Posts Tagged ‘Law’

In Which the Narrator Catches a Bike Thief Red-Handed

May 8, 2012

One does not have to have lived in Beijing for very long to count bicycle thieves among the true scourges of your existence. While I have been lucky in my 2+ years of living here, I can think of countless stories from friends who have walked outside one morning or afternoon to find their bike, or at least a wheel or a seat, mysteriously gone. Cousin Katie lost two bikes last summer in the space of a month, locks and all. Bike theft in Beijing is so rampant that it is treated not so much as a preventable crime but rather with the same fatalism as the traffic or the smog. I have been told that actually trying to protect your bike with locks is futile (though my US-made Kryptonite lock has held up so far), but rather that the best protection you can offer is to discourage thieves by using dirt and scratches to make your bike look older, thereby making the next bike over more attractive by comparison.

Last week, I came face to face with a manifestation of this invisible, omnipresent force. I was

caught red-handed

walking out of the Teach For China office when, as I prepared to unlock my own bike, heard a soft sawing sound from just up the block. Looking up, I saw a man hunched over the bike several yards from mine, bent over the back wheel and, yes, sawing vigorously. He was making no effort to conceal it: people continued to cross the street nearby, no more than a few yards from the in-progress robbery. I flirted briefly with the notion of doing something heroic, of calling him out somehow, but wasn’t entirely sure what I would do or on whose authority I could confront him. So I opted instead to just stare in disbelief.

That was enough to get his attention at least. After a furtive look upward, he returned to his sawing. Pulling out my phone to take a picture, though, was enough to scare him off. He backed away from the bike and silently walked past me to the end of the block, throwing another guilty look over his

the lock was no match

shoulder before he turned the corner. I went over to take this photo of the lock on the bike once he was out of view: in just about a minute he had already sawed most of the way through the lock.

I got on my bike to leave again, turning the same corner to find him idling there. As soon as he saw me approaching he began ambling back to his victim. The brazenness was too much for me to resist; I circled around again to find him back at the same bike, and pulling out my camera to take another picture was enough to scare him off again. At that point, though, my heroic urge to defend the bike lost out against the realization that I was already late for something. I’ll never know if I had harassed him enough to scare him off or if he returned for a third time to claim his prize.

the villain makes his escape

Certainly this awkward confrontation was no more than confirmation of what we already knew. Even in broad daylight, with plenty of witnesses, your bike is not safe. I highly recommend the investment in a real Kryptonite lock.


Road Rage and Chinese Civil Law

October 10, 2010


Our bus, waiting in line beside a construction site that blocked off the entire road for an hour

Last week for the National Day holiday I left Yilong to visit Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟, an enormous national park in northwestern Sichuan near the province’s border with Tibet.  Getting to the park was an adventure in itself. Between travelling to the park and back my friends and I spent two full days of bus travel on winding mountain roads with frequent stops for construction, some of which had been necessitated by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.  At times the road to the park was completely torn up and down to one lane both ways, and we were forced to stop on the side of the road to allow traffic from the other direction to pass through.


On our way back from the park, however, we encountered an entirely different type of delay.  Boarding the bus after our first rest stop, three hours after leaving Jiuzhaigou park, I heard two women sitting several rows behind me having a heated discussion, and overheard one of the women call the other “impolite” (“你没有礼貌!”). As the bus pulled away, the discussion rose in volume and before long the two women were batting at one another.  They continued to swing and scratch at one another as other passengers intervened, pulling the two women away from one another.  Even when the arm rest of a bus seat was broken off in the scuffle the bus driver refused to get involved, continuing to drive as if nothing had happened.  One of the women tried to continue her assault, attempting to climb over the passengers now between her and her target, until a stocky man from a back row approached and brandished a police badge as he stood between the two combatants. Amidst continued shouting he switched seats with the first woman and eventually calmed her down.


This seemingly innocuous rest stop became the site of major road rage last week

From what my friends and I gathered from the shouting, the fight had started quite innocuously.  One woman had bumped into the other as the bus went over a pothole, and neglected to apologize, inciting a rebuke from the second woman. Later, one woman had accidentally spilled bread crumbs on the leg of the other, and similarly refused to apologize.  Refusing to back down when confronted about this offense, the fight had quickly escalated.


This sort of public display of outrage, while not exactly common, is I think not as out of the ordinary in China as it is in the US.  Certainly I have never seen a tiff between strangers escalate to violence in the US, but this is the second time I have seen one in China. Last summer I saw two women on a subway in Beijing tear at each other because one refused to give up her seat for the other woman’s son. My other companions on the trip also confirmed that they had each seen similar incidents at least a few times in Beijing.

Our bus continued in awkward relative silence for another hour and a half before stopping at a roadside café for lunch. The first woman exited the bus, and as she approached the café the second woman exited as well, picked up a sharp stone from the ground and ran at the second woman.  Only the combined efforts of several other passengers kept the fight from resulting in serious damage, and kept the two women apart from each other long enough for the police to be called. About a half hour later several police officers appeared in a pickup truck and called the two women in to sit down across from one another at a table in the café. We and the rest of the passengers were then left to wait at the rest stop for another hour and a half as the police mediated the conflict.  Both women issued written statements, and it was decided that one woman would pay a reparation fee of 100 RMB to the other.  Another forty-five minutes was spent arguing over who would pay to repair the broken bus seat.


We were stuck at the rest stop for a long time. I took some pictures. I apologize for not taking any actual pictures of the fight for fear of exacerbating things further.

I am not particularly familiar with the Chinese legal system, and was astounded that a conflict like this could be resolved, punishments and all, by the police themselves with no court hearing and no intervention of lawyers. This kind of on-the-spot legal judgment is apparently standard. Another Chinese friend currently studying law informed me that Chinese police officers generally have the power to administer legal recourse for cases involving between 50 and 200 RMB of damage.


The trip in total took us twelve hours, nearly the amount of time that it takes to fly to Beijing from the United States.  While the delay was frustrating, it afforded a fascinating look at a legal system drastically different from the one that I am used to.