I first read about the habit of Chinese people lying in my travel books but didn’t pay much. Coming to China was an overload on the senses. However, I had not long to wait before my first brush with the dishonesty of most Chinese. Three days after I arrived, I met my boss to sign a contract. Before I had come to China, we had agreed by email on a salary of 4,500 RMB for the first three months of work and 5,000 RMB for every month worked after that. When we got to talking about the contract, he suddenly informed me that he would have to offer me a lower salary because I was short, thin and not white. Therefore, it would be hard to contract me out to teach in schools. I initially protested but seeing that he was firm, I bargained and was awarded a salary of around 3,900 RMB for the first 3 months and 4,400 after, and my salary was not a flat salary anymore but based instead on the number of hours I worked each month.
I accepted as I was new in China, couldn’t speak the language and had no idea how to go to the police station and inform them. Later, my boss didn’t even respect that contract and paid me less during the holidays, and then I was forced to sign a new contract altogether for even less money. I was not smart about China back then, but even if I was, I still don’t think there is much anyone in that situation could do, or can in present day China.
My boss later told me that Chinese people are not really lying because a native Chinese person could read between the lines and figure out the truth. Which leads me to wonder, well why lie in the first place if you know the other person will guess the truth from what you’re saying? Wouldn’t it be easier just to tell the truth openly in the first place? But remember, this is China where people do things that would seem stupid to rational persons. Supposedly, lying helps in saving face if you have something difficult to say.
A great example where you can see how Chinese people lie to cover up their faults is with sex. The Chinese will claim that they are a decent people and a harmonious society. Pornography is banned, porn sites are censored and sex out of marriage is unacceptable. Parents will not utter a word about sex to their children, and anything suggestive is banned from the media as China promotes its image to the world as full or morals. All of the immorality is from the West, imported along with capitalism. Yet all through China's history, sex has played a part. I mean, how do you think the population got so big? Seriously, if you read some of the ancient Chinese novels, you will see mention of courtesans - a euphemism for prostitute. Even the Emperor did the hanky panky with some of them.
When I first came to China, I bought the deceit and thought China was a very traditional society and people all kept in the traditional bounds of no sex outside of marriage. However, after living in China for 2 years, I know this is not true. Even some of my Chinese relatives play around with all different sorts of partners, and they are uh . . . traditional countryside people.
She has a new boyfriend again??? Whatever happened to the old one? Wasn't he new just last week?
The Chinese government will stand on a box with a megaphone and shout that China is free of sexual immorality. But a stone’s throw away, there will be a brothel. Prostitution is rife in China and the streets are dotted with so-called massage parlours with red lights. Everyone knows they are there in big cities and villages and you could go in and get anything from a massage to a full night where anything goes, but the Chinese government will toe the official line: prostitution is illegal in China, while its own officials are going in these brothels.
I heard a story about a man who had some boxes posted to him from the USA, and in one of them were pornographic magazines. The post office workers had opened the box and confiscated them and when he went to collect his boxes, they gave him his stuff but without the porno. So he sarcastically asked the young male worker, “So, how do you like the ladies?” The worker didn’t understand but a female worker nearby did and made him pay a 50 RMB fine.
Why is a mystery. I used to work in a school on a busy shopping street and there used to be a street stall selling porno. In full view of every man, woman and student passing was a rack on which were displayed 15 or so magazines with full frontal nudity on the cover. In my travels throughout China, I have often come upon the same thing: sex stores selling all manner of sex toys and paraphernalia. But the Chinese will claim they do not have this kind of thing in China.
Their denial has led them to ignore AIDS which has spiraled into a serious problem. And what I don't get is this: why does the government filter out internet porn sites from which you cannot get AIDS, but it allows all these little sex bars to continue unregulated, from which you could very well get AIDS? It’s because the government, like the average Chinese person, is hypocritical and cares more about its face than what it really is inside. So it puts itself out to convince the rest of the world that Chinese people always keep within 'accepted moral sexual boundaries' while problems get bigger and bigger until they’re out of control.
In any case, with the spate of news about the bad quality of Chinese products, I’m not sure regulation of sex bars will do anything much. Using Chinese condoms, you may still end up with AIDS or twins.
This phenomenon of lying carries on from the lowest levels of Chinese society, right up to the highest. So let’s jump to the next level: government officials and the police. Dishonesty is best manifested here in corruption. Now, every country in the world has corruption but the difference is that corruption in China has infiltrated all walks of life, such that you can get nothing done in China at the government level unless you pass money under the table. And if you don’t or you are late in doing so, it’s the worse for you.
To give some background, paying bribes has been part of Chinese culture and society for a very long time. So long that it is now accepted, like many other things wrong with this society, as the natural way of things. Money greases the workings of a relationship and this institutionalized bribery is even given its own sanitized euphemism: guanxi. Guanxi is more than just money; it is having good relationships with people in power and you can improve your relationships by taking your boss or whoever out for an expensive dinner, or helping your friends, expecting that in return, when you need their help, they will help you. But money does play a large part.
If you live in China, you know that if you pay the right people and maintain good relationships with them, you can get ahead. In one of the schools I worked at, a Chinese teacher can only work there if he or she first pays a huge sum of money. 200,000 RMB I've heard to secure a job for the rest of your life. Or if you know someone, like he or she was your classmate in school and long-time friend, you can also get in through the back door. People who hold respected positions, like the principal of a school, regularly do things that are corrupt. Like accepting bribes (if you're Chinese, read 'gifts') in return for a job. Even when you have your job, you have to pay the leaders in a school to keep the relationship oiled. One teacher told me she paid her headmaster 500 RMB a year. And my former boss, the one who lied and cheated me out of several thousands of RMB, regularly paid the police in case he ever ran afoul of the law. Like if I ever went and reported him, nothing would come of it because, through his bribes, he had developed a relationship with the police.
