There were three people nearby who wanted to talk. One was a young man, quite handsome and a little muscular, who said he was an actor in TV dramas. "Which TV dramas have you been in?" I asked.
"I do all kinds, but they are all awful," he replied. "The standard is so low. All us actors want to do the job and take the money, and then we hope that the series never get sold and broadcast. It is too embarrassing to be seen on screen in these dramas."
The second person was a middle-aged academic, an urban planning expert surnamed Gu who was on his way back to Nanjing University from a trip to Tokyo.
So how is China's urban planning going? "It is proceeding well," said Mr Gu. "A massive shift in population is going to take place over these next two decades, from the countryside to the cities." What model is China using? "We look at all models, but basically we are not learning from others so much as teaching them. I was in Tokyo to give a lecture on China's experiences in urban planning. They are learning from us."
Then there was a woman aged around 40. I asked her profession and she said "Marxist philosophy". Wow. I love the contrasts of China. It turned out that Ms Zhao is a teacher at a college in Nanjing, and she teaches Marxism.
"What (on earth, was I fear the implication of the way I phrased it) is the relevance of Marxism in today's China?" I asked.
She looked at me with a sort of pained expression, as if to say, "Not you too – stop torturing me," and then replied defensively: "Well, it is very relevant. Society rests on two legs and one of them is Marxism."
The left leg, no doubt.
The demonizing of China continues in parts of the West, for reasons that are truly puzzling. Italian premier Berlusconi's extraordinarily irrelevant comments about boiled babies in the 1950s, a reference on CNN comparing street demonstrations in Paris to Tiananmen 1989 … It looks like it's time to re-run the forced abortion and prison labor stories.
China is far from perfect in all sorts of ways, but looking around it is hard to dovetail the China referred to in these western reports with the China that we see growing and changing around us every day.
Apologist? I don't believe so. One related aspect is the degree to which politics and propaganda intrude on the lives of Chinese people. The countryside of China in the 1970s and 1980s was covered in political slogans – constant references to the great, glorious and correct Communist Party, and to the wise leaders and their political agendas. Now, there is almost no politics in the countryside. The roads and buildings are still plastered with slogans, it is true, but they are almost all about birth control. One in a thousand refers to the party.
The most visible political signs in the countryside, in fact, are in the houses of many farmers who have big pictures of Chairman Mao on their walls. Why? "He is our hero," they say. But he seems to transcend politics. He is rather a modern day equivalent of Buddha, placed on the wall to protect the family.
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