Living without trust

This is really a topic I’ve been thinking about since back in December/January when our dog Addie died. I wasn’t sure how to put to words my feelings about it and so have shelved it until now. I don’t know that I’m any closer to knowing how to verbalize it, but maybe this post will help.

Of all the numerous things about living away from Canada I miss, trust is more poignant than them all. It is–more than family, friends, air quality or money–the thing that is most likely to cause me to eventually leave China.

When Addie contracted aflatoxin poisoning, it really forced front and centre a sense that I had only peripherally been exposed to through news articles and conversations with Chinese–trust is a commodity China is dangerously short on.

When you put this into the larger context of how much we rely on trust in our day to day lives, the gravity of its absence is frightening. Trust that the water coming out of your tap is clean, that the milk we drink is safe, that the meats we buy are fresh, that the cell phones we use wont explode, that the electrical wiring in our apartments wont electrocute us in the shower.

And further, extending this from the faceless products and constructions of daily life, to the “professionals” we rely on. Trusting the shopkeepers, the police, the vets, the journalists, the doctors — and when they all fail, the judges and the law.

Trust is required for all these things. Trust, faith really, is needed to be able to move about your day-to-day routine. Needed so that you aren’t paralyzed by the thought of what a lack of trust in any of those things might entail.

But my trust is gone. It was whittled thinner and thinner over my time here and then broke completely when a high-end imported dog food we trusted was left to spoil in a Guangdong warehouse.

The painful part is I understand it. I understand why it seems almost everyone in China is only looking out for themselves. Not necessarily pulling the trigger on things that will hurt others, but certainly complicit in evil actions so long as it doesn’t directly affect them or theirs. If no one is looking out for them, why should they look out for anyone else?

Call it history, culture, learned behavior. Tell me it’s not all-spanning, not everyone, not all things. Explain to me that development is everywhere, things are changing, just one more generation… Then rest your life, or the lives of those you care about on that ideal.

I often use the analogy of a single drop of oil in a barrel of water when explaining to Maggie why she can’t trust the Chinese news she reads. It doesn’t matter if 99% of that barrel is water, if there is just one drop of oil, it’s spoiled.

Living in China is like playing the Windows classic Mindsweeper on the “easy” setting. You can click and click and click and most of the time you’ll be fine – but that one random time you’re not — game over.

So, our new dog, Button, is sick. Again, we are forced into a position of hoping we can trust experts telling us what is wrong and what we need to do. We trusted the vet we bought her from that we needed to give her the medicine she suggested to solve the problem. When that didn’t work we trusted a second vet (the most lauded one in Suzhou) that he really had never seen anything like this problem, and trusted that we actually required the litany of expensive tests he prescribed. We trusted that he, one of the truly “qualified” veterinarians in Suzhou, was actually dumbfounded and had no idea what was wrong with her. And maybe he didn’t.

But after digging for just a few minutes online, after our trust in the experts had worn out, we learned that her symptoms fit a perfectly normal and common problem with female puppies and that it was nothing to worry about and rarely something to treat.

So… do we trust that the doctors were both clueless? Trust that they just didn’t tell us the details? Or trust that they, like so many others, simply had their own agendas, and not the health of our dog or the peace-of-mind of her owners, when giving their diagnosis? Trust that maybe they just wanted to string out an otherwise inexpensive problem as long as they could.

And this is “just a dog”. These problems certainly extend to human medicine as well. Doctor’s prescribing unneeded drugs is the norm, not the unethical exception — ordering costly procedures and tests under the guise of caution all in an effort to bump up the bill at a patient’s most vulnerable hour.

In any Western country my thoughts about this would be considered overly cautious at best, and paranoid at worst. But this is China. Whatever wonderful gifts this country has to give, trust simply isn’t one of them.

52 Responses

  1. Very well said. I could write volumes here but I won’t. Just be thankful that you were raised in a country that for the most part you can trust the people. At least you know the difference. Nothing is perfect but having a sense of security when things go terribly wrong is comforting. Keep us informed as to how Button is doing.

  2. I agree with you whole heartedly on this and not a day goes by that the thought dosent pop into my mind. As wonderful a time i’ve had here this very issue is one that makes me doubt I could live here permanently. It’s mostly to do with the food and pollution for me. I know China isn’t alone on having polluted cities but there’s some days I like out at the air and I think what in God’s name is in that air? Visibility coming down to about 50 feet because of pollution just scares the hell out of me when I think what I must be pumping into my lungs and round my body. And I just remember how many companies continue to pump their toxic waste into the rivers so why be any less sneaky about what they’re pumping into the air if it means saving some money on the appropriate filters/extractor fans or whatever is required?

