Veteran’s Day in China

Veteran’s Day, 2013

Veteran’s Day has always been an holiday that I have respected. When I was young, it was because of my family’s military background as well as the fact that I was simply a patriotic kid. I joined the military shortly before September 11, 2001, so every Veteran’s Day after that took on a newfound significance. The last three Veteran’s Days have been a bit different though.

Veteran’s Day 2011 marked my last in uniform. Although I was looking forward to my impending separation, I knew I was going to miss it. Veteran’s Day 2012 was my first as a civilian since high school. I remember getting in a small argument with a friend who ribbed me for reminiscing, but fact of the matter was that yes, I did miss serving. Nothing could change how significant military service had been in my life.

Veteran’s Day 2013 was just yesterday. Technically this is my second Veteran’s Day in China, however the first one was just after moving here and I was trying to wrap my head around China. This year, my awareness was much higher and I noticed this little thing called “Single’s Day.”

China has a serious problem with young people being stuck in singledom thanks to the very bizarre dynamic of the sexes created by decades of the “One Child Policy.” Regardless of the details, not too long ago some college kids began to call 11/11 Single’s Day because of all them ones. Very clever. This year the second Monday in November fell on 11/11 and led to a few discussions with Chinese friends on the significance of Veteran’s Day in America.

A few Chinese friends were talking to me about Single’s Day and I simply told them that I was too busy observing Veteran’s Day to be bothered by their silly emo holiday. It wasn’t until I read the Shanghai Daily this morning that I understood the real meaning of Single’s Day: buying stuff. All of the stuff. Apparently it is something like our Cyber Monday after Thanksgiving where huge discounts are available online and people just go fucking nuts about it.

Normally, I maintain an attitude that falls somewhere between indifference and mild disgust at commercialism and consumerism, regardless of the locale. I’ve been leaning more towards disgust here in China, as it seems money is the most supreme of all motivations. It is really bad here; it’s not even possible for Chinese people to have a relationship without money leading the entire decision making process. We’re not talking about the “gold-digger” culture that Kanye laments about; China’s experience on this front is mind-bogglingly bad.

However, today when I saw the front page of the Shanghai Daily today, my disgust went from “leaning” to “buried the needle.” The two stories immediately visible on the front page include a headline about the record-breaking money made on Single’s Day and a great big picture of Filipinos begging for help in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful and devastating storm in recorded human history. This storm was 3x the strength of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. THREE TIMES as powerful. It has forced the scientific community to rethink its storm intensity measurements.

I complain about China. A lot. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, China deserves every bit of my criticism. This place has some serious problems. In all fairness however, I’m also not shy about criticizing my own country, as the US deserves constant critique – especially the military. Also, I’m no China noob. Granted I’ve been here for only a little over a year, but I have dealt with this country for over a decade as an analyst before moving here. In any case, no credentials necessary to say China deserves full-bore shitstorm on this one.

Does the Shanghai Daily realize the irony of its front page? There are rare times when some intelligent and creative Chinese person manages to crack through all of the government controls on the media and actually jab at their own country or culture. Virtually every times something like this happens however, it is just coincidence or accident of oversight. Regardless of original intent, the takeaway here is that China screwed the pooch on this one. Both its government and its people failed to make the obvious choice and help a desperate neighbor in need over mindless self-indulgence.

This is why the US will continue to lead the world despite our troubles. Because, despite our troubles, our government has made Typhoon Haiyan a DoD priority – salvaging their airport and deploying naval resources on large scale. Other government agencies that specialize in aid have made the Philippines their primary if not only focus during these trying times. Additionally, the US is helping to coordinate and lead the efforts of other allies who wish to help the huge population of survivors who have nothing besides dead bodies surrounding them.

Four days after the initial onslaught by Mother Nature, I can only find one article about aid from China – an article in the Straits Times, so inaccessible without a VPN. The Chinese government really dropped the ball on this one. China has spent months commenting on how the US government barely functions and how China needs to usurp America as the super power of choice in the Pacific, but why on earth would anybody in Southeast Asia trust China to come to the rescue when needed? Self-proclaimed to be a government superior to Washington and hell bent on improving its soft power yet cannot make the obvious, right choice in the face of the largest weather disaster in history. This was an easy one that China not only lost politically, but more importantly, China’s absence in the relief effort will prolong the suffering in the Philippines.

Let’s grant China the fact that its government may be too busy dealing with Typhoon Haiyan on its own turf as there has been some major flooding in SE China. A poor excuse (the 5 deaths recorded so far took precedence on page 2 over elaborating the front page pic), but let’s give it to them and take governments out of the equation. This is where it gets downright gut-wrenching disgusting. If the Chinese government is willfully ignoring the issue, the Chinese people are gleefully flaunting their excess in the face of it.

Every major news outlet in the United States and many other Western nations are running non-stop coverage of the disaster. Granted this obviously has something to do with ratings, but every story is followed with “And this is how you can help…” displaying an agency webpage or phone number. China’s news outlets are more concerned with the record breaking shopping spree that was worth RMB35.02bn (USD$5.7bn). Their neighbors are literally holding up signs that say, “We need food, water, & shelter!!” and “we need your help!! Pls!!!” This is absolutely appalling.

Basically, the Chinese government ignored the problem. The Chinese media has glossed over the plight of the Philippines and has instead focused on the relatively minor impact of Typhoon Haiyan in China (that is if any news is worthy to stand next to the 11/11 extravaganza). The Chinese people have actively turned their backs on their neighbor and instead dove into consumer goods like Uncle Scrooge into his pool of money. All the while, China has spent months criticizing the US and the West during their recent unrest but doesn’t even tip their cap when these allegedly failing governments and societies are able to instantly mobilize on grand scale for the sake of humanity. China is their neighbor and can’t spare aid yet the US will extend a 6,000-mile long arm of relief to those in need.

The front page of the Shanghai Daily perfectly captures how pathetically out of touch and incapable China is. Not just the government, but the people as well. Even if the Western governments were so far gone that they were unable to help, the decision would not come easily and would not come without ethical debate. Even if the gravest of decisions was reached, the people of the West would self-mobilize as they already are, but likely to an even larger scale to make up for any government ineptitude.

I honestly don’t know what else to say other than China as a whole should be ashamed. Is this a result of ire over island disputes in the South China Sea? Is it because Mainland China is so obsessed with consumption that they simply can’t see what they should be doing? Is China that out of touch with the outside world? Regardless of the reason, it is wrong. China has yet again proven itself as truly self-centered and unfit for leadership. China has experienced their own disasters and can look to how the rest of the world mobilized to help if they need a playbook. It is impossible to accept “no experience” as an excuse here. That is willfully ignorant of an easy decision. I can only hope they are more ready for the next one, for the sake of those in need.

One Reply to “Veteran’s Day in China”

  1. Great post as always MovMat! I especially appreciate the insight you bring by being “on the ground” in China now that you’re there. Better you than me I always say! It’s strange trying to crystalize Chinese policy when it is so haphazard. I have seen many complements in the US media towards the Chinese system in the wake of our own government’s dysfunction but despite having a one party system, China’s recent plenary meeting shows its own type of dysfunction. I would think since it cares more about its outward face than its own people oftentimes, that the soft power it would generate from goodwill in the region would far outweigh the “benefits” of outright ignoring it… but then again I don’t run a country with over a billion people in it. High have relatively high hopes (key word:relatively) for the Xi Jinping regime…. I hope obvious missed opportunities like this are less frequent.

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