Identity in the age of bureaucracy, continued

And apropos of our recent discussion about ‘bureaucracy and alienation in American life’, here is a footnote from China, just for perspective (my emphasis):

Chinese parents’ desire to give their children a spark of individuality is colliding head-on with the Chinese bureaucracy’s desire for order. Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one… The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that Miss Ma and at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards – unless they change their names to something more common.

What would Kafka say now?

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China cliches: Hu knows Wen?

An amusing missive from Kaiser Kuo, at least for those of us who have lived in, or reported from, China.

It’s a sort of dirge from a weary soul who’s just seen too many bad articles/headlines/captions by foreigners about China. Just a few excerpts:

Welcome to Beijing, friends from the foreign press! I greet you on behalf of the many expatriates who’ve lived in Beijing for years. …

Please do not write “Beijing is a city of stark contrasts” and refrain from using any variation thereof — “a city of startling juxtapositions,” or (needless to say) “a city of yin and yang.” Not that it isn’t a city of, um, rather pronounced differences; it’s just too damned lazy an observation to make. A special enjoinder to photographers: please resist the temptation to position yourself in a hutong with a decrepit but charming tile-roofed courtyard home in the foreground and a shiny, hyper-modern steel-and-glass skyscraper rising behind. No using Blade Runner comparisons for Beijing. You’ll want to save those for Shanghai, believe me.

The bureaus of reputable western papers here in China have a rule against quoting taxi drivers. But since Beijing’s cabbies are so fabulously colorful, you will be permitted one exception. Make it a good one. Helpful hint: That story about efforts by our city’s cabbies to learn English phrases? That one’s been written several thousand times so please, anything but that one…

No writing “There is an ancient Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.’” There isn’t such a curse. No writing “the Chinese word for crisis includes the character for opportunity and the character for danger.” That it may be true doesn’t reduce my aggravation each time I see it in print. In fact, just to be safe, avoid anything involving “an ancient Chinese saying.” This will save you, anyhow, from having to Google for choice quotes from Sun Tzu or Confucius’s Analects.

Try your best to avoid phrases like “China’s rising middle class,” “the Little Emperors” and “ideological (or moral) vacuum.” Find a descriptive for security personnel other than “stone-faced.” And only use “Great Leap Forward” if you’re covering events like the triple jump or pole-vaulting….

While we’re on puns, some common ones to avoid include pander/panda and the always irksome Peking/peeking. And no using “your average Zhou” or “Zhou Sixpack.” There will be absolutely no punning on the interrogatives “who” or “when” and the family names of the Chinese president and premier, respectively. I know you’re thinking, “Hu knows Wen I’ll get another chance like this?” and I feel for you, but just resist it, okay?

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What an honor….

A friend of mine in China tells me that the “Great Firewall of China” appears to be blocking my blog. She can’t access it in Beijing.

I was just about to uncork some champagne at this honor–one of the highest accolades for writers in the free world–and was ruminating on which of my clearly insurrectionist blog posts might have deserved this compliment.

Alas, my friend now thinks that the Party (always such a party!) might be “batch-blocking” all WordPress blogs (but not Blogger for some reason) right now. What a bummer. I want them to ban me.

Anybody know the details?

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