Conversation with a Chinese comrade (Bogotá, Colombia)

Chinese people are easy to find anywhere around the world except, for some reason, in South America. So when a Chinese man at my hostel in Bogotá found out that I was also Chinese, he was so excited to use the language again that we talked into the night.

In his mid-sixties and with 64 countries under his belt, he is not the typical Chinese retiree. And being a Communist party member and one year older than Xi Jinping, the current Chinese Premier, he had plenty of things to say about Communism in China.

He told me….

… how, early on, he got passed over for a promotion within the party when he failed to write a party reflection and honestly admitted that he hadn’t done it. But his friend, who also hadn’t written one, got the promotion because he lied and said he did it but forgot it at home. That was when he learned that you can’t get ahead in the system unless you lie.

…how the husband of a beloved teacher gave honest criticism to the Communist government in hopes of making the country better. And in return for it, the government went after the man until one night when they dragged him out of the house and he started stuffing dirt and rocks in his mouth in a fit of insanity.

…how a friend’s father, who was a Nationalist party member that stayed after the Communists took over, used to keep a detailed journal. After the father’s death, the son went through his journals and what he discovered broke his heart. After the Communist revolution, his father had copied the Communist newspaper word for word every day instead of writing his thoughts.

… how a woman who served the Communist party valiently with her husband went insane shortly after the husband’s death. The community knew of her mental state and took care of her because of her past contributions, but one day she had a fit and accidentally ripped a picture of Chairman Mao in half. Even in her insanity, she knew to immediately drop to her knees and sob for forgiveness.

… and how the Chinese government only recently admitted that the right to not go hungry as a human right. During the great famine of 1963 in which millions of people starved to death, they didn’t even have that. People from rural areas, where no food could be found, went to the cities to beg. But every night they were rounded onto trucks to be taken back to their villages, where they meet with certain death.

China now is very different from the China then, but recently the country has started moving backwards (cracking down on VPN services, developing a social credit system, and restricting the flow of money outside the country) rather than forward. Though the one silver lining, my friend mentioned with a sad laugh, is that Chinese people are still allowed to travel. It’s hard to imagine that this liberty could be taken away, but after listening to his stories, I’m not so sure. I AM sure, though, that he’ll take ample advantage of that privilege for as long as his body – or the government – will allow.

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