Chapter Five – Passage One
“Hierarchy is extremely important to the Chinese people,” Alan is telling us. “Do not use your western ways of thinking here in Xinjiang. Try to be more open-minded and set aside your own biases and preconceptions.”
It’s the next day and we’re all gathered back at Building 11. Everyone has signed onto the project. We’re all gathered back in the laboratory trying to figure out what exactly it is that we’ve signed on for. That morning, Alan is walking us through some preliminaries.”
“A good example,” continues Alan, “is that in the west I know you have the saying, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’“
“So true!” says Coleman, giving two big thumbs up. For some reason he has sunglasses on even though we’re all inside and it’s only a bit past nine o’clock in the morning. I might be imagining it, but I’m pretty sure there’s liquor on his breath.
“Well,” says Alan, “here in the east, we have a saying of our own– ‘The tall grass first gets the scythe.’” Alan gives us all a flat look. “Need I say more?”
“Sure,” says Katherine. “Message received, loud and clear. We all believe in democracy. You believe in communism. We tell our kids to be themselves and follow their dreams. You guys tell everyone to be the same and fall in line.”
“It’s not just that,” says Shu softly. “In China, following your dreams could easily mean ostracization, death, or worse.”
“You need to understand,” adds Vanessa. “In China there’s safety in the group identity. To conform is to be safe. To be different is to be noticed. Always remember that.”
“Is being noticed really so bad?” asks Coleman. “It doesn’t get you extra bread in the breadlines or something?”
Alan rolls his eyes. “This is China in the 21st century. Not the Soviet Republic. We have no breadlines here.”
Deepak chimes in. “This strict adherence to hierarchy isn’t only Chinese. India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the entire Middle East has practiced a similar system for centuries now. It all dates back to Europe, anyway. Kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, and the whole lot. There’s extreme comfort and direction in everyone knowing their place in society at all times. The stability is security. It’s not all bad.”
“Alright,” I say. “This is all good to know. Nice history lesson. But where’s all this going? What are we supposed to do with this?”
“The goal here,” Vanessa says patiently, “is right now the Uyghurs feel a strong sense of group identity. They’re a regional people with a rich culture that dates back centuries to the days of Genghis Khan. There’s obviously a huge Muslim population there as well, courtesy of our Kazakhstani neighbors.
“We, Team China, are going in to assimilate them though. We don’t want them loyal to their Uyghur ways. We want them worshiping China. So we need a way here to reprogram their loyalty. We want them subservient to the good ol’ red and yellow.“
I raise my eyebrow. “And you think we can help you with that? Two data scientists, a political mercenary, and an academic?”