Lies, Damned Lies and Police Statistics: Crime and the Chinese Dream

Graeme Smith  00:10

Welcome to the Little Red Podcast which brings you China from beyond the Beijing beltway. I’m Graeme Smith from the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, and I’m joined by my co-host, Louisa Lim, former China correspondent for the BBC and NPR, now with the Centre for Advancing Journalism at Melbourne University. We’re on air thanks to support from the Australian Centre on China in the World.

Louisa Lim  00:35

Today the Little Red Podcast is taking a dark turn to talk about crime and violence in China. We’re here with Børge Bakken from Australian National University, the author of Crime and the Chinese Dream. Børge, I was going to start by asking you if crime is up or down in China, but you’ve argued that all crime statistics are falsified with a staggering 97.5% of crime concealed to the public. That was in one particular place in Guangzhou. I mean, how common do you think a figure like that might be?

Børge Bakken  01:11

I hear sometimes people saying that it’s reflecting well on the Chinese civilization that the crime rates are so low, but that’s completely out of the question. That’s not what’s happening in China. They are falsifying the crime statistics for many different reasons. Now, the number in Guangzhou, of course, may be extreme, but I don’t think it is, it’s all over the place. Now the first thing they do, Guangzhou has about 17-18 million people, half of them are migrant workers, four to five million of the migrant workers are not registered. And the ones who are registered are not coming into any crime statistics, because they are actually belonging to a danwei 单位 in the countryside or wherever they come from. So they are not in the crime statistics at all. The migrant workers have about 80% of the violent crimes, their perpetrators and victims of, what, 80% of all the the violent crimes. We have data from different places in Guangzhou, who proves that all of these people have taken up to the statistics in the first place, all over China. And Tianjin, there has been a big project about crime in Tianjin, not counting people who do not have a danwei who do not have a household registration in the city. So that is the first thing. Totally, totally wrong. So it’s a managerial system; of course, we know that from all kinds of police systems around the world. And in China, people are not sort of being paid by the crime rate, they’re being paid by what is called the po’anlu 破案率, the case cracking rate.

Louisa Lim  02:41

So, you mean the policeman, when it comes to policeman’s salaries?

Børge Bakken  02:45

Salaries, promotions.

Louisa Lim  02:48

How much crime is in that area, it’s according to how many cases they deal with.

Børge Bakken  02:52

And the police has full discretion about giving those numbers to the authorities themselves. So when, for instance, in Guangzhou, there is some kind of disturbance in an urban village, a guy who is renting out the place is actually asked not to phone the hotline for the police. Because if you phone the hotline, it will be registered. So people are actually being punished for phoning the hotline, because then you are registering a crime. And if you cannot solve that crime, of course, you’re in trouble, because they’re being evaluated on all kinds of levels from the number of cases correct. So they only report cases that they can crack. The case cracking rate is the real number that is interesting for the police.

Louisa Lim  03:38

And what is that case cracking rate then?

Børge Bakken  03:41

The case cracking rate is the number of solved cases from the number of cases reported by the police. And the police has full discretion to give those numbers themselves.

Louisa Lim  03:51

So I mean, actually, what you’re saying is the case cracking rate also makes no difference, it’s totally falsified?

Børge Bakken  03:58

Well, the case cracking rate is probably correct, because actually they take in cases where they can crack the case. So that makes a high number of cracked cases. They cannot give 100% case cracking rate because people know that this is not true. So they give a very high number, like an 85% number of case cracking rates. And then they write in the papers about the high number of cases sold, because they keep the other numbers completely concealed for many different reasons, from the reason that migrant workers, and I told you 80% of violent crime is among migrant workers. Then you have the managerial system that is actually based on the case cracking rate rather than the crime rates. So people in the high places in the police locally would know about the numbers. And the number in Guangzhou was 2.4 million cases that was actually known to the police. Out of those that were discussing whether it was 90,000 or 60,000 cases in Guangzhou that year. When a new police commissioner comes in, he inflates the numbers, say that there are 90,000 on my watch, because they’re sitting for three years. On my watch, there will be only 60,000 crimes when I leave, and he left in 2015. And the number wasn’t 60,000. It was 59,985 cases.

