Traffic-Violating Expats Used by Police to Teach Chinese "Awareness of the Law"

In China, many traffic regulations are broken by both expats and locals alike. And yet, even though Chinese media has shown a preference for focusing on the former, this is done in order to influence the latter.

The most recently documented case of traffic police cracking down on foreign nationals occurred on Monday in Jinan, Shandong when a local traffic cop stopped an expat motorist for running a red light. And as seen on the video uploaded online, the police officer rose to the occasion by using English to rebuke the expat.

Praised by Chinese news for his eloquence, traffic constable Zhao Jianpeng told the offending expat "You against traffic law," as well as "Make our city a better place; make our big China a better place."

But Monday wasn't the only time that Chinese traffic police were seen standing up to careless expat drivers.

Just this past May, the police were seen cracking down on a traffic-violating expat in Beijing (shown above). With several photographers in the background, a traffic police officer brusquely commanded an expat motorcyclist during a traffic stop. Although no English was spoken, the police officer put the expat in his place by saying in Chinese, "We speak Chinese here!"

Over in Shanghai last year, local traffic police waged a traffic safety campaign that had been especially tough on expats, but its most famous incident was earlier in 2014. Dubbed by the Chinese media as "the most-fluent English-speaking police officer ever," a Shanghai cop was seen boldly confronting two expats who had crossed against a red light, rejecting their "color-blind" explanation (shown below).

With green cards being in such short supply, expats only make up a small proportion of the Chinese public; and with traffic violations so common in China, those committed by expats are mathematically insignificant. So why is there such an emphasis on expats when they do something wrong in China?

Veteran China expats may accept this to be the unfair way things are for "guests of China," but there's a specific reason for this. 

Although the Jinan traffic constable eventually let the expat traffic violator go without any charges or citations, the police officer is distinctly reported by Chinese news as having "educated" the expat, signifying that violators have an "ignorance" of the law – one that constrains China's law enforcement from doing its job.

As "laowai," expats are treated as being wholly different from locals, and this "awareness of the law" is one of the those differences between East and West. What this essentially means is that when a Chinese person crosses against a red light, it's because he doesn't know better, but when an expat (originating from anywhere outside China) commits the same infraction, more blame can be assigned because they ought to know.

However factual, that's quite a big generalization to make. But instead of sourcing this opinion to an anonymously-made online comment or even to Chinese news media who run stories about the difference between expats and Chinese at traffic lights, we'll take the word of none other than Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun.

In January of last year, Wang was explaining how society requires the framework of law in order to make compliance part of people's everyday habits when he dropped the following quote:

Everybody says that foreigners have a high awareness of the law, but the same person that wouldn't normally cross against a red light does just that when in China. This is because the environment of our society's rule of law causes people's behavior to change.

With the Mayor of Beijing admitting that his city can be a bad influence on newcomers, it's clear that the trend of cracking down on expats for traffic violations is done with the purpose to "educate" the Chinese public. If police are tough on expats with a high "law awareness," so too will they be similarly tough on ordinary Chinese, who are encouraged to better obey the law.

Whatever expats think of themselves as individuals in China, they have much more worth as a symbol with education value.

More stories from this author here.

Twitter: @Sinopath

Images: Guancha, Shanghai Observer, QQ News, iFeng,

Comments

Locals aren't "aware" that a red light means stop? Give me a break. They're completely aware. They just don't give an F.

Using laowais as "educational examples" isn't going to accomplish squat. The locals will just figure they're entiltled to free traffic-violating privileges that the foreigners are not.

There are times in Beijing I would pull out somewhere at the wrong time, usually with a group. Otherwise I'm mostly riding defensively due all the locals who don't give an F and might do anything at any given moment. Go look at the e-bikers pulling out at the underpasses of second ring. Some of these intersections are fairly high speed, and these dudes don't even slow down when they approach. They whiz out into the middle of it regardless of the light and just sorta see what's going on. I've seen some deadly close calls with scooters/EVs at night, cuz they completely disregard lights at empty intersections, intersections where, in the absense of traffic, a car will blare through on a green much faster than normal. It's a lethal situation. I always stop even if the coast is *likely* clear, cuz I'm really not into rolling the dice with my life to get somewhere 20 seconds faster.

U.S.A.: We got the nukes!

New PsioncyCast!

