Chabuduo: China's culture of "it's fine"

Explosive growth and change in China means many things must be built. They are not built well, writes British ex-pat James Palmer.

The apartment is five years old. By Chinese standards, it’s far better than the average. Our toilet works, while in many of my friends’ houses, flushing the loo is a hydraulic operation akin to controlling the Nile floods. The sockets do not flash blue sparks when plugged in, and all but two work. None of the lightbulbs have ever exploded; and the mirror merely broke away, rather than falling spontaneously from the frame. The shower is not placed next to the apartment’s central wiring and protected by nothing more than rotting drywall.

It's so brutal—"My time in China has taught me the pleasure and value of craftsmanship, simply because it’s so rare"—I can't help but wonder if it's really that bad! The word Chabuduo is offered as the cultural gravity point at hand. Meaning "close enough," it is depicted here as a powerful and useful concept in earlier times (think: improvisation, effectiveness, ingenuity) that has become dangerous in the context of modern life (think: slapdash, jobsworth, irritable.)

Yet chabuduo is also the casual dismissal of problems. Oh, your door doesn’t fit the frame? Chabuduo, you’ll get used to kicking it open. We sent you a shirt two sizes too big? Chabuduo, what are you complaining about?

At my old compound, the entrance to the underground parking lot was covered by a 20-metre-long half-cylinder of heavy blue plastic. Nobody had noticed that this made a highly effective wind trap, and it had been only crudely nailed to the brick foundations. Chabuduo, what’s it going to matter? When a storm hit, the nails burst from the pressure and it was sent hurtling across the compound, smashing stone tables and trees; I came down in the morning to find it lying across the grass like a fallen jumbo jet’s wing.

If you're wondering where the Chinese precision craftsmanship goes, well, chances are you're looking at it right now.

Photo: Three Gorges Dam by Le Grand Portage (CC-BY-2.0)

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