China-focused Satire, Social Commentary, Comics and More

Keeping the Masses Busy – Puzzles

The question was posed to us with a half-chuckle, by a portly man plucking meat from a pot of boiling oil with chopsticks:

“In France,” he said, “They have the same streets for hundreds of years, but here we remake them every year! Why do you think so?”

“Maybe the government needs to keep people employed.”

“Is that your opinion.”


His answer was a surprise. “Oh, good! Yes. I think you are correct. In China, there have so many people, and they need jobs, so…”

“Also, maybe there aren’t regulations to keep them from being ruined.”

“No,” he said, pointing his chopsticks. “The government’s laws are perfect. But some people maybe they do not follow them. I think it is very bad.” He laughed as he said this.


“But I think it is… unnecessary. The roads should be good enough.”

A party member had confirmed our suspicions, which, actually, were not so much suspicions as realizations of a blatant truth. It was evident from the first time they repaved the courtyard outside our Yichang apartment, when, after destroying the existing concrete pathways during a series of late-night jackhammer sessions, the workers piled the rubble into a truck, hauled it away and poured fresh concrete into the gaps. The resulting surface was a hazard to the elderly, impassable on wheels, and allowed the formation of many small ponds after the first rain. Later in the year, when the pipes froze and three apartment buildings were without running water, they had to bring out the jackhammer again, this time to excavate the main valve from its airtight grave of concrete.

Walking about any Chinese city, things are similar. Buildings are going up or they’re coming down – whether or not they need to be. By spring, the streets of Yichang, a small city in Hubei Province, looked like the victim of a thorough bombing campaign. But its damaged was self-inflicted. First they lopped the branches off the trees (which are scarce enough), leaving the deformed remains to reach grotesquely into the sky while they tore up each individual stone, brick, or tile that composed the sidewalks below. Soon canals of sewage, mud, and rainwater flowed, conveniently spanned by boards or old doors. Businesses along the streets remained open. Women still wore high-heels. The elderly, somehow, still stretched their aching bones. The city’s annual civic overhaul was in full swing.

Of course, change is inevitable, and improvements and maintenance a part of growth. But what of efficiency? Unenforced regulations are a fact – but as the roadways are crushed and warped from overloading and unsustainable traffic, and the ever-important infrastructure is clogged from unceasing repair, it seems it would be in the interests of the related authorities to be a little more stringent. But, as our Chinese associate admitted, the people need something to do, and the Chinese government has found the perfect means for curbing unemployment: the age old game of digging a hole and filling it back in – or, judging from the sidewalk pictured above, taking apart a puzzle and putting it back together again.

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