Yu Hua: “In China, Power is Arrogant”

For The New York Times, guest columnist and prominent Chinese author Yu Hua laments the inconsistency and lack of transparency in the laws imposed by the Chinese government:

If the central government’s decrees are opaque, local authorities’ can be downright ridiculous. In 2001, hospital officials in the southern city of Shenzhen specified that nurses should show precisely eight teeth when smiling. In 2003, Hunan Province, in central China, stipulated that the breasts of female candidates for civil-service positions should be symmetrical. The next year, public safety officials in the northern city of Harbin ruled that policemen whose waistlines exceeded 36 inches had to go. In 2006, transportation officials in Zhejiang Province, just south of Shanghai, banned employees from sporting facial hair. The following year, in an effort to reduce the school-dropout rate, Pinghe County in Fujian Province, on the southeast coast, decreed that a junior high school diploma was required to marry.

Several of these rules have since been revoked, but their wacky and arbitrary nature demonstrates the arrogance of power in China. One can imagine all too easily their creators — sitting in comfortable armchairs, drinking high-grade tea and smoking fine cigarettes — discussing the issues at hand as if they were purely intellectual abstractions, never considering how ordinary people might react. That people will be unhappy is no cause for concern because, for so long, the power of the state has trampled on individual rights. Only when rules are so onerous that they stir actual protest do higher-ups take notice: “You guys are just making a mess of things,” they’ll tell their bureaucrat underlings. “This is not good for social stability.” The rules are then quietly rescinded — sometimes.


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