Ren shan ren hai is a Chinese 4 character idiom that means "a mountain of people, and an ocean of people." In other words, lots of people. And lots of people is something that this country has! Whenever I’m engaged in a conversation with a Chinese friend (or stranger, such as a taxi driver) about some social problem that China has, the conversation will invariably end with the Chinese person sucking his/her teeth (a non-verbal that signals that there is a problem) and saying "there are too many people in China." It always seems to come down to that.
The idiom is a good expression to describe the amount of people here, especially the ocean part. Crowds here are like water. Block it in one place, and it will spill over into another place. Remove the block, and it will flow right back where it was in the first place. People management here operates on the same principle. Block the crowd here and it will go there. Chase the people off here, but as soon as you’re going, they’ll be back. There are just too many.
I saw this played out in an interesting way yesterday, as I was riding my bike home from work. The most direct route these days takes me through a highway construction site. Yes, the workers try to put up barriers to keep the pedestrians an cyclers from crossing, but the barriers don’t last minutes before they are taken down. Eventually the workers give up and sort of mark a path across the site.
Once I leave the construction site I have to cross a pedestrian bridge that spans a canal. In the past few weeks, this bridge has become a magnet for vegetable peddlars, who show up to spread their wares to sell to the passers-by. They are here mostly likely because they were chased out of some other location. Each new day there seemed to be new peddlars, so by the time Thursday rolled around, it was almost impossible to get across the bridge.
As I was approaching the bridge yesterday, I noticed several police cars parked on either side of the canal, and a squad of officers heading onto the bridge. They swept across the bridge, confiscating everything in sight–cucumbers, potatoes, radishes, everything that was being sold. As the peddlars saw them coming, some tried to pack up and run, but that was useless since the cops were stationed at both ends of the bridge. I kept on riding my bike through, because I was in a hurry to get home, and I wanted to get a closer look at what was going on. I had my camera with me, and desparately wanted to take some photos but dared not. The cops were definitely in a confiscating mood, and I didn’t want my brand new camera to get scooped up as well. I thought about riding down the canal and shooting from a distance with my telephoto, but had noticed a cop filming the whole thing. The last thing I wanted was for him to film me filming them. I watched for awhile, then rode away thinking that the next time I ride across the bridge it will be calm and peaceful.
As it turned out, the next time I rode across the bridge was only a couple of hours later when I was going to meet some friends for dinner. I got to the bridge on my side of the canal and, lo and behold, all the peddlars were back, sitting in exactly the same spots they had been when the cops swept through. They were smiling, talking, and doing business, as if nothing had happened!
I thought of a stick put across a small stream of water. It can block it for awhile, but as soon as it leaves, the water just keeps on going, as if nothing had happened. That’s what crowds are like in China!