Graeme Smith  05:22

How fortunate for him.

Børge Bakken  05:23

How fortunate. But that is not the whole story. The other story is that they falsify certain other crime rates, very serious crime rates, because often I say, oh, but these are petty crimes. They don’t say that these petty crimes. No, no, not that’s not the case. Actually, it’s violent crimes. And it’s even murder. The murder rates in China are something that happened there, because actually around 1981, they started to do the statistics on murder. And they came up with a number, I think it was around 10,000. That was before the migration. And of course, we know that migration is a criminogenic type of thing that is happening in China, then the violent crime rates will go up. It’s a must, it’s a given. Last year, I think they reported 11,000. In 2004, I think they reported 27,500. Now, how can that be going down from 27,500 to 11,000? In a little over 10 years. 27,500 is the official number in the Zhongguo Falv Nianjian 中国法律年鉴, yeah, in the in the Law Yearbook of China. I have the internal numbers from 2001 to 2006, I think, from the Gong’an 公安, from the Public Security Department themselves. And those numbers told us that when they got the Olympics in 2000, they started to falsify the crime rates, by putting the number, from the Gong’an, from the Public Security Bureau, together with the official data. First year, they falsified by 25 percent, then they falsified by 50 percent, then they falsified by 100 percent, might have been 2004, they said that the number was 27,500. The internal rates were exactly twice as high. I think it has something to do with the with the execution rates because the execution rates are secret. Now the murder rate is not secret. But we know how many murders and what type of murder will give an immediate execution sentence. So if we know that number, and we know the number of murders, we can actually make a number about the execution rates. So I think that the execution rates are way higher than the speculations from human rights organisations about two to three thousand a year, it’s probably way higher than that. So the murder rates are falsified from the top level. And all the other rate have falsified from down and up. So it’s a system that has been falsified from all kinds of levels in the system from propaganda reasons, from managerial reasons, from recording reasons, from all kinds of reasons.

Graeme Smith  07:56

You’ve written a fair bit about criminal villages in China, which is sort of a variant, I guess, on the town that only makes certain types of widgets, but you have villages that specialise in one particular type of crime, such as scamming people, or even one city you’ve written about in Guanxi that specialises in hand cutting. How do villages transform like this, and how do they develop this kind of expertise?

Børge Bakken  08:19

The method is hand cutting to make chaos, like in a railway station. They go and pick pockets and things and take bags away from people but they do it by cutting your hand and taking the bag. And by cutting the hand they create panic. And in the panic, people flee, they run away from their suitcases. And the situation is there to just go robbing and to steal luggage and all these different things in bus stations and and train stations in Guangxi province. And they came also over to Guangzhou, a lot of them are actually executed.

Louisa Lim  08:53

When it comes to the economics of it, you can see there would be economies of scale, if one village was all making zips or cigarette lighters or something like that, but for crime, why is there any benefit in an entire village? All involved in the same kind of crime?

Børge Bakken  09:11

Well, one of my students who did, in an Eastern village in eastern China, looking at the bing shu 饼叔 with the so-called ‘cake uncles’, the fraudsters who started selling cakes and falsifying the account books, actually. Their method was they came to a guy who was a tradesman, and they were selling cakes, and as they won’t give you 5000, and we don’t have to pay us until next year. So next year, they come back, and they say, oh, last year, we were here and selling your 10,000 cakes for nine mao a piece. And say no no, no, it was 5000. No, it was 10,000. It’s written down here. And of course, they falsified the books so they got twice as much for these things. In some places that were caught for these things. In some cases, they’ve had fights, but actually this was very profitable. These were the guys, who sort of spanned out to other villages, because when they tried to do illegal cigarette making, they tried to do illegal logging and all these things, they were caught by the local police, because this is how the police is organised in China, it’s organised locally, if you go outside the village, you become a hero because you bring money into the local village. So they were the first one to build three-storey buildings. They were the guys in the village whom the girls wanted to marry, they became millionaires, some of them. And now they’re spread all over China, they go to Shanghai and Beijing and all kinds of, they’re selling machines, they’re selling cars, they’re selling all kinds of things. And they became sort of local criminal entrepreneurs. That was very successful, and other villages came to them, to this Fang village, as it was called.

