It seems in the last few years in the US the fear of “Big Gov’t” has been enough to draw large crowds to the Tea Party. Apparently these people have never been to China. The idea of small gov’t in China would be almost heretical here in the Middle Kingdom, where there are 5 levels of gov’t compared to the US’s 3. Bureaucracy though isn’t limited to China’s bloated gov’t, it bogs down every business and transaction.
For example during the Swine Flu scare a few years ago, teachers and students were not allowed off campus without permission. For one teacher, who had daily lessons on a different campus, this meant an hour of filing paper work every day for TWO MONTHS! She had to go to one office to pick up the paper, than bring it to the campus nurse who would check her temperature and make a note, then she would bring that note to another office that would put the official medical stamp on the paper, before she could return to the English department that would make the final decision as to whether or not her reason was good enough to leave campus.
At the hospital I work at we have a small memorial hall that houses a few exhibits of old medical equipment. If you want to see it, you need to contact me and provide me with a copy of your CV and a detailed explanation of why you want to visit it. I will then copy that information onto the appropriate form, and submit it to the hospital president for his seal of approval.
These are just a few of the examples of the seemingly limitless forms of bureaucracy in China that hamper China’s efficiency. I would think that the hospital’s president has more important things to do than micromanage the museum. I would hope that a teacher with the Swine flu would have the common sense to stay at home. As we keep digging we start to get to the real issue.
Bureaucracy is a helpful defense against blame. After all when 7 other people had to stamp the document along with you, each shares a bit of the liability. If I let you into the Memorial hall directly and something got broken (I really don’t know what could possibly go wrong in there), it would be my fault. However, if the president himself approved your visit, than I am completely free of responsibility for your actions, and the president is above criticism.
The same is true in the school. If the teacher got sick they would show all of the stamps and signatures that proved she was healthy when she left. The only possible explanation would be that one of the students from outside of the campus gave it to her. Or at least that’s what the thinking seems to be.
During the height of swine flu a friend’s brother came to China. He cleared the health quarantine with no problems. Upon arriving at the school, the leaders flipped out and ordered that he and any other foreigner who he had met with leave the campus for two weeks (It didn’t matter that he had met some Chinese teachers, they were allowed to stay). Needless to say he didn’t even have a cold, and the leaders hadn’t seen him when they made this decision. Since they had made the decision collectively though, there was no one leader that could be held responsible.
It’s hard to say which came first: bureaucracy or passing the blame, but in modern China these two go hand in hand in ensuring inefficiency.
This post was delayed because of a broken internet connection at the airport hotel in Shanghai. When I called the front desk, they passed me to house keeping, who passed me to the internet person who couldn’t speak English. After another attempt they patched me through another 3 people before I could talk with the manager. The manager told me that it was a problem from the Internet company so it was not the hotel’s fault, and that it might be working tomorrow morning.