Chris is probably the cockiest person I’ve ever met. Not in a 19-year-old, blinded-to-danger-by-testosterone kind of way, but in a “my family is so deep in the Party that I’m untouchable and I know it” kind of way. And it was true — he got away with everything. He racked up multiple written warnings for things like scamming the other students and the school. But the school was afraid to risk ticking him off because he was too connected. And he knew it. He had this permanent smirk on face. He swaggered around the school, flirted and felt-up his showpiece most-made-up-girl-in-the-school girlfriend while ignoring the teachers and texting during class.
It was only after a tantrum where he threw a water bottle at foreign teacher’s head during a face-losing showdown in front of a large group class when the teacher forced him to obey a rule he was trying to openly flaunt — and the teacher told the school that he would never teach Chris again, period — that he finally left for good (I don’t know if they actually kicked him out, but I doubt it).
When you looked at him, you knew you were looking at one piece of China’s “symphony of privilege,” the kind of Chinese who would yell things like “My dad is Li Gang!” (see here, here, here, here and here) or “Who dares call the police?” (here, here, here and here) or possibly even worse.
A recent post by Yaxue Cao’s on Seeing Red in China called “Traitor of the Chinese People” reminded me that I once had my own drama with Chris. I once had to, with the help of two other students, physically escort him out of class. It was a free talk group class. The students were supposed to talk about whatever they wanted, so long as they used English. They were all adults. One older man, a retired philosopher named Alex who’d been “sent down” for several years during the Cultural Revolution, started saying some negative things about Mao (Alex would criticize Mao at every opportunity, in his slow, calm, 60-year-old Chinese philosopher kind of way — it was both shocking and entertaining to see). Chris immediately jumped to Mao’s defense. They argued back and forth, quickly switching into Chinese. Alex remained calm mostly, but Chris got livid. He was on his feet yelling and waving his finger in the older man’s face. Would not switch back to English. He got so out of control, rude and unmanageable that we eventually physically forced him out. A few hours later, when I figured he’d calmed down, I went to talk to him:
“Chris, I don’t care what opinion you express in class, but you must be respectful of the other students. Especially older students.”
“But you didn’t hear what he said about Chairman Mao!”
“I don’t care what he says about Mao, or what you say about Mao — you can have whatever opinion you want — so long as you are respectful to each other in class.”
“But he can’t say those things about Chairman Mao! Chairman Mao is like a god to us!”
Those were his exact words. I didn’t know what to say, though a whole lot came to mind!
Not every Mainlander has a positive view of Mao, but the vast majority of them do, and sometimes the younger, more privileged ones are the most devoted. It shocked us when we first arrived. Newbies be ye warned!
You can read more about Mao’s seemingly unassailable mythical status here: