Tag Archives: money

The Sorry State of Beliefs and Morals in China

I have never been a believer in any religion — but that’s because I’m happily neutral, religion-wise. Chez moi, I don’t approve of, oppose, support, or otherwise get involved with religion.

But I have this thing about people who start abusing a religion trying to make money. As of late I have been keeping my 101 kilometres away from two Starbucks in town: that at Tower III, World Trade Centre, and, beginning today, the one at Shin Kong Plaza. (The latter one is a riot: My wife and I nearly fell over when they started testing a new type of “outdoor sofa”, if we’re to put it this way.)

In Chinese, there’s a proverb that makes you look like you’ve done nothing bad — when you’re the thief yourself. The story goes that this guy was envious of his neighbour, so he nicked 300 taels of silver. Just to “make sure” the neighbour didn’t get suspicious, he erected a sign — “Under this plot of land there are no 300 taels of silver” (此地無銀三百兩).

That’s like the perfect give-away!

In both cases, we’ve seen shanzhai Buddhist monks wearing a standard grey dress with the Zen / Chan character at the back. The kind you see at temples for real believers. Guy comes with this kind of Buddhist ornament and starts peddling his wares.

There’s a city law in Beijing banning unauthorised business practices without a permit. This guy never got himself the permit. Either he is trying to sell us suspect commodities or he is offering suspect services (“May I read your palm? I think you’re rich!”, goes the one at the World Trade Centre).

The worst thing about the whole phenomenon is that fake monks trying to sell you shanzhai goods are the least of your worries. I’ve heard worse horror stories. There are people who go to temples during the day time, then head straight into the nightclubs by midnight, doing all kinds of horrible — and certainly unethical — stuff. These are “devout followers” by day, and “devout abusers” by night.

If Guo Meimei has ruined China’s Red Cross foundation, these sham monks are doing exactly the same to Buddhism. I don’t know what the religion exactly stands for, but I’m sure they can’t stand for evil. If China was trying to “save itself” via Buddhism, these sham monks are doing all they can to make Chinese view Buddhism the same way as they view the Chinese Red Cross. In a country where “alternative cults” are banned, religion is severely limited, and freedoms of conscience come with strings attached, the population is left to worshipping nothing — except for money.

When we get greedy — when 1.3 billion get greedy at the same time, all of a sudden — the end is that a nation of 5,000 years and counting will finally meet its makers. (It’ll also get the rest of the planet in a bit of a worry.)

Socialist indoctrination has not worked in China — there is a very visible and sizeable part of the population of people who have deep-seated doubts about what the 7 PM propaganda news show is trying to convince us “is the truth”. When religion and basic morals give way to nothing but money worship — that’s when we’re in real danger.

Zuckerberg’s Got A Billion Users on Facebook

And to me this sets off alarm bells.

Imagine what you can do to one billion people — just by flicking a switch. This problem already “plagues” India and China. It has now hit Facebook as well.

When you “lead” a billion, there’s a huge amount of responsibility. I don’t see that in Facebook, which has a privacy issue, as well as the bigger issue of balancing money with community. For governments, they’re doing something a little more different: to them, money is less of an issue (although it still is an issue). But it’s probably too easy to make money off a billion — and Zuckerberg’s charting new territory right now. The temptation to mix and match money with the masses is too great right now. Even in China, which is in less economic ruins than the US, has a problem with this — about balancing that fine line between social good and economic gains.

I’m cautious and tend to be a little pessimistic about this, and for good cause. If I myself had a site with a billion users, I could easy get out of control. It’s human nature. Zuckerberg’s got to be a little careful here. I’m not saying he’ll get greedy; he might contain the greed and not do morally unjust stuff here.

I’d much rather that Zuckerberg and Co take the initiative now with their billionth user online to keep improving Facebook. And by that I mean serving the user base with less pretentious stuff — for example, by “abusing” friends less for a few cheap ads. It’s not cool using your friends and users to “make money”. I’d say do something like probably use that bit of cash for good. Give it to charity (if you do already, give more). Most of us equate Facebook as a huge platform where friends “make” money. We don’t really like that. None of us wants to see our friends “sell” us stuff “just like that”.

