One of the reasons me and my husband bonded back when we first met was we didn’t quite fit in. We sometimes felt like outsiders in our own societies, him in China and me in the UK. I was a slightly socially awkward non-drinking vegetarian. He was a strongly patriotic non-drinking non-smoking Chinese man, who shuns guanxi.
In the first week of knowing my husband he told me the story of how his Chinese (Cantonese) landlord in the UK had tried to withhold his entire deposit when he moved out and how he’d pursued it through the courts, represented himself and won. He kept the judgement letter as a symbol of his achievement and hates all southern Chinese forever. I found it admirable, that he’d stood up for what he believed in and had the strength to stand up to a bully, in a country and system that wasn’t his own.
This characteristic of his raised its head when people smoked in restaurants near his pregnant wife or baby, and he was quick to have them told off; when negotiating work contracts, he’s insistent on having set days off and stops picking up the phone after he leaves the office; he tells off queue jumpers aplenty. He likes rules and he wants everyone to follow them.
But how did a man from northern China end up this way? When Chinese society promotes guanxi (connections) for solving all manners of things, where people can give a hongbao (i.e. wad of cash) to get themselves out of a pickle or get them what they need. Where rules of the road are guidelines and non-smoking signs are just for decoration.
To put it bluntly, there is no rule of law and injustice is rife. People from low socio-economic backgrounds suffer injustice, domestic violence is barely acknowledged in society, people live to maintain their face, human rights are more often than not foregone for the greater good. Not exactly a country of playing by the book.
He recently had a road accident where a car hit him on his bike, causing his bike to be severely damaged and fortunately just minor scratches to his leg. He insisted the driver pay him compensation for his losses, and was delighted that the driver couldn’t get his car back from the impound until an agreement was reached. After not reaching an agreement, he was disappointed that the car had been recovered anyway, most likely through giving a hongbao, and he would likely not receive any redress. This was of course a massive blow that caused him great dissatisfaction. There would be no justice on this occasion.
I haven’t found how he came to be this way. It may have something to do with his dad being a soldier, then a policeman. Or due to some troubling experiences during primary school. But I have found that living here in China, he will keep suffering these wrongs, of a system, which doesn’t favour justice or stick up for the consumer. I hope he will fare better in my home country one day, but I also accept that life is not always fair. I hope he can accept that too as life goes on, but I suspect this will always be part of him and his little quirks: for which I will love him.
- Leaving China Is Hard - November 21, 2019
- Going against the Grain: Not your average Chinese Guy - May 28, 2018