Pok Chi Lau: Comments

President Obama wants right the wrongs that have gone on for decades. As our nation comes to the awakening, some remain stubborn and impatient, strapping themselves tight to their self-interests, selfishness and prejudice.

China faces similar problems, actually of a longer and deeper magnitude. Embarrassed by her contemporary history, and often gawked at frequently as having “a mind of her own”, disregarding the wishes of the global community.  The types of problems the United States has would be dealt with swiftly and decisively in China because China doesn’t need to ask her peoples’ opinions on important matters.  Dissidents will be silenced for the sake of stability.  Chinese learn to discretely raise an eyebrow in order to co-exist or unpleasant consequences would be at the front door. One party rules, and she is exerting her set of rules beyond her borders, from trade and monetary issues to the environment.

In the US newspapers are losing their readership. In China newspapers try hard to keep their licenses. They are controlled by the government which is very concerned about subversive and anarchical activities.  Chinese citizens don’t trust their news either, as they know self-censorship is survival.  All news reporting is mild mannered and the media is constantly reminded to serve the interest of the peoples’ party. Anger is pent up.

So what China did Bob Lloyd see in a glimpse?  Awkward modernity.

Freedom to dress: Doesn’t matter what as long as it is western and has a real Gucci or almost real, “Gujji”, label on it. Shop-till-you-drop mindset begins to lodge in the horizon of malls.

Freedom to eat: Imposing giants of American fast food, the unquestionable symbol of good life. That fast food leads to obesity and diabetes, now in 12% of China’s population.

Freedom to invest: Big real estate developers, some publicly traded with international capital, two decades ago began the process of land grabs, shady building projects, and a global real estate housing boom that can collapse in a snap. Many are built but remain empty, waiting for big and quick profits.  The large majority of the population, lower-middle class, can’t afford to buy and remains angry.

Freedom to bend the rules: The Beijing government can set laws but the provincial and local governments set the standards.  More often than not, standards are manipulated in the name of economic development and job creation, especially when there is plenty of bribe money. Meanwhile forests are being bulldozed to plant thousand-acre tracts of fast growing eucalyptus trees to supply the world demand for paper – packaging, advertisement and newspaper. Unprecedented droughts wreath immense regions.  This year thousands of rivers and streams supplying water for farming communities are blocked for the 2000 plus dams being built for hydroelectric power.  The same Chinese engineering companies are logging and damming in all Southeast Asian countries.  As forests fall, the wild animals are eaten as aphrodisiacs.

Freedom to sell: The subways provide part of an important network for transportation, and moving advertisements climb the walls, beaming obnoxious electronics into the faces of workers and school children alike.

Freedom to move: Quiet village empty of citizens who have disappeared into the metropolis looking for work and the good life. The remaining older people take care of the young. Single child plays alone. Industries and suburbs devour rural communities, their land, their woods, their water and their spirit.

Freedom to work: Migrant workers from all over China come to the coast to work. Wages are low and amenities are minimal.  Some are unwilling to work manual labor or are unqualified for white-collar jobs or are trying to make ends meet. Most work 12-hour days, 6 days a week.  Conflicts in life and grievances sometimes are not expressed. The Pearl River Bridge has become a structure as a jump off location to protest unfair treatment by employers.  At the peak last year, there was a case of over 14 protesters on the bridge at the same time. (Images)

Pok Chi Lau

Professor of Design

University of Kansas, Lawrence

August 2010

Pok Chi Lau was born in Hong Kong, China. He is a documentary photographer who as been photographing China and Chinese communities all over the world for over 40 years.  He is the author of Flow China, 2008, and Dreams of the Golden Mountain, 2002.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.