It’s only been three weeks in to living in Beijing, but writing this blog is proving interesting for what I don’t say as well as what I do. As the wife of a diplomat I shouldn’t say things that are inappropriate for DD and his workplace, which means I can’t go wild with every detail about my life here, and as I’m in a country with regulated press I need to be careful with topics that might be politically sensitive and not spout my opinions on everything I see.
Sometimes I find this frustrating and disappointing. But at other times I have to confess it can be good for me, since if I’m honest with myself an anecdote I think is just so funny or juicy isn’t always all that, and as for opinions they can be even more treacherous, especially when I realise that they weren’t actually mine.
That’s not to say I haven’t been fascinated by what I’ve seen and heard so far. Sometimes it’s weird, like coming up against the Great Firewall of China, and sometimes disturbing, but never straightforward. The everyday China around me both confirms and contradicts what little I’d read in the foreign press, and it seems the greatest challenge I face is to accept that this country that’s so keenly observed and often quickly defined is, as with all others, nuanced and ever changing.
A writer by trade, I read the reporter’s guide on the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China website before I came out here, and it was humbling to learn just how sensitive and careful you should be when writing about this place. It explains why it’s no good for foreign journalists to just unearth a story and feel like they’ve done their bit. Long after they and the world have moved on from the headlines, local people who helped tell the story may still be suffering punishment at the hands of authorities in ways they weren’t prepared for. Even for an experienced well-meaning observer it’s not as simple as just crusading in, and thinking you know best can be a dangerous mistake. And as for me, hailing as I do from Britain where the party in government is pledging to scrap the Human Rights Act, and from Japan where they still have the death penalty, I would hardly be wearing the crusader’s badge very proudly.
What has come across most about people living here, both locals and expats, is that – of course – they just get on with life. On really bad smog days some try not to go out too much, while everybody chooses which sources of news and information to trust. They have their thoughts and opinions, and they express them when they feel it’s appropriate. Which is a good guideline for me too I think, as I write this blog, especially if it keeps me disciplined and spares readers from wading through quite so much chuff.
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