The Albany Times-Union

Cherish Your Democratic Right And Vote Seriously

A poster in Beijing encouraging participation in elections in 2006 for local work units also known as danwei. It reads: Cherish Your Democratic Rights. Vote Seriously. (Zheng Xi Ming Zhu Quan Li, Tou Hao Zhuang Yian Yi Piao).

By BILL MARCUS

People think most Chinese don’t support the Communist Party, and for what I’m told and see in “capitalist” Shanghai, that’s true.

But like us, they love their country. Last Tuesday, election night, was Wednesday here. Colleagues from the university where I used to teach and friends who I’ve known while I’ve lived here in China called and e-mailed their congratulations. One asked me how I felt.
“Thrilled!” I replied.

The English-Chinese news site reported that Democrats would raise the minimum wage.
“We have that, too – $5 a month,” my better half, Ivan, said.

Weeks earlier I had sent around a photograph I had taken of a poster I saw in Beijing. The direct translation of this poster was “Cherish Your Democratic Right And Vote Seriously.”

“Now this is funny,” said a friend in Idaho.

I thought it said, “Just like back in Albany, one party works best!” wrote an Albany County official.

But the most profound reaction was from a friend with whom I had taught. “It’s fun, I mean the picture,” she wrote. “And I’m supposed to vote by mid of December. I’m not going to vote, and I stopped voting many years ago – I tried, but I just can’t recall when I voted last time.”

“What was it that you used to vote for?” I wrote back.

Her reply was remarkably hard. “What was it that I used to vote for? What kind of question? It betrays that your knowledge of China is still hopelessly limited, in spite of the years you’ve been in the country. I used to vote because I was supposed to vote, because it was my obligation as a citizen, because I was reminded of my citizenship for the occasion, and, because, my presence was required for a satisfactory turnout by THEM. And I quit for the same reasons, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had the right of NOT voting as a citizen.”

A young Chinese reporter where I work felt comfortable enough with his English to speak openly. The topic was politics. The Communists pick the best and the brightest, he said.

“Who told you that!” The teacher in me had lost his temper.

“No politics in the office,” the boss shot back.

I sat down, apologized, and stuffed the copy of my absentee ballot that I make every year back in my shirt, and said a prayer – for being born an American.

Bill Marcus is a writer in Shanghai. His Web site is http://www.billmarcus.com.

Correction: Correction published November 21, 2006 “Election night in China,” a Nov. 15 commentary article by Bill Marcus, contained incorrect information about the minimum wage in China. The wage, according to the publication China Daily, varies within that nation’s 31 provinces and autonomous regions. The high is the equivalent of $102 a month in U.S. dollars in the southeastern special economic zone of Shenzhen for a six-day-a-week job working 10 hours a day with no overtime. The low is $36.50 a month in north central Gansu Province.