Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"This is China"

A week ago a section of the pier to Qingdao's Huilan Pavilion collapsed. Several days ago I saw that the collapsed section had been filled with large stones and that there were new barriers of metal sheets at both sides of the collapsed section, at the beginning of the pier, and around a large area in front of the pier.

Qingdao's Huilan Pavilion and pier with a beach in the foreground

The barriers appeared to be serving their presumed purpose. I didn't see anybody on the pier.

However, it was a different story when I walked by 90 minutes later. At one of the more open points in the barrier to the area in front of the pier, I saw a regular flow of people ducking under a bar and a "limit line" tape.

woman ducking under a bar and security tape

After ducking in myself, I noticed mobile police stations* remained at the same places where they had been before the pier collapse. Police were inside at least one of the stations and not reacting in any obvious way to the crowd of people.

I then noticed people ignoring the barriers at entry points from the beach.

people on the other side of a do-not-enter sign
A "do not enter" sign

The barrier at the beginning of the pier was porous as well, although getting around it involved more risk.

woman carefully goes around a barrier at the edge of an embankment

man carefully goes around a barrier at the edge of an embankment

And the collapsed section of the pier? Not only was one of its barriers equally ineffective but a low tide offered another route.

people climbing over a collapsed portion of a pier

There appeared to be some limits though. I didn't see anyone passing the final barrier and reaching the pavilion. Construction workers standing in the area may have played a role.

While at the pier I unexpectedly heard an appraisal of the situation by a young Chinese man from a city near Qingdao. When I was photographing the people ducking under a bar I saw him looking at me questioningly. So I said to him, "It's interesting."

After a few seconds he replied, "This is China."

His brief but loaded statement struck me as remarkable, yet it made me recall analogous cases I had seen elsewhere in China, such as people ignoring barriers to cross a potentially dangerous construction site in Changsha. As I walked away from the pier I considered why people are willing or allowed to break some rules but not others and how what I had seen was an instance of people enjoying a particular type of freedom.

Later in the day I happened to pass by the pier again. It was now empty of visitors, although people remained in the area in front of the pier. As in other cases in China where walls have been determined to be too porous, new barriers had been added.

fencing added to edge of a wall

I wonder if the young man who had previously spoken to me would say, "This is China too."

*Added note: To be precise, one station was for police and the other was for chengguan, police-like local government bylaw enforcement officers. The station I could easily see was the one for chengguan.

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