Word(s) of the Week: “It Is a Bit Ridiculous, But You Must Obey”

Word(s) of the Week: “It is a bit ridiculous, but you must obey.” (是有点搞笑,但是你要服从, Shì yǒudiǎn gǎoxiào, dànshì nǐ yào fúcóng.)

A policeman admitting that a traffic restriction “is a bit ridiculous, but you must obey” has gone viral for its unintentionally piquant commentary on life in China. 

The phrase comes from a video taken by a Tesla driver during a traffic stop in Hangzhou, where a police officer refused the driver permission to drive across a bridge “because [your car] is a Tesla.” The driver protests, “That’s ridiculous!” The policeman answers, “It is a bit ridiculous, but you must obey.” Hangzhou police deny that Teslas were specifically targeted, claiming instead that “temporary controls” instituted for the upcoming Asian Games opening ceremony in the city were the reason for the stop. (“Temporary controls” is the same euphemism that was used to describe COVID lockdowns through much of 2022.) Teslas have repeatedly been banned from Chinese streets due to concerns about the vehicles’ ability to collect data via their cameras and other sensors. Teslas have been prohibited from entering Beidaihe for two months this summer while current and retired Chinese Communist Party leaders hold their annual summer retreat in that seaside district. In late July, Teslas were similarly banned from certain roads in Chengdu in advance of Xi Jinping’s visit to the city. Military staff and employees of key state-owned companies have been forbidden from owning Teslas since 2021. Despite such security concerns and periodic bursts of bad publicity, Tesla remains a powerful player in China. The company’s “gigafactory” in Shanghai produces more than half of the 1.3 million Teslas delivered annually worldwide and Tesla CEO Elon Musk was feted during a May 2023 trip to Beijing, scoring rare private audiences with top Party leaders. Concerns about Tesla’s security may be heightened by Musk’s unprecedented, and increasingly erratic, global political influence

A video of the Hangzhou traffic-stop incident was posted to Twitter: 

The policeman’s phrase was immediately adopted by some social media users as an apt summation of life under the Party-state. An essay posted to question and answer site Zhihu by the user @美芳 (translated in part, below) reflects on the silent complicity of the public in the face of other similarly “ridiculous” policies, some of which resulted in tragic consequences:

This latest “radiation incident” is an example. It’s all a bit ridiculous but we’re all compelled to obey. If they say there’s radiation, then there’s radiation. There’s no point in quibbling about just how much radiation there is, or how much of an impact it may actually have. 

Another example is being rousted out of your home and into the street in the middle of the night to stand in line for a PCR test to find out whether you’ve got a cold—and even if you do have a cold, they don’t give you cold medicine but rather a cure-all called Lianhua Qingwen that was miraculously discovered 20 years ago. Isn’t that ridiculous? It is, but we all must obey. [The use of “cold” instead of “coronavirus” here may be an effort to avoid censorship of the post.]

In school, we had to memorize the textbook and the Core Values. At the time, I swelled with pride. Now, looking back, all I can do is laugh—it was a certain type of bliss. 

In school, we did eye exercises. Even though I didn’t know where to massage, I went along with it for 10 years.

[…] Some people take the biggest loudspeaker and belt out the worst songs. Others, who sing quite well, are never again allowed to perform at a concert. [Perhaps a reference to the singer Dao Lang’s rumored concert ban after his release of the song “Demons and Mirages,” an ambiguously worded surprise hit attacking… his critics? America? Something else?]

Today, when Tony Leung won a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival, I got to thinking: “Do we really have no actors to rival Leung?” I imagine we do, at least in my heart we do. How is it that the Leungs and the Chans of the world are able to achieve so much?

The answer isn’t “blowing in the wind.” It’s right in front of our eyes.

Many of the things that seemed ridiculous at the time eventually turned into irreversible tragedies. 

Just like in 2020, when all I hoped for was to be allowed to leave my building, take a PCR test, and go back to work.

The people who stay silent may believe they are good, but by remaining silent, they are complicit. [Chinese]


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