A Bad Day

18 September 2010

Bad things do happen to foreigners in China.  I “met” one reader of this blog by way of reading his blog post he had written about being beaten by a gang of four thugs.  Another friend was whacked on the shoulder by a man wielding a machete, which caused a cut that required hospital treatment.  One interesting thing in these cases, where a criminal act has resulted in injury, is that the police are completely oblivious to the injured person’s need for medical treatment.  In the case of my friend needing immediate hospital treatment, the police refused to hold the assailant on grounds that they couldn’t hold him unless my friend filed a police report.  It was a case of either go to the hospital, or file a police report while one bled to death. 

The following incident happened to one of my young female friends in Guangzhou, in December.  The person designated with “Tammy” (names changed for confidentiality) is a Chinese female colleague, and the person “Tom” is the writer’s husband. 

As an editorial comment, it is not uncommon for traffic disputes to be “resolved” by use of force to collect money from an offender, with bystanders acting as judge and jury or thugs being called in to beat up a person who doesn’t want to pay.  Police often refuse to intervene when thugs are involved.  For this reason, factory managers and businesses often hire private security guards. 

Anyone who thinks violence cannot or does not happen in China is fooling themselves.  Often foreigners simply do not know about violence near them, or it is not reported. 

The rules are different, the foreigner is out of their own culture or basis for understanding, and bewildering and violent things do happen.  Moreover, as some of the quotations by the thugs below emphasize, while Chinese society in general is welcoming and friendly, there is also an undercurrent of resentment of foreigners.  There is a strong culture of China being for China.  Underneath some of that welcoming exterior is also a simmering resentment of the “foreigners,” a resentment carefully cultivated and fed by the government by way of stories about grievances and insults delivered by the hands of foreigners.  The simmering coals of that resentment is then fanned into anti-foreigner riot and sentiment whenever the government wants to fan it.  

I write this on a date when I understand the government has been actively fanning those flames against Japanese.  Today is the 67th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China.  I would put the American film “Empire of the Rising Sun” on my must-see list for anyone thinking of going to live in China.  While that historical fiction takes place in a certain place and time, it reminds one of certain truths which apply today as well about how China will relate to a foreigner, and the foreigner’s place in that culture. 

Nothing can ever justify the way the Japanese treated the Chinese.  In my opinion, it is remarkable that China has put so much of that possible ground for grievance into the past.  Of course, however, in China nothing is in the past.  It is merely simmering on the back burner.  China has a very, very long view of history, something Western democracies would do well to remember.  In the Chinese eye, I suspect, Western civilization is but a flash in the pan.  Light a sailboat with a deep keel, things have a way of turning back the way they have been in the past, and for much of history Chinese civilization has been like that deep keeled boat. 

My friend, writing below, is fortunate that she was not battered any more than she was.  I quote: 

Yesterday I got out of a taxi and went to cross the road just up the street from my office, when a gold Honda come flying around the corner and hit me. The car did not hit me severely, just enough for me to feel it and make enough noise for the driver to stop his car and get out. When the driver approached me to, to my surprise he started to accuse me of hitting his car. I was confused and said in Chinese “I do not understand you” he continued to yell at me and then slapped me very hard across the face. My sunglasses flew off and broke when they hit the ground. I then took down his license plate number and went to leave. But of course because he was afraid that I would report him he grabbed me by the arm and would not allow me to go. By this time a huge crowd of Chinese people had gathered around me and helped him to keep me there. So I had no choice but to call my colleague Tammy to rush down from our office to help me. After I called her I called the Canadian Consulate to tell them what had happened and what should I do. They said they would call me back. By the time Tammy arrived the crowd grew even bigger and the driver had called several of his friends to the scene to help bully us around. Tammy and I had no choice but to phone the police. The police arrived within 30 minutes and asked us what had happened. Of course both sides had different stories so the police ordered us to get into the car (me, Tammy, and the drivers girlfriend) and drove us to the police station. The driver of course followed in his own car with his friend. Once we arrived at the police station all the officers there gave us very dirty looks and when the driver of the car arrived with his friend they welcomed him and were very chummy, chummy with him. We (Tammy & I ) asked the police, “What are we doing here, what is going to happen? What are we waiting for?” They did not reply.

Shortly after another police officer arrived with a small black kit and asked us all to go out to the car to examine the car to determine if the car really hit me or not. I had told them the hit from the car was not sever therefore there would be no damages. I had also told them I don’t want problems, I don’t want compensation; I would just like him to apologize for slapping me in the face. I even said to them I don’t even care that the care hit me, I knew it was an accident, but slapping me across the face is unacceptable. During the examination of the car, the driver had pointed out a smudged dust mark on the hood of the truck and accused me of hitting his car. I told him that is ridiculous. You can see clearly I have two bags in my hand that would not allow me to make such a mark on your car. Once we finished examining the car we all went back inside, and the officer asked me is there anyway you can drop this matter and continue on with your day. I said “you brought us here to the station, I don’t know what you want, all I want is for him to say sorry” but the guy refused and I said “no problem” and we went to leave. But of course they didn’t let us leave. They ordered my colleague to go to the office to fetch my passport, and other documents for proof of identification.