Graeme Smith  10:49

It’s fascinating to talk about that, because there was a similar situation in my county, where there was a scam run by a businessman from Zhejiang who came across and convinced the factory owner that he would go halves in building a very fancy paper packaging factory. And here’s the list of suppliers you can buy the technology from. Now, of course, the list of suppliers were all one in the same enterprise, the guy who was trying to scam him. And he said, I’m going in with half. But of course, it was just half on paper. Now, when he discovered the scam, he went to the local police to say, look, let’s try and get this guy. And they said we won’t do anything unless you pay a po’an fei 破案费, a case-cracking fee. How common is this kind of behaviour that you have to pay the local police to actually go beyond the borders of the county?

Børge Bakken  11:34

It’s fairly standard. Now in in Fang village, then you exactly how much they had to pay the police to get away from a conviction if they were caught. Because sometimes they were called actually, they were rounded up by the people who tried to take them in. And they found out that to actually get the sentence down from ten years in prison to one year in prison, you had to pay around 10,000 yuan

Louisa Lim  11:58

That’s quite a bargain.

Børge Bakken  12:00

That’s quite a bargain. That’s quite a big bargain, actually, because from ten to one years. Because the 10 year sentence is sort of a mandatory sentence for these things that will happen, at least in the village that these people came from in the province that they came from. But to actually take it totally out of the statistics, that was 100,000 and more than 100,000. Yeah.

Louisa Lim  12:20

I mean, in terms of scams, this the scams of modern China just kind of run the whole gamut. You know, I think everyone’s come across people who jump in front of your car and pretend that they’ve been injured. And then another example is in one of Peter Hessler’s books he writes about when they went to, they entered a shop and there was this sort of amazing jade ship that was on a plinth near the door and it shattered into pieces. You know, the shop owner tried to charge them 1000s of yuan, they said you broke this irreplaceable thing. I mean, in your experience, what is the most ingenious scam that you’ve come across?

Børge Bakken  13:01

Oh no, the most ingenious come I can’t because, I haven’t come across the most ingenious one yet, I guess. But there are lots of these different things, and it’s paying off. And we’re making the argument in my book that I wrote with five of my students actually, these are the people who do not get rich, legally. And the same thing. They’re the American dream. People who couldn’t get rich by legal means they got rich by illegal means. And the same thing is happening in China. It is very profitable. And these scams are paying off. Also because of the structure of the policing system and all these different things actually. All these irrationalities comes together in the kind of criminal rationality that pays off quite a lot. Of course, the the Deng Xiaoping strategy to get rich first, someone should get rich first, is based on a system of betting on the strong. And these people are actually taking themselves up from being the weak to being the strong in the way in which they are dealing with the scams. And it’s all over China, it’s sort of unbelievable how many, many different types there are. In particular, in Yunnan, there are ice making village, they are cooking drugs, and that is very profitable. And of course, now it’s a big problem, because most of the people are executed in Yunnan are very poor people who actually dealing with this business in one way or another. Often there are mules that are going to the richer provinces in the east, taking the drugs from Yunnan and over. The Supreme People’s Court had to say that we have to do something about this because what is actually happening now is that very poor people, other people are being executed. And it’s becoming very shameful because probably 80 percent of the people are executed are poor migrant workers and peasants.

Graeme Smith  14:48

To get to an even more depressing subject, one of the projects you’ve been involved in has been looking at child kidnapping. How do they divide up the labour in this sort of criminal enterprise of child kidnapping?

