Haunted Houses and Tomorrow's China

The New China is very, very real.

Sometimes you think you know something - and then some small event takes place that make you realize that whatever you thought you knew merely scratched the surface.  CNN reports:

Shanghai's worst -- and favorite -- nightmare is back, doing what it does best -- scaring the heck out of people from its decrepit, 107-year-old building facing the newly renovated Suzhou Creek.

For those who dared venture to this haunted house last year and are thinking "been there, survived that," SmartShanghai reports that this year the horror is a whole lot scarier, with the Shanghai Nightmare folk assuring the editors that it's "scary as hell."

What, you ask, is noteworthy about a haunted-house attraction?  Every American city and town has one; why not China too?

But consider for a moment: would you expect to find a haunted-house scarefest in Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany?  Of course not - because the whole country was a house of horror.

Nobody wants to pay to be scared out of their wits when they're scared out of their wits already, every hour of every waking day.  Who wants to see dummies being garroted by actor-torturers, and then go out into the street only to be arrested by the Gestapo and hauled off to be really garroted by real torturers?

It doesn't seem that long ago that China was not just as bad, but actually dwarfed the other dictatorships in depravity.  Hitler murdered 12,000,000 innocents; Stalin, 23,000,000 - but Mao Zedong, anywhere from 49,000,000 to a possible astonishing 78,000,000 during his Cultural Revolution and grotesquely-misnamed Great Leap Forward.

Yes, that was a half-century ago.  But the massive protests of Tiananmen Square and subsequent repression was a mere two decades in the past.  Most of the eager throngs lining up to experience Shanghai Nightmare were alive during that real, historic nightmare and some probably even remember it; as scary as haunted houses are, we have yet to hear of one that makes you think you're about to be crushed by a tank.

We read extensively of the changes in China - of its newfound wealth and economic freedom, of entrepreneurs being welcomed into the Communist Party, of corrupt high-ranking officials finally paying an appropriate price for their crimes.  All these are facts - but mere facts.

The sight of people paying good money to experience a haunted house attraction in one of China's largest cities - now that's not just a fact, it's an emotion, hammering home the reality more than any dry economic report or white paper ever could.  Clearly the Chinese, or at least a good portion of young Chinese city-dwellers, are no longer afraid in their regular lives; they are comfortable and confident with no existential worries for the future.  One wonders whether perhaps they may be less fearful than a great many in the American middle class.

China, or at least large portions of it, has fully entered the modern world - for good or ill.  Once that happens, there's no going back.

The Communist Party may retain a nominal monopoly on power for many decades yet to come; but it is no longer composed of actual Communists, and actual Communism as such is dead.  Other than in name, it's not much different from any other authoritarian yet economically successful state.  The injustices and inequities will be slowly ironed out over time, bit by bit.

Welcome to the future, China!  And congratulations, lucky Chinese of today, that you now must pay to be frightened out of your wits, a service your government no longer provides for free.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

Paying someone to scare you shows how spoiled Americans are. I never thought of it that way before.

November 6, 2010 11:48 AM

Good thought, Smurf, I hadn't either. The good news is that the Chinese are becoming spoiled. Spoiled people do not want to go to war because they have a lot to lose. This is no bad thing.

November 6, 2010 11:55 AM
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