The Great Wall & insides on China’s society

Last weekend, I went on a Sunday-trip to the Great Wall. Tommy, a Chinese guy I had met, proposed to go to Simatai Great Wall, in Gubei Water Town, about 2 hours north-east of Beijing. We met at 7h in the morning to drive off, and we hit the most beautiful autumn day of all times! Chilly in the morning, nice & warm in the sun. Bright blue sky over the mountains while we were climbing up this small part of one of the most significant historical constructions of all times, built about 2,500 years ago. As it is a tourist site, the wall here is restored and with sometimes very steep but quite well-maintained steps. I have seen pictures from other parts of the wall where you literarily climb in wild scenery. That’s where I want to go next time!! 🙂  Access to Simatai is limited to 1,200 people per day…. and while one would think “wow, that’s a lot!”, Tommy urged me in the morning through the water town to get to the entrance gate, in order to make sure that we can get in… Well, you know: this is China!!

For this first visit, the place was perfect: The little town very picturesque, with water floating through, somehow a feel like little Venice. Instead of taking the cable car we decided to walk up, and down. It took us in total about 4,5 hours, including a lunch break at the top with an amazing view. With Tommy I had very interesting conversations about China, the history, the culture, the education. He is originally from Beijing, has worked in Real Estate for a while, but has decided now 5 years ago to apply for a job at the government, in order to get stability. He applied for lots of different jobs, had 7 interviews within only a few months. And is now working in the Agriculture Ministry checking on illegal construction in rural areas. The job is not really interesting, but he says to be very thankful for it as he has learned a lot about himself since he is working there. Stability is something very important in China. He says his mother is very worried about him, because he is still not married. He is 35 years old.

According to him, China has a huge and dramatic lack of education. It appears e.g. in a lack of politeness: people do not say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ to each other. And indeed, my new employee June said to me after her first week that it is not necessary that I always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you‘ to her when I ask her to do some work. I had to explain to her that politeness is for me the basis of all human interaction. Strange.

An astonishing fact I learned is that in 1949 apparently only 5% of the Chinese population could write and read. No idea about numbers, but still today, in rural areas in China, literacy is not a given fact. This is a huge difference to Taiwan, with its 50 years of Japanese occupation, or with HK and its 100 years of British occupation. As difficult as these times of occupation have been for China, but according to Tommy, it has created much more advanced and developed societies. He has so far only traveled in China, including HK, and to Chinese speaking countries (Taiwan and Singapore). His vacation traveling has been so far together with his parents – this is a very Chinese habit as well: only child, he organizes the trip, for him and his parents. He is thinking about a trip to Europe now, for the 3 of them. But, I am not sure what kind of salary he is earning. Because Europe trips are expensive for ‘normal’ Chinese people.

We talked a lot as well about Chinese materialism, or consumer habits: the need of having luxury goods in their possession. Firstly, they all have IPhones, and they cost new about 5-6,000RMB here (about 750 Euro, or 1,100$cad). The number of German luxury cars one can see here on the streets of Beijing is impressive. I was told that Mercedes is even producing a bigger S-Class model only for China. Big stands for more power, more influence. Tommy tells me that for his cousins wedding, the groom hired big Audis and Mercedes for the guests to travel from the hotel to the wedding reception. One of his former colleagues has been to Paris with his fiancée, and she made him buy three luxury handbags totaling the amount of 1 Mio. RMB (around 150,000 Euro or 200,000 $cad).

China is all about the clash within society: normal people living life in simplicity and basic happiness, driving around on their e-bikes, going every day to their normal job with a small salary, eating little meat-sticks, soups or dumplings prepared and cooked right there outside on the street corner. And then there is the so-called high-class, rich society part – according to my boss about 100,000 people in Beijing: people driving around in their Porsche, going into these shopping malls where even the ugly H&M sweater or a normal pair of Puma sneakers is more expensive than anywhere else in the world. It’s really weird.

And even more strange is the fact that these rich Chinese do not like to do shopping here in Beijing. They prefer to spend the money on a very expensive trip, in order to be able to buy “the real expensive thing” in Paris, or London, or NYC. The shops in my neighborhood Sanlitun: Prada, Gucci – you name it! – they are glittery as they have to be. But there are no people inside. Never. Only bored sales staff waiting for their workday to be over. Consuming in China is related to status. And the real rich Chinese person rather travels far, to purchase the same product. Chinese culture is very much influenced by the ‘standing’ of a person in the society. It is commonly also called “the face” of a person.


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