By a mountain path. Few guests. A huqin's song instead of a radio
Feng Zikai 1935
An account of how one Chinese migrant got to Italy, from Pieke et. al Transnational Chinese
Besides making me feel bad for all the whining I do about long layovers this is story makes me realize that a lot of the simplicity in history is based on lack of data. This guy was in China. He is now in Italy. But the story is a bit more complex than that. I was also struck by both how porous borders are ((although different borders are porous in different ways. I assume our hero would have had more trouble getting into Singapore posing as a Korean than he did in Egypt)) and how powerful they still are.
I got out of
Chinawith an official passport. A fake one. I mean it had my details, but a snakehead got it for me. We only learned later that he got it in Ningde prefecture [north of Fuzhou]. ... I spent a week in Hong Kong, in Clear Water Bay. Hong Kongis beautiful. Then I went to the Ukraine. I spent three months in Kiev, then I took a boat from Odessato ... let's see ... Romania.
Question: A big or small boat?
Xu: A small boat. At that time I still had the official Chinese passport, and you didn't need a visa to
Question: So why did you have to cross the border illegally?
Xu: There are safety considerations for the snakehead.... From
RomaniaI went to Greece, and from Greecewith a large boat to Italy. That was dangerous because [by then] I had a Japanese passport. The Italians caught me at the border and returned me to Greece. Then they put me in prison for four months. I was there together with two Englishmen, Mark and Michael. There were very good, really very good. To this day, it is them that I thank most. Even from Prato, I have called them. I learned some colloquial English from them. So my boss [in Prato] asked me whether I used to teach English. He noticed that I could talk a bit in English when I was dealing with Italian customers. He thought I had taught English. . . . Michael and Mark were drug smugglers. They told me that they had traveled between Hong Kong, Greece, and Britainsmuggling drugs. But in Greecethey were caught and sentenced to six years. At that time they were going to be released. The father of one of them had already come to Greeceto take him home.... Eventually the Greek police took me to the Turkish border at night and told me to go to the other side. I didn't know what was happening; they were pointing their guns at me. Then it turned out they were helping me cross into Turkey!
Question: Why do you think they did that?
Xu: We didn't know! We still don't know! The Greeks had some conflict with the Turks, maybe that's why. On the Turkish side I got caught, returned to
Greece, then the Greeks returned me to Turkeyagain. For three days I was there wandering in the mountains without eating. Finally I ran into an Iraqi who was in the human smuggling business. He told me how to take a bus to Ankara. In Ankara, we felt very ragged and were very hungry. Finally we found a rundown hotel. We explained to the owner that we were tourists, and all our money and tickets had been stolen, and the owner let us stay. Then we started asking around where there was a Chinese restaurant, because usually Chinese restaurants are in touch with snakeheads. Eventually we found one, but in that restaurant they didn't know any snakeheads.
Question: Who ran that restaurant?
Xu: Someone from
Harbin. He had been living there for fifteen years or so. He told us to go to a restaurant in Istanbul; there we would find snakeheads. With that new group of "human snakes" (renshe, smuggled migrants) we went to Egypt. When we left Turkeywe used a Chinese passport, but when we arrived in Egyptwe used a Korean one, because with that one you didn't need a visa.
Question: So you had two passports with you?
Xu: Yes. But in
Egyptthere was some trouble. We didn't get caught, but there was some trouble with the snakehead, it became dangerous, and we had to go back to Turkey. For the second time it was OK, and we flew from Egyptto Austria, and then from there to Italy. My older sister's husband came to Veniceto fetch me. It took me eleven months to arrive here.
Every society has its own traditions of protest, things that people can do that will get them attention and hopefully enable them to get redress for their grievances without getting shot. Of course these traditions are changing all the time. King's importation of Gandhi's techniques of non-violent protest to the U.S. is a good example. Of course these techniques are not entirely portable. In States of Ireland Connor Cruise O'Brian has an account of 'non-violent' protest marches in Belfast. The marchers, overwhelmingly Catholic, marched through various Protestant neighborhoods carrying signs and singing songs in favor of an end to the Troubles. As O'Brian points out, the marchers seemed to be unaware of the political traditions of Northern Ireland, where "members of our ethnic group marching through your ethnic group's neighborhood yelling and beating drums" was not called a peace march.
