Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chinese Law and Order

While in China, we got a few glimpses of what Chinese law and order is all about.

First off, China does have crime. It's a big country, with over 1 billion people--nearly four times the population of the U.S., so there's bound to be a few problems. But China does not have the kinds of serious, violent crimes that plague some parts of America's big cities. Murder is rare. Most of the stuff you read about in the English language Chinese newspapers are fairly petty property crimes. You certainly feel safe walking the streets of a Chinese city at night (in part, you're practically never alone on the street).

We also witnessed, first hand, a police effort to crack down on trademark fraud, which is pretty rampant in China. While leaving a restaurant, we noticed an altercation across the street. A man was screaming and yelling at four police officers in a small leather goods store, while two women tried to restrain him. The police were carrying numerous cartons of goods out of the store and putting them into their police cars. A Chinese relative explained to us that the screaming man was the store owner, that he had gotten mad at the trademark police for asking questions about some of his goods, and so the police had decided to confiscate a large number of items, further enraging the man. Well, at least there's some enforcement.

Prostitution also exists in China. There was a "massage parlor" around the corner from our hotel, and the Curmudgeon's brother-in-law was solicited outside it by an overly made up young lady. "Hello, you want massage; you want sex; hello?" Whether the Chinese police will crack down on prostitution in Beijing before the Olympics, or turn a blind eye to it (on grounds its just another part of the tourist trade) is yet to be seen.

In some areas of Chinese life, the people don't seem too worried about the police. For example, at one point we were on a road jammed up due to construction activity. As vehicles jockeyed for position across lanes, medians and shoulders, a couple of police vehicles trying to get through had no luck. No one moved over for them.

There also doesn't seem to be much in the way of enforcement of speeding laws. Chinese drivers careening down the highway didn't slow in the slightest upon sighting a police car.

When Chinese police do pull someone over for a traffic violation (as we saw twice) it is incumbent on the driver to get our of his/her car and come back to the police officer to discuss the matter and get a ticket.

And when the Chinese need a big police presence, they certainly can get it. When leaving, we noticed that there was no traffic on the five-lane wide inbound airport road. It soon became apparent that a huge number of police were blocking all entry ramps and had closed down the road. After three or four eerie miles of empty highway, we finally spotted a motorcade of some foreign dignitary rushing into town. (You'll sometimes spot the same thing around here on the Dulles Access Road, but with fewer police.)

During part of our trip, Beijing was experimenting with a traffic control program they intend to use during the Olympics, under which most drivers will be allowed on the roads only every other day--even numbered license plates one day, odd the next. When we arrived at the Beijing Airport from Chengdu, our bus driver was not there to meet us, creating a bit of consternation. After a couple phone calls, we found him, on his way--he was quite contrite, as he'd forgotten about the restriction and went out with an even license number on an odd day, without the proper waiver form. He was pulled over by police. The good news is that we made up for the lost time because the road into town wasn't nearly as jammed as usual.

One of the things we didn't get to experience was what it's like to pay a parking ticket in China--could it possibly be worse than in D.C., where the process can take all day?

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