China is a country of contradictions.
I suppose technically so is every other country, since internal consistency is rarely a hallmark of modern society. No matter where you are from, there are “rules” that are unwritten that you are expected to follow, while at the same time actual written rules are frequently ignored. Most Americans will happily break the speed limit every day they drive, but cringe at the thought of double-dipping a chip with casual friends.
China has a reputation for totalitarianism that is largely undeserved. Yes, there are very specific things that are very tightly controlled here. And there are freedoms taken for granted elsewhere that are not available here. But at the same time, China might be the most unregulated society I have ever seen.
In America we are so accustomed to having our lives controlled and regulated for our benefit that we forget just how pervasive such control really is. Benjamin Franklin had a fair amount to say on the subject, and a version of his thoughts on the subject was “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” (If you read that in Leonard Nimoy’s voice, you probably have played more than your share of Civ IV.) And yet that is exactly what Americans do everyday. In order to be protected from food poisoning, we require restaurants to have permits and licenses and inspections. We do not allow a random citizen to sell his wares without a system in place that allows his customers to sue him later if they feel wronged by the transaction. We do not allow citizens to agree to work for a wage less than a regulated artificial floor set by the government. Our movements in our cars are closely controlled, with stiff penalties for violating the rules laid down.
All of these are examples where we have traded individual freedoms for the security of a “safer” society. There are literally hundreds of others, all accepted without thought, the consequence of a desire to be protected. Our “right to sue for damages” is so important that we all accept medical costs 2-3 times higher than they would otherwise be, so that in the extremely unlikely event something goes wrong, we can sue and collect a settlement.
Yeah, go ahead and do whatever you want.
You have a restaurant, and you want to cook your food on the sidewalk? Go ahead.
Oh… your customers are complaining that the smoke from the coal is bothering them at the tables you put on the sidewalk?
Easy fix for that.
Just put the coal out in the street on the other side.
Nah, it’s cool. I know there are kids running around… But no need to do anything to keep them away from the coals. Just go ahead and leave it there unattended. In the street.
Heading out to do some shopping and can’t find parking?
There’s ALWAYS parking available.
Oh, you wanted to sell some stuff? But you don’t have a place to do it?
Just set up anywhere you feel like. That’s your new store. Just grab a portable megaphone and yell into it that you have stuff for sale and ride around until you find some customers.
Wanna sell some plants?
Just keep yelling “flowers” into a megaphone for ten minutes straight until some customers show up to buy your plants.
Hold on a second…
Those plants look pretty good… How much is that miniature rose bush on the right side? Yeah, the one with that red bloom, second from the end? 15 RMB? Seriously? It’s $2.42? Yeah, ok. I’ll take it.
Now I need to get this thing back home.
Where was I?
Oh yeah… blogging.
Between guys selling milk from the back of a motorcycle, guys selling flowers on little moped golf carts, and restaurants grilling food right in the middle of the sidewalk, things are just different in Changchun. No stop signs. No traffic cops. No parking enforcement. The barest minimum of consumer protections. But somehow people get by just fine.
The Wiccan rede in the title of this post truly seems to apply in China. Yes there are very strict government regulations on very specific things. But when it comes to private businesses, and most of the daily life of private citizens, there isn’t a tenth of the regulation found in “free” countries. Do whatever you want, and as long as it doesn’t seem like you are harming anyone, you’re good to go.