Saturday 22 March 2008

Inside China: Hatchlings of Democracy get nasty

Inside China

BBC’s Inside China season seems to be getting more interesting as they broadcast the topical issues that give us insight into this world of history and culture that has been seriously abraded by the sameness and inequalities of Communism.

A teacher stepped before a class of 8-year old children and introduced the concept of democracy then called an election for class monitor with the contestants being; a girl (Xu Xiaofei) and two boys (Cheng Cheng, Luo Lei), one of whom had been hand-picked as class monitor (Luo Lei) the previous two years.

Please Vote for Me was an eye-opener into a possible future of Chinese democracy that left me seriously winded by the manipulation, treachery, scheming and cut-throat competition – this was definitely no child’s play by any stretch of the imagination – this was war.

Moi, The Class Monitor

In two different higher institutions I was class representative, I do not think I had any political savvy, I just went in front of the class and gave an unscripted speech, then left people to decide.

Strangely, I never had to set up a political campaign committee though for greater office I might have had to do that, but I always got the popular vote and the responsibility that went with that office.

Once an observer accused me of not leading my constituency by example because I was a noisemaker – well, my class did have a reputation for making noise and one had to separate example from representation – I replied, “My class is a noisy class, if I cannot represent them in what we are know for I would not be doing my job.”

No child’s play

I had hoped the selection of class monitor would be a speech and a vote; but the campaign involved a musical presentation, a debate highlighting the opponent’s faults with rebuttals and a final speech before the vote. Each contestant was allowed to have two class assistants to help with their campaigns.

This would have all been benign but for when the parents got involved as “political advisors” when in fact, they were literally living out their aspirations through their kids.

The China one-child-policy has unintended social consequences that are beginning to unravel, one of which was highlighted in another Inside China programme – Looking for a China Girl about the shortage of spouses for Chinese men.

The lone child dynamic creates a rather more selfish personality prone to demanding and obtaining their requirements without question, they become demigods – this is quite different from the first child personality.

Xu Xiaofei

Before Xu Xiaofei had time to give her quite talented musical performance, Cheng Cheng got the whole class to shout her down, she never recovered her confidence, but also being from a one parent family, it appeared lone children seem to need both parents more for their development of character than if they had siblings – her mother did try hard to prop her up.

Cheng Cheng also put her seriously on the defensive and the fault pointing debate that her final speech was more a plea for understanding than a manifesto for change.

Cheng Cheng

Cheng Cheng was something of the larger than life figure, garrulous, scheming and with ambitions to become the President of China, he completely intimidated his opponents that Luo Lei wanted to pull out of the election.

His musical rendition was a song that got everyone singing along after which he hugged everyone flattering them and asked them all to vote for him – he had cornered the electorate.

He could silence the class with his booming voice at one command, his confidence was overbearing.

His parents were the most pushy and forceful, they primed him, got him to rehearse and memorise his speeches and gave him all sorts of ideas to wrong foot his opponents – pollsters would have called the election for him.

Luo Lei

Luo Lei’s performance was rubbished by Cheng Cheng apart from saying that Luo Lei sang completely out of tune. He in fact did not think his parents should help him, he had a quality of self-belief that his parents first had difficulty becoming his “political advisors”.

Luo Lei’s father suggested he invite his calls for a free ride on the new monorail in town – that was the election bought the first time; everyone was going to vote for Luo Lei.

The big fight

Cheng Cheng was not going down without a fight but made the mistake of promising to vote for Luo Lei such that whilst he successfully listed a litany of faults of Luo Lei and was able to brand him a dictator by getting everyone who had been ruffled and beaten by Luo Lei to raise their hands; Cheng Cheng was a branded dishonest and a liar because he changed his decision to vote for Luo Lei.

Cheng Cheng was still the frontrunner though he did not trust his classmates would vote for him that he asked the narrator to enquire again of a girl who said she would vote for him when he was out of earshot.

The election bought again

At the final speech, Cheng again gave the best performance but Luo Lei had presents for his classmates in commemoration of an oncoming holiday after his speech.

The election was bought a second time and this time, it worked – Luo Lei was elected despite being a strict class monitor bordering on a bully and being a “dictator”.

Xu Xiaofei burst into tears and Cheng Cheng walked out of the class before the inauguration to shed tears in the toilet as his assistants were completely inconsolable.

They were eventually brought together to reconcile but these hatchlings of democracy looked like they would grow into leviathans with untrammelled might.

Even I would not enter the bear pit with these Machiavellian political heavyweights, I do fear if this is the democracy China would acquire in the next generation.

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