In China, Be Human

Somewhere on the Airport Expressway
Beijing
2149 hrs

Heading home after an exceptionally long day (global CEO in town) passing a 1/4 ton truck half filled with leaves and five guys with dirty orange coveralls crapped out on top of the pile humming along at 120 kilometers an hour, I am reminded once again that for all of the advancement in this country, human life remains an exceptionally cheap commodity.

To an economist that’s not surprising: in a country with 1.3 billion people, human life is plentiful, and thus inexpensive. The marginal value of each individual is to the state and its economy is, depending on which expert you ask, not only tiny, but indeed perhaps negative. China has too many people, we are told. Take this logic an extra step, and the question then becomes “so, how do we shave a few hundred million off of the total.”

A repugnant thought to anyone raised in a tradition that teaches that the value of an individual life is equal to the value of the entire world.

Okay. So say it’s “culture.” Say that China is different from the West. Accept it. Deal with it.

You start making compromises with your humanity like that, and sure as hell, you will find yourself justifying injustice all day long in China.

The challenge is to sustain and constructively channel that just outrage without allowing it to consume you, to neither apologize for this place nor to hurl yourself bodily against the system in protest, but to find a way to create change a little bit a day.

I smile a lot. I salute the guards back when they salute me. I tip. I say thank you. It’s not much, but dammit, if more people would do it, I guarantee you this would be a lot nicer place to live and work.