February 11th, 2012
I recently set up a Baidu News email alert for “新西兰” (New Zealand), suspecting there’s a bit more reporting of New Zealand in the Chinese media than I realise, there being so many newspapers, websites and TV channels to sift through, and curious about what this reporting is. Most of it’s pretty boring, and I usually just delete the email without opening any of the articles. But this morning brought quite an intriguing story, titled:
Chinese woman visiting relatives in New Zealand because of language barrier wrongfully arrested, seriously injured
And the first paragraph:
A 56-year old Chinese woman visiting New Zealand for travel and to visit relatives was wrongfully arrested and injured by police because of the language barrier. This incident has become a hot topic of discussion on Chinese Services [note: googling han’t helped much – may be this site] and in recent days of English and many Chinese newspapers. Radio and websites have reported and followed this case, and many Chinese and overseas Chinese have one after the other posted comments and discussions.
And I find that paragraph strange for two reasons:
- “中国一位来新西兰旅游探亲的56岁华裔女士” The first word in that clause is ‘China’, the other bolded word means ‘person of Chinese origin’ or even ‘foreign person of Chinese origin‘.
- “新西兰英文媒体”…”多家华人媒体” Huh? ‘English language’ media then ‘Chinese people’ media?
And then I thought, I haven’t seen any such reports…. So a google.co.nz news search for Li Naijiu (why did they include her name in toneless Pinyin when they apparently knew the characters?) and up pops the Waikato Times article. Well, that’s the newspaper I would’ve expected considering the incident happened in Hamilton.
Now I read both these articles through and noticed that although they tell more or less the same story, there are a couple of differences. First up, the Renminwang version says:
Ms Li found a tow truck passing the supermarket, the driver was a Maori.
only saw these white police officers
And I’m wondering how the racial or ethnic origin or skin colour of either the tow truck driver or the police officers are relevant? After all, these are the two biggest ethnic groups in New Zealand. Ms Li’s ethnic origin may be of interest in this story, firstly because of the language barrier, but more importantly because of a claim made in both articles that at least one of the cops was apparently mocking her speaking Chinese.
Secondly, the Renminwang article seems much more highly emotive than the Waikato Times. For example, whereas the Waikato Times reports the Police tackling her rugby-style, Renminwang has her feeling as if she’d been tackled by an All Black. Well, All Black, cop, I don’t suppose it’d feel much different, but Renminwang does seem to be ratcheting up the emotive side of things here.
Thirdly, the Renminwang article seems to make as little effort as possible to present the Police side of events, whereas the Waikato Times gives much more equal play to both sides. Compare the headlines. Renminwang makes no attempt to frame the incident as an allegation of wrongful arrest, whereas Waikato Times title’s its article:
Police brutality, says woman
Because there are at least two sides to this story, and both come across as rather suspect.
First of all, both articles leave me thinking Ms Li’s conduct was highly irrational and far from an appropriate way to find out what happened to her car. I mean, jumping in to the passenger seat of the tow truck and demanding through incomprehensible gestures to be taken to her car? I would’ve called the cops. And it certainly does sound, from both articles, that she was, as the Waikato Times quotes District Commander superintendent Win van der Velde, “highly agitated”.
Secondly, did nobody think to call in an interpreter? Renminwang mention Ms Li as having first phoned a friend:
After phoning a friend to ask
But… payphone or cellphone? One would expect, in this day and age, cellphone. Or perhaps a kindly supermarket staffer allowed her to use a supermarket phone? But the Police, on being confronted with an agitated woman speaking a language they couldn’t understand and who could not understand them, didn’t think to call in an interpreter themselves?
And the injuries… Renminwang says an arm so badly dislocated it took the doctors 3 attempts to put it back in. Waikato Times says:
A doctor’s note reveals she has a “ligament injury/fracture to the lateral side of her right elbow” and surgery may be required.
And I’m asking, even if she did fight back and even try to bite an officer, we’re talking four [male, the Waikato Times informs us] Police officers versus one 56-year old woman. Was force enough to cause such serious injury really necessary?
And I also have to wonder what the tow truck driver saw, because neither article reports his view, or those of any other possible eyewitnesses.
And the accusation of Police mimicking the sound of her speaking Chinese is interesting, although sadly not surprising. Just after I read those two articles, this post appeared in my Weibo feed:
#New Zealand micro news# [Asians most discriminated against] Although attitudes towards Asians have changed a little over the last five years, a survey for the Human Rights Commission shows that 75% of respondents believe that in New Zealand Asians are the ethnic group most discriminated against. And of New Zealand’s four largest ethnic groups, Europeans, Maori, Pacific Islanders and Asians, the Asian population* is growing most quickly.
*I presume it means growth in numbers of each group, i.e. population growth.
I note that three of those four named ethnic groups are virtually meaningless. In a New Zealand context, ‘Asian’ almost always means ‘East Asian’ – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Malay, etc. Pacific Islanders are those indigenous people from other Pacific countries (but not Australia) and their descendants in New Zealand. ‘European’ I dislike being applied to my own people, but I guess it covers us Pakeha, people of European descent from places like Australia and South Africa, and people actually from Europe.
Anyways, in light of the Shanghai Pengxin/Crafar Farms saga and the above blogged reports of brutality and racist mockery on the part of Hamilton Police, and New Zealand’s history of racist, and specifically anti-Chinese immigration law, it’s not much of a surprise. And there’s not much detail – well, no detail – about the survey. If it was a survey of Asians in New Zealand, it would be all but meaningless. But if we assume that it’s a survey of a cross-section of New Zealand society, then at least it might show a certain level of honesty. The question then becomes one of how to convert that honesty into a reduction in discrimination and a more inclusive society.
I seem to remember Jim Bolger saying New Zealand’s future lay with Asia. Certainly te UK’s joining the EEC in 1973 forced a huge economic change on New Zealand and should’ve taught us about putting all our eggs in one basket. A comparison between Asia on the one hand and Europe and North America on the other suggests New Zealand really should be looking to diversify as much as possible. Certainly the Shanghai Pengxin/Crafar Farms saga, coming as it does with a nasty whiff of racism, allegations of Police brutality and racial taunting in Hamilton appearing in one of China’s bigger newspapers, and the appearance on one of China’s bigger microblogging platforms of a survey suggesting Asians are the ethnic group most discriminated against in New Zealand are not a good look.