14 times the Chinese G*vernment had me SHOOK

1. When I was still in England applying for a visa

I can’t go into too much detail but let’s just say I eventually ended up with the correct authorisation to work in China

2. When I first landed and realised how different China's internet is from the UK's

It was during my five-hour stopover in Shanghai before I flew to Fuzhou that I realised my phone could no longer access Google, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, any porn sites (not that this was the first thing on my mind in the airport) and even Amnesty International (which lists China’s human rights abuses or something). It was a very boring five hours. However, once I managed to get my VPN (Virtual Private Network) working in Fuzhou, I could make my phone access the non-Chinese internet

3. When I was being trained to start working as a teacher and read in the teacher handbook that we are not allowed to discuss religion or politics at all with our students

Seems straightforward but that meant that when we taught Christmas and Easter lessons, we couldn’t mention Jesus, God or Christianity in any way, shape or form. We taught the kids about Santa, the Easter Bunny and presents instead. This rule made certain lessons a bit awkward. For example, our coursebook contained a lesson on music around the world. The book showed a map pointing out the didgeridoo in Australia (my student, Peter, pointed at the aboriginal people in the Powerpoint, pointed at me and exclaimed, excitedly, "INDIA, THEY BLACK! LIKE YOU!"), the nose flute in Hawaii and the hand bell in Tibet. I pointed out where Tibet is on a world map and asked the students what it's called in Chinese. They kept putting their hands up and saying 'Zhōngguó' which means China and I kept telling them no (as I started to sweat). Eventually the TA told them it was Tibet (Xīzàng) and they were soooo confused. I wrapped it up with YEAH TIBET OKAY NOW WHERE'S HAWAII, KIDS??? and moved on swiftly

4. When I crossed the border from Hong Kong to China 

I flew to Hong Kong about a month after I started working in Fuzhou to do a visa run (no further details will be offered). I had a train booked to get from Hong Kong back to Fuzhou. I arrived late at the train station but still had about 30 minutes to get onboard my train, giving me enough time to go through the usual Chinese security checks. Or so I thought. Hong Kong is not China! Except it kind of is! Right?! There is actually about an hour of passport checks, visa checks, ticket checks and luggage checks that I didn't know about. I was told I would never make my train and had to book two new ones because HK to FZ only came once a day. I ended up doing my hour of security checks just to take a 20 minute train to Shenzhen. The rest of my journey home was too long, I can't even be bothered to type it out. In Chinese airports, flights to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan take off from the ‘International Departures’ area, not ‘Domestic Departures’. Whatever China says about these special territories being part of the PRC, it’s pretty clear that they’re not really part of the mainland


5. When I saw with my own eyes and ears that China’s ‘social credit’ policy actually existed

Before I moved there I watched a Vice documentary comparing China’s new social monitoring system to the ‘Nosedive’ episode of Black Mirror, where everyone scores each other determining how good of a citizen they are considered to be, with consequences for those who are deemed to be ‘unfit’ citizens. Well, on my first journey to Hong Kong, the voiceover announced in Chinese and English that ‘smoking onboard will affect your personal credit’. If you smoked, disturbed the ‘transport order’, sold ‘fake tickets’ or travelled using other people’s ID, you would be deemed ‘untrustworthy’. You would be ‘prevented from buying tickets’ for the foreseeable future and your personal credit would be impacted. That kind of credit affects how you can spend your money and what kind of purchases you make. Basically, you would be punished for bad behaviour (fair enough) in the form of having freedoms limited, without actually putting you in jail or fining you. To make up the lost credit, you would need to prove yourself to be a good citizen


6. When the provincial authorities cracked down on foreign teachers who didn't have the correct documents to work in China

This makes our company sound shady lol but in reality a lot of foreigners in China have visa issues. Illegal immigration is just not something that the government tolerates but they also make it very difficult for foreigners to get the right documents. Bad international relations between China and the US, China and Canada (China and the UK aren't so bad) made life difficult for many of our North American teachers. One day the Fujian province decided to send officials into all the local language schools to photograph and identify the teachers. I was in the middle of teaching when someone opened the door, took a photo of me and left. Thankfully this happened after I got my working visa fully sorted out. This happened around the time when that Canadian upset the Huawei phone company and China tried to deport them??? Something like that? Then Canada responded with sanctions or something? Can't really remember but that was a bit of a sticky one (stillllll) for our Canadian teachers. No further comment 


7. When the Hong Kong protests broke out in spring 2019 and we were told not to discuss Hong Kong AT ALL in the workplace

All the teachers working for the company were given the same instructions. No Hong Kong talk - not in the office amongst ourselves, not with TAs and definitely not with the kids. Some of the kids knew that there was ‘violence’ taking place in Hong Kong and vocally expressed their fear that some of our teachers were planning to visit soon. Some TAs were not sympathetic to the protestors and it generally seemed like Chinese people were being told that the whole protest was insulting to the PRC


