Why choose to live in an authoritatian state?

Jerry Grey
7 min readMay 31, 2023

I was accused of enthusiastically advocating authoritarianism. The respondent suggested China didn’t deserve praise and I praised it only because it was a condition of my visa.

You can watch a video of this article here: https://youtu.be/jE68j85iR3A

I did reply in detail but then felt the detail was important enough to merit a more full reply and open it to other critics. Here it is:

On what basis is think China is authoritarian? Nothing could be further from the truth, the people of China live much freer than the people of the other two countries I’ve lived in, the UK and Australia. I suspect my respondent is getting her information from media rather than from experience. To know a country, surely, we need to live in it, or at least visit it.

As for militarily expansion, I’d love to hear more about this. China hasn’t expanded its borders in my lifetime. Although there are some disputes in the South China Sea, they are historical and being well-managed by the governments concerned, without interference from USA, they might be even better managed. There are some issues on the Indian border which cause concerns but that border, the McMahon line, was drawn by the British in 1914 without consulting China and arbitrarily took land from China.

Every qualified expert I’ve ever seen commenting on China’s military buildup has said the same thing, it is a defensive military not an aggressive offensive military, China has one overseas base in Djibouti, where it works with the USA to assist in the piracy problem in that region. But of course, if you’re not getting your information from military experts, you’re probably getting it from politicians who are lobbied (bribed) by manufacturers of weapons, or from media which sniffs a good story and misinforms you — you don’t believe everything you read in the papers do you?

China doesn’t have 750 military bases and over 170,000 military personnel around the world. China wasn’t involved in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or Libya. Strange that the countries which were, are the ones suggesting China is a threat.

My positive attitude for China comes from almost two decades of living here, 17 years of living in Australia and 28 years living in the UK where I was a police officer, if you want to know about authoritarian then consider how it was to live in Margaret Thatcher’s UK, I did and I was part of the authoritarian rule — I saw how black people were treated in London because I was on the front line of the Brixton Riots, I went to Toxteth and saw more there, I fought the National Front in Lewisham and Miners in Nottingham. That was a very authoritarian time — so much so that in 1987, I opted out and went to live in Australia, only to find a different kind of oppression there.

There’s a price for everything, I owned a house but had a mortgage I couldn’t service, on top of that, I had rates to pay (you might call them property taxes), when I wanted any sort of government service, there was a fee but I was paying over 25% of my income in taxes and Medicare charges and then they introduced private medical insurance so I needed to pay more for the same services and then compulsory Superannuation was introduced because they told me they couldn’t afford my pension anymore.

I was also paying a sales tax on everything I bought, they called it Goods and Services Tax, other countries call it Value Added Tax and they even started charging me for entry into national parks.

20 years ago, I was earning over $100,000 dollars a year and living from paycheck to paycheck and needed credit cards to survive.

I don’t talk supportively about China because it supplies me a visa, anyone in my position can apply for a visa. Anyone who has qualifications to work here and a job to do can apply for a visa, I’ve never once heard of one being rejected, although some journalists will report that they’ve had trouble the reason they have trouble is because they are lying to you about how authoritarian it is.

For example, the very fact that even the BBC still has journalists inside China and still reports lies about China should tell you that China doesn’t have the authoritarian government they’re telling you about.

Just imagine in a real authoritarian state if the BBC went to a part of the country where they say, there are a million people incarcerated and they travel around the region but get no images of these incarcerations, then they tell you they’re being followed, but always by “plain clothes” police. Then they set up a camera in a public place, looking into private places and are asked to leave by the security, they refuse, the security, rather than harass them, calls the police, the police arrive, ask them to leave, they argue and film the argument.

If you can understand Chinese, you might be able to hear the discussion and how rude the BBC are to the police and security, who are just doing their job but cleverly, the BBC don’t allow you to hear it, they show the scene of the police officer’s hand blocking the camera and put a studio made narration over the discussion. Why won’t they let us hear what’s being said? Because the police are reasonably and fairly telling them they can’t film without permission, they don’t have permission and they need to leave — something that would happen in any country, nothing authoritarian about that.

And here’s where their narrative falls over; they leave the scene with their cameras, video footage and all their memory cards intact. I once asked a friend of mine who is a senior journalist in Guangdong why the police allow them to do that and don’t arrest them or at least take away their memory cards and with the footage, his answer surprised even me;

That would be illegal!

That kind of destroys the BBC narrative doesn’t it — they are gathering evidence of an authoritarian state and proving they aren’t authoritarian at the same time.

If you live here long enough on a legal visa, have a job, contribute to society and pay your taxes, China welcomes you, they don’t hesitate to give visas, in fact they encourage well-qualified people to come.

But since 2017, they have started to check the visa applications more thoroughly. Since that time, university qualifications need to be notorised and are checked for authenticity, they also require a police background check and criminals may not be allowed a visa. Teachers, are required to be not only qualified but have two years of experience.

Since then, many people, perhaps people the China haters enjoy following, have left China.

Why did they leave? I don’t know, you can ask them but if they have a criminal record, if they had no experience or were unqualified, they can’t stay or apply for jobs here and a job contract is one of the criteria of a working visa. That’s not authoritarian either, that’s a sensible application of the rules.

Why not ask those people? They’re telling you China is authoritarian from outside of China and if you press them for examples, maybe they’ll admit they have a drug conviction or they assaulted someone in a drunken fit a few years ago, or perhaps they’ll just tell you they never went to university and they were faking being teachers.

Alternatively, you could ask the thousands of foreigners who still live in China who, like you suggest of me, you assume are all lying. These people have stayed because they enjoy the lifestyle here and the cost of living, which hasn’t increased in the last few years. They might have mortgages and found their interest rates came down last year, unlike the West where they rose, month after month.

And finally, I was lucky, I met and married the most wonderful lady. Being married and now being retired, and having legally worked here for many years, means I can apply for and be granted permanent residence. My stance on China is because of all these factors, your position on China is quite likely based on lack of experience and misinformation.

I’ve travelled through impoverished regions on dirt tracks and met with people who probably didn’t know what a 100 RMB ($USD15) note looked like but that was years ago. Since then, I’ve been back and seen smooth surfaced roads, telecommunications that are more advanced than anywhere else I’ve lived in or visited. I’ve posted videos and photos to my social media from a desert 180 kilometres outside the nearest town and it’s all worked. I’ve witnessed China’s changes from poverty and corruption with crime problems to becoming almost totally crime free. A place where government services the needs of the people, without associated fees. and a place where the police are respected, admired and not feared.

Yes, there are things I don’t like about China, the banking system is inefficient and cumbersome, the fact I need to show my passport to go to another city by public transport and to check into a hotel but you know what? They are minor inconveniences when placed in the broader context of a life in which I have no money worries, no fear of being robbed or shot, I know if I’m sick I can get immediate and cost-effective modern healthcare rather than potentially face bankruptcy or a two-year wait.

I don’t say nice things about China for a visa, I have a visa and choose to remain here, because of those nice things



Jerry Grey

I’m British born Australian living in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write mostly positively about my China experiences