To be fair, something has to be done about the intersections in Beijing. Cars constantly run red lights, cars continually ignore red lights while making right hand turns (into pedestrians and bikers), and not to mention parking in bike lanes. How does this go unenforced?

So, let me get this straight. Expats who are not even from China should be more aware of Chinese laws than the CHINESE people who lived their whole freaking life here?! Is that basically what it is saying? If I am interpreting this incorrectly then by all means...please someone explain to me.

RadioDJ38 wrote:

So, let me get this straight. Expats who are not even from China should be more aware of Chinese laws than the CHINESE people who lived their whole freaking life here?! Is that basically what it is saying? If I am interpreting this incorrectly then by all means...please someone explain to me.

"Awareness of the law" means someone who is more prone to be law-abiding, not someone who knows all the laws. 法律意识 a common term, has 330,000 hits on Baidu for news items alone.

A traffic light is an unambiguous signal, clear to all able-sighted people. And yet, the traffic light is enforced by a traffic warden at busy intersections in China, someone whose job is to make pedestrians "aware" of what the light is.

Why does there need to be someone to tell you the law, when the law is clear? Herein lies the difference between being a nation of laws and a nation of authority.

 

humm way to cherry pick lol I watch 50 things that would get your licince pulled back home almost every week . people drive real fast cars at about 5 miles an hour or less. because they can't even be sure some one wont jump in forunt of them on a green light. or some one doing one of a laundry list of things they should not be while driveing. no police to be found ticketing them but forighners and a red light. shure why not go after that. safty and all really ... i never saw a persion pull a u-turn at 30 + miles an hour in an intsercection in a halling truck loaded up while in traffic while not often to be found by exprainced drivers at the same time a nother was backing out in to on comeing trafic looking lost cutting across boath lanes stoping dead and then have 15 cars parked in the road boath sides with 30 people running between eachother on eletric bike and foot at the same time back home ever .at home i have never seen a truning lane running while a corss walk gets a greenlight .at the same time . never seen a trafic light shut down at a set time of day back home hum humm.. talk about takeing the cake and danceing on it this articals still funny

charlesliu wrote:

"Awareness of the law" means someone who is more prone to be law-abiding, not someone who knows all the laws. 法律意识 a common term, has 330,000 hits on Baidu for news items alone.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Punishing law-abidingness is a great law enforcement strategy. Racially profiling the group that tends to obey the law to serve as an example to those who don't makes heaps of sense because it sends a clear message: Either obey the rules perfectly at all times or just don't bother at all -anything in between these polar extremes will not be tolerated! This philosophy should be applied in every aspect of law enforcement, i.e.: non-murderers receiving the death penalty to serve as a deterrent to those who frequently commit murder.

U.S.A.: We got the nukes!

New PsioncyCast!

Either obey the rules perfectly at all times or just don't bother at all -anything in between these polar extremes will not be tolerated!

There's the rub.

China is a country with a vast tapestry of laws. China is also a place where locals routinely circumvent rules through guanxi, backchannels and loopholes. The end result are a people who live within a system/anti-system, and then are forced to make sense of it.

To a foreigner, a red light means stop, and breaking the rules means accepting the consequences. To a Chinese, an opportunity can be found in every crisis, an advantage gained in every setback.

UPDATE: Here's another video of a traffic cop cracking down on a traffic rule-violating expat, this time in Xi'an on Monday. The twist of this story is that the expat said he didn't understand Chinese, so the traffic cop was like "No problem, I'll just speak in Engliah" and continued his duty to uphold the law.

A lot of the more dangerous situations I see is from the mess of illegally parked cars. Why does Beijing have no real parking enforcement, just the weird extortion racket? Start with the things that make money and aren't moving violations, scale up from there. If someone would ticket deliverymen when they're being obvious dicks, walking would be a lot less stressful. Seriously, just because there's a red light doesn't mean they should mount the sidewalk going 20kph.

charlesliu wrote:

To a foreigner, a red light means stop, and breaking the rules means accepting the consequences. To a Chinese, an opportunity can be found in every crisis, an advantage gained in every setback.

Ah, I see now. Simplistic western minds rigidly interpret a red light to mean stop, so they must be held to this standard. Best for one to understand that there are no red or green lights, only yellow.

Next I hope to learn how two plus two can equal five. Blum 3

U.S.A.: We got the nukes!

New PsioncyCast!

Me is laowai, me follow rules

Add new comment