The Key to Hearts and Minds

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 Eleven – Passage One

Xenophobia is the key to the hearts and minds of the fearful everywhere.  It’s been that old reliable standby that’ll never let you down.  When you’re in dire straits, appeal to people’s sense of uncertainty and doubt.  There’ll always be a reliable subset of the population that’ll act from a desire to avoid a worst-case scenario.  This is your go-to workhorse.

Following the analysis that Alan had done with the anosmia outbreak data, we relocate to Guangzhou, several provinces away from Shingatse.  As the gateway city to Hong Kong by rail, Guangzhou has long been a fixture of southern China.  With a history dating back over 2,200 years, it was once the maritime terminus of China’s Silk Road; people who crossed the continent would put their wares on the barges on the port of the Pearl River and from there, Hong Kong was a mere 120 kilometers away.  Founded in 1842, Hong Kong was the single most important colony the British Empire would ever establish on the mainland.  But in 1997, all of that came to a crashing end.  As the British Empire continued the last legs of its decline, China gained a new foothold upon the world stage.

The end result after the handover was calamitous as you might imagine.

The Honk Kongese resisted it every step of the way.  Over a century of western influence had made its mark.  Modern with western manners, the people who Hong Kong despised many of the more rural, ruder, and cruder Chinese citizens who poured into their city after the handover.  In the western world, we obey traffic signals like red lights.  But in Guangzhou, where the first Chinse wave first originated, stopping at red lights is optional.

When I first set foot in Guangzhou, I also noticed the rural population there had a habit of spitting everywhere.

“That is positively disgusting,” Kristen says, making a face.  “How can they just spit everywhere?”

“It’s a habit you’ll see here in the country,” Shu says, “the Chinese people, especially here in the rural areas, have long believed that expelling saliva– especially when you’re ill– is critical to good health.  All of those toxins, is the thinking, you must eject from your body at the first opportunity.”

Kristen crinkles her nose and just grimaces.

While I’ve never set foot in Hong Kong, I’ve seen plenty of VODs of the city when I was researching China’s other autonomous regions.  And while the city is significantly smaller– only 7.5 million residents compared to Xinjiang’s 22 million, I can totally understand why rampant anti-Chinese and xenophobic sentiment rages in full force.  For the Hong Kongese, China’s communist and conformist ways is 100% diametrically opposed to Hong Kong’s capitalist ways– one of the world’s financial supercenters.  The norms, traditions, cultures, and entire value systems are just violently different.

One report, around traffic fatalities that I found, was particularly illuminating.  A decade later, over 87% of the traffic accidents and fatalities caused in Hong Kong were from mainlanders who’d streamed in to the city.  It wasn’t racism; it was just pattern-recognition.  Unfettered Chinese pouring into the already densely-packed city– was proving to have disastrous results with fatal consequences.

“Everyone always says they want diversity,” Coleman had said, when I’d shown him the report.  “But they only want good diversity or harmless diversity.  Once the rubber meets the road, it’s really a heavy lift.”

Alan’s data leads us to a hospital in the Guangzhou province where the cases of anosmia first spiked and after spending a night on the phones and making a series of calls, Alan’s managed to get a meeting with one of midlevel people in the governor’s office.  It’s a simple meeting in a café.

Of course we can’t just have a bunch of foreigners walking into the cafe.  And Alan’s been apparently flagged so he can’t go either.  Because of its close proximity to Hong Kong, Guangzhou was one of the first regions set up to be entirely electronically surveilled with CCTV and facial recognition cameras everywhere.

So Shu volunteers to go while the rest of us camp out in a hotel room that’s half-a-block away from the café.

In the hotel we’ve booked two rooms and when Shu emerges from the other, after having cleaned up, she’s back to looking like her normal lustrous self.  CRISPR was really a thing.  And it worked.  On her way out, she catches me in the hallway just as I’m returning from the vending machines.  It’s just the two of us in the dimly lit hall.

“How do I look?”

She looks dazzling but that’s actually not what I have on my mind.

“Shu, are you sure you want to do this?” I ask her, one final time.  “We don’t know what’s out there.  And we don’t even know if we have anything.  We just have a lead.  Some wild hunch.  Is it worth the risk just wanting to find out more?”

Shu smiles and pats me on the cheek.

“It’s sweet of you, Dexter, to be concerned.  But wouldn’t you want to know if everyone back in your home was murdered?”

“That’s a strong word.  And I honestly don’t know if I would,” I say.  “I mean, even if we find out, so what?  You’re going to just march into the National Assembly and throw it into Xi’s face?  Or whoever’s now in charge?”

“I don’t know,” Shu admits, “but if Alan thinks this is a possible lead, then I trust him.  We can’t just this be a mystery until the end of time.”

“Are unsolved mysteries really so bad?”

She pauses a moment to collect her thoughts and I wait, standing.  Candy bar in hand, on the ragged stained carpet while a lightbulb flickers at the end of the hall.

“Unresolved mysteries aren’t bad,” Shu finally says, “and I’ll admit I don’t know all the fancy stuff that you and the others do.  But all I do know is if I don’t this now, it’ll hang over me until the end of my days.  I can’t just walk away from this.”  She looks at me.

“Sometimes we do something not because we want to.  But because we know we’ll regret it forever if we don’t.  Does that make sense?”

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