By all rights, the Giant Panda should have gone extinct already. Some things maybe you didn’t know about this most-beloved of animals: even though it’s an omnivore, the panda chooses to only feed on bamboo shoots. Because of this choice of sustenance, one panda needs to eat over 10 kilos of bamboo shoots a day, but gets insufficient energy from consuming just bamboo and digests it too quickly, so it has to take a crap forty times a day! The panda is so lazy that it even avoids walking up slopes to conserve its energy.
On the other hand, the Grizzly, scientifically classified as ursus horribilis due to its temperament, goes completely in the opposite direction. As Wikipedia explains, all other animals have learned to give the grizzly a wide berth to avoid being mauled. Grizzly bears will approach feeding predators to steal their kills and will never withdraw from a fight.
I think these are apt analogues for the Chinese and American policemen. One is too lazy, apathetic and lacks creativity to solve any problems, while the other is aggressive, never backs down, and is known to lose his temper and attack anyone that surprises him or acts differently from his wishes.
I will focus this article on examples in China, as I think you probably have sufficient knowledge of the state of things in America.
Take a look at these reports:
No, these are not actual police reports. Instead it’s two of the responses I selected when my Chinese university students were asked to write up a hypothetical report a policeman would write when faced with someone breaking the law at the intersection near our college campus. These responses indicate the proclivity of Chinese police towards negotiation and weakness. Conversely, it’s been my experience that the police in America have a tendency towards confrontation and arrest at any cost.
Turn on the local provincial government TV news in any city in China and especially these days with the advent of police body cameras-you can see police spending a ton of energy to try to get out of doing any work. You will also see the complete lack of respect for the police from the public, as many people after having broken some law and in the rare case a policeman actually intervenes, just have to drop some names of some higher ups you have guanxi with or text message enough relatives to come by to bully the policeman into leaving.
“Just because he’s a policeman, doesn’t mean everyone should be able to disrespect him”
Used to be, at least the policeman would leave after accepting a pack of Zhong Hua cigarettes, but now that President Xi is going gangbusters anti-corruption, the poor boys in blue just have to accept being berated and shoved around. It’s interesting to read the comments of Chinese in regards to news stories about a policeman being beaten when he is trying to do his job. The comments often say something like “just because he is a policeman, does not mean everyone should be able to disrespect him”. On the diametrically opposite extreme we have the American reaction to police videos which are more likey along the lines of “just because he is a policeman, does not mean everyone should be required to cower at his feet” or “just because he is a policeman, doesn’t mean he should be allowed to kill anyone he wants.”
The police departments in China have created systems to make it nearly impossible for victims of theft, violence, or rape to obtain justice (except of course when the government has some interest in prosecution such as cracking down on “unhealthy” speech, the police will spare no effort tracking down the perpetrator, including illegal kidnapping across international borders: see here).
“Just work it out with your husband”
For instance, when the American wife of “Crazy English” Lee Yang was visibly battered and tried to file charges, the police refused to take her report and sent her home saying she needs to “work it out” with her husband. When she refused and demanded justice, they sent her to a hospital for evidence (which she had to pay for), but then tried to claim the evidence was inadmissible because she visited an unauthorized hospital. Once she got past this stumbling block, and successfully filled out a police report, she wondered why nothing was happening in the investigation. Now it turned out that the wrong police official took her evidence. After this excuse was hurdled, she was told that the physical evidence isn’t enough; she needs to also provide voice recordings of her husband threatening to beat her. It perhaps isn’t surprising that when eventually she succeeded, hers was the first restraining order ever granted in Beijing, a city of some 20 million people (more about this case here).
“I have not heard of rapes happening in this city”
I got to know a police instructor named Mr. Zhou who works at the nearby police academy, and somehow the issue of consent and rape came up. I asked him if there was an age below which it was illegal to have sex with a girl in China. He replied:
-If a girl is less than 14, and you have sexy with her, even if she wants to, it will be “rape”, and you to go the jail.
-Ok, I understand, we call that “statutory rape” in America. But in most States the cutoff age is two or three years older. So if she is over 14, there is no legal problem?
-Well no, if the girl is 15 to 17 year old, and you have sexy but she does not want to, but you force her to make the sexy, then this is “rape” and you will go to the jail.
-Makes sense, but what about if she is 18 or older and you force her to make the sexy? Do you go to the jail?
This was when Mr. Zhou paused and appeared a bit confused. He raised his right eyebrow and pondered a second before replying:
-Yes, if she is over 18, and she calls the police to say this happened, I suppose we would have to investigate, and it’s possible if there is enough evidence, it could be legally ‘rape’…but I have not heard of such cases in Nanchang.
-Yes, Nanchang is a small city.
