Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
Here’s what’s known as the Marble Boat, located within the Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan 颐和园) in Beijing. Thanks to wikipedia we can learn it was built in 1755, destroyed in 1860 during the Second Opium War, and restored again in 1893 by order of the Empress Dowager Cixi (shout out to Muench students!) It’s made to look like it’s floating on water but don’t be fooled. Also don’t be fooled by its name and marble appearance, the entire structure is made out of wood.
Altogether, the Summer Palace is quite a big place, and thus lured a few of us to escape from our monotone tour guide and climb over a sign labeled “No Admittance”. Only good things became of this excursion, save the look on the tour guide’s face when we finally returned after a good hour of mindless exploring. I learned yesterday that no one likes tour guides in China, even the Chinese. Mostly it’s because they are paid a low salary and any additional profit comes from taking a percentage of the earnings made after those in their group buy things. So don’t take it personally if your tour guide in China gives you death stares like ours did. Just buy an expensive item and they will be your friend.