Kids Playing with Needles, Tiananmen Square & Raging Capitalism
Ever see the famous 1989 picture of the student in China standing off against four tanks? That’s Beijing’s Tiananmen square. We went there yesterday. It’s vast, big enough for literally a million people.
The 1989 incident is just one of many reasons for the “Great Firewall of China,” the massive content filter manned by the Chinese government.
Subscriber Liz Parrish posted this on my blog the other day:
“I was in Guilin for 3 days in the fall of 1989. Tiananmen Square happened in June, I was in Guilin in October.
“In the gift shop of the hotel, they had said booklet telling the “real” story of what happened at Tiananmen Square, how the outsiders had incited the peaceful students to protest, etc. I nearly bought it but couldn’t quite bring myself to hand money to the Chinese government after what had happened.”
Hey baby, that ain’t nothin’ compared to the worship of Chairman Mao. His statues are everywhere and his face is on the money. Despite the fact that this guy was, uh, one bad hombre.
To a person, people have admiration for Chairman Mao. They wear Mao hats and t-shirts and speak of him with reverence.
Who can appreciate the power of propaganda more than marketers like us?
Who can appreciate the power of . . . persuasion . . . more than marketers?
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***Comes with special bonus: John Paul Mendocha’s new biography, “Josef Stalin, friend of children and puppy dogs.”
Lest you think today’s message is a bash China session, though, I’d like to show you the other side of the coin. I’ve been quite impressed with China this week.
First of all, yes, China is officially a “Communist country” but make no mistake, it’s the world capital of capitalism. It’s no welfare state, let me tell ya. It’s the most Darwinian place on earth. If it makes money, somebody’s doing it in China.
I was in China in ’04 and several things have dramatically changed since then:
1) We visited the “Drum Tower” in Beijing the other day. Looked over the city. I suddenly noticed the absence of . . . SMOKESTACKS. The last time I was in China, I would have seen twelve of ‘em. If not 20. All belching filth into the sky. In every city you can think of. This time in Beijing, I saw one from the Drum Tower. Just one.
Why is that?
It’s the Olympics in 2008. Man did they clean that place up to get ready for it. It might have bankrupted the Greeks but it left China much cleaner. Oh, and yesterday, the day we left Beijing, the sky was as clear as it is in Chicago. Well, almost. It wasn’t smoggy like the day we arrived.
Years ago my buddy Tom Hoobyar predicted: “The Chinese will perfect environmental remediation and then sell it to the world.” Wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be right.
2) I visited a lake, near the “Hutong” historic neighborhood. It didn’t stink! It was lovely. In the past, when you walked past a lake or river, it smelled foul. No more.
3) No litter. In 2004 litter was everywhere. Now it’s gone. Streets are clean.
4) No plastic bags. China used to have these paper thin plastic bags that would blow around and get stuck in everything. Awful. The government banned them. Now you don’t see ‘em.
5) They’re cracking down on piracy. No more pirated CD’s on every street corner.
6) Last time I was in China, EVERYONE smoked, especially the men. Cigarette butts everywhere. Not this time. Not many people smoking and hardly any butts.
I cannot imagine the US doing a 180 on that many fundamental issues in 7 years. It’s probably impossible in a democracy. But when the Chinese government decides to change direction, baby, they lay down the law.
I had a friend whose grandmother lived in Pittsburgh in the 50′s and when he would visit, the place was filthy from steel mills. If you hung white sheets on a clothesline in the back yard, they’d be gray when you brought them in. That was from the soot.
Pittsburgh cleaned up; I hope you know it’s not like that anymore.
China is cleaning up too.
China is growing like crazy. Growing countries have growing pains. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a huge construction crane in the distance. Or maybe 5 of them. They have a rapidly growing middle class. They have way more cars than before, and they’re nicer cars.
So anyway, yeah – we went to Tiananmen square where my boys played hackeysack. Saw a Kung Foo show, which was absolutely amazing. And got rickshaw rides in the Hutong with a really great tour guide who spoke great English. My 11 year old “The Artist” pummeled him with questions about Chinese characters.
You can see some of Laura’s pics at
Yesterday we flew from Beijing to Kunming to Lijiang. That’s sort of like flying from Philadelphia to Denver to Aspen Colorado. But our flight was delayed a few hours and we only had 45 minutes to make a connection.
This wouldn’t have been a problem except that they couldn’t check our bags through so we had to go pick up our bags and re-check them.
A super-helpful woman from the airline took pity on us and moved us to the front of every line. We made it with 3 minutes to spare.
It’s hard to describe how much China has changed in the last 11 years, since the first time I was here. Back then, white people were something of an anomaly. When Bryan first moved here in ’00, people would yell at him as he walked down the street:
HELLO HELLO MARIAH CARY MICHAEL JORDAN! HELLO HELLO!
When I visited, most of the cars were these pitiful little tin cans, or else trucks that looked like tractors, or these big blue diesel monstrosities.
Now you see Toyotas and Buicks and an occasional Mercedes.
Prices here have doubled or tripled in the last 10 years. What used to be a smash buy is now merely a nice bargain. And expensive stuff is the same here as it is in the US. At top rated hotels, a cup of coffee costs 5 bucks – it used to cost 50 cents.
It still costs 50 cents or a buck at the cafe down the street. But the difference is peoples’ willingness and ability to pay. The distance between top and bottom here is huge. The top goes up and up. As Jay Abraham likes to say, “How high is up?”
OK, one last tidbit before I go – and I promise to post some awesome pictures in the next day or two.
Where I am right now in Yunnan, there’s this bizarre fad, which is giving kids IV’s. As in, feeding kids intravenously just for the fun of it. Once in awhile you actually see someone walking down the street next to their kid with an IV. Today I saw an IV store, they sell the supplies. Just like a pharmacy.
It’s not cuz the kids need it. It’s because they think it’s good for ‘em. Sort of like vitamins or something.
Hideous but true.
I wonder what WE do that THEY think is totally insane?
More to come soon-