We both nodded, gravely. (side note: Nanchang is the capital city of Jiangxi province and its metropolitan area has a population of 6 million people; it’s the city where I’ve lived for several years).
Of course, it’s not only the police that contribute to the underreporting…well we really should call it non-reporting…of sexual assaults in China. The broader culture still views being a sexual assault victim as extremely shameful, blames the woman, etc., but I want to focus on police actions and in-actions here, and I do believe laziness on the part of the police force is a big factor in the lack of justice, as the next story demonstrates.
“I first called the police and then I got some men to beat him up”
This episode happened back in 2011 in Nanchang at a small bar, owned by my Chinese friend (and eventual business partner) Mary, and was the final straw that led her to give up the bar business and later open an education center with me. One late evening, a drunk Chinese guy was trying to get the attention of one of the waitresses to get a beer opener. In China, none of the beer bottles are “twist offs”, and servers have the bad habit of forgetting to open them for you. The waitress couldn’t hear him because of the loud music, so he looked at the full unopened bottle of beer in his hand, and decided to throw it at her. As you might imagine, the bottle connected with the girl’s forehead and cut it open. Blood started flowing. Mary and I were playing billiards when we heard screaming on the other end of the bar, but were quickly appraised of what happened. Mary wanted to immediately get people to kick the drunk dude’s ass, but I insisted she call the police. Clearly, I was new to China at the time…
After half an hour two policemen stroll in, clearly annoyed to be bothered so late at night. The girl is still crying and bleeding, though we did try to bandage the cut and put ice on it, the drunk guy is still vomiting in the corner and flailing around. We explain the situation and the policemen ask the bar girl to remove the makeshift bandage to show the cut. Of course, this makes it start to bleed again, but the police see enough to ask the girl how much money she wants. This is when my partner gets angry and interjects that these are two separate matters – the girl will sue him for her injuries but in any case the police need to take him to jail. The two coppers are still shifting from one foot to the next trying to figure out how to minimize their effort. The older one thinks of a solution. “We will call the doctor!” he excitedly blurts out. “The doctor will determine if the injury reaches the level of criminality.”
As we wait for the doctor, the policemen explain that under the law – though it clearly looks like they are making it up as they go along – the cut on the forehead must be at least 5 centimeters in length and at least 1 cm deep for it to be criminal. As you may guess, the doctor determined the cut was not “criminal” in nature and the police happily left. It didn’t work out that well for the drunk dude though, as before the cops were even through the door, Mary had already made the requisite phone calls to get some men to arrive a few minutes later with bats to beat up the unfortunate drunk dude. By that time, I decided I had enough excitement for one night, but I assume Mary instructed the hired hands to make sure that each individual wound is no more than 5 cm long and 1 cm deep.
What’s the Best Kind of Policeman?
So clearly China’s system of “law and order” is not ideal, but there may be some good aspects to the Chinese mentality. For instance, the idea of sometimes negotiating and considering the victim’s wishes has some merit instead of the legalistic “throw away the key” policies where an 18-year-old kid can be thrown into prison and be forever marked with the scarlet letter of “sex offender” for having pictures of his 17-year-old girlfriend which she sent to his phone. Sensationalized trials, zero-tolerance policies, and overzealous prosecutors and police chiefs with political ambitions lead to an American society that’s afraid of the legal system. It makes citizens question whether the justice system really hopes to keep the peace and serve the public.
On the other hand, when a violent crime has been committed, I do appreciate that American police are willing to aggressively track down the perpetrator, often without concern for their own safety. I like that many choose to become a police officer because they actually want to make their neighborhood, city and country safer instead of the chief reason many Chinese become policemen: because it’s a “good job”—i.e. hard to get fired, low demands on your effort and good benefits like at least doubling your salary through taking bribes.
But as with many things in life, it’s all a matter of degree. When the Chinese cop negotiates to the point where no one respects him or his position as an officer of the law, or when an American cop demands respect to the point of common citizens being afraid of even making eye contact with him because he may feel challenged.
Chinese may be too self-centered to intervene to enforce the law since their police won’t do it, but Americans are too scared of getting shot by police to speak up when the peace officers cross the line. Doesn’t matter that by law you have the right to resist unlawful arrest even by a cop. Doesn’t matter that you have the right to be silent. If you refuse to answer all his questions, you immediately arouse suspicion and you are going to find yourself slammed to the ground, with his hand feeling you up and anything short of slave-like compliance will result in you being charged with “assaulting an officer”, “obstruction of justice”, “public disturbance”, or likely all three.
So how can we have a society we feel safe and free in? How can we find some kind of middle ground between the Chinese and American police tactics? What would the ideal policeman look like for you? Is there an animal you hope he would resemble? If you’ve got any ideas, please share your thoughts in the comments below.