunch of wonderful foreigner friends who are still living there.

    But you can visit friends on return trips, and you can talk to them every day via Skype or QQ or whatever. You can play games with them online. You can make phone calls and send texts (very cheap via Skype). Leaving China doesn’t mean giving up your friends; or at least, it doesn’t have to mean that.

    You cannot breathe clean air via Skype or eat safe food via the internet, though.

    Relationships can be maintained over long distances with just a little effort. The same cannot be said for health.

    (Re: your second comment, Troy’s point, if you read his book, actually has nothing to do with white vs. Chinese, he’s pretty positive about Taiwan’s accomplishments. But the bit you’re quoting here is just a dig at me because he’s pissed I gave his book a bad review.)

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  19. Very interesting post. Like you I have also come to the decision that I want to leave China; although unlike you I won’t be stepping on a plane any time soon because it will take time to untangle my commitments here. It’s interesting that you consider you have a choice about whether to put down roots or not. For me, my own decision to leave China is based mainly on the fact I know I will never be allowed to put down roots. What I mean by that is I would never be allowed to naturalise and gain citizenship the PRC, which to me is the only way be sure that I will not be denied these at some point. It’s the fear of being denied a visa that stops me from trying to own my own home here. And I can’t see any point in investing more time when I know that I will have to leave eventually.
    The other reason is that I don’t feel that this situation is going to improve any time soon. It seems like political reform stopped nearly 10 years ago. And even if it were to start up again, I suspect that reform of immigration policy and naturalisation of foreigners would not be at the top of the agenda for many years to come.
    It’s one thing to live in dictatorship which is harsh but is slowly softening, even if the pace of change is slow. It’s another thing to live in a dictatorship which seems to be returning to the bad old days.
    I know I’ll miss China after I leave. I know I won’t be able to keep my Chinese language skills sharp. Things are also not getting better in my own country. But watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, one thing that struck me was how many black and brown faces there were amongst the performers. Like China, in the last decades Britain has seen a wave of inward immigration, people coming to look for work, settle down and raise families. But unlike China, those immigrants have a path to nationality and citizenship. During the Beijing Olympics, apart from the obligatory six nationalities dressed in their traditional ethnic costumes, there was not a single white, brown or black face.

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  20. Very interesting post. Like you I have also come to the decision that I want to leave China; although unlike you I won’t be stepping on a plane any time soon because it will take time to untangle my commitments here. It’s interesting that you consider you have a choice about whether to put down roots or not. For me, my own decision to leave China is based mainly on the fact I know I will never be allowed to put down roots. What I mean by that is I would never be allowed to naturalise and gain citizenship the PRC, which to me is the only way be sure that I will not be denied a visa at some point. It’s the fear of being denied a visa that stops me from trying to own my own home here. And I can’t see any point in investing more time when I know that I will have to leave eventually.
    The other reason is that I don’t feel that this situation is going to improve any time soon. It seems like political reform stopped nearly 10 years ago. And even if it were to start up again, I suspect that reform of immigration policy and naturalisation of foreigners would not be at the top of the agenda for many years to come.
    It’s one thing to live in dictatorship which is harsh but is slowly softening, even if the pace of change is slow. It’s another thing to live in a dictatorship which seems to be returning to the bad old days.
    I know I’ll miss China after I leave. I know I won’t be able to keep my Chinese language skills sharp. Things are also not getting better in my own country. But watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, one thing that struck me was how many black and brown faces there were amongst the performers. Like China, in the last decades Britain has seen a wave of inward immigration, people coming to look for work, settle down and raise families. But unlike China, those immigrants have a path to nationality and citizenship. During the Beijing Olympics, apart from the obligatory six nationalities dressed in their traditional ethnic costumes, there was not a single white, brown or black face.

    I’m reposting this because I noticed a mistake in the voice recognition software output; it should have read …the only way be sure that I will not be denied “a VISA”, not denied “THESE”

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  21. Oh lovely, getoutofchina happens to be some troll sitting in America. Dude I think you can stop channeling Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany’s now.

    You know something getout? It’s not “your land” either. It’s OK man. You can stop watching bad Chinese flicks and just admit to us that you’re just some fella trying to act like he’s Chinese.

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  22. Seriously, give it a rest. And what’s the problem with you people? If you’re gonna need to swear, then do it already instead of this pussy-assed stuff you losers seem to pull.

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  23. Your right about the air quality in Beijing. What you probably don’t know is it is going to get worse because of existing manufacturing practice in China.

    More than 60% of China’s air pollution is attributed to power generation. What people don’t know unless they are in the industry is that much of that pollution could be reduced if China would just followed the policies they enacted in the early 2000s. From that time China began requiring sulfur scrubbers at their coal-fired power plants. In the US coal scrubbing costs about USD 600-1000/kwh. It’s expensive, and fairly complicated but it can be done. In China they have installed more coal scrubbers (called FGD – flue gas desulfurization) than in the U.S. And they do it very inexpensively. FGD plants in China cost just RMB 100-150. That just 4% the cost of the U.S. I don’t know how they do that, but I strongly suspect that these plants are no good. I do know that they don’t operate half the time. (Admitted to by the Chinese government.) I would also not be surprised to learn that they remove a much lower percentage of sulfur than do plants in the United States (or most anywhere else.) I also suspect that the FGD plant than can last for 30 years in the U.S. won’t last long at all in China. In the U.S. this kind of thing would be a huge scandal, but in China without a free press to out the perpetrators this kind of thing just keeps going on and on.

