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.
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