    And as for the food I just hear too many stories about water, chemicals and god knows what is injected into meat and other products to raise their sale value but then inevitably contain something which sometimes is not fit for eating and others contains chemicals known to be nothing but fatal to humans.

    Which brings me on to another issue as to what kind of person can authorise the use of these chemicals, such as in the case of last years milk scandal, when they know full well what this chemical does to people who drink it the majority of which were babies.

    As much as I have greatly loved my time here in China this issue just rings home all too often.

    • Let us not forget that British cities were even more polluted before the Second World War. When my grannie was a child in Manchester you sometimes couldn’t see a few feet away because of pollution.

      • It’s a tough sell comparing modern China to post-war England — China’s not going through industrialization and modernizing without a precedent. The government, corporation and public all understand what pollution is and why it needs to be controlled. I think it’s just a lack of solid multi-tasking high up — economy and THEN environment, stability and THEN safety.

  3. 我也很痛心你 - I’ll add my voice to those who agree. It’s very subtle sometimes, but I’ve definitely felt it, and all the more since coming back to the U.S. Yes, we have our share of crime and assorted nastiness, but odds are that your average Joe on the street or behind the counter at a store is not going to screw you any chance he gets.

    One of the most vexing aspects of it is that the Chinese just have no idea that the rest of the world isn’t the same.

    BTW, my sister is a vet, a good one, and you can trust her! I will email you her email address, and I’ll let her know how much you’ve helped me in the past, and I’m sure she’ll be happy to answer any questions you have if Button gets sick again, before you end up wasting a lot of time and money.

  4. I lived in China for 6 years, and just recently left. Trust (or lack of it) was one of the significant factors affecting my decision. The milk scare last year really rammed that home – not just for the fact that there were people putting harmful additives into something that was part of my daily diet, but the fact that the authorities knew about it months before it was announced but kept a lid on it to prevent a scandal breaking out just before the Olympics. It broke the last shred of trust I had in the safety of the food chain and also in the people that should have been monitoring the food chain to ensure its safety. How many more things are going on that we just don’t know about – maybe nothing, but the lack of certainty just keeps gnawing away and gnawing away and drives you crazy if you think about it. Which leaves you really with only two options 1) don’t think about it, and hope that when the next problem happens it doesn’t affect you and 2) leave.
    After much consideration, I chose option 2. It was hard to do, but ultimately, if no one else is looking out for you, then you have to look out for yourself.

  5. This country really is a land of contrasts. On one hand you have some amazing people who will go out of their way to help you out and make you feel “welcome” in their country, then there are people who routinely give you the “white price”. What makes it so difficult here is that you never know who is who around here, it’s easy to assume that everyone is on one extreme, which can either limit your experience or be downright dangerous. The balance is almost impossible to find here.

  6. like some of the other posters I could go on and on about this. Unfortunately it is one thing about China that is a huge drawback…

    Unfortunately I’ve been here long enough and have had enough experience that whenever someone says ” Oh you dont understand, that is Chinese culture …..” the minute those words come out of someone’s mouth my spideysense goes into overdrive, because I know, I mean I KNOW, that I am being screwed, deceived, or someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes…cheating is cheating, lying is lying, stealing is stealing. Unfortunately it is has made me a lot more cynical…

    At the end of the day, Chinese really dont have any recourse…I mean its not like they can vote out their government, local, provincial , or nationally. At the end of the day its everyone for themselves….

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    @klortho: “One of the most vexing aspects of it is that the Chinese just have no idea that the rest of the world isn’t the same.” As culturally insensitive as that could come across, you’re absolutely right. I think the reason things are different in the West is not because the people are any different – I think people are selfish by nature – but because there are different social pressures put on us to act a certain way.

    @From Toronto: Unsurprisingly, I disagree. You’re absolutely right that every society has its good and bad. But China is different. The kind of health scares that I’m talking about are something that might (and that’s a big might) happen once a decade or once ever two decades in most Western countries. While in China rarely a year goes by (if not shorter) where something big and dangerous happens.

    I’m sure you see this. I’m led to believe by your previous comments that you’re a Chinese living in Canada. Defending your nationalism aside, surely you can recognize that there are factors at play in China that create a system by which the dangerous (or “evil”) elements are given more room to grow.

