China is a massive country, approximately the same distance across as the U.S. or Canada. So one would expect it to have 4 or 5 time zones, right? Well, it did at one point, but after the People's Republic of China was formed in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party eliminated time zones in an attempt to unify the country under central leadership. As if that's not inconvenient enough, the new central time was based on the time in Beijing, which lies in the upper Northeast corner of the 3,250 mile-wide country. Imagine the people of California structuring their day around the time in Washington, DC; going to work in the pre-dawn darkness when the clock strikes 9:00am in Washington.
Roman Mars, the host of the 99% Invisible podcast, points out that eliminating time zones is an attempt to resist the power of the sun itself; that the denial of reality and nature goes hand-in-hand with the denial of human rights. So it is unsurprising that people opposed to Communist Party rule have chosen to reject the unified time zone as a small act of defiance. The minority Uigher population living in the Xinjiang province in Northwest China have clung to their own local time zone, two hours behind the "official" time in Beijing. The have learned to translate between these two time zones in a form of code-switching, depending on whether they are dealing with a fellow Uighur or a Han Chinese person (the ethnic majority).
The control of time is the ultimate form of power. On the corollary, ownership of time is the ultimate form of freedom. Our employers can summon us for an 8-hour (or more) workday because we are financially dependent on them. The social media wizards whose apps hold our attention for hours at a time are now the richest people to ever live. When we figure out how to control our time, we have mastery over our lives.
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