OK so that was useful, so now I'm gonna just flag some China stuff to flesh out later:
As I learned from @mlp, I'll say /* you are not expected to understand this */. This is not a post, it is live-action Notepad. I'll probably just bookmark this and come back and edit it. (Hope there's no window of time after which things get frozen...) These are mostly about the economy:
- Digital systems do the work, paper systems do the record-keeping.
- The use of the 'Red Stamp' on paper spans centuries and probably millennia. I should check when it started. (Current uninformed guess says Qin dynasty...)
- The official and unofficial economies don't just exist side-by-side (that old cliche) but are usually formal options in a single transaction. A regular receipt and an official receipt (fapio) are two very different things, you can request one or the other, an announcement that you don't need a fapio says "I don't need this transaction to be officially documented", and nobody bats an eye.
- The largest note is 100元, which is worth about $17. And yet it's a cash economy -- we paid our security deposit by bringing 240 100元 notes to our landlady. I felt like an extra in a Waka Flocka Flame video, but no one else thought it odd.
- There is a terror, on the part of the CCP, of citizens moving large amounts of money. In addition to there being no equivalent of a $50 bill, much a $100, and no plans to make any such, there are tons of 'stocks and flows' limits all over the banking system. There are limits on ATM transactions, daily transactions, wire transactions, all of which are low enough that they get triggered all the time, especially in a cash economy. It takes me three transactions over two calendar days to pay our rent. (Mao' money, mao' problems.)
- That terror extends to money coming into the country too. When I wired myself money from the US, it never showed up in my bank account here. When I finally asked why, I was told "Oh, we have it, but it is dollars. If you want to take it out in RMB, you have to come into the bank with your passport and sign some papers asking to have it converted." It took five signatures, each on it's own red-stamped form, to actually use the money I'd sent myself.
- In the 'hilarity ensues' category, whenever they flush out a corrupt official, there is inevitably a box or bag with thousands of 100元 bills in it, because there's no other way to store or move money. In Bank of England terms, M1, for most citizens, is still bills and coins. (People think of AliPay as like the Chinese PayPal, not understanding that it is really like a privatized Federal Reserve that happens to have been built inside an ecommerce company.)
- Like the earlier note about favoritism, if the Chinese government were to try to bring the largely-undocumented cash economy into a fully measured one all at once, the economy would implode for many people, including especially poor people in cities. (The mortal threat.) It's like the opposite of Leona Helmsley -- the richer you are, the likelier you are to need to operate in the measured part of the economy, so the likelier it is that you will transact via Union Pay or AliPay or need a fapio. (The very rich and connected depart the system again, on the other side, as with the 'princelings', children of the senior-most CCP people.)
- The legacy of poverty is reflected in the food. Communal broth. South of the river, the animal protein is from scavenger animals (pigs, chickens) rather than domesticated ones (beef, mutton.) Starch, and especially rice, is served at the end of the meal, plain. The appearance of the starch says "That's all the real food we had; fill yourself up with this."
- Shopkeepers think of themselves as being on the side of the customers. This continues to amaze. In addition to someone not wanting to let me buy an expensive phone, just the other day I was buying some plants for the apartment. I was just cold picking out the plants I wanted, not even asking the lady behind the counter the price WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN A CLUE THAT I AM A PRICE-INSENSITIVE LAOWAI AND JUST SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY but no, when I roll up to the counter like Richie Rich, she's all like "This vase is too expensive -- 50 kuài" (8 bucks) "so I give you this one, it's only 20 kuài." She cut her own shop out of 30元 on a transaction that was only 130元. They do not really have this 'maximizing revenue' thing 100% down, there at the level of the retail transaction.
- Mao. Hard to explain. War hero, father of the country, theorist in chief (in theory). An American recipe for Mao might be something like "Imagine Paul Revere, James Madison and George Washington were the same guy, except that Valley Forge lasted an entire year and killed nine soldiers out of ten. And in terms of historical distance, imagine that it's 1835, and some of the older people running the government today knew him. Also imagine a country run by an incompetent and irascible peasant who stopped advocating democracy when he came to power, and whose big ideas killed tens of millions. Pol Pot was an amateur in terms of horror visited on his own citizens -- only Stalin comes close, and not even that close.
- TBD: The Two Whatevers. Deng and Mao both born in '4' years. Electrical sockets as an exemplar of export-driven economies. Great interop where you don't expect it -- subways and taxis use the same payment system -- and lousy where you do -- interbank transfer O M G. Guanxi, iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas, and preparation as opposed to recovery as a trust mechanism. The way bureaucratic encounters make it clear that what matters is following whatever is presented as a rule, while what is not important is that the rules be predictable or consistently enforced. The people who direct citizens to the metal detectors in the subway, but are powerless to stop people from walking by if they choose not to.