    Keep in mind, I’m not saying that Chinese people are any more inherently “evil” than any other nation’s people – in this I think all humans are equally, naturally, as likely to be a part of “good” or “evil” actions. My feeling is that China’s shaky legal framework, rampant corruption, recent history of anti-“trust your neighbour/friends/family” movements, and parents drilling hyper-competitiveness into their children has shifted this out of whack with countries I’m also familiar with.

    Many of these problems likely exist in other developing nations as well — perhaps minus the multi-generational scarring from such a turbulent recent history — and I’m sure they existed at one time in my own country. But they don’t now. Not at anywhere near the same level as they exist here.

  8. As culturally insensitive as that could come across, you’re absolutely right. I think the reason things are different in the West is not because the people are any different – I think people are selfish by nature – but because there are different social pressures put on us to act a certain way.

    Oh, yeah, I agree with that. While there might be some cultural differences attributable to “nature”, I don’t think this is one of them. I also agree that people are naturally conniving and deceitful. Acting civilly is largely learned behavior, I would guess, and it’s a long uphill struggle, and kind of a Catch 22. You said “The painful part is I understand it,” and I feel like I do, too. It takes a kind of leap of faith to Do The Right Thing, but it’s hard not to be cynical when you’re in the middle of such a cynical society.

  9. I hardly ever comment on blogs but I just wanted to say that you’ve put into words an uneasy feeling that i had for a long time before i left the mainland and moved to Hong Kong. People have asked me about the differences and I start talking about institutions and the rule of law etc which make HK feel more like a society and less like a bunch of individuals all out for themselves. But this issue – trust – is what it basically comes down to, and what you feel on an everyday basis. I would like to explain the feeling to friends and family back home but i don’t know how to do it without sounding like a terrible colonial type saying “never trust a Chinaman”.

  10. ryan ,don’t trust any vets in suzhou no matter how good they claim themselves to be.I have my dalmatian puppy died 5 years ago because the reputable vet called cang lang feng couldn’t work out what was wrong with it after we went throught quite a few expensive treatments he subscribed.If I were you I would send your dog to a decent western vet in shanghai asap. You can google their info online . I am sure you can find one easily.Fingers crossed for your dog cuz I know the poignant feelings to see your dog suffer.

  11. What a bunch of racists. China has its problems, but your remarks are way out of line. Let’s remember that the world’s WORST mining companies, when it comes to environmental policies, IS Canadian.
    To say that you won’t trust any of the 1.3 billion Chinese is based on your having MET all of them? (How about you – do others trust you at all?) I feel bad for the dalmatian, but come on, can you infer that all Chinese vets are incompetent based on your experience of ONE? This is what we call RACISM in America. But wait, some of you mentioned that you’re from Canada, so perhaps tolerance and common decency are not taught over there.
    Since you are talking about justice, have you compensated those Native American children whom your government took from their parents, to give them a barely passable education just so they can work as maids? Or whose land you have taken and whose people you have pretty much wiped out? We’ll talk when you have properly compensated the Natives and after you have given them back their land.
    I had no idea I spent good money supporting a crowd of xenophobes every time I visited Canada.

  12. @Anon: First – you’re spineless. If you want to flame in a comment – put your name to it you coward.

    Second – you’re a hypocrite. Did you really just criticize myself and the people commenting here for painting all Chinese people with the same brush and then paint all of us, then all Canadians and then all North Americans with the same brush?

    Third – you’re just wrong. This isn’t about mining practices in Canada, WTF? I can only assume you are trying to draw some horribly squiggly line to say that because I’ve criticized China’s environmental problems that Canada’s environmental problems need to be held up to the same light? But again, WTF? You can’t actually visit Canada and visit China and say that Canada’s environment is just as bad… it’s just not. And as for the world’s worst mining companies – back it up with a link or something, otherwise it’s just libel.

    What’s more, this isn’t about ALL Chinese people. This is about a country whose system is broken.

    As for Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Huh? Surely you’re not painting every white person that’s ever set foot on or was born on North American soil with that same brush you were using earlier as well. Any Native American can have “my land” in Canada, but as I have none, it’s not such a great bargain.

    Nor have I ever taken anyone’s land. When, 500 years ago imperialistic and ignorant Europeans began flooding North America I was not standing idly by and watching it happen. I wasn’t there when English settlers turned on their Native neighbours and went back on promises. Nor was I apart of any movement, cause, war or otherwise with Natives.

