The mood in Beijing is best described by evoking some classic futuristic movie. Think Blade Runner spliced with The Minority Report. Swarms of young people are chaotically racing in the streets, always on the go, always in a hurry. This is only to be expected. While they are growing up, time here in China is ticking by faster than anywhere else in the world. As you negotiate your way through the swarms, you quickly find out about the only remaining rule of the pedestrian flows in Beijing: “ME FIRST!” Yet even with all this perilous commotion, the young always find the time to glance at their cameras, their laptops and post-modern mobile phones — a formidable army of gizmos dispassionately recording every moment, every face and every act in this consumerist hell.
With an intelligence corps of this magnitude, why would the state even need security services? In their hectic surgings, the streets of China’s richest cities are now more uniform than they had ever been. There are also many more slogans — only this time around they are phrased in the aggressive lingo of the advertising agencies, designed to plow straight through your frontal lobe and start whispering about unmet needs. "Love more!” is one of the jingles being peddled in Beijing by one of Europe’s most respected automobile makers. “Love more!” indeed.
The Chinese economy has been growing for the past thirty years. The obstacles fell by the roadside one by one. For thirty years, the genie of economic growth uprooted everything in its path, deftly taking advantage of all the perks of totalitarian communism. The party bosses have gotten used to posing as enlightened absolutists, but they have long become merely corporate executives in that sun-eclipsing mother of all corporations called The People’s Republic of China.
In such an environment, the workers’ rights and environmental standards are third-rate subjects at best. The human masses and what remains of nature are entirely subordinate to growth, which can be seen either as a cult or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The future may be now – if I may borrow the official slogan of Shanghai, the trade capital of the Universe: The Future Is Now – but this future is also unspeakably frightening. Especially when the alluring female employees of the Center for Urban Planning in Shanghai, the capital of the future, show you 3D projections of what the city is destined to look like in a few years. In this science-fiction extravaganza, one can see all kinds of details — only the people are missing. But why be petty? The reigning deus ex machina has a clear-cut plan: the citizen of the future is someone who feels no pain, someone who has been socially engineered to lose both, his reflexes and his capacity for reflection.
As I ponder this, the alluring female employees are invoking carefully selected phrases. The future. Now. Harmony. A better city. A better life. The digital city. Happiness. This is the newspeak of our times, which currently stands unopposed. The cheap classical music accompanying this breathtaking futuristic presentation couldn’t be more suitable to what is clearly an Orwellian nightmare waiting just around the corner.
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