Zombies are the least of our worries
In the hit TV series The Walking Dead, the zombies aren't the most dangerous thing. With their slow motion, lack of intelligence and decaying limbs, they are easy to pick off, provided you are not swamped. It's other people you have to watch out for.
Somehow I am not surprised that the series has become a big hit on the mainland. All three seasons and the ongoing fourth have been viewed 250 million times on internet portals. Discussions on the series have often become trending subjects. The show's gory horror has natural appeal; official censorship makes much production on the mainland impossible. What's different is its oppressive sense of a zombie-infested world in which nowhere is safe and anything can kill you.
On the mainland today, food is not safe. Drugs are not safe. A trip to the hospital is likely to cost you and make you sicker, if it doesn't kill you. There have been off-the-chart earthquakes and flooding; Sars, bird flu and swine flu. When there is an outbreak, authorities rarely give a straight answer. And don't forget pervasive pollution of the air, land and water.
You also have multiple levels of government and officialdom, some of which may work for you, some against you. But there is little accountability and few clear rules that can lead to predictable outcomes. You may come out fine or you may end up in jail.
China's economic transformation in one generation has made many people richer and freer, or at least less poor. But it has also displaced and uprooted more people in history because of unprecedented urbanisation.
There is a pervasive sense that the system is breaking down, and the glues that hold the social fabric and human relations together are breaking down; you just can't trust people any more. People may have become more prosperous but they also feel more insecure. Predictably, many of those who are the most educated and have the best jobs want to leave the country. Others find solace in religions unsanctioned by an atheistic state.
Like the best horror and sci-fi, The Walking Dead distils fears, anxieties and insecurities by making its characters react realistically to the most extreme and unlikely situations. And it has a universal message: remember, it's not the zombies, but other people who will get you.