Børge Bakken  15:01

You know, that’s what we’re actually going to look into. Over the last couple of decades, there have been hundreds of thousands of kidnapped kids, we do not have the real numbers for these things. But of course, it’s an enormous problem. And some of the parents we have talked to have organised themselves, trying to go around with buses and putting up posters about missing children. They found out some of the villages where they were the children go through, because they don’t stay in these villages. But some of the kidnappers come from these villages. And so there was also criminal villages to some extent, in this type of trade. But the police is more interested in catching the people who are petitioning, going to Beijing petitioning, because that is also linked to the managerial system of the police force. They get criticised if they have local people petitioning in high places, like in the provincial capital, or in Beijing, or in big places like that. So they are cracking down on the parents rather than on the kidnappers. And in some cases, even the local police tried to help these people. But they cannot go from one village to another village because they have no jurisdiction. In the village where the kids are taken to. They only have the jurisdiction in the village where they’re taken from. So they cannot go around. And some of the parents are paying them to go to other villages to find the kids. And very, very seldom they find it. About 1% of the kids who are kidnapped are found.

Graeme Smith  16:32

That’s quite astounding, because you couldn’t say that China didn’t have that power. I mean, if you look at the case of tracking down pregnant women in other jurisdictions, the Chinese family planning system was extremely effective in tracking down pregnant women beyond the jurisdiction of the village. Why can’t they managed to reach a similar level of efficiency with kidnapped children?

Børge Bakken  16:52

That’s a good question, of course, because they can find anyone who is petitioning. They even have these local prisons in Beijing that are based on the province you come from. And they have people from local villages even coming in and working with these people to identify where the people are coming from. But they cannot do anything like that when it comes to taking down the criminal kidnappers.

Louisa Lim  17:15

When I was working for the BBC, I actually did a story where I covered quite a lot of ground with the father of a kidnapped boy. And we went to look for this child, the father thought he knew where he was, and we staked out of school, he thought he saw the child. He was convinced that it was his child and he went to the local police. And then by the time the police went to find the boy, the boy was gone. And it was always the kind of suspicion that the whole village was involved in this criminal enterprise and the police, being from that village, were also in on it.

Børge Bakken  17:53

Now that’s quite, quite usual. You even had one of the guy who had his PhD in at a ANU who went to Beijing and worked as an academic in Beijing. And they were having the kid who was about two, three years old in kindergarten in Beijing. And while the wife was talking to one of the teachers, the little girl could sort of trot along and suddenly she disappeared. And since he was a foreign scholar, they did a lot to actually find that person who had kidnapped the girl. And the girl was found. They put up posters all over Beijing. This is a few years ago, more than a decade ago. And they found this old lady who suddenly came to the local police station in Haidian 海淀 and said, Oh, I found this girl she was walking around. She has been staying with me in a lvguan 旅馆, in a little hotel room, in Haidian. And she seemed to be lost and I found her. And of course, she was the kidnapper. Very often, old ladies are actually in the forefront. They are the people who actually take the child, because who would report on an old lady carrying a little child who’s screaming.

Louisa Lim  19:06

It almost happened to in my own family, and my kids look Asian, they look Chinese. And there was one time where they were in Yunnan, staying with their father and he lives in a small town in Yunnan. And my daughter was walking along the street and her stepsister was walking behind her, looking at her telephone. And this guy just walked along beside my daughter, and took her hand and started to guide her off, and just by some dumb chance, my stepdaughter looked up at that moment and said, Wait, who are you? What are you doing? And my daughter wouldn’t have done anything. She was tiny at the time. But I do think that, that kind of thing, that sort of split second of inattention is all it takes because children are such a valuable commodity in China today.

Børge Bakken  19:54

Yes. And about 70 percent of the kidnapped kids are actually boys, because of the one child policy, there is a lack of boys. But they’re still also kidnap small girls, who are going to the countryside where there are too few girls to marry when they grow up. And most of the kids are under three years old, and they wouldn’t remember their parents when they grew up again. So they have no chance to find out where they came from. And they haven’t sort of developed the dialect yet. And all these things. So they kidnapped them at a very early stage. And it’s often old ladies that are sort of in the forefront of the kidnapping. But also, like in your case, a man comes up, just grabs the hand of a kid, and even goes into homes and take them out of the homes.

Louisa Lim  20:36

It’s so crazily opportunistic, that was the thing that I found astonishing.

Børge Bakken  20:40

Yeah, and crime is opportunistic. And this is a very good example of that.

