On-the-ground survey – Craziest thing in China this month

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard in China this month?”

Crazy is common in China.  Hence, nothing comes as a surprise anymore.”  Headhunter, Shanghai.

So responded a jaded, veteran Headhunter to a monthly on-the-ground survey I’ve started.

Respondents are from different industries (teaching, banking, head-hunting, carbon trading, diamonds) and all have in-depth experience in their respective jobs.

I’m still compiling all of the results and these will be available soon.  The answers to the “craziest thing” question were fascinating and reveal a lot about Chinese society, so I though I’d write about these first.

Most responses to the “craziest thing” revolved around the usual themes which makes modern-day China such an intoxicating pantomime: corruption, sex scandals, SOE shenanigans and the end of the world.

1) Mayan doomsday: A lot of Chinese people think the world is going to end today, particularly the “several million” adherents of the Church of Almighty God.  

“The government considered a bunch of crazies believing in the Mayan Doomsday to be a threat and arrested them.” Auditor, Beijing.

“The number of people believing in the end of the world on 21st Dec.” Banker, Beijing.

Of course, in China’s free-wheeling Wild-West capitalism, in the country where “crazy is common”, there’s always someone making money from crazy stuff and crazy people’s fears:

“The guy selling steel balls, in which people can sit in to see out the end of the world has to be the weirdest thing I’ve heard recently.”  Journo, Beijing.

2) Online anti-corruption (网络反腐) is causing a storm at the moment, providing both entertainment and absolute horror for the laobaixing, as more stories of the sheer scale of graft and the shocking and debased behaviour of government officials comes to light.

Mistresses, Weibo and blackmailing: 

“Government official sex tape leaked to Weibo, and eventually causing the official to be sacked.” Director, Education services firm, Beijing.

Corrupt officials and property – 25 houses per official!

“…also the number of houses owned by various corrupt officials  (average of around 25 houses per official), as reported by many media.” Director, Education services firm, Beijing.

3) Personal freedom crackdown.  A couple of respondents highlighted further government crackdowns on personal freedom.

“Amazing level of crackdown on media freedom.  Google is completely choked.  First year I feel personally very uncomfortable since I moved back.”  Commodities analyst, Beijing.

This response details the interaction between the internet, the police and Weibo, with a bit of philosophy chucked in at the end:

“Two police officers visited our office.

Someone had posted content on a public message board that wasn’t deemed appropriate by the authorities.  The message poster’s IP address had been tracked down to our offices.

The police officers said that if we could identify the person who had posted the message that person wouldn’t be in a lot of trouble, they just wished to “educate” that person.  We said they could pretty much well bugger off.  They stayed for a while, made a few phone calls and after about 30-45mins they left after issuing a verbal warning.

Pretty soon all of our colleagues were on Weibo to share their experience and telling their family and friends.

Another pointless attempt by the govt to subvert information and having the reverse effect, as my hero Taleb says: “Information is anti-fragile; it feeds more on attempts to harm it than it does on efforts to promote it.

It is going to really hurt the Chinese govt long-term.  Childish, stupid, senseless.”  Chief Rep, Beijing.

4) SOE off-balance sheet shenanigans…Crazy indeed!  Why one should be very careful when investing in Chinese SOE companies.

“Amount of off-balance sheet activities the SOEs are engaged in.

SinoSteel, a SASAC SOE, sets up an E&C company to build more capacity for private mills, leased back the equipment to the mills, supplies iron ore 2 months interest free, off-take agreement of steel products on the other end with 100% pre-payment.

Private mill becomes a tolling business with zero working capital and steady guaranteed cashflow.

SOE gets exposed to the steel feast without annoying the industry regulators and gets to make a nice profit on the cheap loans they get.

CRAZY or what?”  Commodities analyst, Beijing.

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