China for the professional is an alternative universe which does not need a century of research and billions of dollars for us to pass into. For me, it’s the price of four stops on the MTR and it has got me thinking of a new life.
Their world possesses much of the professional apparatus that is familiar to ours but it functions obversely. Procedures have superficial similarities to those in this galaxy but the outcomes are contrary. In Hong Kong this is described, superficially, as ‘two systems’ but the differences on planet China are stellar. As a qualified professional there you can, indeed you are expected to enjoy a moderately well paid and entirely stress free working life.
A legion of ‘content providers’
Let us begin with the troublesome, badly groomed ‘hack’- the journalist- whom you rank below your hairdresser and would resist any child of yours marrying. In China there are 800 tertiary colleges providing journalism courses. Up there, you would imagine that to be the equivalent of pork butchery training for republicans in Saudi Arabia. Not at all. Millions of approved words are needed every day for print, the web and broadcast. Thousands of journalists (we could call them ‘content providers’ and that time may come) are needed to supply them.
As the Thai traffic cop might say as he approaches your car, ‘There’s the hard way to do this and the easy way.’ For journalists not only is the easy way the expected way, it is facilitated by clear guidelines which take all the sweat out of the job. If you believe that these labour saving directions only come with reporting on dissidents, about whom there is no need for reports at all, bear in mind that many aspects of national life need constructive stories.
Take for example the recent stock exchange slump. There were exhaustive guidelines on that including a ban on the word ‘slump’ – and on ‘spike’ and ‘collapse’ too because such words might provoke ‘panic’ and ‘sadness’. Sadness is a dreadful thing for a journalist to cause.
There should, said the guidelines ‘without exception’, be no discussions, expert interviews, live coverage, in-depth analysis, speculation or assessment of direction. You could almost feel the blood pressure tumbling. All tension was removed and if there had been be one heart flutter of anxiety left in the hack then he or she could ‘strictly report according to information released by the China Securities Regulatory Commission’.
The guidelines insisted that reporting should be ‘completely balanced, objective and rational’ and what risk could there be of it becoming wobbly, partial or passionate after all that? Even in that dead calm though, there was an opportunity for a little excitement. You were encouraged to ‘rationally lead market expectations’. They just don’t teach you this kind of thing at the HKU School of Journalism.
Presumably because they are considered cleverer, lawyers in China aren’t given anything written down to lead them to the quiet life. They are required to follow an alternative logic. If an accused is brought before the courts, no defence of innocence is necessary because if the rascal was not guilty, the state would never have brought the charge in the first place. Not only is that a great deal of work off a lawyer’s mind, to actually mount a defence of the indefensible might mean that the lawyer was also guilty, of what to be decided later.
A plea of mitigation might seem appropriate in our solar system but, in the China constellation, the impression of the lawyer having some sneaking sympathy with the scoundrel would be unavoidable and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the courts do sometimes require a lawyer to be present in the proximity of the accused. In which case the lawyer’s response to the accusations of the prosecution and the vituperation of the judges may extend to, “My client and I could not agree with you more, m’People’s lud”.
It is not entirely clear what there is for lawyers to actually do in this alternative universe. Turning up at an office briefly once a day for a paper shuffle and spending the rest of it drinking expensive rice wine and watching, teary-eyed, new achievements on the television is a secure and relaxing solution favoured by many. Unfortunately, more restless spirits have not grasped the logic. Over 200 of these unaccountable troublemakers and fight-pickers have been invited for ‘a cup of tea’ at the police station – which is not half as much fun as the rice wine in the office- and some 30 or more did not re-emerge in time for dinner or indeed anything subsequent.
These lawyers chose to do it the hard way and, though they will have no work to do now, they are unlikely to be without stress, which rather defeats the object of being a professional in the PRC universe.
Alternative universes are not supposed to converge. They don’t have one country and the MTR though. With the speed of a hurtling asteroid, the professional classes in Hong Kong may soon have lighter workloads. Journalists need not research stories, nor lawyers prepare cases, nor accountants balance books, and even doctors may be required to speed matters up with morphine in some cases.
We are going to need more golf courses.