I have often said that if a picture is worth a thousand words, an action is worth 10,000 pictures. Actions are beliefs in motion. And since motion is not the natural state for most of us, it pulls back the curtain on true conviction. It must be conscious.
One of the questions swirling around the capital of questions that is Beijing is the government’s commitment to cleaning up the environment. In recent days I have witnessed three rather telling developments.
February 8, as you surely know, was New Year’s Day in China. It marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year holiday, or Spring Festival, as the Chinese refer to it. (It does not, however, mark the first day of spring on the Chinese calendar. That fell on February 4 in 2016.) This is by far the most important holiday of the Chinese year and leads to the biggest human migration on earth as people return to their hometown to celebrate with their extended families.
The holiday lasts 15 days and is filled with tradition, mostly having to do with promoting good luck and good health in the coming year. (If you’re interested, read some of my prior posts at this time of year about the details.) One of the most important rituals of the holiday, however, is setting off fireworks.
The eve of the New Year’s Day is one of the most important parts of the holiday, as I wrote in my last post. It is the time of the Nian Ye Fan, or reunion dinner. A sumptuous dinner is generally followed by the CCTV national gala, a variety show of dancers, singers, acrobats, and comedy teams. (I have yet to see a single standup comic here. All comedy is performed in pairs, or small groups of three or four.)
And there are fireworks. Not the public display variety as found in the U.S. on the 4th of July, but the individual variety since good luck and bad luck are individualistic, not collective. They start early in the evening and culminate at the stroke of midnight, when the New Year officially begins. And they go on all night, often well into the morning.
It’s hard to do the noise justice. It is deafening. And one of the reasons foreigners often leave for the holiday. If you are even a remotely light sleeper you can count on little rest on this night.
This year, however, both Beijing and Shanghai issued regulations, in the interest of air quality, that prohibited the use of fireworks during Spring Festival. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of the U.S. government prohibiting Christmas trees.
When I first heard of this restriction (workers went house to house to inform people of the change) I quietly chuckled to myself in the sure knowledge that the ban would be ignored to the same extent that all traffic regulations are.
And there was some initial fuss on social media, although it was not overwhelming and was offset by an equal amount of praise for the government’s efforts to clean the air we breathe.
But I was stunned when midnight arrived (I watched the gala with my wife, along with 450 million other households.) and all was quiet. There was a smattering of firecrackers but all went silent after just a few minutes. And it stayed that way all night and ever since.
And I have yet to hear any real grumbling about the change. While Chinese culture is steeped in tradition they are amazingly adaptive and, despite the government’s many foreign critics, incredibly supportive of a strong government that acts in their interests, no matter what the personal sacrifice.
On a related note, the government announced last week that it will begin construction of 16 new subway lines in Beijing with a total length of 300 km (186 miles) in 2016. This is on top, mind you, of the 554 km (344 miles) that already exists, bringing the Beijing subway system to nearly 1,000 km (621 miles) by the year 2020. (That means, of course, building 300 km of new subway and untold stations in less than four years. What other city in the world could match that? How long did the Boston Tunnel take?)
They will also add special bus and bicycle lanes to incentivize commuters to use public transportation. And they will put another 10,000 public bicycles at subway and bus stations on top of the 50,000 bicycles that are already in use.
Lastly, while taking my daily walk recently, I couldn’t help but notice that a coal-fired power station less than 1 km from my home, it’s plume of smoke like a lighthouse beacon during the winter months in the past, has been completely shuttered. The stack stands idle with no signs of life in its bowels.
And what about the 10,000 pictures? For the past two weeks the skies over Beijing have shone a deep blue. Even the mountains around Beijing are clearly visible on the distant horizon.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Although it has been cold enough to put pressure on the natural gas supply in Beijing.
I prefer to think of it as conviction and sincerity. If the government will ban fireworks for Spring Festival, I don’t believe there is anything it won’t do to clean the air, including cracking down on corrupt officials who look the other way on generous violators.
This is good news for China, for sure. I think, however, it is good news for the world at large. It proves that the once-perceived opaque and pragmatic government is truly and sincerely earnest about change.
And the Chinese people are more than ready to embrace it.
A very positive note, indeed, on which to start the Year of the Fire Monkey.
Some early praise for the author’s latest book, “Understanding China – There is reason for the difference”
“An insightful, compelling introduction to the intricacies of Chinese business and life.” – Kirkus Review
To see the full review from this prestigious literary company, please click on this direct link:
“Understanding China is a “must-read” for anyone interested in culture, working with Asian businesses, visiting China or simply if you enjoy a well-written book! I worked in China in the 90’s and while I eventually understood the differences, I never understood “why” until now. Moreau does a great job explaining the “why”. Well done!!”
(Not a relative!)
“Having done business and gone on personal journeys through the Asia Pacific region, I wish I’d read a book like this first. The premise is that being happy and effective in China requires more than just learning how things operate and working within the established system. This will bring frustration and leave you ineffective because you, the Westerner, will still be looking at these cultural differences as irrational. Mr. Moreau contends that only by understanding why things are the way they are in China and in the West can a Westerner actually influence outcome in China.
The author proceeds to explain the differences with very engaging writing that made me say, “Of, of course! It all makes sense now.”
(Also not a relative!)
Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.
You may contact the author at email@example.com