Liu Qi on civic responsibility


Liu Qi is a columnist who lives in Beijing. The following short piece appeared in Southern Weekly in February and is translated here with permission from the author.

Seventeen hates

by Liu Qi / SW

1. The building management is active in fee collection but slack in light-bulb changing. At night, in the corridors, property owners say "let there be light" but there is no light. Griping, and hatred, but after the hatred passes, no formal complaint.

2. Security guards wear service caps and stand in the shade, but they allow strangers to come and go: they exist in name only. Hatred, but never criticism.

3. The neighbor's dog, out walking, relieves itself at will. And it's not tied up - bad tempered, it chases and barks at everyone. Hatred, daily hatred, daily thoughts of rabies and the crematorium. But I never voice these opinions. The municipal government holds a public hearing on the dog issue, but I don't attend.

4. A store sign - huge, colorfully airbrushed, and eye-catching. Only, 家具 (furniture) is written as 家俱, and 青菜 (vegetables) is written as 青才. So my son writes this way, as does my niece, and they talk back when I criticize them. Hatred, but I don't go to the shopkeeper to correct it.

5. The one-meter line at the bank is a "civilized line," but it really is a line for illiterates. Ten people line up, ten people step over it. Hatred, and from that hatred, strength, so I too trample the line, pushing ahead with all my might.

6. The vendor selling seafood does a bait-and-switch, using a live crab to hide the three dead ones he puts in the bag. Hatred. I number one by one the nasty tricks of those profiteers, but I'm too lazy to go back to the market for return and reimbursement. The crabs go into the steamer for ten minutes longer. I gulp down hard liquor, eat ginger and garlic and then berberine.

7. I happen to discover that the small restaurant outside my house has gotten several barrels of used oil, and I suddenly had an epiphany - no wonder the fried chicken is so cheap. I strive to remember how many meals I've eaten by myself at home, whether I could have gotten cancer. Hatred, then fear. But I don't go to report them; I only grit my teeth and curse: may the boss have a kid with no asshole.

8. Someone wants to jump off a building, and a crowd gathers below looking up, looking up with exhilaration. People use the opportunity to hawk binoculars and stools, and others shout: What are you waiting for? Jump already, if you don't then I'll go off to work. Revulsion, hatred, melancholy, a dejected sigh about our countrymen's character, but I don't go to prevent it.

9. At the airport, a traveler protests the unfairness of the airline company. Hatred, sympathy - I share the same fate, but I do not speak up in support.

10. Cars and pedestrians wrestle for right of way. A driver sticks out his head and tells the pedestrians to go to hell. Hatred, and a feeling that people and cars are equal and each have a right to the roadway. People are weaker and by rights should go first. I think about telling this to the driver, but I swallow the words.

11. I take a taxi in the summertime, and the driver doesn't turn on the A/C. He rolls down the windows and says that the natural breezes are much more comfortable. Rubbish! I tell him to turn on the A/C, and he counters that the freon is low. Displeasure, hatred even, but I don't have the driver flick the switch to see if that's the truth or a lie. And I don't change to another taxi where it's cooler. I just endure, fuming and sweating.

12. On the highway cars speed. Buses and trucks too, and they're also overloaded. Finally I spy a police car running its siren, and I'm secretly pleased - there'll be a good show, now. Who knew that the police car holds a passel of men and women decked out in swimming gear? Hatred, and criticism from afar. I say I'll record the plate number and expose them. Then I look for a pen, but can't find it, and want to take a cell-phone photo but the battery's gone. Let it go - I extricate myself by saying that even if I report it up the chain, someone will protect them.

13. Sunning myself on the beach, I see a family having a picnic. Bones, bottles, and wrappers are tossed all over or piled up on the sand. Hatred. I turn my head the other way, unwilling to look at them.

14. In the cinema, the couple next to me is noisy, they tease each other and snack on sunflower seeds. Annoyance, hatred, but I don't let them know.

15. When selecting ten outstanding employees, image ambassadors, super chicks, and special guys, the vote tabulators are careless, or perhaps deliberately negligent, and small numbers become large while large becomes small. Hatred, sneering, glaring with righteous eyes, but I don't expose it.

16. On screen there's this clownish program host - rascally, with a devilish smile, smarmy and unbearably vulgar. Disgust, hatred. The guy's like a fly, and I immediately change the channel. But apart from the vexation I keep bottled up, I have never thought to exercise my rights as a viewer to take modern measures - telephone the TV station, say, or send an SMS or an email to express my personal viewpoint with poise and rigor.

