China – The Bad

Originally posted here –

Here’s the first of 2 or 3 posts I’ll be making about my opinion of China, based on various facts and data. I’ve lived here for about 4 years now and 7.5 years in this general area in Asia, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about this.

But… it’s complicated. Part 1 will get all the negative stuff out the way. Part 2 will reflect on the great things China is, will be, and has to offer.

The Bad


China is still largely in abject poverty. Although there is great pride in the people that ‘700 million have been lifted out of poverty’ (similarly written in Chinese but not so direct, such as 摘去贫困帽 (taking off the poverty hat) and 减贫(reduce poverty), it comes with a huge asterisk.

The definition of poverty in China is anybody earning $1.90 or less a day. This means anybody earning $1.91 a day is not considered poverty, and now fits comfortably in the ‘Low income’ bracket. Doesn’t sound so bad now, huh? But the fact remains, people here are VERY poor.

Additionally, the definition of poverty in China is not the same as the global definition of poverty. The global definition for a start, is ‘less than $2 a day’, but the US poverty line, for example, is around $12,000 a year for an individual.

Now obviously there is a lot more complications when it comes to what poverty actually is, regarding health, opportunity and so on. But that’s just it. Claiming 50% of your entire population has been lifted from poverty gives you the impression that 700 million individuals have been pushed out of a little mud hut, starving in the cold, and dumped in a flashy new apartment with a nice but modest car. This just isn’t so.

What’s worse is that the wealth of the country is rammed into the west coast cities, a big black marker pen line is drawn down the left side of them, and then the rest of the country’s economy is in shambles.

Here you can see that by 2020, things may look a little better for some places, but when comparing GDP across various provinces of China, the contrast is quite stark. Where you have eastern provinces and some central ones sharing a GDP with Canada, Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, a short trip out west and you cross over to territory sharing an economy with that of Kenya, Kazakhstan and even Zambia.

In this other map, you can see the mean income is divided very strongly across that eastern band:

Where the coastal provinces may be earning, per individual, 30-100%+ the mean income, the west is earning as little as half the mean.

When you think of China, you may think of the shiny, beautiful Skyline of The Bund. But we should never forget the dirty, dilapidated classrooms the children of China are growing up in, in their millions.

Now, the government has been providing the nation with a general prediction that growth will slow to 7% or even lower to around 6.5%. This is shocking news and a foreboding symbol of the future. Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly not true. There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that the Chinese economy is in fact growing much slower already.

The man in charge of the economy, The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang has even been leaked saying he can’t see how 6.5% is possible, and states it’s more likely to be as low as 2-3%. I won’t go into too much details on the evidence for the weakening economy, but trust me, it’s there.

Alongside this worrying reality, reports from China have insisted there is stability nationwide, with such unbelievable claims that unemployment is around 3-4% at any given time, but the reality is clearly less utopian.

With a false sense of security in its economy, compounded by a huge economic divide across the country, news only gets worse when businesses decide to leave in droves because China is now no longer quite poor ENOUGH to be profitable, compared to, say, India! Not only that, but around 70% of all Millionaires in China are either planning to leave China or have already left China, because their assets are not well protected or not very valuable in their home country.

The economy in China starts getting VERY complicated at this point, but needless to say, it’s very troublesome. So let’s move on:


The first thing most people think, is that the infamous One-Child Policy is inhumane and ineffective. Others might think it’s a necessary effort to curb an exploding population. Well, let’s take a look.

As you can see, the birth rate has been on the decline. But as you will also notice, the One-Child Policy, established in 1979, came immediately AFTER birth rates plummeted naturally. What happened?

Well, in short, during Mao Zedong’s ‘great leap forward’, he encouraged everybody to have as many babies as possible. Dozens! if possible per family. Then… a while after that the government decided this wasn’t such a great idea and started to re-educate. A lot of propaganda and education informing people to slow down was spread all over the streets, and, thankfully – as you can see – it was pretty effective.

But the Communist party figured this wasn’t enough, and established a rather foolhardy law that each family can only raise one child. Once this law was put in place, ironically, the population growth started to level off.

The interesting thing is, there are so many exceptions to this rule that almost 60% of women are actually allowed a second child, but actively choose not to. Now the rule has been updated to a 2-child policy, and its making no difference to the choices of those women.

However, the impact of the law has not gone unnoticed. With a huge percentage of families affected, China has an insane average family set up of

  • One child
  • Two parents
  • Four grandparents

This seems pretty normal until you realise that child is now entirely responsible for looking after her 6 aging family members, who are now living longer than ever. With the gender preference being male, there are 35 million extra men in China, too. This means competition is fierce and you end up with a lot of men unable to get partners for financial support.

Even worse, since the pressure on only children is to go to University and become rich, Schools are overcrowded, jobs are unavailable and half a dozen men end up living in 蚁族, or ‘Ant tribes’ – Tiny rooms, often even underground, with 6, 8 or more men cramped within. Each one expected to support 6 elderly folk.

With so few children being born, and so many old people living for so long, China is set to have an aging population crisis as bad or worse than Japan, with too few workers healthy and young enough to actually support the country.

So the population is kind of a mess, and there’s going to be no easy, quick way out of it.


China has to be the only place in the world that needs a ‘no spitting’ sign. This sign I spotted in the Shanghai subway system, which comes across as a surprise to me, since Shanghai is supposed to be the most civilized and westernized city in the country. And in many ways it is (but we’ll save that for the ‘The good’ post another day), but the Culture of Disgust is still strong even here.

