Five facts about China


I just returned from 8 interesting days in Guizhou, and I’ll do a longer post on my trip when I have time. But first I’d like to comment on a picture I took before my Guizhou side trip, showing a wall a few blacks from Tiananmen Square:

The picture illustrates 5 facts about China:

1.  The Chinese like the color red.

2.  The Chinese like to illuminate public buildings from below for dramatic effect.  More broadly, they like to brightly (and colorfully) illuminate their cities at night.  Chinese cities look vastly better at night than during the day, even if you don’t care for all the neon.  This is very different from Mission Viejo, California.  It’s sort of like the indoor/outdoor distinction I mentioned in a previous post.  I suspect this is true in much of East Asia.

3.  In the upper left you see a tree branch.  The Chinese like to plant trees, lots of trees.  Their cities are gradually becoming shadier, as is their countryside.  China leads the world in reforestation by a wide margin.  (Unfortunately, much of the new forest is “monoculture“.)

4.  The Chinese like to beautify ugly things.  Those conical shapes are decorative hats for porta-potties along Changan Lu, which is sort of the main street of Beijing, often featuring public events with massive crowds.  When I first visited China the bathrooms were appalling.  Many still are.  But there’s been a major attempt to improve things.  In my Guizhou post I’ll have lots more pictures.  While my wife was taking pictures of beautiful Chinese scenery, I was snapping photos of urinals.

BTW, I suspect the Chinese might have gotten the idea for these conical hats from Piero della Francesca:

But this time there’s no angel swooping down from heaven, unless you count that tiny object in the lower left—a CCTV camera jutting out from the wall:

5.  It’s one of over 200 million such cameras in China (300 million by 2020), a system called “Skynet”.  Police are now too lazy to chase criminals on foot, they just check the closed-circuit TV camera to see who did it.  The cameras are everywhere, as is “facial recognition”.  They snapped a picture of my face entering a park, and in subsequent entries I just looked at the camera in order to be let in.  (Normally you need to show a passport.)  Here’s the NYT:

He described the approach as a panopticon, the idea that people will follow the rules precisely because they don’t know whether they are being watched.

In Zhengzhou, police were happy to explain how just the thought of the facial recognition glasses could get criminals to confess.

Mr. Shan, the Zhengzhou railway station deputy police chief, cited the time his department grabbed a heroin smuggler. While questioning the suspect, Mr. Shan said, police pulled out the glasses and told the man that what he said didn’t matter. The glasses could give them all the information they needed.

“Because he was afraid of being found out by the advanced technology, he confessed,” said Mr. Shan, adding that the suspect had swallowed 60 small packs of heroin.

“We didn’t even use any interrogation techniques,” Mr. Shan said. “He simply gave it all up.”

China is probably 10 years ahead of the UK and the US in the race

to completely eliminate all privacy from life.


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