Asia’s compulsive fans of disaster porn have been getting their just deserts as severed telecommunications cables off the coast of Japan hinder the prurient downloading of videos of black waters sweeping villages away. There is always print media. Interesting how many more or less fetching young women are seen amid the devastated remains of one of the world’s most rapidly aging societies. Maybe Damien Day’s teddy bear will crop up.
With thousands dead and nuclear power plants possibly on the brink of doing whatever it is they might do, the authorities in Tokyo probably don’t have time to consider some of the relatively minor reverberations that lie ahead. The earthquake that hit Christchurch last month has produced one in the form of a request from the Chinese embassy in New Zealand that families of victims from the Middle Kingdom – mostly students – should get extra compensation because the dead were their only children. (As a result, of course, of the Mainland’s own one-child policy.)
[PRC diplomat] Mr Lei said there was a very notable difference between Chinese families and other foreign families, which needed to be taken into consideration when providing compensation to families who lost their only child.
“You can expect how lonely, how desperate they are… not only from losing loved ones, but losing almost entirely the major source of economic assistance after retirement,” he told Radio New Zealand.
He added that this could affect how many Chinese study in New Zealand in future. To which temperate, thinking Kiwis – lesser folk would string Mr Lei up – offer such responses as this:
…for [China’s] government to expect New Zealand taxpayers to cover the financial loss stemming directly from its morally-questionable one-child policy is outrageous…
…If the Chinese believe the New Zealand Government should place more importance on a life based on its potential for economic gain, they have an alarming lack of understanding of this country’s values.
One reading of Mr Lei’s breathtaking demand is that it is part of a Sinic exeptionalist mentality that, to take an extreme (and officially abandoned) example, has the Chinese people descended from Homo erectus (‘Peking Man’) and thus forming a species of hominid distinct from the rest of us. Another is that this is the new assertive superpower-PRC at work, throwing its weight around and bullying the neighbours over all manner of territorial, commercial and political issues (like ordering the Melbourne Film Festival to drop a movie about Xinjiang).
Another explanation, however, is that the insistence that a Chinese life is worth more than a mere barbarian’s is aimed primarily at a domestic audience back home. To many overseas observers, Beijing’s recent air and sea operation to extract Chinese workers fleeing Libya was a sign of the emergence of a global superpower, etc, etc. But from the Chinese leadership’s point of view, it is all about legitimizing a nervous and paranoid regime fearful of its inability to tackle corruption and inequality. “Look at us standing up for helpless citizens abroad,” they are saying, “and imagine how bad it would be without the Party in charge.”
The government in Hong Kong plays this game on its own little scale. As well as inconsistently issuing black travel warnings, it dispatches Immigration Department officials to mollycoddle residents of the Big Lychee when trouble strikes in foreign lands – and makes sure we all get to know about their noble efforts in glowing terms. Hongkongers’ often-immodest expectations of instant convenience and comfort have obviously spurred demand for such a taxpayer-provided service, but it is a demand the local administration has rushed to meet, perhaps inspired by Beijing’s example.
Like saber-rattling over disputed Japanese islands, effusive concern for compatriots overseas is a relatively cheap, high-profile way to prove the regime’s credentials at home as defenders of kith and kin. If it worries or angers foreigners who take it at face value, that’s a pity, but what can you do when you when you’re in a tight spot?
(The Philippines have joined in the call for extra compensation from New Zealand, though it seems they are struggling to produce a convincing reason for special treatment. How about the poverty arising from the Catholic nation’s ‘14-child policy’?)