The peculiar mix of nationalism with verbal aggression and criticism of the government that distinguishes China’s “irate youth” is generally an online discourse, but today I had the unsettling experience of facing it from the lips of a middle-age (nearly 60) former journalist-turned-building conservator who gave me a ride from the artists’ colony of Songzhuang back to downtown Peking. He, like myself, was invited to a party at the house of a Chinese artist who is married to a European.
The conversation started with his stating that university professors in China were bad (huai) because they only looked after contracts that brought in money, and for this reason neglected students and did not speak up against the sprawl of skyscrapers and highways in Peking but, on the contrary, fooled the Party into believing that this was actually good; similarly, they did not speak out against the folly of the Olympic Games. For a moment I thought that he was criticizing the government too, but no — he was taking intellectuals to task for their lack of loyalty to the Party, which after all gave them their bread. In his view, criticism of these policies would not have had any negative consequences for the scholars — apart from being deprived of contracts from real estate developers.
This criticism was then extended in two directions. The former Guangming Ribao journalist — he worked for what was considered the Party’s ideological mouthpiece from the 1970s until the 1989 massacre — attacked primary and secondary schools, too, for their unbridled greed in fleecing students — and for their immoderate promotion of English, which in his opinion was nothing but the language of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and hormone-manipulated beef. These in turn were just a few more bad things that capitalism had brought. (For all this, he too had paid for his 13-year-old son’s school trip to America, which he rubbished as another money-making venture of teachers in cahoots with travel agents who of course send the children to stay with low-class Mexican families who need the money.)
Apart from the last comment, my interlocutor would not have been far out of place in any anticapitalist gathering, but here the conversation took a new turn. He explained that he wanted his son to become a doctor of Chinese medicine, and while it wasn’t possible to isolate him from outside influences, certain rules applied, such as a ban on reading Japanese comics. Why? Because Japan was bad and had to be “brought down” (dadao) for its killing of Chinese people. How? By nuking it.
That’s when we arrived at our destination.