George Orwell’s Expo

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I reported a couple months ago about what I termed Potemkin Shanghai, that is, about the authorities in that city applying what we could call the “Chinese Treatment” in advance of the 2010 World Exposition due to kick-off there on May 1. I go so far as to call it that because we already witnessed this in Beijing prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, namely city administration and police going to ridiculous lengths to present the city’s “best face” to the hordes of foreign visitors they expect to welcome. In Beijing, for example, whole city blocks were razed to make way for the erection of more eye-pleasing buildings; in Shanghai attractive women are reportedly being shipped in from the countryside to man – excuse the expression – bus-ticket sales counters.

But a new piece from the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad (Thousands of arrests for Expo Shanghai) brings an altogether new and sinister tinge to this. It’s not just those arrests, totalling 6,042 from the massive police-sweeps conducted so far, and said to be for the offences of “theft, gambling, prostitution, sales of pornographic materials, drug trafficking, and swindling practices.” It’s also the bodyscan machines that the authorities plan to place at each of the 870 entrances to the Shanghai metro while the Expo is going on (1 May through 31 October) – and they’ll be looking not just for weapons but for anything they don’t happen to want people to have. And then there’s the security guards that will be riding in all the buses for which those Sichuan sweeties will have sold you a ticket.

He doesn’t live there anymore, but when he did James Fallows of the Atlantic painted a convincing picture of a Middle Kingdom that, far from being some monolith state of worker-ants bent on world domination, was actually still rather poor, somewhat diverse rather than uniform, and very messy in daily life as people there actually had to live it. Still, this “Chinese Treatment” stuff also convinces me – together with their infamous Internet “Chinese Wall” – that the Communist Party authorities over there are hell-bent to recreate George Orwell’s Oceania.

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