    I have, however, lived in a time when more reparations, land grants, apologies and tax payer monies have been given to Aboriginal people than any other time in the past. It’s not perfect, but it’s the right direction.

    And that’s exactly how I feel about China. It’s not perfect, but the country is definitely headed in the right direction. It’s just not there now, and I live here now. Whatever it will be in the future is fantastic to ponder on, but when it comes to what products and professionals you can trust on a daily basis today, it’s a completely different and much more relevant discussion.

    Your egocentric, hypocritical drivel is well wasted some place else.

  13. Trust (or lack of it)… That’s a biggie in China. Not only have you hit the nail on the head, you’ve hammered it home – as usual.

    Went to do a tutoring gig this morning in an adjacent high-rise, about 25 stories. The left hand lift was out of service with some “technician” fiddling with the door opening/closing mechanism as well as the infra-red beam breaker system to prevent the doors from closing if there’s an obstruction in the doorway.

    Quite a well known Western brand of lift. Normally you’d expect the technician to wear a professional company uniform with logo and an ID pendant or clip-on and an assistant. Nope. This guy had crappy tools scattered all over the floor in the semi-gloom, and I didn’t even see a multimeter.

    I just hope he didn’t play with the auto brake that kicks in above a certain car descent speed, because – so help me, the guy seemed totally f**king mystified during my 5 minutes of observation.

    Perhaps building management decided to bring in a “trustworthy technician” to save some coins, but assigning an amateur to do a job that has serious public safety implications is no joke. Just wait until a toddler gets a limb trapped in the door, and off we go.

    There is no EMERGENCY STOP button on the console as in: “other countries”, just an intercom.

    Ahhh, Trust in China. Classic oxymoron.

    Hope Button gets better soon, and that it’s just a passing thing.


  14. Ryan,
    I hope Button feels better soon. Trust in a vet is a tough issue, since your pet can’t tell what is wrong with it. I feel lucky that we’ve had the same vets for 10 years. They’ve always been perfectly willing to say “Here’s the procedure we recommend, we can do it, but we suggest that you visit this other guy because he performs it twice a day and we do it once a month, so he’s better at it.”

  15. Ryan,

    Sorry to hear it. I know a great German vet in Shanghai if Button is still having problems. She’s been pacticing here for 5 years and then 10 more before coming to China. She’s helped me more than i ever expected for the last 4 months of my dog battling distemper. Imported medicines and, more importantly, great bedside manner/people skills. I have nothing but good things to say about her. Her receptionists are to be avoided like the plague but I have full confidence in her as a vet. It’s a pain to get to shanghai with a dog (3 hour bus ride from changzhou) but a pain i’ve gladly endured more than a couple times just to get that ever elusive trustworthiness.

  16. Wow. You really summed it up. I live here in Shenzhen and have had this feeling for years. I walk by the open food markets and see what is being sold and know it is winding up on my plate. I go to Hong Kong every few weeks to buy baby formula. I see the qty of Chinese who go to HK also for the same reason. I could not get the correct vaccinations for my daughter as they were “quarantined” from coming into the country (we are following an international protocol that is not agreed to or supported here). Ugh.

  17. Guys, if you go back about 20 to 30 years and look at news from your own countries you’ll for sure find news that left people without trust. When did DDT get banned. How couldn’t we, the government or anyone else understand that this was a very dangerous pestacide? Coz they didn’t. Boys and girls this might come as a surprise to you but China is till under development.
    There are alot of people that would never trust an American or a German
    or a whatever.
    China is and has never been or will ever be a Christian country with Christian values and morals. That is why China and Chinese will be the biggest richest country in the world coz they have no problem with morals or being scared of ending up in hell. Chinese knows this and you guys living here better get used to it. for the best of my own health i don’t trust anyone (telling you, alot of expats are the same, cheating and wanting to take the piss out of averyone if they can), I only trust my family and nearest friends.

  18. @Larsa: So, because Chinese don’t believe in a Christian god, they have no morals? Bullshit. I am an atheist who grew up parented by two non-church-goers, and I am confident that morals and ethics are not a religious gift. My value system is my own, and Christians can claim no right to it. The fear of hell is not needed for people to act decently towards each other. They simply need a society that encourages respecting people outside of their immediate family, and being responsible for a sphere larger than the people you know. And quite simply, China’s current societal makeup doesn’t.