China also has traditions of protest and is developing new ones all the time. One example of this comes from Ching Kwan Lee's Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt. Lots of people who used to have Iron Rice Bowl jobs in state industries are owed pensions and are not getting them. How do these pensioners protest? By standing in traffic.
Every time the central government announces publicly that pensions must be paid in full, we are very upset. All of us have television at home and we always watch it. Who would not know about these announcements? Every day, elderly people gather in the elderly activity room in our neighborhood, smoking and playing chess, poker, or mahjong. Someone comments on our unpaid pensions and makes a spur-of-the-moment suggestion to block the road. When we get angry, we just go instantly, or say tomorrow morning at 8 or at 9. Once we arrive at the destination, we don't utter a word. We have no banner or slogan, just stand there. We just want to create public opinion, pressuring leaders of the Machinery and Electrical Works Bureau to talk to the enterprise director. There would usually be several hundred retirees. It's not a large number it you consider that we have 1,500 retirees in the entire work unit. Traffic police would arrive several minutes after we begin blocking. They would not intervene, just ask politely which enterprise we are from. They say they are just doing their job, and urge us to try our best to move toward the sidewalk. Police would come too, and they would , even urge the traffic police not to push us too hard. They are afraid that elderly people will get hurt, and then the whole incident will become incendiary. Passersby who are on bikes are very sympathetic and are just curious to know which enterprise we are from. But people in buses or automobiles would swear at us, saying, "Those who should die live uselessly." . . . Very soon, local government officials would come and we would tell them that we are owed our pensions and have no money to see the doctor. They usually are very patient. Once they promise to investigate or to get us paid the following week, we would just disband and go home. The more workers present, the higher the level of officials who would come down to talk to us.Why this form of protest? Well, a dance marathon is sort of out of the question for these people.
Look, we are people in our seventies and eighties; our bodies are falling apart. We could barely walk. We could only stand still. Standing there on the road is hurtful enough, let alone marches and rallies. My feet and legs are all sore. When we were young, in the Cultural Revolution, we could roam around town and demonstrate. We are too old for that. ((As Lee points out, this is the generation that has really been punished by Communism. They starved as kids after the Great Leap, were on the firing line for the Cultural Revolution and the Reform era came late enough that the only benefit they are seeing is loosing their pensions.))The other advantage of standing in the road is that it fits into a script of protest that makes them look serious but not too radical. Protest needs to be seen by the "public" as something to be taken seriously (that's why hunger strikes are popular. Even one person starving themselves has weight.) and yet not too out there. ((P.J. O'Rourke had a great sneer at the People In Black you sometimes see protesting on American campuses "Apparently life sucks when you are a nineteen year old rich kid")) Lee's protesters are pretty clear that they want to keep their actions in the script of respectful petitioning.
We don't want to block railways. Those are major national arteries. We elderly workers are reasonable and we have a good sense of state policy. In Liaoyang and Anshan workers blocked railways and bad things happened to them—public security officers were sent in. If any injury or death occurs, the nature of our action will be changed. . . . We are also conscientious about orderly petition. First we approach our own enterprise, and if there is no response, we go to the superior department, and then to the city government. You have to follow the bureaucratic hierarchy of proceeding from lower to higher levels. Then things will be easier.At least in these cases the method seems to work. By emphasizing their age, ill-health and respect for order and the system the petitioning pensioners are usually able to to get themselves some money. Never all the money they are owed, but some. Given the way they protest the state can hardly send in people to bust heads, and they get sympathy at least from the bike-riding class, if not from the car driving class, and this public sympathy is something that the state will force the enterprise directors to respect.