    This is why I am very confident that air pollution in China will continue to get worse and worse. You project China’s GDP in the future and I’ll tell you how much worse the air quality will be. The number will be very similar.

    I could go on and on about NOx pollution and disgraceful way China measures air pollution, but I think this is enough to give you a general idea.

    The argument that “well U.S. was polluted too” at one point is completely bogus. In the 1970s when the U.S. began to address the pollution issue FGD technology didn’t exist. SCR and low-NOx firing (for NOx pollution) didn’t exist either. These products and engineering methods had to be developed. China doesn’t have to develop anything. They just have to know how to purchase this technology and integrate the technology into their plants. They’re doing a terrible job of this. Worse than Thailand. Worse than Indonesia. Worse than any country anywhere. Congratulations!

    Rather than blow their money on reinventing space travel, building high speed rail lines ridden by few, roads traveled by few and hosting prestige events like the Olympics, China could have invested in the more consequential but less prestigious work of reducing pollution. Whenever they decide to start to do this they will essentially be starting from zero.

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  24. I’m not going to dispute any of the facts here, I’m too ignorant to do so, but the Chinese reacting strongly to this post aren’t necessarily paid agents. I know I get pretty miffed when foreigners smugly criticize the Untied States or American society–even if I agree with their criticisms (a certain subset of Canadians are especially obnoxious about doing this). It’s a visceral reaction. If you’re going to criticize a foreign country, even if you live there as a guest, it needs to be done gently.

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  25. “Pollution so thick you cannot see a block away, food filled with toxins, no rule of law and/or PSB goons potentially knocking on your door…. You know Charles, you should expand on those points, add more, and write a book called Why China Will Never…. Oh, never mind. If you did that, people would angrily accuse you of not understanding the real China. They would say you just did not look hard enough.”

    A-fucking-men! I too remember that book, and all the ‘China fanboys’ recoiling at it. And so much of it was bang on. Wake up people. It’s called a developing country for a reason!

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  26. I agree with Benjamin that foreigners should be gentle in their criticism of China, in fact I think they usually are, at least compared to the way that Chinese criticise their country, at least that’s my experience after reading books such as 來生不做中國人 (” I Don’t Want to Be Chinese Again”) by Joe Chung. If you can read Chinese, you will read criticisms that are far fiercer than most Westerners would dare to make, perhaps because we would be accused of racism if we said some those things.
    But should foreigner expats be expected to behave politely as guests for years? should they be required to stay as guest workers indefinitely, until they are too old to work and have to go “home”? I think even if China doesn’t want to give foreigners a path to naturalisation and citizenship, expats who have invested years of their life living in China shouldn’t be held to the same standards of etiquette as newcomers or distant observers.

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  27. At the end of the day, who really wants to make a life in a (soft)totalitarian country. Exciting it was when it was first opening up and everything was new both for us and for them. But now? It feels like Germany before the war. Nationalism, xenophobia, anger. In the West we had the enlightenment, we had the world wars, we had the sixties, we had the nineties. China is still stuck in the early twentieth centuty and making the choices that we already know were mistakes. While in Santa Monica, yoga and Whole Foods are hip, in China the kind of universal, spiritual, international, humanistic thinking we all take for granted is not even thinkable. All things flow from this. Who wants to live in a country that thinks like Nazi Germany. False nationalism that no one really acts on or believes yet everyone falls back on ideologically. Thus no human centered values, thus no emphasis on individuals and their sanctity, thus no free speech, no criticism of the central authorities, thus dirty air and food and no rule of law and a poisonous and acrimonious atmosphere where the highest aspirations of human beings is not acknowledged if for large numbers of Chinese they are even aware of its existence. It is this lack of faith in basic human dignity, decency, sanctity from which the nationalism, the political tyranny and thus the dirty air and food all stem. In the cafes of the mission district, people talk about building websites to advance ecology, building startups to solve a human problem, people for all their cynicism have ideals. Want to create a better world. Not a better America, but a better world. In China this is utterly lacking. The atmosphere is poisonous. Not because of too many particles of this or that, but because the air is empty of faith in humanity. That is the pollution, and that is at the end of the day what makes the country so difficult to live in. To be fair, there are many kind and wonderful people in China, as good as anywhere in the world, if not better considering the environment in which they live. But most have no faith, and the cynicism inherent in contemporary Chinese culture is the source of the pollution in government and thus in the air and the food. The atmosphere of China is toxic. Thats why people are leaving, because its toxic and it seems to be getting worse, not better.

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  28. @SCRAM: I liked your analysis, although I feel it is too pessimistic.

    I agree that the lack of higher aspirations is a problem. But it is not a Chinese problem. To be honest: How many people outside China really work hard on building a better world and how many just prefer to stay in the comfort zone of thoughtless consumerism?
    Maybe there are fewer idealistic people in China, and for various reasons, but there are some. Personally I still feel things are changing for the better, although the violent moments of the anti japan protests worry me, as they point into the opposite direction.

    @the blog fighters
    In general I feel it would be wiser to criticize precise facts only and avoid labeling people/nations in general. Or even better to think positive, propose solutions instead of criticism only.

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