There has been a bit of a fire in Shanghai. Actually, it was rather a large blaze by all accounts, seeing as how a large apartment building caught fire, killing dozens and injuring many more.
Now, you all know me and you know I’m not one for shedding crocodile tears. If there’s one thing I hate about Chinese society above all else, it’s the sheer hypocrisy that permeates every aspect of life here. So, you won’t find me bleating on about some dead people I don’t know, didn’t want to know, and am not going to miss. Sorry if you think that’s a bit harsh, but quite frankly I couldn’t care less. Whether they die today in an apartment fire, or die in a few years time in a nuclear fire when they piss off a few more of their country’s neighbours; it’s all the same to me.
But there are a few points worth mentioning, because they tell you plenty about the Chinese way:
1. A fire in Shanghai gets a lot of press coverage. A fire in the countryside, or in a provincial city, wouldn’t rate a text message, and if you did make a story out of it, you and your family would be taken away, declared insane, and tortured to death. Shanghai matters because it’s highly visible, and that’s that. Face matters. That’s the Chinese way.
2. Within hours the head of the Public Security Bureau (China’s version of the KGB) was on a plane to Shanghai, to say how much he sympathised with the families blah blah blah. This is a guy who is responsible for thousands of murders every year. But hey, none of those are in the public eye, right? That’s the Chinese way.
3. Before the fire was even properly out, before the Origin & Cause investigation had even had a chance to begin, eight people were arrested. All of them from the countryside, so they won’t be missed (and if they are missed then their families can be forced to keep quiet, far from the eye of the foreign press). Why? Because someone must be blamed. It doesn’t matter what happens, it doesn’t matter who is responsible, and it especially doesn’t matter what the truth is, someone will inevitably be blamed, and that person will be the person who has the least power to defend himself. That’s the Chinese way.
4. New and ‘more stringent fire regulations’ have been ordered. Of course they have been. Nothing will change, and buildings all over China will continue to do good impressions of Roman Candles every few days, but the main thing is that the mandarins in Peking have made a proclamation, and the good folks of China believe them. The Party Bosses could order the moon to fly backwards, and The People would actually believe it happens. That’s the Chinese way.
5. For the next week, sales (and prices) of smoke hoods and fire extinguishers will increase, and so will sales (and prices) of various magical remedies for being burned to death. Little bags of magical twigs and various bits of lawn clippings will outsell smoke hoods and assorted magical incantations will take place in many homes. No one will actually consider how to get out of a building that is on fire; no one will walk the stairs down to the ground as a test-run; no one will invest in equipment to rescue people above the fourth floor; no one will unlock any of the fire exits; and no one will stop shooting fireworks at other apartments. This is the Chinese way.
I hate the Chinese way. I really do.