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Attitudes Towards Violence in China


During my time in Beijing I have witnessed several fights. They usually follow the same pattern, a disagreement and an insult under the breath which then escalates to some yelling back and forth, the gathering of a large crowd, swings from both sides, and the separation of the fighters by friends and bystanders shouting, "Xing le! Xing le!" (行了/alright, alright) I had never seen an actual non-alcohol induced, non-teenaged fight until I came to China.

Once on a packed bus I witnessed two women clawing at each other because one had pushed the other and did not like being called "uncivilized" as a result of her actions.

In the half a dozen or so fights I have witnessed in Beijing, as a bystander I have never felt the threat of the fight getting out of control and turning into an all out brawl. There seems to be an understanding among the crowd that if things start to get too wild, someone will step in and put a stop to it.

Despite this tendency for disagreements to quickly escalate to violence, I have always felt safer in Beijing than anywhere else I have lived in the world. I cannot attribute this personal feeling of safety merely to the lack of guns, I have lived in London where I still felt uncomfortable walking home alone late at night.

Perhaps it is the power of the state and the threat of swift execution that keeps the threat of assault in Beijing at bay, or maybe the banners and advertisements up all over the city urging people to promote civilization in their neighborhood are extremely effective at swaying would-be law-breakers. It could even be a remnant of the Mao Era, when people didn't take from each other because there was nothing to steal. I think it is probably a combination of all these things - maybe not the posters – along with the greater sense of social responsibility that exists in China than in most countries.

While I recognize that the existence of harsher punishment for criminals who target foreigners has a lot to do with my feeling of security in China, it is clear that on a global scale, Beijing is a safer place to live.

My friends who have been victims of crime in China were not exposed to the risk of physical violence because they did not come face to face with their robber. It was only after they had gotten off the bus or subway that they noticed their phone or wallet had gone missing.

It seems that violence is more acceptable as an escalation of conflict, than as a means to take what is not yours. Maybe the two are linked. When I worked at a Chinese kindergarten, some of the teachers would urge the children to strike back at their classmates who hit them, to get them back for their actions. In the case of crime, criminals seem to know that the state hits back harder.

Image Source: Beijing Today


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