Use the power of a billion wisely.

PS: This is outright horrible.

The Chinese Problem with Striking It Rich

The Swiss are known for being as low-key as possible about money. It’s considered extremely offensive to ask how much you earn (whereas in China, it’s part of the small talk for all — locals and expats). In China, people are admired for showing off their money prowess. In Switzerland, people are admired for conformity and integration (or something like that)…

Under Mao, no Chinese had a dream of “striking it rich”. Mao-style communism basically meant that the guy that lived next to you was just as rich / poor as you were, so thefts were very rare. People slept at night with their compound gates unlocked, because they knew that it wasn’t worth all the trouble sneaking an extra pen from the guy next door. A fine back then would have costed you a bike, which back then was as big-ticket an item as a Ferrari in this present day. Under Mao, people were poor, but at least they were more “economically reliable”.

Fast forward to Deng’s reforms. They were needed by all means, but they also meant that people were, basically, showered with cash all of a sudden. Totally unconscious about where that money could be used, most spent it on luxuries instead of storing it away (back then the interest rate for savings was so high that something like CNY 50.— would earn you an interest of CNY 1.02 in just three months’ time or so, if I remembered my passbook records right!). Add increasing deregulation to the mix, and suddenly, you could throw your money anywhere — and as long as you were the first in an up-and-coming industry, you were made a __llionaire overnight.

So why is First Class in China full of Shanxi coal miners (well, that’s what they stereotypically believe to be…) farting and spitting at will? The Chinese nouveau riche have the wealth of a Bill Gates wannabe, but their manners are worlds apart. While their cash may be a fair bit PhD-ish, their manners are still kindergarten-ish. I’m not blindly bashing at random: I have seen my fair share of folks who made it rich — who still managed to keep their amazing habit of farting at will firmly intact. Heaven forbid how many mistresses they have…!

Both “private” people (as in non-gov folks) and “public” people (you know whom!) are candidates for getting it rich. For “private” folks, it’s legal as long as you play by the rules. For “public” folks, if you’re too rich, you get the electric chair! But many “public” folks are more like — To bloody hell with the rules — and they’ve decided to get rich at the expense of the taxpayers. Even folks who’ve made an effort to make China a zippier place to live — like former rail boss Liu Zhijun — got nixed because he helped himself to an excess of public money.

Whilst the rich and the powerful “fight it all out” in the next super big attempt to get as many Bentleys in the car, the rest of us are left wondering just what the heck is up. Worse, education — mannerism — is left in the dark. That stench from First Class is still there because China’s edu system hasn’t, apparently, been too successful in teaching folks (rich and poor) not to fart while on trains (or to play an excess of iFart “tunes”!). China’s edu system needs a major overhaul.

We the Swiss pride ourselves in our neutrality, and I, quite coincidentally as a fellow citizen of this country (turning 721 tomorrow) have the same point of view in other matters, too — especially when it comes to politics and religion; neutrality, but respect without involvements. I have had people from all walks of life — not the least “fortune tellers” and “religious people” — help themselves to their version of a cross-examination of myself — and whatever they say, be it from a superior being or from their own (civilian) two pence — the result is always the same: You should be in the classroom, teaching the kids of tomorrow. That PhD diploma I have should have better things to do than being a makeshift tissue when the house gets flooded in one of these amazingly frequent floods in Beijing these days. I think if I prepared the kids of tomorrow going to New South Wales better for at least what happens after you step off the plane in Sydney Airport, they’ll probably enjoy a smoother trip. And if I continue down this train of thought (operated either by me, CRH or Swiss Federal Railways — I know, odd joke), I think I might just land myself a life in teaching the folks of tomorrow.

Eventually, if one of my future students tweets me back saying The customs officer was so happy that I said Grüezi to him!, I’d be happier than if I just won the aggregate jackpots of the Swiss Lotto, Toto, and Toto-X. (It’s too bad the latter two lotteries went away in 2009…)