Robbed in China? Remain Calm -- and Call a Foreigner

In modern China, there is precious little that money can't buy. Shoppers on the massively popular e-commerce site can hire a boyfriend to meet their parents, or pay someone to endure their insults (the cheapest rate is one RMB -- about $0.16 -- per barb). And now, this latest innovation: Chinese with cash to spare can pay a foreigner to report a crime on their behalf.

On China's Sina Weibo microblogging platform, a user named Yu Min, who claims to be an advertising company employee, caught the attention of a few thousand netizens on Oct. 17 when he shared photographs of two crudely made advertisements. Based on information available on the photo, the second advertisement was posted on the streets of Hefei, the capital of impoverished Anhui province. (It is not clear where the first advertisement was posted.)

Translated into English, the first advertisement reads: "Foreigner will report crimes for you: Starting at 200 RMB [about $33] per month -- Retrieve lost items -- 100 percent of cases solved." 

The other, a bit more restrained, reads: "Foreigner will report crimes for you: Police take [them] seriously -- The rate of solved cases is high."

(The phone numbers were partially obscured, so FP was unable to verify the veracity of the advertisements.)

Do Chinese police actually take foreigners' complaints more seriously? Often, the answer is yes. It likely depends on the location, how rare foreigners are there, and what a particular officer might think of the presence of outsiders in China's midst. As with any country, it also helps if the person doing the reporting is polite.

In any case, a perception abounds among Chinese citizens that victims of crime who hold foreign passports are granted special treatment and more attention by the police. Yu pointed out several instances of extraordinary police assistance for foreigners in China, all of which have been reported in Chinese media. In February 2012, Wuhan city police helped Japanese traveler Kawahara Keiichiro track down his stolen bicycle after Keiichiro's online plea for a return of the bike went viral in Chinese social media. In March 2012, two Beijing police traveled roughly 12 miles on foot to help an American retrieve his escaped horse. And in July 2012, after a hotel room cleaner in Ningbo mistakenly threw a Russian man's photo album in the trash, several police schlepped to the trash dump, and rifled through five tons of trash before hitting paydirt.

It's surely unfair to characterize such Herculean displays as the standard for Chinese police. But the striking contrast with the everyday treatment Chinese receive -- where a trip to the police station is often intimidating, frustrating, and bewildering -- nonetheless rankles. One user tweeted, "Why is it that when foreigners lose a bicycle, it can be found but Chinese people lost so many children [to kidnapping] but few can be found?" The user’s handle means "Looking for My Son," and according to his tweets, the native of Guangdong province has been searching for his son for over seven years with repeated appeals to police. As Yu wrote, it is "enough to make a Chinese person cry."

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Journalist's Call for 'de-Americanized World' Provokes Alarm in U.S., Fart Jokes in China

As fears mounted this week about a possible (and now, it seems, averted) U.S. government default, the U.S. press stumbled upon an Oct. 13 editorial in Xinhua, China's largest news agency, calling for a "de-Americanized world" in light of Washington's fiscal dysfunction. News outlets including CBS, USA Today, and Bloomberg picked up the editorial, while the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline "Upset over U.S. fiscal crisis, China urges a 'de-Americanized world.'" CNBC emphasized that Xinhua was a "government voice," and that the editorial was "government propaganda" intended for local readers. The op-ed hit something of a sweet spot for shutdown-traumatized Americans, touching on, as Max Fisher at the Washington Post put it, "the dual American anxieties that we are letting down the rest of the world and that China is finally making its move to replace us as the global leader."

But what much of the coverage failed to mention is that the article appeared on Xinhua with the byline Liu Chang, indicating that the editorial more likely represents the views of Liu (who is identified simply as a "Xinhua writer") and his colleagues rather than China's top leaders, or "China" itself. The op-ed does not claim to reflect broader Chinese views, and just because an article appears in Xinhua does not mean it represents the views of the Communist Party (which, as an organization of tens of millions of people, does not speak in one voice). China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its last official comment on the fiscal showdown in Washington on Oct. 9: "China and the U.S. are economically intertwined and inseparable. We hope that the U.S. can resolve this issue and ensure the security of Chinese assets in the U.S." Admittedly, "Xinhua Journalist Calls for a 'De-Americanized World'" makes for a less compelling -- if more accurate -- headline.

Xinhua also published the editorial in English only, which suggests it was directed at an international rather than a domestic audience. In fact, there was virtually no mention of the article in Chinese -- until, that is, U.S. media began responding to the provocative op-ed. By Oct. 16, there were at least 15 articles in major Chinese-language media outlets on the international response to the piece. Xinhua published one titled, "Incisive wording of Xinhua's call for 'de-Americanization' surprises American media," and the Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times' top headline on Oct. 16 was "Washington Worried by 'de-Americanization' editorial run in China's state-run media." In other words, for Chinese state-run media, the international reaction to the editorial was more newsworthy than the editorial itself.

Despite all the international attention, the call for global de-Americanization didn't make a big splash among Chinese readers. China's criticism of America's role in international affairs is nothing new, and many Chinese readers felt the Xinhua editorial was unremarkable. As one user of Weibo, China's version of Twitter, wrote in response to the Xinhua editorial, "The articles of certain media outlets are like the farts of a dog: There's no need to pay them any mind."

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