Spilled Water is a blog principally concerned with the environment and human rights in relation to China and the Chinese speaking world. The name is taken from a 成语 (cheng2 yu3), a Chinese proverb or idiomatic expression.
Chinese proverbs are used frequently and are highly descriptive. 覆水难收 (fu4 shui3 nan2 shou1) is one such proverb, and can be translated as: “It’s no use crying over spilled milk”. This is unsatisfying: the implication is that the situation does not merit concern. Thus, for the purposes of this blog, a more literal translation is preferred: “Spilled water is difficult to pick up”; simply put, What is done cannot be undone.
I recall quite vividly living in Beijing during the years 2010 and 2011, in particular cycling through the ruins of what was once a hutong neighbourhood on the way to university each morning. The hutong, or such as it was then, sat between one of the lesser roads in Haidian district and a railway track, with the route through it taking my fellow commuters and I along what were once alleys – many of us, including myself, on cheap, if willing, bicycles, which still at that time outnumbered the far more willing motorbikes. The alleys passed through ruined homes and buildings, now reduced to an expanse of tumbled bricks and concrete, long since dessicated in the arid Beijing air. Telegraph poles stood slowly bleaching in the sun, and each morning we passed under the jumbled suspensions of black cables that still hung from them. Often there were figures in thick long coats that could be seen bent labouring amongst the dust and broken masonry, some with donkeys standing idle by, others piling onto carts whatever dulled orange bricks could be plucked still intact from the refuse. The uneven trail upon which we all rode led us finally to a set of stairs and a narrow ramp that sloped down into a darkened tunnel under the railway tracks. The ramp seemed steep. The cyclists approaching it did so tentatively and in single file. Those on motorbikes simply dropped down the ramp and burst accelerating into the passageway, their engines echoing and reverberating throughout the narrow underpass. When in the tunnel, cyclists such as myself quickly learned that our place there was to cycle as close to the walls as possible, because when the motorbikes came thundering past, they did so at such speed, and with a noise that seemed greater than the passing trains above.