Op-ed: Regional Discrimination in China

Written by: LA Himalaya Angels – Prince

When the doctor delivered the news that her six-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with food poisoning, Mrs. Li was furious, and with good reason. Her daughter was the latest victim of a food poisoning scandal in the central Chinese province of Henan that sent dozens of children to the hospital. According to local authorities, a kindergarten teacher was detained and accused of adding sodium nitrite, which is toxic in large doses, to the meal boxes of at least 23 pupils in 2019.[1]

While investigators were trying to figure out the motivation, the incident sparked public outrage online. The majority of comments focused on the evilness of the act. But a surprising number of comments were quick to note the perpetrator’s home province, Henan. “I always knew that the Henanese people were up to no good, disgusting,” said one social media user in his WeChat post. Another noted that “it is always the Henanese who make troubles.” With such prejudiced comments, it is difficult to read on. Regional discrimination such as this is commonplace in China. We cannot have a society that tolerates this kind of ignorance and hostility if we want to make any progress. The government should take steps to address the problem, but instead, it was all along the CCP’s intention to cause such division and social injustice so as to make the people fight among themselves.

The past decade of economic growth in China brought many changes to the socioeconomic landscape of the country, the most notable among them being urbanization. The lightning speed at which China urbanized its towns into mega-cities meant that laborers were in demand. Millions of people from remote, impoverished areas were brought up to the cities to be construction workers, house cleaners, and janitors. The story of their lives is the unglamorous side of a thriving modern economy: the ever-increasing wealth gap between city dwellers and their migrant countrymen. Urban Chinese not only enjoy a higher standard of living but are often condescending towards migrants from destitute areas. Regional discrimination is commonplace in China, so much so that deplorable comments such as those cited in this article are widely tolerated. While regional discrimination affects everyone who is not from the cities, people from certain areas such as Henan have it the worst.

Born in Shanxi, one of the most impoverished provinces, I have spent much of my time living in many different areas of China including Beijing and Henan. Unfortunately, this also means that I am no stranger to regional discrimination. I first moved from Shanxi to Beijing, not an easy move for many, when I was 12 to take advantage of the better education system. Now 21, I do not remember most of my classmates’ names but I still distinctly and painfully remember the eyes rolled at me by others when they learned that I had come from such a poor province. I remember going to school one day and was told by teachers to go home and change my shirts because they “smelled funny” and “looked dirty”, when in fact they were just unremovable stains on the freshly-washed shirt. When I voiced my objection, I was criticized for talking back and told again to go home. While walking out of the office, I heard the teachers whispering “these kids from Shanxi are so dirty,” followed by the most mocking and obnoxious laugh.

The memories are fresh, as are the pains, but who is to blame? Do I blame the well-dressed boy who rolled his eyes at me? Or should I blame the patronizing teacher who made a fool out of me? My answer is neither. It is the government, not any individuals, that allowed and even encouraged discrimination of the kind to degenerate our society. By implementing various government policies such as the Hukou system that implicitly discriminate against people from poorer origins, the government steers people as well as communities to believe that it is acceptable to judge people’s characters based purely on their regional origin.

Image Credit: https://www.itv.com/

The Hukou system is a system of household registration that links each individual to his or her area of birth. For example, because I was born in Shanxi, I would have a “Shanxi Hukou” allowing me to reside in Shanxi. In the event that I wanted to move to a different province, I would need to report to officials and request a change on my Hukou registry. But every province has a quota on the number of people that are allowed to be added to their Hukou registry each year, and it is almost impossible to change your Hukou if you are not well-connected with the government. The prevalence of government corruption and under the table deals also means that a poor man’s prospect of changing his Hukou registration is slim. Yet without a local Hukou, people would have only restricted access to education, social welfare benefits, and almost all benefits enjoyed by locals. This, in essence, renders migrant workers from poor areas second-class citizen if they are unable to get urban Hukous, which for most people is impossible. Policies like this alienate fellow countryman from one another and separate people by their socioeconomic class. The government’s actions in effect perpetuated the prevalence of such social injustice.

Of course, fixing the Hukou system would not be the only remedy needed to oust regional discrimination. The system that is at the core of such prejudice is the one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party. Until the political regime in China changes hands to a democratic government sympathetic to the people’s sufferings, we can rest assured that social injustice of the kind will only exacerbate. The Whistleblower Movement and the New Federal State of China not only seek the national level, complete liberation of the political system, but also aim to fundamentally empower the people of China by cherishing individuality and personal freedoms. It is my sincere hope that in the not so distant future, people like me could do without the embarrassment of having come from lesser means, live with every dignity and right, and be judged by only our merits.

[1] Chinese kindergarten teacher detained after allegedly poisoning 23 children April 2, 2019

Editor: Himalaya Canada Maple Leaf Farm  Joseph
Proofreader: GNEWS Editorial Team Isaiah4031

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