Chines Media – What are they so afraid of?

Another interesting day here, not nearly as bad as yesterday’s banking calamity but certainly more surreal. We went to visit one of the major Chinese media (I’d rather not say which one). The media here are run by the state, and this was my first face-to-face encounter with The Media. The first thing you notice as you step into the large building are the two uniformed guards, each standing on his own little platform on the side of the main door. At first they look like a low-budget version of those famous guards in London, the ones in the brilliant red uniforms and the tall furry hats who never change their facial expression. Indeed, across from their Beijing counterparts stands a large sign in Chinese warning vistors, “Do not disturb the poise of the guards” (or so my colleague translated it). These guards also carry guns in prominent brown holsters strapped around their green coats.

We had an appointment with an executive, and at first it seemed all would go smoothly. My Chinese colleague went into a little office to get us our guest passes, handed them to me and my Western colleague and the poker-faced guards let us through. But moments later, as we waited for the exceptionally slow elevator, we heard a lady yelling that we had to come back. It turns out, since two of us weren’t Chinese we needed a different type of badge, one for waiguoren. Being from America, this is kind of surprising — and I know, I need to understand that they think differntly here than they do in America and things are different and all that. Fine. I enjoy different cultures. But to differentiate people strictly because their eyes are shaped differently or their skin color is different — that just doesn’t sit well with me. Yes, I am a foreigner and I respect that foreigners might need a special badge. But if so, they should ask all visitors for their passport or ID — anyone American who happens to have Asian parents or Asian features could walk right in. It’s only visitors who have different eyes and skin color who are stopped. Okay, okay I know I’ve got to be tolerant. I tried, I promise. But I was with a colleague, also a Westerner, who has lived here for 12 years and he was more upset than I was. (Just think about how this would go over in the US, stopping only people whose eyes are shaped like this or skin color is like that. And I know, this isn’t the US. And it is still discriminating based 100 percent on race.) I wasn’t really angry, just perplexed. And I certainly wasn’t shocked; nothing shocks me here anymore. We then had to wait about 10 minutes for our “special” card for people with white skin and round eyes, and we were personally escorted by someone from the badge office. There were all sorts of other interesting aspects of this meeting (it was the first time I ever saw one of those tinted-globe-covered video cameras, recording every gesture and syllable, in a conference room) that will go into my book.

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