One of my favorite corners in journalism – “Letter from our journalist”. In this instance – from China:
The rush hour crush had just subsided on a stifling recent summer evening, when I stepped into the subway car on the circular line that serves the central city as part of the brilliant public transportation system Shanghai has built in what seems like no time at all.
Hot and bothered from hours of photographing on the street, I was relieved to find an empty seat by the door and promptly collapsed into it, savoring the refreshing gusts of air-conditioning.
A moment passed before I looked up and paid any attention to the other passengers. As the lone foreigner usually in situations like these, I had become accustomed during my summer stay in the city to finding all eyes focused on me. This time, though, commuters had something further out of the bounds of their daily commute to focus on.
Seated directly opposite me, two teenage girls were kissing in an unmistakably romantic way. They appeared to be no older than 17. One of them, strong of build and with short hair, was dressed and coiffed in a masculine style. Her longhaired companion, who was dressed in a pretty pastel skirt, was the picture of classic, old-school sweet 16.
I tried to do what I immediately noted few of my fellow passengers could accomplish: not stare. But as I looked up from time to time, it struck me that among other things, amid all of the sustained touching, billing and cooing, there was willful, if mild, provocation taking place before my eyes.
The statement that was being made seemed to say: “This is a new age, and people of our generation are free to do as we wish in our love lives, so get over it…”
The scene unfolding before me was a jolting reminder that the nuts and bolts transformation of China is the least of it. As this society rapidly grows richer, its social fabric and mores have been changing in ways far more dramatic than even the physical landscape, and sexual choice and expression are arguably in the leading edge of this upheaval.
Bravo. My lifetime of chipping away at reactionary politics, the conformity of fear so long in control of American politics, would likely be as long and dangerous in China as it has been here. The injuries and deaths in that struggle don’t make it to the Front Pages of American newspapers anymore often than they do in Beijing. But, they have always been here.
Nice to see the same sort of individual upstanding – happening in other lands. Especially one where most of my knowledge has been limited to revolutionary battles, repelling invaders – and that most boring of topics, economics.