Now back to my travel build up. If you remember I was telling you about where I hoped to travel, God (and authorities) willing, when I get to the other side of the world. This week I thought I would begin to give a very brief overview of each country to compare and contrast each week. As I am starting with China, obviously it makes sense to start there. In China, the communist party remains solidly entrenched and unchallenged. In 2003 a new president and Premier took charge, but any illusions that this would herald a move towards political liberalisation were dashed when the National Peoples Congress denied Hong Kong the hope of choosing its next leader, flying in the face of the Chinese-British deal. State censorship of everything from Shakespeare to Rolling Stones lyrics continues and Internet access remains rigorously monitored, with a firewall ‘protecting China’s citizens from BBC news in Chinese and other foreign pollutants. In Beijing a heavy police presence saw the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre pass with little incident. There are still other problems for the authorities to contend with - China has the largest disparity between urban rich and rural poor in the world. Considering the 750-million-strong peasantry it is no surprise that so many illegal Chinese immigrants still turn up on European shores. Nonetheless, big changes are afoot. You can rocket from shanghai’s Pudong airport into town at 430km/hr on China’s first Maglev train (though your hair can turn grey waiting for your rush hour bus to move on Beijing’s congested streets). The Bejing Olympics in 2008 was the culmination of a move towards acceptance of the regime into the world outside (albeit tentatively). China is a vast country with a culture still shrouded in mystery to most Westerners, and the differences are what I hope to experience and record in both written word and artworks in the coming weeks. Finally - some etiquette in case you ever find yourself there and don’t know how to behave.
When beckoning to someone, wave them over to you with your palm down, motioning to yourself.
If someone gives you a gift, put it aside to open later to avoid appearing greedy.
Always take off your shoes when entering a Chinese home.
When meeting a Chinese family, greet the eldest person first, as a sign of respect.
Always present things to people with both hands, showing that what you are offering is the fullest extent of yourself.