If even the Japanese can become refugees, what should China’s mortgage slaves do?

The sight of Japanese refugees has forced us to rethink global modernity because if Japan’s house of cards can fall, then none of us are safe. Below, I’ve translated Yang Qian’s thoughts. Chinese version follows. Also, in Mandarin the term “房奴” literally means “house slaves”, however because the term refers to people who have been enslaved by their mortgage debt, I’ve used the expression mortgage slave. If anyone has a better translation, please advise.

If even the Japanese can become refugees, what should China’s mortgage slaves do?

By Yang Qian

The fact of Japanese refugees is something we’re not used to.

For Chinese people, we’re not surprised to see refugee centers and camps in Africa, the near East, or countries like the Balkans. While famine, drought, and panic cause people to loose their homes or even die of sickness in war torn places like Somalia, Pakistan, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. In these places, it’s not strange at all to see ordinary people take on extraordinary suffering. But who ever imagined that refugee camps would appear overnight in Japan, once the second richest country in the world, where 100s of thousands of people struggle with hunger and death?

We’re dumbfounded! Stunned! Nothing we can say is strong enough to describe the feeling. If most Chinese hadn’t seen this event with our own eyes, I believe that none of us would believe the news. But even so, what do Japanese refugees have in common with Chinese mortgage slaves? A lot! It’s because of our willingness to take on mortgage debt that China’s GDP has surpassed Japan’s and is charging to overtake the United States. This is what the Japanese did, too. But maybe Japan’s current disaster will bury all that.

It’s as if modern people believe an unspoken truth that natural disasters have a limited effect on economically developed countries. Even if the disaster exceeds a society’s ability to endure it, nevertheless we believe that developed countries can quickly restore the situation to what it was. The most common example offered to prove this point is the Kobe earthquake. Even though the 7.9 degree earthquake was devastating, nevertheless, reconstruction after the quake allowed Japanese economy and society to recover. In other words, it seems that economic development not only guarantees social development and happiness, but also protects us against natural disaster. This has been uncontrovertable proof of the statement “development is the hard truth.” Unfortunately, on March 11, 2011, Japan’s 9.0 earthquake ended the myth of “economic development is the cure for all problems.”

We all know that Japan once had the strongest national economy after the United States. Japan has been a worldwide economic power, especially in Asia. However what Japan did to sustain is position, the social price that Japan has paid, we have never been willing to take into account. For example, let’s look at the country’s nuclear energy policy. Nuclear energy became the only choice for maintaining that level of economic growth because Japan lacks fossil fuels. The concentration of population in cities is another example. The pressure of economic development since WWII has centralized consumption in cities. Previously, we lauded Japan’s success, and have even used it to justify copying their development choices. Now we finally see what price the Japanese people paid for this success.

Let’s talk about nuclear energy. What will it mean if the experts are right and Japan will have to “bury” the reactors? Based on statistics from Chernobyl, that one reactor cost a total of 18 billion, not including the price of removing the contamination from the surrounding area. Want to save money? Pray that nothing else happens. In China, a nuclear accident will be greater than any natural disaster.

What’s more, the reconstruction of “developed society” is not something an ordinary person can achieve just because he wants to. How difficult is it to reconstruct society? It’s not hard to imagine if we remember that most Chinese urbanites are mortgage slaves. If an earthquake or some other disaster caused the house you bought on mortgage to disappear, what would happen if the banks still required you to pay off your mortgage? Could you rationally and stoically accept this decision? Or maybe you already paid off your mortgage, but now you have to start from scratch and use all your extra savings in order to become a mortgage slave, again. Would you blithely say, “If we don’t get rid of the old, we can’t build the new?” Remember, you can’t rely on the government to step in, because whether or not the national government chooses to help you isn’t your decision. Moreover, in “developed societies” basic structure and policy aren’t questioned or changed because of you or ordinary people like you. Maybe the government will adjust insurance coverage or help those in areas most affected by the disaster. But if you had to pay what you did in order to get back what you lost, would you make the same decision?

The time has come to re-evaluate the goal of “economic development” precisely because in the end, the burden will be carried by ordinary people, despite the price that mortgage slaves are and are not willing to pay.

With respect to the Japanese tragedy, what we Chinese have most difficulty understanding is also what we most admire: the Japanese people’s calm, order, and endurance. The international and national media have focused on their response, speculating that it is a result of long preparation for a major earthquake and trust in their government, as well as a cultural trait. I accept this explanation. But I have a small question, if this “orderly and rational” society is also the reason behind this level of disaster, is the admirable response of ordinary Japanese people comedy or tragedy?

