“The Poor Can’t Win Against the Rich; The Rich Can’t Win Against Men With Power.”

There is a very disappointing and frustrating hierarchy that exists in China; it is one not to be meddled with because you’ll never win unless you have a good connection and a wad of cash the size of a small house.

My stomach is still churning from an upsetting incident that occurred on my way home from a night on the town with my folks. We were stopped at a red light with our friendly driver, Mr. Li, listening to Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” on the radio when a  black Volvo rear-ended us. It wasn’t a big deal until the decently dressed woman in the passenger seat opened her big mouth and blamed us for rolling backwards into their car.  It was an infuriating lie that had no reasoning behind it–the only way we could have reversed into their car was if Mr. Li had changed gears from Drive to Reverse.

Anyway, the police came and tried to settle the ordeal, but then the driver of the Volvo said his car was sensitive and was probably internally damaged from the accident. As soon as those words came out of his mouth, I yelled, “HA! HA! HA!” and even clapped my hands from the hilarity of it all. To add on to this comedy, the woman of the Volvo said Mr. Li, a man society considers to be near the bottom of the class ladder because he is a gypsy-cab driver and comes from a family of farmers, admitted to reversing into them and that we had asked for money before the police arrived, implying that we were trying to wheedle cash out of this situation (which does happen often in China actually, but those weren’t our intentions). My dad was irate at those accusations–he had asked for money to settle the situation then and there to avoid police involvement. Besides, the Volvo driver even agreed to pay for the scratches, but Mr. Li wanted to talk about justice, not money. He didn’t like the lady’s attitude (nobody did) and was furious that they were spitting one irrational lie upon another.

To Mr. Li, who agreed to arrange a court hearing with the Volvo liars knowing that they would never show up, this car accident was so trivial he doesn’t expect anything out of it. In America, the two parties would most likely have first, moved their vehicles out of traffic to somewhere safe; second, exchanged phone numbers and insurance information; or third, admitted wrong-doing and agreed to pay a small sum for the damages. The reason we spent so much time arguing in the middle of a rotary was to find “the truth.” Unfortunately in China, “the truth” doesn’t matter. It has no consequence. It can be bought if you have the cash to pay for it.

I frequently overhear well-off Chinese people make snide comments about poor Chinese people and farmers–there are many derogatory names for them. They insult the poor by remarking how uneducated they are (that would be the fault of the government), how they lack good manners, how irrational, how dirty, how dangerous they are. But from my daily observations, it is people like the Volvo drivers–nicely dressed, white skin (yes, racism exists in this country, too), expensive car, clearly people of money–who are most irrational, rude, and pick a fight about everything. (Like that man who punched my three-wheeler driver in the face, or young wealthy women who are so easily angered by the slightest discomfort on a crowded train–I am MOST annoyed when I hear someone bicker about how somebody lightly grazed her foot, or someone’s bag was caught on her cashmere sweater, or how someone shoved her too hard when squeezing onto the train. One of these days I will respond, “Oh I’m sorry, princess! I didn’t realize you owned the subway and that the world revolved around your comfort! My bad! Let me kneel down and shine your shoes, reknit your sweater, and massage your back!”)

The title of this post is a Chinese expression that describes the current structure of Chinese society. If you are poor, you have no chance against someone with money because they can bribe the police, the jury, your best friend. If you are rich, you have no chance against someone who holds power because he has higher status than you. Don’t try to buy your way out of whatever it is because chances are, the man with power will crush you and your family.

It really is infuriating, especially knowing that there’s nothing anyone can do. There’s no point of getting angry, like Mr. Li said, because it’s a waste of energy since YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO WIN. Of course I don’t like that kind of defeatist attitude, but what can I do? Honestly? In a country where speaking out against the government will get you arrested, or make the rest of your life a living hell, the only thing one can do–especially if you are poor and have absolutely no power–is to keep your mouth shut and move on.

My cheeks are red from thinking about this fish-eat-fish, dog-eat-dog, human-eat-human society. I have to admit I’m even a little nervous about publishing this post, especially with my full name displayed, but WordPress is one of the censored internet sites in China–I have my ways around it–so maybe nobody will ever find this measly little blog.

This minor car accident doesn’t fully exemplify the expression in the title, but it is one of many situations that proves how justice is not attainable for someone like Mr. Li, who represents the majority of Chinese people. In a country that sought independence through Marxist ideals and Mao’s revolution, it is a wonder how far and askew society is from Communist theories written on paper. From the outside China might seem like an exotic, culturally and historically rich, and beautiful place–don’t get me wrong, it totally is–but now that I’m on the inside, there is so much I find wrong with this country. By living, observing and researching, I am learning more and more about the country my family is from, and even though there is ugly to be found, out of bad always comes good. Right?

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9 Comments on ““The Poor Can’t Win Against the Rich; The Rich Can’t Win Against Men With Power.””

  1. mooselicker says:

    I don’t know much about China at all. In a way, I’m surprised that you guys seem to have as much freedom as you do. The American media makes it out to be like you’re all really miserable and vile when that can’t possibly be true from my communications with you 🙂 (aww I’m so sweet)

    That really is pretty harsh though what happened. I mean, there are situations like that over here. Unfortunately the only examples I can think of are like when a star athlete or a celebrity commits a crime that they get house arrest for a week when an average person would have a much harsher penalty. It’s probably like this in a lot of countries, just with their own twists on things. The rich have always been snobby. It sucks that it takes a violent revolution to stop it more often than not.

    • Emily He says:

      See, I knew you were a softie!

      A hierarchy definitely exists in the States, but the lines are a bit blurred, or at least covered up quite well. But in China, it’s so blatant it’s disgusting. $$$ can buy so much here it’s ridiculous–I could buy myself a college diploma if I wanted (but I already graduated so that wouldn’t make sense). I could buy myself a driver’s license and not take the ridiculously hard test (they ask you questions about the ENGINE and OTHER CAR PARTS!).

      Freedom exists if you just do your thing and not mess with anyone else’s business, but as soon as you open your mouth, it’s all downhill from there.

  2. I hope you are listening to ‘Rage Against the Machine’……

  3. I know we are not perfect here in the Staes, but compared to most eevrywhere else, it is a Garden of Eden.
    And when you write about ” Marxist ideals and Mao’s revolution.” it is scary to think that some people think these are good ideas.

  4. Cafe23 says:

    Well said! I’m getting mad just reading about it >_< … It's insane how ignorant entire sectors of society are.


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