News from Tokyo (by way of Shenzhen gossip)

First night back in Shenzhen and went to dinner with a former student, who has just returned from Tokyo, where she has been studying a MFA in Theatre and Expression. What became clear over the course of the conversation was how Chinese political and news reporting conventions continue to shape understanding of what is happening in Japan. 

The student decided to return home because anxious family and friends repeatedly emailed and phone her, asking her to come to China. At first, she was reluctant to return because she believed that the Japanese government and American military were doing the best they could to ameliorate the situation. Moreover, she had Chinese friends who had decided to stay. Nevertheless, her family and friends were frantic that she was being irradiated and no one could protect her from either nuclear fallout or from another earthquake. Moreover, they also believed Chinese people in Japan were involved in a mass exodus because it was impossible within China to buy a return trip ticket before March 20. Thus, a friend in Hong Kong had bought her a ticket.

Strange thing, though. Even though her family could not buy her a plane ticket before March 20, nevertheless, the plane she returned on was half-empty. She and others at the table speculated that someone was scalping plane tickets. They wondered who had the money to do this, or was someone in the aviation industry making money off all the sensationalist news. Another added that this resembled the rush on salt purchases throughout the country. It seems that people are hoarding salt (rumor has it that iodine will help counter the effects of radiation) even though the Central Government has stated that 80% of China’s edible salt is mined from the ground and not harvested from the sea.

The student commented that Japanese people were fortunate that they could trust their government, adding, “I hope that the Japanese Government isn’t lying to the People because if so, then this event will break their trust and society will be less stable.”

The question of corruption domesticated the conversation about Tokyo. It was as if placing Japan’s tragedy within the context of Chinese corruption made it manageable; horrible things probably are happening in Tokyo, all agreed, but here in Shenzhen, we only see through Party lenses and we all know how reliable they are. The conversation then turned to college days’ reminisces and more toasts about the joys of reuniting with classmates. Thus, when the student said she had to be back in Tokyo by April 1, when classes were scheduled to resume, everyone accepted that she was in a better position than they to make a decision.

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