China – part 3 (of 20)

Did you know?

  • Like chop suey, fortune cookies are an American invention?
  • China is geographically big enough to qualify for 5 time zones, but since 1949 they only have 1 … based on Beijing’s time.
  • National Day is on 1 October and heralds the start of Golden Week (decreed 17 years ago to stimulate domestic tourism). It is strongly advised that foreigners try to avoid this 7-day period, as the country’s infrastructure buckle under the sheer domestic migration numbers. Similarly, if crowds are not your thing, avoid Chinese New Year.

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China is a vast country. It is more populated towards the east, than the west. One can debate some of the Communist Government’s decisions, but for most it was in our experience a peaceful, civil obedient (taxi drivers, of course, excluded) and a crime free (!!) society. Two weeks is a too short period to get used to the amount of people and the scale of things. Five of the world’s top 10 biggest cities in terms of most populated, reside in China. Their 5th biggest city (Baoding, 11.5M people) is completely unknown to the Western World.

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In comparison, South Africa’s 5th biggest metropole – Soweto – only has 2M people. However, Johannesburg + Cape Town + Soweto combined, is the same size as Shanghai (China’s biggest city, 14M).

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The government has a tight control on all information accessible to its subjects. Tiananmen Square (which can hold 1 000 000 people – talk about scale!) was the backdrop to civil unrest in Beijing’s recent history. The iconic photo (below, liberated from the internet) – later dubbed “The power of one” – taken on 5 June 1989, is well known in the West and completely unknown within the country itself. Most citizens are unaware of the protests that took place around the Square and the senseless massacre that followed.

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The government achieve this level of ignorance by scanning every internet search phrases and only allow “approved” search results to return. Naturally, Facebook and Google are not accessible. Yahoo! survived fine for a while, but it now appears as if they will possibly also be exiting the Chinese market soon, due to constant government interference.

Continue reading China – part 4 (of 20).