8. When Wikipedia was suddenly no longer accessible via Bing

Google is banned on the Chinese internet but Bing isn't so if you just wanted to go on the internet on your phone without turning on your VPN, which used a lot of data, you just Binged it. I used to search things on Wikipedia quite a lot and clicked on the page one day just to find a ‘sorry, you cannot access’ message come up. Using Wikipedia, you could easily search for information about scandalous topics like the Tiananmen Square protests and that was dangerous. I was about six months into my year there when China decided to add Wikipedia to its list of censored websites


9. When The Guardian was suddenly no longer accessible via Bing

This happened about three weeks after Wikipedia was locked off. 2018/2019 was when the world start learning about the mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang, Western China, which The Guardian reported on liberally. I read The Guardian every day and could not believe, so far into my year, that I was still able to access so much damning information about this genocide on the Chinese internet. That month the PRC finally clocked it and added The Guardian to its banned websites list. The Independent website soon followed


10. When China refused to acknowledge the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre (*cough* “incident” *cough cough*)

All the teachers used VPNs and we started noticing that Express VPN, one of the most popular choices, had starting acting up. This happened infrequently, maybe once every four months. I was in the office creating a presentation one day when it hit me – isn’t the anniversary of Tiananmen Square coming up? I managed to load up my VPN, googled it and I was right. We were two days away from the anniversary, June 4th. No wonder Express VPN was suddenly ‘down’ for no obvious reason. As my colleagues came back from their classes I whispered excitedly to them that I’d figured it out. The VPNs were totally down for another three or so days, to prevent pesky foreigners like us (and more rebellious, free-thinking Chinese people with access to VPNs) from discussing one of the most famously controversial actions of the Chinese g*vernment


11. When I met a guy whose pro-Taiwan Wechat Moments update was deleted by the app

I met him at the summit of an extremely steep hill that I'd climbed with my friends. He told us that he had posted a pro-Taiwanese independence public message on his Wechat account, only to find the next day that Wechat had deleted it. Wechat is like Chinese Whatsapp (except ten times better) and everyone has it. It was spooky to realise that the owners were watching what you posted and could erase controversial public statements so quickly


12. When Tash and I had our passports scanned just to enter Tiananmen Square

We visited maybe three weeks after June 4th so I don’t know if this is standard practice all year round, or just during June, perhaps. Thankfully, I’d remembered for us to pack our passports, just in case (there are a lot of document checks in China) otherwise we would not have been allowed to enter the square. That’s like having your passport checked to gather at Trafalgar Square


13. When a plain-clothes policeman knocked on our Airbnb apartment door in Beijing

It was maybe 10am and Tash and I were both asleep. We heard loud knocking on the door and decided to ignore it (the guy who rented the place to us hadn’t said anything about a visit) but the knocks continued so Tash got up to see who it was. The man told Tash he was a policeman and asked if Tash had registered as a foreign visitor in the country. As a tourist in China, you are meant to register with the local police station of whatever city you are staying in. If you stay in a hotel, like most tourists, I believe they do this for you. Tash had come to stay with me so technically it was my responsibility to get him to a police station but I really didn’t fancy another trip there (I went a surprising number of times in that one year) so Tash just came to Fuzhou and we went off on our cross-China journey with no issues. Beijing was our third stop. This man’s appearance at our door was therefore very odd. Tash told him he had not registered and the man asked for his passport, which Tash showed him. The man tried to take it from Tash to take to the station. Tash said no so the man conceded, spoke to some woman on the phone, noted the passport details and left. This was all very disconcerting with nothing explained. This may not have even been an interaction with the Chinese law/government but just a straight-up scam. The man didn’t ask for me, it seemed like he knew I had a residence permit and Tash didn’t. Were cameras watching us? Did our Airbnb landlord organise all of this (in which case why didn’t the man ask about me too)? Did the nosey neighbours rat on us? Extremely bizarre


14. When I became too afraid to get a roll of film developed in Shanghai because it featured pictures of the Hong Kong protest

The government had me shook by this point and I was not going to risk having my roll of film seized because it featured images showing people openly criticising the practices of the PRC. That would’ve been up to the film shop owners if they wanted to snake on me or destroy my film or whatever. Maybe I was being paranoid at this point but after that policeman interference/scam, I didn’t want to take any chances with prized possessions


There are other things I could mention on this list that I’m just not going to go into because that government still has some power over me that I can’t shake off, and I can’t highlight other people’s offences, but I hope this list has given you an insight into how differently some things work in China compared to the UK. One more thing I must say is that we must make distinctions between the actions of a government and the actions of the people. Ordinary people don’t dedicate their lives to politics in China. My dad, the infamous conspiracy theorist, would probably not be a free man there. We have a lot of freedoms and privileges in the UK that we are just born having and we should be grateful for them. I know free-thinking, worldly, open-minded Chinese people who can’t even travel an hour and half from Fuzhou to Taiwan because the government doesn’t want them to interact with anti-PRC Taiwanese people (this is the only reason I can come up with, I don’t really know). My UK passport can get me access to nearly every country in the world visa-free. China is the first country I’ve ever had to apply for a visa for, just to visit. Living in China made me more aware of the privileges and freedoms I enjoy that billions of others will never have simply because of where they were born.

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