“This Reminds Me of My First Marriage.”

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Eight – Passage Five

Jack feels like someone who might be able to give some insight on our predicament in Xinjiang so during lunch, I ask him about his opinion on the region.  You might think that Jack, someone who the CCP has taken so much from, would be incredibly hostile towards the communist party and it’s treated the Uyghurs in the region.  But Jack’s response surprises me.

We’re sitting in a noodle shop and just about the only ones there.  It’s hot and there’s a fan blowing.  Jack swirls his tumbler of gin around pauses a moment; a crease appears between his eyebrows and then disappears.

“So what this reminds me of,” he says slowly, “is the story of my first two marriages.”

Kristen cups her chin with hers hands and leans forward.  “Oh, this sounds like it’s going to be good.”

Even Li’s appeared to have perked up a bit.

“So honestly, one of the many mistakes that I made at least in my first marriage was that eventually –and if you’ve ever been married long enough, you’ll totally understand this– but eventually, you’ll get into fights that actually have nothing whatsoever to do with what you’re fighting about.  Every fight is simply a proxy for a deeper issue.  In my first marriage that went off the rails, it was all about control.  She resented that I expected her to maintain a certain image and pretense.  And I resented that she didn’t understand how business worked.”

“Where was Wife #1 falling short?” Deepak asks delicately.  For whatever reason, Deepak’s apparently taken a sudden interest in the subject.

Jack waves his hand dismissively, “Ah, the details don’t really matter.  I don’t even remember them much now anyways.  But it eventually became a battle for territory.  Every bickering and conflict stemmed from a fundamental difference in values.  I was a high-ranking executive at Weibook then and we’d attend ceremonies and such.  I expected her to be there.  And so she was always deliberately absent.  I expected her to stay at home to raise our children.  And so she was always gallivanting around to pursue her own career or interests.”

I manage to keep my face neutral but I do feel like that there’s more to the story that we’re not getting.  But I don’t press.

“Being married,” Jack says contemplatively, “is not like running a company.  When you run a company, especially one your family has founded, you possess the authority to simply fire people.  Terminated, executed, goodbye.  And then you can always hire someone new for the role.  But in a marriage, you really can’t do that.  Well, not without getting divorced–“

“–which you did,” Li contributes.

“Yeah.  But that took forfeiting a third of my net worth at the time,” Jack says.  “Among other things.  Look, it’s different.  The dynamics and stakes are wholly different.  You’re talking about family– the threat and incentive model needs to be entirely different.  You can’t bully or threaten your spouse into a position.  This isn’t corporate warfare. It’s a million times harder played on a different field altogether.”

“So you’re saying no amount of hard or soft power that the Xi regime uses will persuade Urumqi?” I ask. Inside, I feel like a deflating balloon.

Jack scoffs.  “I’m saying the greater the force that Beijing exerts, the harder that Urumqi will resist.  At this point, no one cares about additional crops, new schools and libraries, renovated infrastructure, or any of the carrots that you guys have been trying to dangle in from of the Uyghurs so far.  At this point, it’s solely about pride.  The Uyghurs will die, to every last man, woman, and child, before they submit to Chinese rule.  You’re wanting to destroy their culture, after all. Their entire history as an autonomous people.”

“We’re trying to help them,” Shu says, annoyed.  I don’t often see her worked up but it’s clear that she’s grown angry.  Her normally soft features have hardened in frustration.  “They’re starving in poverty and entirely deficient in education.  Is that the world that they wish for their children?  Destitute?  Ignorant?

Jack looks at Alan and speaks something in rapid fire Chinese.  I’m clearly lost but Alan replies.  This goes on for a bit.  Throughout the entire exchange, Li’s face hardens and Shu also looks increasingly distraught.  This is one of the parts about working in a foreign country that no one ever bothers to tell you about.  That as an outsider, there are just going to be giant swathes of critical conversation you simply miss wholesale.  But you’re still expected, somehow, to deliver results.

Finally, Alan deigns to fill the rest of us in.

“Jack’s wondering if we have current fatality and mortality rates in Xinjiang– from disease, starvation, crime, accidents, etc.”

“Of course we do,” Coleman says.  “That’s all part of the standard corpus.”

“So here’s Jack’s thinking on the matter,” Alan says.  “What are the current KPIs of this project?”

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