Graeme Smith  20:46

You mentioned the gender imbalance. One of our previous guests, Lisa Cameron, did some research showing that the level of criminality seemed to depend on the skewing of the sex ratio in your home prefecture or in your home county. And she found essentially that those with more imbalanced gender ratio were more likely to commit economic crime, not violent crime. Have you come across anything similar to that?

Børge Bakken  21:10

I haven’t seen that. But I know that if there is a big surplus of men in a place, the violent crime rates are tending to go up. Young men, unattended men without a woman, is actually much more prone to commit crimes. We know that actually 80 percent of the crimes are made by men, 20 percent by women, and in society where there are 25 percent more men than women. And in some villages even more than that, that is actually sort of also affecting the violent crime rates.

Louisa Lim  21:10

So you’ve also written about these criminal poster walls. And you wrote that if the Cultural Revolution had dazibao about the big character posters, and the 70s and 80s had democracy wall. This era has these criminal poster walls, which are the, you know, every wall basically in China, which is covered with flyers for sort of sexual scams, prostitution, fake documents, all kinds of things. Why is that kind of thing continued to allow to exist, presumably it could be cracked down upon if the government wished to do so.

Børge Bakken  22:12

Well, I passed the bridge in Guangzhou to the Sun Yatsen, Zhongshan Daxue 中山大学 in Guangzhou. And over that little footbridge, I saw several hundred criminal posters, like fake documents, selling stolen motorcycles, selling mobile phones, that couldn’t be traced. And I was on my way to a meeting with the police in Guangzhou at the time, at the police academy in Guangzhou and asked them about this. Why don’t you do anything about this? They said, well, the police has a lot of tasks. And taking down posters is not one of them. That is the deal that the chengguan 城管 is doing, the chengguan, the urban management committees, and the urban management people are sort of a half baked police force. They’re sort of taking care of vendors that are doing illegal vending. They are supposed to take down posters. But now in the CBD, you see these posters about, particularly advertising for prostitutes, male prostitutes, female prostitutes, they’re covered up like baomu 保姆 (nanny) and fuwuyuan 服务员 (service worker) and PR people. They have these different kinds of codes for different types of prostitution. And they are luring you with the incomes of 80,000 yuan a month. And of course, a migrant worker probably earns 2000 a month. And of course, how many people are getting into prostitution, we don’t know the numbers, but it’s enormous. It’s, it’s astronomical.

Graeme Smith  23:37

How much is the kind of the sad state of policing in China just come down to budget?

Børge Bakken  23:42

It’s a very tough job to be a policeman. And very often, I’m sympathetic to the policemen who are talking to us because they said this is a very tough job. There are the black things about this job that we don’t really want to. And in the case of kidnapped children, for instance, they said, we don’t really like to arrest petitioners. We have kids as well. And we don’t really like to do this kind of thing. Another thing they don’t like to do is torturing people for all kinds of cases, actually. They, they say that, well, some colleagues, they like doing these things, but most of us they don’t like to do this. But of course, it’s based on confessions. The poanlv, but we’ll come back to that, the case cracking rate, is based on confessions and not on forensics or anything like that. They don’t have the means to do that. They don’t have the funding for that. It’s poorly funded. It’s locally funded. And the reason why the hard strikes against crime. The crazy campaigning was popular among the police was that then the provincial authorities or even the central authorities would give them extra money to do the police work. And as long as they don’t get that the funding of the police is very bad. And the average age of a policeman is probably one of the lowest in China in terms of professions. Doctors and police are dying first, according to the statistics that I have. It’s very, very tough jobs.

Louisa Lim  25:05

I mean, you talk about China as an uncivil society. How is it that this doesn’t undermine the whole idea of the Chinese dream?

