Anyone who's played or heard of online multiplayer games knows about gold farming - where people sell sums of in-game "money" to lazy people who want to buy imaginary horses.
Lighter Side of WoW
Well, that's an unfair generalization. Sometimes they want to buy imaginary dragons.
How do you get this wonderful job where you get to play games all day but don't get to explore or fight or do anything except one repetitive task all day, and get beaten if you don't meet your quota? Well, one way is to get arrested. Some prisoners are forced to break rocks, some prisoners are forced to gold farm. Let no one say China doesn't diversify its prison labor.
They can't ALL be assigned to build scale models of London Bridge.
There was a big uproar a couple of years ago when all the gaming blogs were reporting that China was banning gold farming, but that turned out to be a silly misunderstanding. Why would you ban a multibillion dollar industry that takes money from foreigners? That's as preposterous as China banning piracy.
China's bread and butter.
Another time-honored Chinese tradition is spitting wherever the hell you feel like. American grandparents embarrass their grandkids by joining the Tea Party or wearing golf clothes, whereas Chinese immigrant grandparents embarrass their American-born grandkids by trying to capture geese for dinner in public parks, and spitting randomly in public.
Here's a recipe if you're interested, by the way.
The government finally decided to take a hand in this leading up to the Beijing Olympics (the same thing that prompted the standing-in-line training) and launched a huge campaign to teach people that spitting in public is gross.
So someone's job was to find people who were spitting and write them a ticket. The only problem was that apparently spit monitors get as much respect as meter maids and people who were caught spitting would always counter with the uncounterable "No I didn't" argument, which somehow prevented the monitor from writing them up. I wouldn't think this would be a problem in an authoritarian state, but China is full of surprises.
Like anus hospitals.
So they put together the Spit Van, a sort of high-tech spit monitoring nexus connected to outside cameras that capture people's despicable spit crimes. Once the guy in the van spots a spitter, he sends a guy out to apprehend the blackguard. If he denies it, he is brought back to the van and shown his vile act, caught on tape for posterity, at which point I assume he breaks down and kills himself. Or pays a $2.50 US fine.
When that article was written, they were planning to expand the equipment to include devices capable of satellite communication. Overkill? Well, ask yourself this. Did any athletes get spit on during the Olympics? I'd say the Spit Van Crew has done its job then.
A lot of journalists have made note of a group of old ladies in red armbands that regularly make an appearance on Chinese streets when the Chinese government needs to say, "Hey, we're watching you."
For example, a writer for the Atlantic saw this a couple of months ago, in the wake of the Arab Spring:
"One day in March, major boulevards in Beijing suddenly were lined with older women, bundled up in overcoats and with red armbands identifying them as public-safety patrols, who sat on stools at 20-yard intervals and kept watch for disruption. They had no practical effect except as reminders that the authorities were on guard and in control."
The Beijing News gives a hint of why all the old people, saying "Streets and alleyways are dotted by the red armbands and strangers would be immediately surrounded by questioning grandpas and grandmas when they walk into a neighborhood."
Old people "volunteers" are a lot less threatening as government representatives than official police or government employees in smart uniforms, and Chinese culture is all about respecting the elderly, so they're in a position to ask you what you're up to, tell you that you shouldn't be somewhere, or... tell you to have an abortion.
...wait, that actually is really disturbing.
That's right, part of enforcing the one-child policy involves making sure women have abortions should they get pregnant a second time. And the cops can't watch every lady in China, so old women volunteers are in a perfect position to monitor ladies in their work unit or neighborhood and badger them into an abortion in an authoritative but grandmotherly kind of way.
And what are they going to do when all the old ladies die off? Well, some young ladies are being trained for state-sponsored meddling pretty well at Nanjing University, where they get their own red armbands and are responsible for going around and making sure couples aren't getting too affectionate in public.
You know, that's actually something we should bring over here.