17. Giving a report at a work meeting, I say that China is a society of acquaintances, a society that fears causing trouble, still somewhat removed from a society of modern citizens and strangers. Apart from one's own home, one's own office, what's in front of one's own door, callous indifference used to be the norm - whatever, who cares. Now we know how to care, how to hate. This is progress, no question, but it is far from enough. In comparison, the people of western developed countries have a widespread sense of civic awareness and a fairly high level of public morality. Those foreigners over there are really strange - it's like everyone is really nosy. No matter who you are, if you harm the public interest, whether the matter is small or large, everyone is responsible and can voluntarily bother into your business. Us - it seems that only at crucial junctures involving the fate of the nation will we shout, "everyone has the obligation." Ask the heavens, how long does it take to awaken the public to civic action? At this point, the whole audience erupts into thunderous applause. After the meeting, the throng of presenters and audience members exit, only to come across a man plastering ads onto a wall. Everyone turns a blind eye, and we scatter like sand to the winds.

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There are currently 12 Comments for Liu Qi on civic responsibility.

Comments on Liu Qi on civic responsibility

18. I see a motorcycle driving down the sidewalk as if it was his personal road. He almost runs down an old woman who is bringing home food for her family. I shout my defiance at the driver only because I know that he can not understand the curses I throw.

If I wrote that on my blog someone would reply saying "If you hate China so much why don't you leave ...?"

In the West we also wish "somebody should do something."

It is not unusual to hear "They need to fix that," and have nothing else said.

We too turn a blind eye to many things, perhaps just different things. Activists can and do accomplish goals, but most people will not be activated.

It is wise to pick your battles and only fight where there is a chance of enduring, long term, success. Perhaps you have not yet found that battle.

"If I wrote that on my blog someone would reply saying "If you hate China so much why don't you leave ...?""----Michael

I know where you are coming from...most of the time I felt when living in China that what was interpreted by the locals as criticism or hatred was merely fascination. I am still mesmerized when I go out to dinner in Beijing the way waiters and waitresses are treated (you know if done in the State your food will have spit or maybe fecalmatter or something added to it), and the scraps, soiled napkins, and spit on the floor of the fine dinning establishments. Although it is gross I find it an authentic experience...these new pre-2008 Games rules are ruining the cultural experience I have grown to love.

The author may sit and do nothing, but not this little black duck. Let me see now. In the last month I've:

1. Kicked in half a dozen black Audi panels
2. Told 7 taxi drivers "I would have tipped if you'd turned the A/C on"
3. Throttled one yipping hateful lapdog (it tried to bite me)
4. Instructed my lawyer to write a nasty letter to the renovators next door (you know, the ones who start an hour too early every morning)

Today I got into a taxi with the a/c on, saw a black Audi stop at a pedestrian traffic light (you know, the ones they routinely run), and slept in because the renovators have gotten the message.

If you don't do it, no-one will.

[If I wrote that on my blog someone would reply saying "If you hate China so much why don't you leave ...?"]

I understand why it comes out like this. Some people (maybe not you) use these kinds of things to mock Chinese people and China’s current situations, so that they can show off their priority as someone from developed countries among those “humble” ones from / in developing countries. They don’t want to help Chinese people from troubles. Instead, they found their fun on mocking Chinese people. Their unfriendly words and their airs do arouse angry among Chinese people.

It is not their words make us Chinese people angry, but it is the ways of their expression, the air they wear and their mean motivation do!

'pokkai' and 'dui le lo mo'...the only words you need to know

['pokkai' and 'dui le lo mo'...the only words you need to know]——weishenme

pokai:扑街(Cantonese bad language, which means “Tumble on the street” .)
dui le lo mo:丢你老母 (Cantonese bad language, which means “Fuck you mom”.)

Weishenme, why? Why did you say those bad languages? Don’t you think it is too personal?

Imagine getting hit THREE times while on your beloved Raleigh bike you brought from England which took you from Belfast to Athens. The third time knocking you out (while wearing a fluorescent jacket as you cycled down the main road with an idiot simply driving through without looking) breaking the frame in two parts. Now consider having to deal with such selfish and chaotic drivers day after day just to get to work 20 minutes away. I'd love to leave China, but how do I take my girlfriend?

Unfortunately it is acceptable for Liu Qi to criticize Chinese habits and borderline offensive for a foreigner like myself to do so. It's not fair, but that's how it is, and often depending on one's job and status it's unwise to take on the mantle of cultural reformer. There's a lot of passive aggressive behavior going on but sometimes that's preferable to outright confrontation, which is simply more trouble than it's usually worth. But there's always a point at which being nice gets you no farther, and it becomes time to be a barbarian and insist that you're right, particularly when the law is on your side (or should be).

But kudos to the guy who kicks Audis. So far I haven't gone past swatting them.

Maybe not in mainland china, but in Taiwan it's also perfectly acceptable to write furniture as 傢俱, with a ren zipang by each character.

I never thought of hitting cars. I spit near them when they honk at me or fail to yield.

Weishenme, your words are only useful in Cantonese speaking areas. In Beijing you need "Cao ni ma de bi", "Qu ni de", and "sha bi". Those should get you by. Lately I've been noticing that bus drivers in Beijing need to die. They are the worst drivers of all.

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