Børge Bakken  25:16

Well, China’s such as not the civil society, but they seem to be looking another way when it comes to the uncivil society. They are more interested in cracking down on the civil society and the organised civil society. The uncivil society, the criminal society is, in some ways, organising itself very successfully. They are the poor people who wants to get up in society, they want to be rich first as well. And they do become rich first by going to these illegal means. So Yuanyuan Chen has written about the on the civility of China, of course, this this little girl who was run over by several cars, when people were looking, and just passing by and all these things, and that is kind of a breakdown in the moral structure of China to some extent. And if a civil society is not allowed to organise themselves, of course you will have these kinds of, of effects in society. If there is only one type of authority, the party through its police, who is actually doing that, forgetting the civil society, it’s a catastrophe. And of course, this came not only with Xi Jinping, it can be for before Xi Jinping, they said that a civil society is a trap set up by the Western nations for China to lure China into.

Louisa Lim  26:33

One of the reasons for that crackdown is, of civil society, might, is organisation, mobilisation could be seen as alternative power centres. But why then are criminal syndicates a criminal villages that cooperate with each other? Why aren’t they’re not seen in the same way? Or is it the case that you almost see this uncivil society as the Chinese dream because it is making people rich, and it’s helping people get ahead? We’re just getting this very dark view of Chinese society from talking to you.

Børge Bakken  27:08

Yeah, it is dark perspectives about this, of course, because yes, the uncivil society, the fraudsters in Fung village, and all these people are getting rich, they are getting up in society, are, they are, the modernisers of that village. It’s a big paradox. There are other people like fake monks in Zhejiang. They are just faking sutras and they’re totally totally fake. Some local entrepreneurs are bought up monasteries, for their own profit. And if you find this beggar Buddhist monks in China, don’t give the money. They’re also in Hong Kong, because they’re fake. They’re as fake as can be. But people probably know that some of them are fake, but they’re still doing the sutra. So they pay them for these fake services, for funerals for all kinds of different things. So it’s in some ways, sort of part of normality of China, the abnormal normality of China.

Louisa Lim  28:05

But you call your book Crime and the Chinese Dream. I mean, surely this is not going to be a popular book title in China.

Børge Bakken  28:13

No, the title is taken from the very famous and best-selling book Crime and the American Dream that was based on Robert Merton’s strain theory arguments from the late 1930s. That people who do not get the American Dream by legal means they will turn to illegal means and he was sort of setting up a definition of what type that the rebels and the different strategies to get rich actually in America. And the Rockefellers were cattle thieves. Of course, they are the entrepreneurs that got stinking rich in America, were also cattle thieves. And entrepreneurs are often coming from that, that historical background.

Louisa Lim  28:51

I mean, I almost wonder if crime is the Chinese dream. I just, I had a conversation with a 15 year old girl once and I said, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” And she said, “I’d like to spend some more time with corrupt officials because they really understand how this system works.”

Børge Bakken  29:08

Min Xin Pei has written a book on the corruption in China and how corruption in China is sort of bypassing the so-called anti corruption campaigns because the anti-corruption campaigns that reinstated by Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2012 got his popularity, because there is a lot of corruption. The first chapter of the book is about corrupt doctors in Beijing. And they have nothing to do with these anti-corruption campaigns because corrupt doctors are not politically sensitive for Xi Jinping all this and the people who are falling, of course, everyone is corrupt at the high levels. A lot of my students from China actually have corrupt cadres as parents and they get the red envelopes and sometimes they’re very happy because they got a lot of money because they actually have some entrepreneurs that want to have services done and the parents are sitting on these spots that they can get the money out. So of course, corruption in China is running like hell. And it’s not that the anti-corruption campaigns has cracked down on that. That type of corruption, there is a link into the party and corrupt cadres are sometimes in big risk if they’re also politically on the wrong side of the ruling party. Corruption as such is just living its own life. And Wu Si’s 吴思 book qian guize 潜规则 the hidden norm is telling you about how this is also going on. So Wu Si I don’t think it’s translated yet. But But Peixin Min’s book is fantastic when it comes to the corruption in China.

Graeme Smith  30:42

One of the most disturbing characters I’ve ever met in my research was a 12-year-old boy who’d modelled himself on his corrupt father. And he could do everything that a normal corrupt official could do. He could smoke, he could gamble, he could drink, this kid was 12 years old. And he looked about 18 already. But what I find is interesting about this is a lot of the crackdown against corruption has been about the style in which you work rather than corruption per se. And this idea of suzhi 素质, that if you present as a certain quality of individual, then in some ways, that’s more important than whether you’re actually on the take.

