Beijing McCafé

R Weiler

The people’s expectations have evolved in general from satisfying basic needs to improving the quality of life, and their demands at different levels and in various areas are becoming more diverse.”
Xi Jinping, The Governance of China, IV (2022)

The demand is voiceless, wordless,
Yet lacks nothing in eloquence
Or precision; needs no translation,
Crosses boundaries of language
And political position;
Contains no threat, holds nothing to fear.
On the contrary, the choice is yours
And the consequences clear:

To comply or be refused — entry,
Exit, access, service, the right
To choose not to choose, to refuse
This infrared human scanner,
This gateway in no wall that stands
At every station and museum,
Blocks routes to civic monuments
And the seat of Central Government.

And is this communism, comrade?
Is this what a century fought for?
Or did you exchange your vision
For a WeChat conversation?
Swap the Cultural Revolution
For a 60-inch television?
For the right to build department stores
As stupid as those in London?

It’s not the soldiers at attention
In the Beijing Subway stations,
Or the policemen on the street
Demanding proof of your ID,
Or the CCTV surveillance
Recording your every movement,
That have stolen your privacy,
Your freedoms and dignity.

It’s the latest Huawei smartphone
Cultivating your addiction,
Harvesting your information —
For convenience breeds compliance.
And now, conveniently, you can
Upload your One-Card Metro Pass
Not on your phone but to your hand
(If you can still tell them apart).

And is this communism, comrade?
Is this what millions died for?
Or did you abandon your dreams
For the sleepwalk of consumption?
So your mask can fit your face
Closer than the masks in Washington?
For the right to lockdown longer
Than the European Union?

Because if you want to order food
From the QR-code on your table,
And if you want to pay your bill
At the touch-screen cashless kiosk,
And if you want advance tickets
For tomorrow’s museum visit,
And if you want to gain entry
To the Great Hall of the People —

The Communist Party of China,
Over four floors of exhibits,
Manifestoes, films and relics,
Dioramas, statues, photographs,
Recorded speeches and wall plaques
In Simplified Chinese will show you —
Clearly and definitively — how
You arrived where you are right now.

And is this communism, comrade?
Is this why a billion peasants
Were lifted out of poverty
Into relative prosperity?
Why every town is linked by roads
And High-Speed Rail unites the land?
Why every village is connected
To 4G wireless broadband?

So the Apple store in Beijing
Is bigger than that in Hong Kong?
So the Grand Hotel limousines
Are longer than those in New York?
So you can eat a Big Mac meal
On the Oriental Plaza,
And every tourist’s arse is washed
By an automated toilet?

And is this communism, comrade?
Is this the utopia promised
‘With Chinese characteristics’?
Or did you sell your Five-Year Plans
For a screen that never turns off?
For the Babel of the internet?
For the right to be as happy
And enslaved as we are in the West?


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