Chapter Six – Passage Four
That night I’ve sitting alone at a table in the dining car with my laptop and thoughts mulling over what Coleman and I had learned from Alan earlier in the day. Of course the situation in Xinjiang was much more complicated than we’d been initially told. And while I had done searches online for information about Cai Xia and her son, Cai Fudong, those results had been unsurprisingly sparse. Looking through the archives, there had been one article in The Times about Cai Xia and her expulsion forty years ago from the Central Party School, the highest educational institution in the CCP that was responsible for training the regime’s next generation of leadership on the highest level. Aside from that one article though, I’d been unable to find any other information on Xia. Again, it was unsurprising that western media hadn’t exactly fallen over themselves to cover the incident. In the west we may put freedom of the press upon the pedestal but we also shackle it to advertising dollars to keep the lights on. Alas, we’re all beholden to someone. Thus, some random article about a professor’s expulsion from China half-a-world away isn’t, let generously say, top-of-mind for your average American. No page clicks; no coverage.
And on Cai Fudong, the son who’d be in his forties now, I’d found exactly nothing.
From her brief article on Wikipedia though, I’d learned that after Xia had fled China as a political exile, she’d relocated to the states with her then-newborn child, Fudong. The Wikipedia article only gives years and not exact dates but if its timeline is to be believed, then Fudong couldn’t have been much older than one-year-old when he and his mother had been banished to America.
So this is the fate of those who speak out against Xi. Banishment to foreign lands; out of sight, out of mind. I frown. But when I think about it a bit more, it remains a mystery to me how Fudong managed to make his way back into China years later as an adult. Surely, he was on every single CCP-blacklist in the country. China may be communist but it’s not incompetent; Fudong should’ve never been able to set foot on native Chinese soil ever again and the fact that was indeed back in the politburo, and not rotting away in some dank, unnamed Chinese prison somewhere in the Tibetan mountains, definitely meant there was more to the story here that I obviously didn’t know.
On my laptop, I flip over to some Excel spreadsheets and data dumps that Alan had also provided us earlier. Though we’re on a highspeed, maglev train racing under the cover of night across the Chinese northern hinterlands, I still have blazing-fast gigabit wireless access. (Back in New York, the densest urban center in America, sometimes I couldn’t even get signal when I was standing in the wrong place in my bedroom.) Even though the previous project two years ago had apparently failed miserably, I was still curious to study and read over what had previously been attempted and succeeded or failed. As a data scientist, a constant curiosity for evermore information is what separates amateurs from professionals. And I, to toot my own horn a bit, was definitely no greenhorn. To say the least, I’ve seen this rodeo more than once.
Looking at all of the data that Alan has provided, there are dozens of way to look at the data. If you focus only on the decrease in petty crimes and acts of vandalism, then some of the harsher methods that the Xi loyalists had employed appeared to be effective. But during that same period of martial law, factory output and commercial goods generation fell precipitously and the unemployment rate had skyrocketed. Civil unrest was like one of those annoying air bubbles you’re trying to eliminate when you were trying to lay down carpet; it never totally disappeared– it just went elsewhere. And depending on whatever metrics you wished to highlight, you could tell whatever story you wished.
“Burning the candle at both ends, eh?”
I look up and see Kristen is at the other end of the dining car. She’s wearing a white sweatshirt and grey sweatpants; evening garb, I guess. It’s just the two of us at this hour, supper dining hours having already long since passed. She helps herself to some guava juice that’s in the cabin refrigerator behind the counter and appears to be looking for snacks.
“Just trying to figure out how to make sense of everything going on,” I say. “What are you doing up?”
She locates a remote on the counter and clicks it.
Over the dining bar, there’s a display that I hadn’t noticed earlier. A Chinese news station blinks to life and the news anchor is reeling off highlights of the day. I obviously don’t understand a word that she’s saying but pleasant visuals that stream by accompanying the bright, enthusiastic rapid-fire news anchor speech. Apparently, it was yet another harmonious day of peace and prosperity in the middle kingdom. Part of me strongly suspects that when the only news is state-sponsored news, then every day was likely similarly glorious.
Kristen tears open a plastic bag of baby carrots and pops one into her mouth.
“I’m trying to decide how I feel about all Uyghurs in Xinjiang getting all of their news from a single official source,” she says, chewing thoughtfully. “Back home in Darwin, it’s not like this at all. There’s half-a-dozen outlets and even then, a chunk of Australian don’t believe any of them and instead prefer to just get their news from their Foogle feeds. And lord knows the provenance of those articles. Seriously, no one knows what’s true and what to believe anymore; it’s just all noise.“
“America’s the same,” I shrug, “as is every single other liberal democracy in the world. You guys are in good company; join the club.”
On the display, the news station crew appears to have visited the National Zoo in Beijing and the camera’s zooming in on a pair of giant pandas who appear to have produced offspring. Apparently this is an infrequent and momentous event, worthy of national celebration.
“Do you ever wonder,” Kristen asks me, “if maybe Xi’s onto something? Maybe not full-up Mussolini-style autocracy; but maybe not a complete free-for-all like what we have in the west, either.”
I shake my head and motion to the display.
“No way. If we left it up to some central authority, we’d just be seeing panda mating rituals all day. I don’t know about Australia but in America, I’m actually one of those people who solely gets my news from my custom Foogle feeds. And I’ve chosen to live in a neighborhood and community that reflects my values and beliefs.”
Kristen is looking at me like she’s befuddled so I try to clarify what I mean.
“Like, I don’t need, and frankly don’t care, if people the next neighborhood over disagree with me on most things, especially culture issues like immigration, abortion, taxes. I care about my taxes. If they want to pay more because they’ve got kids or whatever who attend the public school system, then good for them. They can vote for higher taxes in their district. How does that quote go? ‘Perfectly reasonable minds can disagree.’ That’s fine. Agreeing to disagree is a gift! At the day’s end, for practical purposes, you’re not a citizen of the world; or even of America or Australia. You’re a citizen of your state, of your specific community. It’s called federalism for a reason.”