Sights and sounds of scintillating Shanghai

3
MAURO GIA SAMONTE

MAURO GIA SAMONTE

Part 3

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Shanghai is free.

This is the impression a visitor gets of the city, judging from outward appearances. All throughout the five days that we were toured around the Chinese acropolis, I did not see a single policeman, much more armed ones, out on the streets, as are day-to-day scenarios in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines. People walked the streets, including the busy major thoroughfares with nary a trace of social apprehension, which is a common characteristic of totalitarian regimes. I hardly noticed any restrictive traffic signs, like the ones that proliferate in Philippine urban centers such as “No Parking,” “No Loading and Unloading Zone,” nor any other public signs that indicate people are being prohibited from doing things they want to do, for instance, what we often see on walls in Metro Manila, “Bawal Umihi Dito (No Pissing Here),” “Bawal Magtapon ng Basura (No Throwing of Garbage),” “Bawal Umistambay (No Loitering),” or “Bawal Tumawid. Pumapatay (No Crossing. It Kills)”–unless the signs had been posted in Chinese, which I wouldn’t understand. But Shanghai’s streets are so clean that it’s quite unlikely that Shanghai residents would dirty up their city by pissing or throwing garbage indiscriminately all over.

In fact, you don’t see any street sweeper gathering litter that is not there either.

This is not to say, of course, that being free means anybody can just piss anywhere he pleases or cross the street anywhere he wants, to the extent of getting himself run down by a speeding vehicle. Rather, this is to point out that in Shanghai people have attained that high level of man’s understanding of his relationship with his fellowmen and with nature so that laws need no longer be imposed. That, in fact, is what I’ve learned in my revolutionary days as communism.

So early on in our visit, I found myself silently asking: Has Shanghai achieved that level of social development that might already be an approximation of statelessness, of a self-governing humanity? In contrast to what we witness in the Philippines where in a supposedly democratic social set-up curfew is imposed and platoons upon platoons of heavily-armed policemen conduct checkpoints at random.

Shanghai folks walk, talk, dine, chat, ever smiling, indicating no suppression at all of cherished civil liberties. With the killing spree Duterte has embarked upon going on unabated, these liberties are imminently out to be crushed completely in the Philippines. Would the Shanghai people, given the peace, orderliness and affluent living they appear to enjoy now, condone this dementia if somebody tried it in China?

Particularly striking is that Shanghai folks don a wide variety of attires in styles that are no different from those worn by the middle-class denizens of Ayala or Megamall. The men, young and old in knee-length shorts, the women, young and old, in short shorts, if not in similarly leg-baring mini skirt, and many, men and women, sporting blonde-dyed hair. Being free in these regards is betrayed to be one of efflorescence of Western culture, enhanced even by the presence of such food multinationals as McDonald/s, Starbucks and Costa Coffee.

Browsing through the pages of the English-language Shanghai Daily, I came across an article dealing with government guidelines on the production of cinema. While restrictions are imposed on such film themes as crime and violence, none was mentioned about similar restraints on sex drama. This made me fantasize on the possibility of pursuing in Shanghai what Henry Sy in one fell swoop totally abolished in Philippine cinema at the advent of the millennium: the sex genre. This was the kind of films, which, thanks to Robbie Tan of Seiko Films, had packaged me as a “bold film director” from the mid-1980s all the way to well into the 1990s. With SM malls mushrooming all over the country, movie audiences were completely siphoned into the Henry Sy movie houses, which comprised practically the entire exhibition circuits of the Philippine movie industry, a staggering 80 percent. In that development, the hitherto singly-existing cinema theaters, like Odeon Theater in Manila and Ocean Cinema in Cubao, as though stricken by a terrible plague, were completely expunged from the movie exhibition business. That done, Henry Sy issued his infamous mandate, banning action and sex drama from exhibition in his theaters. Since the themes of crime and violence and sex in movies were the lifeline of the Philippine movie industry (of what were such superstars as Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Lito Lapid,
Rossana Roces, Gloria Diaz, et al, products of but action and sex movies?), the minute Henry Sy banned these movies in his theaters, the independent movie companies, producers of action and sex drama films, died instantly. Ultimately, hence, the death of the Philippine movie industry.

Judging from my reading of the Shanghai cinema guidelines in the Shanghai Daily news story, even on the aspect of freedom of expression on sex in cinema, Shanghai appears to be even a lot freer than the Philippines. Ming would not want to be coy on the topic, treating my idea of doing sex movie in Shanghai with a dismissive smile.

“The Shanghai Daily story contained no prohibition on sex movies,” I pointed out..

“It’s a matter of course,” he insisted.