You may see the occasional person spitting, peeing, vomiting wherever you are in the world, but it gets out of hand here.

Anecdotally, my commute to work involved a 5 minute walk to either the corner where I get a taxi, or to the subway station. Either way it’s the same distance. In that 5 minute walk, I decided to record my experience. For 2 months, every day (including weekends), I would take note whenever I heard a local Hock and Spit as loud as that person possibly could.

A few days went by and each day, at least one person, but usually 2 or 3, would hock up their junk and spit it on the floor roughly as loud as an angry seal. Then a few weeks passed. Finally, after 2 months, I gave up and realized I had proven the point I already knew. Every single day, in any given 5 minute period, a person – man or woman – in their 30s-80’s, will be certain to do this disconcertingly close to your feet.

It is an outrageous and bizarre phenomenon that has a few explanations. Some are simply related to the vast smoking culture – 1/3 of the entire population smoke, and about 45% of all cigarettes on earth are produced here. There are even arcade grab machines littered across the city, stocked full of cigarette boxes.

Other explanations are more complex, relating to the Purge of Intellects during Mao’s rule, threatened by their informed disagreements with him. Spitting loudly was a way to show you were just a country boy, rather than, say, a doctor, and thus your life was protected.

Who knows, but thankfully from what I can tell, the younger generation are at least trying to avoid this (though they’re not all free of guilt).

But alas, it gets worse. Peeing in the streets is absolutely rampant. When going to work via taxi, I’ll see at least one man (yeah it’s obviously always men), usually a taxi driver, peeing on a wall or on a tree. They don’t try to hide it or find a corner, they often even just stand in the middle of the pavement just letting loose.

Even more extreme, I’ve witnessed on no less than four occasions, people taking a shit in the subway. IN THE TRAIN. In one scenario, it was just a child, but rather than have a nappy, the mother chose the money saving option of just having a pair of trousers with a bum hole for easy excretion.

The child decided to let loose ON its mother, who was sitting in one of the seats. But she saw it coming. So rather than move or do anything in particular, she simply rammed one of the subway map papers handed out to everyone on board, under the baby’s bum, the baby let loose (and it was a liquidy one), and… well, that was that. She just sat there.

The train stopped at the next station and she CONTINUED to sit there, determined to get to her destination. Naturally by this point, I evacuated and waited for the next train.

This might be some extreme scenario, but it’s not. It is reported on frequently, and it gets worse as country folk come to the city during vacation times, unaware of any etiquette or health and hygiene standards. They will quite happily sit on a trash can and let it all out, walking off like it’s just another day. And after being here for so long, that’s how you eventually learn to treat these things.

My other gripe with Chinese culture is the lack thereof. Unfortunately, the Chinese Government has suppressed much of its native traditions and celebrations. Living in Korea and Vietnam, and visiting many surrounding countries, you see huge celebrations on times such as Buddhas birthday, the Lunar festival and so on. However, I see almost none of that here. I see no decorations, no parades, no festivals of great size. What I see are people going home to their families and sitting bored in front of the TV until it’s time to go back to work. Work will then make them stay for an extra weekend or two to make up for the ‘lost’ time they spent sitting in front of the TV. A holiday is rarely a holiday here. It’s more just a re-shuffling of the weekly schedule, moving some weekdays onto weekends. A kind of trick, or propaganda art to make people think they’re getting time off.

In Korea, I have a great memory of floating lanterns, thousands of people participating in a public display of parading fire-breathing dragons, Chinese music, ancient characters from Chinese stories. A parade that took 2 hours to pass you by as the giant wall of well-rehearsed individuals danced their way past you.

Gorgeous lights and displays, fireworks can be seen all around the borders of China. But rarely within. In fact, fireworks are now banned in Shanghai.

With such suppression, beliefs and culture seem to be merely an afterthought. Out west in the more open regions, you will see more of this still alive, but it’s not like its the pride of the country, it’s simply because the government hasn’t decided to stamp it out yet.

The government already has an iron grasp on religion (All churches and other buildings must report to officials regularly and their content must strictly adhere to guidelines), with Falun Gong being considered the religious practice of satan himself and anyone caught doing it will be arrested and probably have their organs harvested – that’s an actual thing, by the way, with some evidence showing up to a million Falun Gong individuals getting their organs taken without consent.

Look at those evil falun gong practitioners.

Muslims in Xinjiang, totalling 40% of the population in that region, are given curfew, with military presence all around at any given time, and their internet cut out completely sometimes for months at a time.

And I don’t even need to talk about TIbet, in which the spiritual leader of Buddhism was kidnapped, never to be seen again, and replaced with a new, Communist-friendly figure of Buddha.

You can start to see that pretty much every problem China has boils down to one thing: The Chinese Communist Party. Economy, Education, Culture, Equality, Corruption. It’s all there, in that gigantic party nobody can ever remove or replace.

So for now, there you have it. The bad. I need to do a part 2, including censorship, business & corruption and more, but then I promise you I will touch on the great things to hopefully wash the bitter taste from your mouth!

Every country has its problems, and I have happily complained in great depth about my own country, the USA, Korea, Vietnam and more. I just happen to live in China, so that is my current focus. Feel free to share a different opinion!


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