When she walked out, the officer’s, the driver and the driver’s friend followed her outside and started their harassment. They asked her “What is your certificate number? What documents do you have to support that you are a translator? Why are you such a stupid Chinese to help a foreigner?” We know your name, we know where you live and we are going to kill you, your family and your stupid foreigner friend!” When Tammy arrived at the office she phoned me crying hysterically saying “please can you phone your consulate people again to come help, I don’t want to go back to the station, I am afraid for my life” So naturally I called the Canadian Consulate and told them “I am now at the police station, they are holding me against my will, made my colleague go fetch my passport for proof of identification and the police and driver have threatened to kill my colleague”, and asked what should I do? The man from the consulate said please wait I will ask my colleague to phone you. Within 15 minutes a lady called me from the consulate and tried to give me advise, but it didn’t matter the police did not care about my rights as a Canadian Citizen so I asked her nicely to send someone to help me. Her reply was “we are too busy to send someone down”. I told her that “my colleague has left me here alone and she is too afraid to come back so I have no one to translate for me and that I was scared, could you at least send someone to translate?” She said “I have a phone number for a translation center that I can give you and you can call yourself and see if they had someone available”. Naturally the next thing I did was phone Tom and told him what was going on. He immediately got into a taxi and made his way over to the station. Shortly after Tom arrived, my colleague Tammy returned. I was so happy and so surprised to see her. When she arrived the police immediately took my passport and refused to give it back.  Tammy, the police and the driver and his friend started arguing and then Tammy started crying. I asked her why are you crying and she said they want to kill us, they are going to kill us.

I tried again to call the consulate and asked them to come, but they refused and so I called my lawyer friend in Shenzhen to ask for advice. He said just get out of there, but of course that was not an option. Every time we tried to leave they (police, driver and driver’s friend) blocked the door so we couldn’t. The driver said to the police “let me beat this foreigner boy, I will be more then happy to walk into the jail cell and spend 15 days in jail if you just let me beat the foreigner boy” all the police men, the driver and his friend stated laughing. Next they asked us to go upstairs and write a statement. I said “is this necessary, my lawyer told me I can just leave. I don’t want any problems”. They insisted and made us follow them but leaving Tom behind. While upstairs, they continued to harass Tammy and I. Saying they have taken our picture, copied our ID, found our address and will send someone to kill us all. Of course my colleague was so terrified for her 3 year old daughter, her husband and her parents who live with her that she again started crying hysterically. Again, I called the consulate to ask them what to do and can they please come down and help us. They again told me they were too busy and that I should write the statement and collect the receipt for it. Once the statement was finished, the officer had left my passport on the table so I took the opportunity to take it back. I asked the police, where is my receipt, they said “oh, but we thought this was a traffic case so we sent the file to the traffic police, we have no receipt for you” so they gave me some kind of receipt written on some kind of paper, I highly doubt it means anything. So next we go downstairs and are reunited with Tom. I told Tammy and Tom, “lets just go we have done all we can.”

As we were walking out the driver and his friend pushed me and of course Tom was there to stop more then that from happening. The driver started screaming and yelling and all the police officers came out and brought me, Tammy and Tom back inside. Saying we were not allowed to go until we settle this matter, saying we have wasted their time and the time of the driver and his friends. I told them they have no right to keep us here and we have a right to leave, we did not ask to come to the station. They said we don’t have any rights we are in China and they can do what they want to us. So they took Tammy into the back room where she disappeared for a good 30 minutes. I tried phoning her to see where she was and if she was ok, but no answer. While we were seated outside all I could hear was her crying and crying so finally Tom and I went around to look for her only to find her up against a wall crying hysterically again. I asked her what is wrong, what have they done to you. She didn’t reply only saying that she was so scared. Again I called the consulate to come help us and he said “if every time a Canadian is at a police station and we go running to help, then who will stay and work in the office” I begged him and cried on the phone to him “please you must come help us, they are keeping us against our will and have taken my passport and have threaded to kill us, what more do you need to happen to us before you will come?” He said “I m too busy, let me get the other lady to call you again” A few minutes later the lady from the consulate calls and asks what’s going on now? I told her “we are really scared they had separated us into different rooms and verbally threaten us and will not let us leave her alive” Again I begged her to come help us and her reply was “oh, I am really sorry, tonight is my anniversary dinner I am on my way to the restaurant, is there anyway you can settle this alone?” After that I knew we were at the mercy of the police and the driver. Tammy and I begged the police to just let us go, we don’t want any problems. The police finally said ok, if you want to go, you must sign this paper to say you are a liar and that you will never bring this case to court, if you do we will kill you and your family. We had no choice but to sign and leave. As we left, the police and the driver and his friend made it very clear they have our information and could kill us anytime they want so don’t ever try to bring this case to court or talk to anyone about it.

After being hit by a car, physically assaulted, held against our will, ID withheld and our lives being threatened and bullied around for 8 hours, Tom and I have decided to leave China.  …I am so disappointed my Canadian Consulate and their lack of help. What more needs to be happen before they would’ve come down to help us. . . .Things could’ve gotten a lot worse last night. What if we were severally beaten or even killed last night, would our government even care??

Be safe and thank you for listening. Share this story with all of your friends. We need to raise awareness of the lack of help we have here, and that fact that we as foreigners have no rights and no one to turn to when in trouble.

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