    You’re absolutely right though, China is developing and most “Western” countries have already taken their lumps when it comes to quality control. But I think you’d have to go back more than 20 or 30 years to find an equivalent level of health and safety issues in “developed” countries.

    But the bigger point is, do you think any of that would have changed had there not been people living in those countries that spoke out loudly about it? You seem to be saying we should all just shrug our shoulders with a “this is China…” sigh and accept it all as part of the experience.

  19. yI says: What a sad world for you to live in.

    Trust me when i say, I am very happy.

    How can it be a sad world to live in when you have a family and good friends. You must have totaly misundestood the concept of family and friends.
    Should we trust everyone else but our family and friends?

    Who do you trust?
    Enron, WorldCom, Madoff, 2004 water and additives injected into fresh meat in the UK

    Don’t talk of cheating in China, it happens everywhere, all over the world.

    Oil in a barrel of water goes for all media all over the world, never tells the whole truth. Media always have an agenda.

    Really hope your dog will be ok, and you too Ryan

  20. You’re taking an example concerning your dog, to make gross negative generalizations about over a billion people and an entire country? Sadly this is more typical than not of ex-pats to see what they want to see, and then take isolated examples in order to generalize their already superiority complex worldview.

    I find your comment about media to be extremely naive. Western media is some of the most powerful and manipulative propaganda on the planet. What you consider to be objective and unbiased, is just the opposite. And I’m not just talking about Fox News.

    • You’re taking an expat who lost his dog and trust in the country he has lived for nearly half a decade to make negative generalizations about the over a million foreigners in China.

      I find your comment about media to be extremely naive. I’m very critical of Western media, and by no means do I think the state of it is in any way wonderful. But it simply does not compare when put up against Chinese state-controlled media. That there are media conglamorates that essentially dictate public opinion is the bane of Western media, but independent media is not just allowed and an option, it is a right. The same can’t be said for China. Exploiting public endangerment for profits or political ends is a terrible practice of Western media, but having the power to keep it silent is the more dangerous of the two.

      • You must missed the opportunity to witness how western media fabric, distort facts when they reported riots in tibet, torch relay, oversea chinese demostrations last april and may.

      • Nope, I caught that. Hey From Toronto, can you answer me a question that’s been nagging at my mind for some time now? Are fenqing given a playbook from which they have to pick all their arguments and repeat them verbatim with no flexibility at all? Really, just curious.

        You are, like Tom, complaining about the quality of Western news; which I fully admit is largely terrible. But unlike what your playbook says, it wasn’t a co-ordinated Western conspiracy to keep the sick man of Asia sick. It was simply bad journalism and ignorance of other cultures — two things not at all absent from Chinese media, it’s just not in the English-speaking spotlight like CNN is.

        But wrong and crap or not, it was at least reported. In China it was shut down and switched off. Not at the media level – I know several Chinese journalists and they are all top notch – but higher than that. A free press is just not available to Chinese.

      • 1. Not reporting is better than reporting fabricd..
        2. Western media has a reputation of fairness, unbiase, people like me trusted western media, but the longer I live here, the more disapppointed I am, just no difference as controled Chinese media.
        3. Chinese media is well known as controled.

        The fact is, in China, peopel don’t believe what CCTV, ect tell them and they are sneaking around to get a different version of reports other than the state controle media. But here, in Canada, in US., people believe what media tells them blindly, without second thought.

      • “Exploiting public endangerment for profits or political ends is a terrible practice of Western media, but having the power to keep it silent is the more dangerous of the two.”— really? I guess this is only your personal opinion

  21. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t worked out that medical/veterinary treatment in the west isn’t actually all that different to the situation described above, you ought to. Speaking as someone who used to work in a hospital, and who has regular contact with vets here in the UK, I would say that wrong or inappropriate treatment was probably prescribed in at least 1 in 10 cases at least initially. Vets especially often prescribe the most expensive or excessive treatment simply to 1) err on the safe side and 2) make some money.

    A case in point – a friend of mine had a medical check-up in the US a few years ago and was diagnosed with sleep apnea, that is difficulty with breathing during sleep and was advised to use a C-PAP machine. This was done on the basis of him sometimes feeling a bit sleepy in the mornings and occasionally snoring – needless to say that a second opinion proclaimed that to be complete nonsense.

    Another case in point – a friend of mine here in the UK was told that her daughter would have to have a tooth removed. The daughter still had her baby teeth, and the teeth in question were in the process of falling out. Even an idiot can see the clear stupidity of operating, but business is business.

