Saturday, November 10, 2007

The True Price of Inflation (and Other Experiments)

Today at the Carrefour supermarket beneath my living-center one person was trampled to death and several others were injured. The direct cause of this tragedy was a sale that Carrefour had announced for cooking oil (which the Chinese drown their food in)--perhaps some 15 Yuan ($2 US) off the normal price. Given the massive inflation that China has been suffering lately--inflation partly due to the Chinese government's stubborn refusal to revaluate the Yuan currency more fairly in foreign exchange--many people may have figured that this might be the cheapest oil price they would be seeing... perhaps, ever. So the harpies descended upon Carrefour where their combined reckless spendthrift crushed several of their number into shelving units and the white-tiled floor. Such factors--thrift, competition, and rudeness--combined with the sheer population density in China can quickly turn otherwise merely reprehensible situations into dangerous ones.

Situations of such desparation wrought from relatively little reason do seem to be yet more proof of the moral decay present in China. I find it hard to imagine (especially not having been at the scene of the disaster, myself) whether it was the older generations or younger ones who caused the problem, or both, but perhaps there's less difference than one might think. Between those who lived through--and participated in--Mao's cultural revolution and their more materialistic descendants, there lies a common thread: the devaluation of the human being.

In Mao's time, the Chinese people were mere pawns in a grander scheme of deification, the results being a horrifying period in which millions were starved, tortured, forced to torture, and generally set against eachother. While a sucessful strategy for Mao, this resulted in a profound numbing of the Chinese people to politics, aesthetics, and humanitarian concerns, while encouraging natural competitive impulses to their extremes.

Since Deng Xiao Ping's capitalist reformation of the PRC, many economic, societal, and even environmental reforms have taken place, but even as materialism replaces political idolatry, there hasn't been anything to fill the vaccuum created by the displacement of traditional and religious moral systems by communist theories (which have also disappeared almost without trace from the hearts and minds of the people). The competitive disregard for others stoked in Mao's time has not been replaced by 'Harmony' but rather engorged and fueled by an economic boom-time in which the fittest, most ruthless, most connected sorts get to feed themselves to bursting, and the rest are left to fight for scraps or starve.

If there is redemption for China, it may rest in the enduring connections of family. People stay close to their relatives and friends (if only for survival and guanxi). But family is in turn sustained by cooking oil. And thus people get trampled in the supermarket aisles.

Edit: The story is now today's second most popular on, and has spread to other news agencies. Three dead, thirty-one injured, seven critically injured. My Carrefour is now closed until further notice. Apparently it was a tenth anniversary sale (I guess I now know how old my living center is) which had people lining up at 4 AM with a thirst for rapeseed distillate.

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