Middle Kingdom Tales


Shanghai, Shanghai


      Much like the St. Petersburg people in Gogol’s novels, people in Shanghai are always proud of this city’s modernity, magnificence, and inclusiveness. So many things happened here. Fu Lei hanged himself in remorse and Zhang Ailin left for Hongkong in despair. China’s New York, Republic’s most civilized city, and Asia’s largest financial center! People all love to come here and crave the opportunity to get a Shanghai hukou so that they can enjoy their elegant and bourgeois lifestyles. A cup of iced Caffe Americano in the morning and a nice workout trip in a local gym, perfect for a Xiaohongshu post.

      People here work in foreign companies and use their exotic English names. They are so complacent with the nobility in their western lifestyles and the exquisiteness of their Shanghainess dialect. They send their kids to international schools and are proud of who they are and what they do. Even though there is a great firewall, they can still use their VPNs to post a few pictures of their extravagant lives with their white coworkers in Ritz-Carlton on Instagram and argue: “This is how developed China is, what you saw is fake news.”

      They hardly understand art but never save their money to buy a few canvas paintings when in need of house decorations. A Monet exhibition is just another good opportunity to show one’s acculturation by posting a picture of someone in Burberry standing in front of Nymphéas with an LV bag. They do not understand why Hongkongers protested the extradition bill, actually they never tried to understand. Our government has already given them so many privileges and autonomy, why on earth do they still care about such trivial matters like police brutality and democratic elections? Why not just close your eyes on politics and only focus on how to make money?

      But hey, little man, what now? Why would some have their hoarded food rotten to dust and not even a spare a bit while a girl is forced into prostitution so that she may get a bit food from her friendly neighborhood volunteer? Why would someone in Tomson Riviera keep complaining about the bad quality of their quarantine food while the tenants in the Zhangjiang Park got yanked out by police in the middle of the night with no prior notifications?

      People here are confounded. I have done everything I was asked to do. I took my COVID test. It is negative. I wore my mask on all the time, covering my nose. Why would a police drone come to my apartment and tell me “Please restrain your soul’s thirst for freedom” when I was merely singing? I have done everything I was ordered to do, why would they still put me on the ground? I just simply do not want to be homeless in the middle of a pandemic lockdown. The supreme leader cannot be wrong but why are his civil servants so ruthless and brutal?

      Confusion, ambivalence, fear, and rage. Kneeling down on the ground like a lackey in front of his lord, begging the police to leave them alone. In a people’s Republic where the police shall serve the people not the other way around, the people still see the one with authority with awe and fear. Phone signal was jammed when trying to call the police but aren’t the police beating up my neighbors right in front of me? It is already 2022 and they can’t believe the law-enforcers in Shanghai can be this unlawful. There is no rule of law in this land, hence the only way to seek for justice is to appeal to the ones in power. Sending out Weibo post with hashtags @People’s daily and get censored, then try to vent out your anger by changing the subject in your line from China to America. People will understand it anyway since the tale you are telling is so full of Chinese characters, like their socialism.

      Civil society is intolerable under totalitarianism and self-deception is the most efficient way to cope with the draconian party state. Such a trivial thing can only result in a temporary outcry in the cyberspace since any collective effort will be smothered in pain. Hoping that one day the Great Firewall may fall and the wind of change blows in but months after the lockdown the life continues as usual. People will again compose another glorious saga of the party’s warfare on a deadly pandemic. The wheel of history moves forward, ready to crush anyone in its path, and ordinary people’s blood and tears become its fuel. In this country, no one cares about what happened yesterday. George Floyd’s death sparked a social revolution, while Tibetans' self-immolation and Uyghurs' genocide will never make it to the news.

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