Oh, well…

The freedom I tend to ascribe to the conduct of living in Shanghai encompasses its apparent overall lifestyle.
You see people in leisurely pace as they go shopping or dining out (we didn’t get a chance to witness folks enjoying movies in theaters, though they should be, judging from the presence of movie theaters in the city). Just my luck that I hadn’t yet seen any other urbanized cities in the world, for otherwise I would have had sufficient basis for comparing Shanghai with. But from read materials, Shanghai should compete toe to toe with London, Paris and New York–these three cities being doubtlessly hubs of bourgeois cosmopolitanism.
The inevitable question thus arises: Has Shanghai gone bourgeois?

Nice thoughts of the initial dinner kept me awake well into the night as I lay in bed. We were billeted in Park Hotel, the tallest building in the Far East, said our tour guide Chang, “in the 1930s.” I was collecting my impressions of Shanghai so as to form a cohesive theme when I beaun to be distracted by persistent sounds of guitar and drums and a Chinese ditty with upbeat rock genre. So, I mused to myself, if that was rock indeed, then, rock being a distinct hallmark of bourgeois lifestyle, Shanghai has gone bourgeois!.

What’s happened, then, to all the proletarian ideals that had served as the one single impetus for crushing the Romanov feudal reign in Russia in order to bring about the birth of the world’s first socialist regime, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), impelling in turn the 29-year-struggle of the Chinese nation to crush feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and imperialism, culminating in the ultimate establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PROC)?

It is a cardinal Mao Tse Tung dialectics that either you are a friend or an enemy, a revolutionary or a revisionist, a proletarian or a bourgeois. Those that I saw–and they appeared to be the majority in Shanghai–leading bourgeois lifestyle and mannerisms might not be the proletarian people concerned in this discussion, but allowing such mannerisms and lifestyle in an avowedly proletarian society must appear to be a violation of Marxist principles. And I shudder at the controversy this statement could provoke.

On the other hand, is the “good life” which over two centuries has come to mean bourgeois lifestyle be so rigidly equated? Cannot such “good life” be made attainable also by the proletariat both in form and in essence?
After all, Deng Shiao Peng, the great architect of today’s China, has mandated: “I don’t care if a cat is black or white, as long as it kills mice.”

The freedom, then, that I perceived being enjoyed by the Shanghai people cannot but impart a very good foreboding. It does seem to showcase already that cherished stage in the development of society at which it is no longer correct to append “bourgeois” to the concept of “good life,” neither is it to attach “proletarian” to it. Once communism is finally attained–the abolition of classes and the withering away of the state–the “good life” necessarily continues, this time neither bourgeois nor proletarian anymore, but rather universally humane.

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3 Comments

  1. As an expat here in China and having direct experience in the Chinese way of life, i am much impressed to say the least, of what they have achieved. Perceived as a totalitarian state, they have a system where people can still voice their opinions on matters that affect them. A Godless ideology we may say but i think they are more concious of their community, history and the potential of every individual. The government has think tanks in provincial levels to map out strategies for the common good. They make life comfortable for citizens by providing them peace and order, excellent and affordable mass transport system, food, utilities, housing, and education.

    You take a subway and many commuters are busy with their cell phones or tablets unmindful of being robbed.
    The Chinese appreciate heritage as they have a strict land zone policy. Dongshan district in GZU is a well preserved community of heritage houses mostly influenced by western architecture in the early 20th century.
    Houses and structures are mostly built with bricks. I can only envy them. Now they are working on the one belt road that would link up nations from China to Middle East and Europe not to mention their conquest of space with their own satellites and future prospects of a manned station.

    Of course the current prosperity that they now enjoy (an estimated 300 M middle class status with annual average incomes of 16,000-35,000 US dollars ) underwent several upheavals in their much troubled history.
    A long civil war, the opium wars, and the sino-japanese war altogether claiming millions of lives.

    It is convenient for many Filipinos to blame China for their aggressivenes in South China Sea. There are many arguments but i can only say that they have vision and built their capacity while we have been stuck in a rut and did not do our duty to strengthen ourselves. In the real world, the weak will be gobbled by the wolves.

    Our current troubles may seem unending but i hazard to think that every nation has to undergo civil spasm and conflicts before one can emerge strong and progressive. I believe as long as the Duterte administration will remain incorruptible and work for a genuine peaceful resolution among warring groups and prioritize the needs of the common man, we can be great again–echoing the words of the late strongman Marcos.

    But Marcos he is not. He may be authoritarian but he will always have a soft spot for the marginalized and oppressed. He has an unenviable tenure but he means well.

    We have now in our hands and in our time to create a better society as long as we learn from past mistakes
    and not repeat it again.

    • And by the way, they show western movies in english (at least here in GZU) like Captain America and Jason Bourne.

  2. What happened in China is that the bourgeoisie, ancien regime or the equivalent of what Marcos called the old society (which Cory restored, by the way) were completely eliminated which allowed a new elite to rise, this time from the masses. Regardless of its non-western appearance, I believe that China’s political system is a real democracy if you define it as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Even the democracy of the U.S of A does not fall under this definition. The people over there are happy because the government works for them, unlike here where the government works for the American-led West and their local proxies in the oligarchy.