Sometimes the central government seems all powerful in China, and you're tempted to think it's a giant big brother state with eyes everywhere.
That's partially true, of course. The central government does indeed have lots of eyes, but there control is certainly not absolute, particularly when you get down to the local level. Local cadres has a lot of direct control over their cities or counties, but sometimes even they don't call the shots.
David Barbossa, the New York Times' business reporter in China writes about being held for some nine hours by a factory boss after he went to investigate the factory that produced the lead-coated Thomas the Tank Engine toys.
The most interesting part is that his translator called the police, who showed up an hour later and did nothing. Then a local government official arrived an explained that he was powerless to do anything about it, and that they'd better negotiate.
Amazing, a government official says he is "powerless" to make a factory owner stop detaining a foreign journalist.
What's also amazing though, is that the factory owner didn't get anything. It sounds like Barbossa kept the pictures he took, and the factory owner was demanding some sort of confession, which he didn't even get. What was the point of it all?
I sometimes feel like the Chinese like to create a lot of theatrical huff & puff during negotiations and diplomacy that means relatively little, but still confuses the bejeezus out of lao wai.