Sunday, November 23, 2003

Working Class Hero
Colleague Helen D. is a 24-year-old page editor at the Shenzhen Daily. It's her first job out of college. She's single with a boyfriend or two on hold, loves to dance, to drink hard cider, likes Chinese and American pop music - particularly Justin Timberlake. She loves watching Sex and the City and 24 Hours. She wears stylish blue tinted designer glasses, tight blue jeans, a green gauzy retro-hippie chick blouse complete with small hanging shells, and she has a wicked sense of humor.
She's also a Chinese Communisty Party member.
When she shouted this revelation to me over Ja Rule's Clap Back being pumped at ear melting volume in a popular disco here called Chicago (with absolutely no Chicago-related decor, though the visages of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are displayed), I was momentarily stunned.
It was as if my little sister had casually mentioned voting for George W. Bush or sleeping with Charlie Manson.
"No shit? For real?" was my eruidte, reasoned response.
Nonetheless, I urged her to tell me more. I'd never met an honest-to-gawd Chicom that I knew of yet and the seminal images in my mind center on The Manchurian Candidate and a circa-'64 panel from an old comic strip called "Dan Flagg" in which Dan was staving off machine gun toting yellow hordes with only a pistol while shouting "Come on you sons of Mao!!"
The party still prevails, of course, but membership is not compulsory, and has shrunk and most young people I've met here who will even talk about it seem to dismiss it as irrelevant and old fashioned. Sort of like the Moose or Elks in the states.
Helen said she joined out of sheer self-interest and at the urging of her mother who isn't a member but thought her daughter needed to beef up her resume.
"For every position we take, we must fill out many forms answering questions about ourselves, our education, our background and also about our parents and grandparents," she told me.
What kind of questions?
"They ask what did our families did in the Cultural Revolution. What were we and our families did during in June 1989 (Tianamen Square Massacre). My family did nothing during the Cultural Revolution. They were peasants. I was too young for the June demonstrations. My family and I are officially OK. But my mother wanted me to join the party to have something more. She said my record is too boring.
"It might also help my career. It does not hurt."
I asked her about party meetings. She said she only attends a few a year and mostly to vote to give awards to party members.
"We always vote for the leader of our group. He always says, 'no', but then we honor him anyway, again."
Like the Moose or Elks, I thought, voting to re-elect Herb or Lloyd as treasurer for the eighth year in a row because no one else wants the hassle.
But I continued my hard boiled inquiries into the machinations and intrigue behind the bamboo curtain.
So, do you call each other 'comrade' and stuff like that?
She laughed. "No. No one uses such words anymore. I have only read of that."
So who else at the paper is a party member?
She laughed again. "I cannot tell you that, 'Comrade' Justin."

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