A hilarious case of corruption erupted recently: in Shandong Province, a Communist Party boss preferred sexual favours over money. He slept with 11 of his subordinates wives, and in return, gave them lots of money or gave their husbands contracts worth lots of money. Their husbands were also corrupt and some of them were sentenced to death for it, but the leader wasn’t. The 11 mistresses were upset that their husbands were punished, but the leader wasn’t so they banded together and broke the story. As a side note, sentenced to death doesn’t necessarily mean execution in China. If you’re poor, then it probably does, but if you’re rich and have good relationships with people in power, you will most likely get out of jail easily.
But as I already mentioned, I think this integral part of Chinese society has probably been going on for a long time. Of course it must then be acceptable because as we all know, China has a 5000 year history so everything this country does is perfect. Guanxi is like a kind of glue that knits Chinese society together. But to me it's the root of corruption. Can we really expect not to have corruption if we have guanxi? Yet, Chinese society is so difficult to change so will corruption ever decrease substantially? Maybe the new economy and the new wealthy middle class will be a catalyst for change. And China will change much faster than expected. Then again, considering many Chinese can’t even learn simple things like flushing the toilet after shitting, I have a great many doubts.
The Chinese government pays lip service to fighting corruption, and that is the reason why it still goes on on a very large scale. It is often said the government can turn on a dime because there are no lengthy democratic processes to waddle through. This is true because if the Communist Party says, “Jump!” and you don’t jump, you will end up being harassed, beaten up, in jail, tortured, and / or at worst, killed. Yet almost 20 years after the Tiananmen massacre, in which the students were partly demonstrating against corruption, bribery, institutionalized theft, call it what you will, continues to be rampant. Common people are angry at this: recently, there have been lots of protests against corrupt government members. It simply points to a society filled with greed and selfishness, where everyone looks out for himself and not for each other.
Finally, let’s jump to the top level, the biggest deceiver of all: the Chinese government. All governments lie and cover up facts, but if all governments were on a world stage, the Chinese would take a trophy home. Or preferably, a rotten potato because lies and deceit are nothing to be proud of, a lesson the Chinese still have to learn.
The Chinese government lies to the people and the rest of the world. It continuously trumpets that China is a harmonious society and all is well and good. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Chinese people do think China is a harmonious society because the government deceives them. There is a blanket over the media that censors anything considered subversive.
There was a story in the news: an undercover reporter filmed a bun vendor mixing 40% meat, 60% cardboard picked up from the street, and caustic soda to use as filling in his buns. The world was shocked and the story rebounded around the world, though having lived here for two years, I thought it was tame and humorous. Hey, how does the cardboard taste? Two days later, the press reported that the cardboard-in-buns was a false investigation. The reporter had recanted and was jailed. Experience from living here tells a different story that says the Party forced the reporter to recant because it made China look bad in the eyes of the international community, and as a warning to others only to report harmonious stories, jailed the reporter. Seems like I’ve lived here too long: I know the Chinese well enough to detect when some of them lie to me.
Current events, what's happening in your country-everyone should know that. But do Chinese people really know what goes on in China? Even many foreigners who just watch CCTV9 get the idea that everything is hunky dory in China. Protests are illegal. They undermine the current regime. So when they do happen, they get hushed up. Imagine my surprise when I got censorship bypass software and read on the BBC how many protests in rural areas there were. And violent ones too with cars being overturned and burned out.
Foreign media sources report that 50,000 protests take place in China every year, partly in response to corruption. In one recent year, approximately 97,000 Party members were hauled up for graft. Yet whatever happened to these people? Were they suitable punished? No-one knows because the government hides it all from the people. The blanket over the media is total. Anything that gets shown on TV must be reviewed by the Communist Party cronies. And it's apparently willing to hush up many things the public should know about. The modern history of China - well everyone should know their country's history but in museums, Chinese history stops at 1949. Most Chinese have no idea how many people died during the Great Leap Forward, or of how China was thrown into chaos during the Cultural Revolution, or even what occurred in Tiananmen Square only 18 years ago.
The Party maintains its grip on the Chinese populace and keeps them from knowing everything that is happening in China. It tries to do the same with the rest of the world. Note also all the 'putting on a show' for the 2008 Olympics so everybody will have a nice rosy picture of China. Oh yes, China is very clean- in Beijing, we didn't see a single person spit or litter, and they all formed queues at the bus stops. Rubbish!
Will the Chinese ever change their attitude and demand openness and honesty from their government?
One day, I gave a class on internet censorship. One of the students remarked that the government made the decision to censor the internet so we shouldn’t question it. She had no idea why we were discussing this topic.
This demonstrates another aspect of the Chinese: they often cannot think for themselves and Chinese culture trains you to blindly follow and obey. One of the chief figures in Chinese history is Confucius who taught that citizens should obey their leaders. Rulers in turn promoted Confucius’ teachings because obedience in their subjects made their subjects easier to control (and exploit). Thus the root of blind obedience to rulers took hold. In modern day China, it has been helped in no small degree by the threat of jail, torture, and perhaps even execution if you 'divulge state secrets', a term arbitrarily applied when no proper charge is present.
But if the Chinese want honesty from their government and they want corruption to decrease, they first have to learn to change themselves and their habit of lying towards their fellow men. And as the Chinese are stubborn to change, except to make things more complicated and life more difficult, I think most of them will have two faces for a very long time yet.