    A third case in point – My grandmother was advised to have a hip replacement operation by a private doctor, even though both her hips and her knees were arthritic and she was in a weakened state meaning such an operation would be both pointless and potentially dangerous. She didn’t survive the operation.

    Ryan, if you were that trusting in Canada, you shouldn’t have been. Chinese standards are much lower, but this doesn’t mean that Chinese people are somehow all in it just for themselves and that Canadian folk somehow aren’t. In reality there is fudging, laziness, erring on the side of profit/caution etc. in every field in every country, the mere fact that someone has letters after their name does not make their opinion automatically more valuable than the evidence of your own eyes.

    • @FOARP: The big difference, and point of the OP is recourse and reprocussions. I believe I made an effort to make clear that I feel ALL people are inherently selfish and self-serving often to the detriment of their fellow man (I’m too lazy to scroll up and read through though). I don’t think that is a “Chinese characteristic”.

      But where I feel there is a striking difference between here and Canada is that in Canada should something go wrong (and not just medically, that was merely an example – the lack of trust much much wider than that) there is a large (if not holey) safety net of protection for consumers, patients and citizens.

      And while I recognize that China has some, if not much, of that same safety net on paper – on the ground it is one more thing that I fail to have trust in.

      • @Ryan:

        I guess you did not hear two incidents last year at Scarborough Grace Hospital that two women died while delivering baby. You should google

      • This might be true if the ‘safety net’ was actually that much more in existence. You think you can recover against negligence/foul play through legal action? Get ready to spend a year or more of your life hoping that you don’t get proved wrong. Hell, I just spoke to a guy who had spent a year trying to fight a suit for damages based on a non-compete agreement which a hand-writing expert had certified as having a 99% likelihood of being a forgery. This guy had had his entire livelihood put at risk by his former employers on the basis of an agreement on which his signature had been forged, and even after the court had decided for him he was left £8,000 out of pocket, as he wasn’t able to recover more than 8/10ths of his expenses. This is not because the English legal system is particularly bad, but because we have balanced things in this way to prevent injustice – but some degree of injustice is inevitable.

        The net in the west is larger and the mesh somewhat tighter, that doesn’t mean you wont get lied to and given the run-around by lawyers, accountants, doctors, police, judges, vets, teachers etc. In China I approached many things with suspicion, but I won’t say that my attitude has changed all that much now I am in the UK. What I’m saying here is that you really weren’t that much better off in Canada, not so much that you could really say that trust existed in one place and didn’t in the other. In both places there is good reason to keep your wits about you and “trust, but verify”.

        I see a lot of people ref’ing last year’s milk scandal – ask yourselves: was that that much worse than he failures to act/warn about BSE? Thalidomide? Tobacco? It was bad, but was it so much worse that you cannot see such a thing happening in a western country – say, before an election?

        @From Toronto – And, I guess if you’re just trying to say that one country is worse than another, you missed the infamous incidents in Nanjing hospitals back in 2004-2005 of new-born babies being stolen to order. Malpractice is part of medicine, cannot be eliminated, and is in fact encouraged in some ways by potential legal action.

      • @FOARP: All good points and likely if I lived in Canada I’d be complaining about health and safety issues there and referencing Denmark or some other Nordic wonderland. But I really think that while both/all countries test positive for reasons not to trust your safety in them, if we bean-counted it, I’m certain that China would have way way way more beans. That is, of course, just my opinion based on my own experiences and biases.

    • @FOARP:
      Exactly, as I said above, every society has its good and its bad, you can not use a single incident to generarize …

  22. mate, the most lauded vet you speak of is a greedy f**kr who preys on wealthy expats.. there are western vets in Shanghai with far better qualifications for your $ as kellen said.

    If i recall correctly there have been a few recent Chinese blog posts and writeups in the Chinese press questioning Chinese morality or lack thereof.

  23. Pingback: Button sexes it up post de-sexing | A China Blog on Suzhou Expat Life

  24. I’ve lived in China for 10 years, and I can’t believe the comments I’ve just read on this blog. I’ve had the best 10 years of my life, and learned tons about an entirely different civilization. If I had read these kinds of comments before going, I would probably be afraid to even set foot there – as it is, I can barely recognize you are talking about the same country. Not many Marco Polos here. I guess if any of you had gone to China in the last 3000 years, your reports would have been far far worse. Back then, people would be ecstatic at the chance to live abroad- is it just too easy nowadays? C’mon people, travel is an adventure, life is an adventure..if you wanted all the comforts and amenities of your home countries, why bother coming in the first place? You can read all the ‘horror stories’ in the front pages. The world is whatever the world is, why not be optimists and understand it for all its good AND bad, then work to change it. We live in ONE world, avoiding going to China and being armchair critics is not going to change anything.

