Visiting China under travel restrictions

中国是Bob Mok为期五周的东亚之旅的第三站。尽管这是他自2008年以来首次重游中国,但自由受限,互联网审查以及扣留游客护照的做法却令他的旅程蒙上了一层阴影。读者如欲参照东亚之旅系列文章,请点击http://096.ca/news/656877
China was the third stop for Bob Mok’s 5-week Asian Tour. But travel restrictions, internet censorship as well as the practice of withholding tourists’ passport casted a shadow on his travel experience to the country that he hasn’t revisited since 2008!For the previous articles on the other destinations, please click - http://096.ca/news/656877
My impressions on China can be best summarized and remembered by “Mind Controls and Rapid Developments”. Individual speech and internet freedoms are tightly controlled. Nevertheless, there are signs that holes are beginning to perforate through the great censorship dike everywhere. The country has also continued its exponential expansion in development with its infrastructures and cities. While structures are sprouting up rapidly, the maintenance programs are non-existent and the high rate of deterioration on buildings and infrastructures like bridges and highways will have an impact on safety for decades to come.
Before I even start to talk about this tour, I must go into a story on how difficult it is to get the travelling documents and visa to visit China these days. Even though this was an arrangement group (shopping tour) sponsored by some provincial organizations and merchants to promote commerce and sell products, tourists were supposed to obtain their own travel authorizations.

We found out in September that the travelling regulations were changing from month to month. First, ten-year multiple entries visas initiated by the bi-lateral agreements were no longer issued and they were replaced by two-year ones. Then if you were a Canadian citizen born in Hong Kong and never obtained a visa here in Canada to visit China, you will only receive a “Travel Document Booklet” from the Chinese Embassy to use in conjunction with your Canadian Passport if it was issued under the identical name as your Hong Kong identity card.  

My relatives had to get “new” Canadian Passports to meet these requirements. It was reasoned that the Chinese government was trying to screen travellers and make sure that they have not changed their names when becoming permanent residents in Canada, thus obscuring their past records and any perceived offences against China. I understand that the issuing of new visas for ten years has now been restored after complaints were received from the Canadian Government.

Before I left Canada, I was concerned about the ability to secure access to my email and flavourite web sites while travelling in China. I googled around and found out that there are servers in Shanghai that we can sign on in Canada to test out whether access is available for any specific web site within China. I confirmed that “Google” web site is not available in China along with all gmail accounts. All the major Newspaper website from Hong Kong including the self-disciplined “Ming Pao” and “Sing Tao” are not accessible as well.

Imagine how surprised I was when I set foot in China and was able to access the “free internet”! While the access to all Hotels and Wi-Fi systems were controlled through the Great Firewall of China, a small glitch in this system allowed me to go about my business. As to how, I will keep that a secret just so it will remain open to all visitors.

When we asked our tour guide as to why our Passports were kept every night upon checking into Hotels and not returned till the next morning, he said “Passports data are copied every night at each location and any detection of the holder's overseas actions against China will be presented to the authorities so they can take appropriate actions”. Just exactly what those actions will be, I will leave it up to your imagination. I would only surmised that if any visitors should fall under that rather broad category, they may be invited to stay in a state-owned hospitality facility!

Another comment I heard from the Tour Guide was how the physical appearance and image of the wife of the previous President (Jiang) was a disgrace when compared to the current first lady (President Xi's wife). It was disheartening to hear how once powerful people and their relatives were insulted once they fell out of grace and power.

While the tour guides were very professional in providing historical information on the attractions, it was clear that they were well-trained to intersperse political doctrines into their speeches.  We were constantly reminded that overseas Chinese are only respected by foreigners because of a “politically and economically” strong China. The tour guides tried to convince us that China's scientific achievements are what we overseas Chinese should be proud of. They also made sales pitch on the items sold at the shopping attractions through the narration of historical stories, linking them to the products.

More about what we saw in China next time.

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