The fact of Japanese refugees, what does it mean? For a China still drunk after surpassing Japan in the GDP rankings, it’s worth stopping to consider the implications. But maybe we have neither the time nor the inclination to stop and think. After all, we are facing an even “greater and more difficult” goal — surpassing the United States.

Alas, this is how great countries are made!

日本人也会变成难民,中国的房奴怎么办?

杨阡

日本人成了难民这件事,我们可不太习惯。

对中国人来说,像避难所、难民营之类的地方,出现在非洲、近东或是巴尔干等国家和地区这一点不奇怪。而因为饥饿、缺水、恐慌。流离失所甚至冻病而死,这样的事发生在像索马里、巴勒斯坦、车臣和阿富汗那些连年战火,困苦不堪的百姓身上,也一点也不意外。哪曾想,日本这个世界第二大富国竟在一夜之间出现了大量难民营,几十万人在饥寒交迫与生死不明之间挣扎。错愕!震惊!怎样形容都不过分,对我们大多数中国人来说这样的事如果不是亲眼看见,我想任谁也不会相信。但是即便如此,日本出现难民和中国的房奴们有什么关系呢?关系可大了!因为我们的房奴们已经支持中国GDP赶超了日本,正要去赶超美国。日本人当年也是这么干的,可日本今天的灾难也许就这么埋下了。

好像有一个不言自明的真理一直被现代人相信,就是自然灾害对于经济发达国家的影响非常有限。即使是发生超乎一般社会承受的天灾,发达的社会也能迅速恢复正常的状态。最常被列举的例子就是日本的坂神大地震。虽然这个里氏7.9级的地震对日本造成了重创,但是震后的重建反而让日本的经济和社会有了复苏的迹象。换句话说,好像经济发达不止是社会进步和幸福的有效保障,也是抗御天灾的有力武器。这样来论证“发展才是硬道理”看起来真的是天衣无缝。遗憾的是,2011年3月11日发生在日本东北里氏9.0级的大地震终结了这个“发达经济万灵神药”的神话。

我们都知道日本曾经是美国之后的世界第二大经济强国,在近半个世纪的时间里也一直是世界尤其是亚洲的经济巨人。但是为维持这样的经济强势,日本付出了怎样的社会代价是我们一直不愿去看的。就拿能源政策说吧,因为日本没有足够的化石能源,因此核电成为了保证经济持续成长的几乎是唯一的选择。其次是人口向城市的聚集。这既是经济发展模式的压力也是二战后消费主义生活方式成为主流的必然结果。这些都是我们曾经赞赏日本,甚至也在模仿的理由。现在我们终于看到了日本人为此付出怎样的代价。

光说核电,假如真像有些专家说那样最后必须“封堆”。那么参考切尔诺贝利的数据,仅这一项将会花费180亿美元,还不算消除区域内污染的费用。省钱吗?只能祈祷别出事。在中国,核设施出事就会比天大。此外,“发达社会”的重建对于一个普通百姓来说可不是一个说做就能做到的事。咱们拿中国举例子吧!因为中国现在大多数的城里人都已经成了房奴,所以道理也不难懂。假如地震或其他的原因让你贷款买的房子消失了,假如你还要继续为它还贷款。你觉得你还能理性和隐忍的接受吗?或者你已经付清了贷款,但现在你又要重新当房奴,把余生都搭上只是为了获得一片能遮风避雨的简易建筑,你会轻松地说“旧的不去新的不来”吗?你先不要说国家会怎么样,帮不帮你,你说了也不算。因为在“发达社会”,基本秩序和政策不会因你或像你一样的人遭受的处境被怀疑和改变。当然也许会调整是社会保障的覆盖面或在灾区有一些特殊的保障人群。但假如你仍要为失去的和要获得的同时付钱,你会怎么想呢?

“经济发达”这个目标,到了要反省是褒义还是贬义的时候了。因为代价最终还是要老百姓承担的,不管房奴们愿意还是不愿意!

对于我们中国人来说这次地震中最难理解,常常也最佩服的,是震后日本人表现出的镇定、有序和隐忍。许多国际和国内的媒体解释这种现象,均认为是出于日本人对地震的充足准备和对政府的绝对信任,以及民族性格中的认命而坚持的特点。我接受这样的解释。但同时我也想做一个小小的推论:那就是,假如这样“有序和理性”的社会正是这个天灾能够造成如此巨大损失的始作俑者,日本人继续保持他们的良好表现是悲剧还是喜剧呢?

日本人也会变成难民,这件事意味着什么?对于自我陶醉在GDP已经超越日本,成为世界第二强的经济大国——中国来说,值得仔细品味。不过也许我们没功夫想这件事,或者干脆不在乎。因为前面还有一个“更伟大、更艰苦的”目标——美国。

啊!新的大国正在崛起!!!

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