  25. There are three main reasons (that I can think of at this point) which contributes to this lack of “trust” as the poster is referring to (I personally would not use the word trust in this sense):

    1. Foremost – the blind drive of market forces (similar expose on this, watch Michael Moore’s Capitalism: a Love story; now I know that movie isn’t about China, but it paints a very good picture of what greed has driven people to do in the US of A).

    2. Current Chinese political climate – lack of transparency in a market-drive socio-economic climate is a deadly mix, although China has done okay, this lack of transparency and heavy censorship (often) does not help the situation.

    3. Chinese/Asian culture – it’s a cultural thing, and I’ll admit this as a ethnic Chinese (or ethnic Han Chinese, if I really wanted to be clear about this). Hasn’t it baffled so many people why corruption is still commonplace in South Korea and Japan (even though these are “democratic” nations)? It has to do with the culture. When you live in an environment of heavy competition, you’ll use all types of tactics to survive, even the under-handed ones.

    I’ll probably elaborate upon these ideas sometimes down the road…

  26. Oh btw, I should mention, I don’t exactly agree with what you have written down here in your post; you seemed to have taken this one situation a bit out of context.

  27. I’ve never lived in China, first of all.

    I’ve also never met a mean ex-patriot from China. (this doesn’t mean much either)

    But I must say that having studied Chinese religion and history in college for 2+ years, I must disagree about the statements that China has no morality because it has no Christianity.

    Confucius (Kungfutzu) was incredibly big on helping those outside of your family. Look him up if you think Chinese people have always been greedy selfish bastards.

    Besides that, however, I think everyone should consider the fact that desperate people do desperate things when they feel they have no choice.

    Living in a China where you can’t trust anyone has got to create the worst case of paranoia and depression. The feelings that these people who have lived in China are expressing . . . guess what? They are human beings living in a certain country called China, and that means other human beings living in China probably also have these same feelings every day – and they are probably Chinese.

    There are probably also many Chinese people who have not experienced this (probably in the countryside) The fact is, sometimes we get screwed over. Sometimes we are lucky and don’t. Sometimes we seem blessed then have a horrible tragedy and we learn late in life that it’s not all roses. (Read “The Talented Women of the Jong Family” to read about some real-life Chinese women who had this happen to them.)

    Let’s just put things this way. I have a professor who is funny and smart and yet is the most jaded man I’ve ever known. You can read his weariness with the world on his face and in the fact that he often takes off his wedding ring or doesn’t come to class with it at all.

    Yet this man loves the Chinese people, and the Chinese language, and when I read these posts about how hard it is to trust the government when living there, I said to myself “man. That’s why he loves them so much. He can commiserate. He knows what it feels like to be kicked when he’s down and given a raw deal. He knows how the everyday Chinese person feels.”

    We should feel compassion for people pushed to the edge, people forced by circumstance and bad luck to betray their own morals (and they DO have them!), people forced to live remembering the things they had to do. And we should try to remember that actions taken by nations (wars, deregulations, what-have you) are NOT chosen by individual citizens. Don’t blame the people for the government. Do you think the citizens under Mao were happy at the end, when it had all fallen apart? Read “Son of the Revolution” to get a true picture of how it felt. Children were forced to turn on their parents, friends forced to turn on friends, and the very small number of truly evil people managed to get away with worse than murder. (And such things have happened in every part of the world at some point since the beginning of time.)

    Keep in mind that we can’t tell who is truly evil or who is truly desperate. All I know is, out of all of the people I have met in my life, very few have been evil, but a great deal have felt like they didn’t know who to trust, and act badly because they have no more faith in humanity.

    And if you really believe people are inherently selfish and evil, then I pity you most of all. 🙁

  28. I would not say that there is a trust problem in China, I do believe though that trust is cultivated differently, and that to follow you old ways of doing things from the west in China will land you in a heap of trouble, especially as a westerner since we stick out like sore thumbs.

