June 30th, 2009
Yang Hengjun has a post up on his blog that starts with a rather disturbing story, an incident in Xi’an, I hope he won’t mind me translating at least the story here:
6月29日9点45分，我从西安鼓楼后面的回民食物一条街出来后看到路边有闪烁的警车，于是也走过去加入了围观。原来，这 里刚刚发生了一起交通事故，邻省甘肃牌照的一辆白色宝马在从停车位出来时碰一位过路的妇女，两人争执不下，不知道是谁报了警。警察来后协调不成功，正准备 带他们到前面的医院去检查。
At 9:45 on June 29, when I came out of a Hui food street behind Xi’an’s Drum Tower, I saw a police car with lights flashing by the side of the road, so I crossed over and joined the onlookers. As it turns out, a traffic accident had just happened here, a white BMW with Gansu plates had hit a woman crossing the road as it pulled out of a parking space. The two people quarrelled, both sticking to their guns, so somebody called the police. When the police came, they couldn’t bring them into line, and they were just preparing to take them to the hospital up ahead for a check-up.
A very disadvantaged-looking local woman, a shiny white BMW from another province, a group of locals looking on, the situation did not look very favourable for that BMW driver. But what surprised me was most of the onlookers stayed silent and the few locals who did speak were not speaking up for the woman.
[Note: Corrections thanks to Jim’s advice. See comments.]
I asked one muttering local what happened, he ill-temperedly said, that woman absolutely was not hurt, bullying an out-of-town car…. When he said this, some Xi’an people nearby looked at him approvingly, and one other nodded his head. This time, I also noticed that that woman absolutely did not look injured at all.
To be certain, asked equivocally, you can’t talk like this, it’s possible she had been hit by the BMW, being hit is being hit, does she really have to have been hurt?
A Xi’an person interrupted me saying: We saw it, and anyway, this isn’t the first time it’s happened here, it always happens when a car from another province is moving slowly, they’re “hit” by the car, then fall over. This method of bullying out-of-towners is just too much.
By now the police car and the BMW had already taken the woman to hospital and the crowd was dispersing, I was also about to leave, but before I left I nodded my appreciation to those Xi’an people I’d been talking to. To satisfy the sense of fairness of the Xi’an people, I said, maybe you’re right, but since the police came, it’s better to let them decide.
What? You go have a look at the children’s hospital up ahead, a Xi’an person suddenly said to me, pointing in the direction the police car and BMW had gone, there are many children lying there who were hit by cars, and it all happened this way, there are some who blackmailed people for 15 or 20 thousand…
I suddenly stopped, worrying that I hadn’t completely understood his Xi’an dialect, and aggressively staring at him inquired closely: What did you say? Children were run over?
Using Xi’an dialect, he said, yes, there are people who deliberately use children to hit those nice cars, then when the child is injured, haggle over the price with the driver….
This time I understood completely, and you can well imagine my astonishment. Using your body to hit a car then extorting money from the driver has been a profession in some parts of China for a long time, but using children to hit cars? That was the first time I’d heard of that.
Notes: Yes, I have swapped between “from another province” and “out-of-towner” and other phrases for “外地”. If you can think of a better word which would cover all the uses of “外地” in this story, then leave a comment. And there are places where I’ve used masculine pronouns when gender was not specified in the original. I’d rather be sexist than use “it” to refer to a person, and a singular “they” just seems ugly in this context.
But it’s a horrible story, and Yang goes on to say that it left him sleepless so that he had to get up and write it all out. He also goes on to discuss the use of injured and disabled children as beggars in China, the idea being that an injured or disabled child arouses people’s sympathy. It’s hard to walk past an injured or disabled child without feeling sorry for the child, and very hard not to give a child beggar money, especially when the child beggar is injured or disabled. Unfortunately, as Yang points out, the adults running these begging gangs will sometimes go to the extent of deliberately provoking the wound so that it leaks pus and blood. Yang also points out that last year there was a big movement to clean up this nastiness, and he hasn’t seen any of these poor children since.
It gets a bit more interesting when he brings up the old comparison between China and The West. In most western countries, he says, when an injured child is brought to hospital, the doctors will inquire into the cause of the injury, and if they have any reason to suspect foul play, they will immediately report it to the police. This is done to protect children from abuse. I don’t know much about the legal situations in many western countries, but I believe Yang is largely correct.
China, he says, lacks this legal protection for children. There’s no need for doctors to call the police when they have suspicions about the real causes of a child’s injuries. So long as the child doesn’t die and the parents are cooperative, no problem.
I don’t really want to go into the rest of his post here. Let’s just say this incident in Xi’an and the apparent lack of legal protection for children in China compared with western countries seem to have shaken him up- and fair enough, too. It is hard to see children begging, and I’ve seen some in some pretty awful states.
A former boss once gave me the task of rescuing a young Kiwi lad from his hotel room and taking him out for an evening in Sanlitun, fearing that this poor lad wasn’t getting enough time away from his parents. He saw the gangs of kids who used to beg in Sanlitun, dirty little ragamuffins who had the light and energy of young kids anywhere, but who were stuck in what can only be described as an abusive situation, and he just couldn’t handle it, it totally knocked him off his feet and turned his heart upside down to see these kids. I explained the situation to him as best I could, but he needed to do something for them, anything, even if it was just a once-off thing, even if all he achieved is to set his soul back at ease. Eventually we rounded up the kids, chased off the adult beggars (oh, yes, was I speaking very fluent and extremely colourful Beijinghua that night), and fed the kids up on kebabs from a nearby stall. Sure, all we achieved was to salve our affluent, liberal guilt, and we both knew it. But what else could we do?
Yang, in the second to last paragraph of his post, calls for Xi’an’s doctors to call the police or at least speak out when they see children with suspicious injuries and for the relevant authorities to investigate this phenomenon. Ordinary folks like us don’t have the power to investigate, but I guess there is one thing we can do: Speak up.
So, thank you, Yang Hengjun, for speaking out.