an incident in Xi’an

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.

一个看上去很弱势的本地妇女,一辆外地来的很显眼的白色宝马,一群围观的当地人,情形看上去对那个宝马车主很不利。可让我惊讶的是,大多数围观者保持了沉默,而开口的几位当地人却并不是在为那位妇女说话。

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.]

我问一位嘀嘀咕咕的当地人怎么回事,他没好气地说,那女人根本没有受伤,欺负外地车……他说这话时,旁边的几位西安人也赞同地看着他,还有一位直点头。这时,我也注意到那个妇女确实没有任何受伤的样子。

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.

为了确定,我模棱两可地问,不能这样说吧,也许她正好被宝马撞了,撞了就撞了,难道一定要受伤?

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?

一位西安人打断我说:我们看到了,再说,这里也不是第一次,都是发生在外地车在缓缓开动的时候,她们就被车“碰上”,然后就倒下了。这样欺负外地人,太不应该了啊。

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.

这时警车和宝马已经载着那位妇女到医院去了,人群散开,我也准备离开,离开前,我还是冲那几位和我对话的西安人赞赏地点点头,为西安人的公正态度感到欣慰,我说,也许你们是对的,但既然警察来了,让他们决定更好。

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.

什么啊,你到前面的儿童医院看看,一位西安人又突然冲我说,还用手指了指警车和宝马车离去的方向,那里躺了很多被车撞伤的儿童,都是这样撞的,敲人家十几二十万的都有……

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…

我突然停下脚步,我担心自己没有完全听懂他的西安话,咄咄逼人地盯住他追问了一句,你说什么?儿童被撞?

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?

那人用西安话说,是的,就是有人故意用孩子去撞那些很好的小轿车,撞伤后就和车主讨价还价……

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….

这次完全听懂了,我当时的震惊可想而知。用身体去撞小车然后敲诈车主钱财在中国一些地方几乎早就是一种行业了,但用幼童去撞车?我还是第一次听说。

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.


12 Responses to “an incident in Xi’an”

  1. Ji Village News Says:

    Well done, Wang Bo. I agree, way to go for Mr. Yang to speak out.

    I thought about the way to translate 回民食物一条街. Initially I thought maybe Muslim food street is a better rendition, but then that may lead the reader to think about falafel, hummus, shawarma, and such, which is not very accurate, because in reality there are probably a lot of 拉面, 羊肉泡馍, 羊肉串儿 etc., involved. But “Hui food street” does not quite capture the Muslim aspects of it, to a regular English reader. After all, this is Muslim with Chinese characteristics, which is different from Muslims in Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, etc. Oh, the terms we use to categorize and simplify human beings can really be confusing and misleading, and setting up a perfect pretext to demonizing a group of people.

    Regarding giving to beggars, I think there is a difference between giving with a sense of pity and superiority, versus giving with a sense of kindness and empathy. There are people who claim they are helping 弱势群体 but all they do is trying to fill a void in their own hearts and are actually full of contempt toward the people they are allegedly helping. In the end, it is all about themselves and how righteous they are. And there are people who are making efforts that empower and improve other people’s lives in concrete ways. But, like you alluded in the Master and Margarita post, there is no clear lines between good and bad people. There is a lot of gray between black and white.

    Sorry for my long rambling here, Wang Bo. Bring me to the Muslim restaurant in Bei Gong Da you like to frequent next time when I am in Beijing, we can drink some Yanjing and watch the world go by over a nice meal.

  2. wangbo Says:

    “回民食物一条街” is a problem, and although I didn’t give it too much thought at the time, those are some of the issues translating that phrase raises. Muslim, as you say, is too broad a term and could imply anything from Morrocco to Indonesia, but Chinese Muslim is also too broad when you consider all the Muslim ethnic minorities in western China. Even Hui is a rather broad term. You mention some characteristically Shaanxi foods likely to be served on that street, but I’m willing to bet the foods served on a 回民食物一条街 in Kunming or Quanzhou would be radically different. Anyways, I just ran with Hui because even though your regular English reader would need a footnote, given the Xi’an context it is specific enough.

    Humans are infuriatingly complex creatures, aren’t they?

    Incidentally, the Muslim restaurant here at Bei Gong Da is a Hui restaurant, but Hui in the generic Beijing sense. It’s a good restaurant, and I’ll make sure they keep a store of Yanjing for when you visit.

  3. Jim Says:

    One bit of the translation that leapt out to me as possibly somewhat misleading was doing 一个看上去很弱势的本地妇女 as a “weak-looking woman,” as that makes it sound like a physical condition. I tend to do this as ‘disadvantaged’ or similar, since it’s ‘weak’ in a social status/power sense. In the context here, maybe “A poor and down-trodden-looking local woman, a shiny out-of-town white BMW and a crowd of local onlookers – on the face of it, not a good situation for the owner of the BMW.”

  4. wangbo Says:

    Thanks, Jim. I wasn’t sure what to do with 弱势, and I guess I misinterpreted it. I’ll go and correct it now.

  5. The Good Samaritan with Chinese characteristics (Pt.2): explanations, excuses, & scapegoats | China Hope Live Says:

    […] victims as well. Playing for public sympathy is apparently something of an art form in China. In this example translated from the Chinese internet, a crowd of onlookers sides with the out-of-town driver of an […]

  6. Joel Says:

    I’ve added a link to this because this fleshes out a side of the powerful Chinese cynicism/distrust that I hadn’t touched on. I’d talked about cynicism regarding the motives of would-be Good Samaritans, but not cynicism toward would-be victims.

  7. wangbo Says:

    Cheers, Joel. Although in this particular instance, the location and frequency of this particular type of incident seems to have played a very large role in the cynicism of the bystanders.

  8. Joel Says:

    definitely, I mean, the witnessed the whole thing, right? But just that these things happen, and the stories get around — i imagine that must feed cynicism. Reminds me of stories from the U.S. of panhandlers bringing in 70k/year, and how that encourages people to have less generous attitudes toward the homeless.

  9. Joel Says:

    I wasn’t really trying to comment on whether or not the cynicism is warranted — just that it’s there, for various reasons.

  10. wangbo Says:

    They witnessed the incident, and they’ve seen many similar incidents in the same area, so yeah, I understand the cynicism.

    Actually, I’ve heard plenty of similar rumours about beggars here, even witnessed one change into his beggar clothes on the subway train (not that his ordinary clothes were much better, but still…)

  11. Manuel Says:

    That’s a “terribly interesting” story. Watch out guys if you drive a car around here.

    Manuel
    ND Magazine Xi’an
    http://newdynasty.com.cn

  12. Krista Ely Says:

    I am an expatriate social worker working at the Xi’an Philanthropic Child Abuse Prevention and Aid Centre – a local grassroots organization that is starting to address the issue of child abuse in Chinese society. We provide FREE medical treatment and counseling for kids who have been physically or sexually abused.
    While we are still thinking about ways to work with kids that are caught up in the gangs – we do what we can to help the kids we hear about.
    Please call us when you see stuff like this, and help get the word out!

    Child Helpline is: 88072188
    Office Tel: 85368194 (Speak Chinese, or ask for 晓惠/Krista if you need English)

    Thanks friends!

    Krista Ely,
    Xi’an Philanthropic Child Abuse Prevention and Aid Centre