    In China, because there is no ever present god, people rely on society to keep everyone in check. This means it is very important to make connections and use them. If there is anything important that needs to be done you should never rely on anyone found through the buzz, as these people will not feel obliged to help you. Finding someone through your net of friends is the surest bet because not only does the the person helping you feel pressure from your mutual connection to do the job right, but your mutual friend also feels the pressure to make sure his connection does the job right.

    In china they call it face, and using a connection to get a job done is a practice in raising face, your connection gets face by supplying you with a person to accomplish the task you need, and also gets face by supplying a friend with business so he/she will work hard to ensure that the job is done.

    The biggest problem I have had to deal with in China, and perhaps the root of many people’s trust issue, is the fact that Chinese people do not always say what they think. In the west, saying what you think is considered a positive trait, while in China it is somewhat looked down upon and often thought of as too direct. Most of what Chinese people say has a motive and much of it is untrue and simply there to serve a purpose. The trouble comes in deciphering this talk since it is much more subtle than anything we do in the west. This is an art that must be mastered before you can begin to trust people in China.

    I would also like to point out that while in china it is difficult to trust anyone outside your guanxi circle, in the west people often complain of being unable to trust the people inside their guanxi circle, and personally I think that is much worse.

    By the way, if you think being raised in an atheist household has protected you from the Christian morals that plague western society you are dead wrong. Our taboo system, law system, and system of acceptance are all based in Christian thought system. The Chinese code of morals are different, not based on the idea of an ever present authority figure, this is why Confucianism relies on guanxi to keep people in check.

  29. In China, the system doesn’t penalize fraud and deceit to foreigners. In fact, it is encouraged. Right now, your chinese bank account manager is thinking of ways to appropriate of your savings. Your chinese business salesman is incorporating intermediaries to rip you off. Your chinese purchasing agent is profiting on the sidelines from your business purchases. At this very moment, your chinese supplier is filling a container with less valuable merchandise than the one your ordered, whilst collecting your letter of credit. The chinese CEO of a publicly traded company lies in the financial statements to later send the company to bankruptcy in order to appropriate of its assets. The chinese judge who receives kickbacks to tilt the balance in the payer’s favour. The chinese authority, who after being wined and dined, lets you have anything you want, if you’re chinese, but lets you think you can have anything you want, if you’re a foreigner. The wisest way to deal with the amoral chinese, is to reward them AFTER they have done something for you, not before. Since the system won’t let a foreigner punish their bad behaviour, at least file a police report but do not reveal your intentions to the fraudsters, otherwise, they will punish you.

  30. I have been living in China for a two and a half years, and I don’t have this feeling of not being able to trust people. Am I crazy? I trust my Chinese friends as much or more than my other friends, and when it comes to everyone else I trust them about as much as I trust people back home, in other words not much.
    It is true that I don’t trust the quality of Chinese products or the hygienic standards in restaurants as much as I would back in the West though.

    • It really is the overall lack of trust, not any one item, that I was writing about above. While we all should, day-to-day life is far too busy to have to scrutinize every thing we do/use/eat for whether or not it is safe. Generally speaking, if I go to the local shop and grab a carton of milk and a bottle of wine, I shouldn’t worry that the milk is part melamine and that the wine has been filled with chemicals because the companies producing the products are cheaping out at the expense of the consumer.

      This carries over to professionals. If my landlord hires a dude to come in and fix my water heater, I need to just assume that both the landlord, the repair company and the repairman are all suitably qualified, and that the repairman isn’t just some dude with a toolbelt that didn’t have an oven fan to clean that day. But how do I do that? Check his credentials? Call the company? Trust that the credentials are real? And expand that to virtually any situation (e.g. the vet I mentioned in the OP) and we would literally not be able to move due to the weight of just checking up on things we can’t trust.

      Obviously we can’t do that, and so we leap. We just hope that whatever the next big problem is, we’ll not be affected by it. And maybe it’s because I was affected, as my dog died terribly due to a failure in trust, that the illusion of it all is harder to maintain now.

      Friends though, should be as you say — why would we have friends that aren’t trustworthy? That’s a personal decision that we’re able to filter relatively easily. Products, services, environment and culture aren’t really things we can choose with much variance here. (If you don’t like it, leave!)

      I think the longer you stay in China, the more this becomes an issue, as the exponentially higher your odds get of having something bad happen. While many foreigners have been here much much longer than me, most get out early and so never really have to deal with this issue.

    • I would have to say that the reason that you trust them as much is because you dont trust people in general.

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