Børge Bakken  31:19

That might be the case, actually, because if you get away with it, everybody will look up to you. There’s nothing about the Chinese culture that is actually doing this thing. It’s a lack of checks and balances, it’s a structural problem more than a cultural problem. It’s the fact that they don’t have checks and balances in the police force in all, the local administration. Of course, the police force is part of the local administration, which is another problem because there is no independent police force, if someone from Beijing comes down to take down corruption in the local police station. And if you are a police man who says my boss is corrupt, you have no chance because the horizontal power structure will take you down, when the guy from the top leadership of the police is gone. Again, there is no way that Beijing or the gongan in Beijing can control a local police station that is totally corrupt, of course, all these levels. And that is another thing that the local policeman told us, all the corruption about jobs and salaries and all these different things, who was on party with whom and all these things, is also strain on each policemen. They hate it. Of course, they hate it because they have to play the system. If you don’t play the system, if you’re an honest man, some people might look up to you, but you’ll become poor, and you will not have the top job that you wanted, you will be sort of pushed to the side. So it’s a structural problem.

Graeme Smith  32:40

And that sort of idea of mei you ni de fenr 没有你的份儿, like there’s not your stake in it, if you don’t play the game, it even extends over to business. So when one of my examples, there was a businessman who was being tortured, and people were really impressed by this local businessman, because no matter how they tortured him, he wouldn’t confess to who he had given the bribes to. And they rationalised it as saying, “Well, if he did confess, then he could never do business here again. So of course, he’s gonna hold out.”

Børge Bakken  33:07

Exactly, and that’s tell telling you about the problem, actually what the problem is all about. And I think that was his book about the hidden norm, the qian guize 潜规则 [hidden norm] is actually so telling about China, and what is the problem of China today. And of course, the anti-corruption campaigns do not go there. They don’t actually take part in that kind of process. They’re on the surface of things. They’re on the political surface of things.

Louisa Lim  33:34

I don’t know. I mean, I still kind of slightly obsessed by the idea that crime is the Chinese dream, and that crime is almost the thing that’s keeping the whole system going.

Børge Bakken  33:45

In a kind of entrepreneurial society, you can go back to Coleman’s sociology of early days America, where the cattle thieves and the entrepreneurs were criminals. And of course, any kind of entrepreneurial society starts out with crime in certain ways.

Louisa Lim  34:03

But it’s not like the Wild West, is it? Because the Wild West was cattle rustling and what we’re talking about …

Børge Bakken  34:09

It was very different.

Louisa Lim  34:10

On steroids with billions and billions of dollars.

Børge Bakken  34:14

Yeah. But that’s why I’m saying the wild east because of course, it’s also a totally different situation. There was no structure at all in California in those days. Actually, there was not a police force, the sheriff that has been sort of very famous through movies and all these things. But the law wasn’t actually accountable in those days. And that is something that is similar. The law isn’t accountable. The law is actually not really a proper law. Holmes has written a fantastic book on all these cases in China that lead to execution without any kind of guilt from the person, they found out that the man who was executed for murdering his wife, his wife came back again and then he was dead. And it’s talking about all these cases of injustice. And he says maybe 20 percent of the Chinese are lawful, because the law is not really a concept that is available to people in many ways because of the lack of checks and balances in the legal system. So he’s actually doubting whether there’s a proper legal system in China and I have the same problem actually, with the legal system in China that is very much a political system. But it’s a lack of accountability that is driving a lot of these different things.

Graeme Smith  35:25

Borge Bakken, thanks very much.

Børge Bakken  35:26

Thank you.

Graeme Smith  35:36

This episode was recorded and edited in Horwood studios at the University of Melbourne by Gavin Nebauer, with generous support from Chinoiresie. Head to their website to find mismatched shards of China including essays, original artwork, and of course, our podcast. Our theme music is by Suzy Wilkins and our cartoons and gifts a courtesy of Seb Danta. Bye for now.