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Walls and Laws East and West

Ray Blain is a retired pediatrician and medical consultant, and author of a forthcoming autobiography Becoming A Doctor; My Dreams and Nightmares.

It has been over forty years since my wife and I traveled to mainland China. Compared to the 4,000 year history of that civilization, forty years is hardly the blink of an eye. Much has changed since then from what I see on television news, but much remains the same both seen and unseen by the average tourist.

The Great Wall can be seen from the space station. In person, the area north of China remains the best preserved and photographed. Photos do not do it justice. The exterior is large blocks of stone with fill in between the two vertical surfaces and a stone roadway, often steep, running along the top, wide enough for chariots and wagons to travel. It took decades to build. We were told that some believe over 100,000 people died building it and that many of the bodies are buried in the fill space.

It was undertaken to keep out barbarian Mongols from the north. The vertical walls are several stories high in many places. Periodically, there are watch towers and gated portals to control the flow of people in at out of the Eternal Kingdom. Thousands of soldiers were never far away in case any enemy tried to breach this imposing barrier which was considered impenetrable. Yet the Mongols invaded. Historians report that bribes were paid and the gates were opened and the rest is history. Today, most of the wall is in disrepair and deteriorating.

Unfortunately, walls and locks only keep out (or in) the honest, less clever, less wealthy, less powerful, and less evil. Clever people with power, or powerful friends, find ways to defeat walls.


Often, laws and rules seem to only pertain to those willing to obey them. If you doubt this, I would ask you to answer one simple question: what is the speed limit on state freeways? Most people will answer 65 miles per hour and 70 in a few selected areas. Watch drivers on any highway or street in America. Many will stay close to the posted speed limit while others go as fast as they think they can without getting caught, speed up to beat a yellow light, do a running "stop" at signs, cheat at painted curbs, illegally park rather than walk a little farther, cross within sight of a crossing zone but not at it. The real rules are only those that get enforced.

In China, we saw a flatbed truck going down the street at about ten miles per hour. Sitting on two benches bolted to the floor were two police officers dressed in white. Standing between the benches with ankles chained to the floor stood about a dozen easily identifiable criminals, in striped pants and shirts. Each wore what we call a dunce cap and sign hanging from around each neck.

A loud speaker blared in Chinese. I asked what they were announcing. The tour guide reported that they were reading what was on each prisoners sign: name, family name, place of family residence, crime and punishment. He explained that when the sentence was capital punishment, the person was executed by a single bullet to the back of the head and that the family was expected to pay for the bullet.

Family and personnel honor or shame play a very important role in China and many Asian cultures. Emphasis seems to be on responsibility to family, neighborhood, community, province, country, and in the past, emperor. This seems to result in more cooperation and reliance on cultural norms.

~ Raymond Leo Blain, M.D.














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