Tag Archives: Police

Examining the PSB’s 2011 Kidnapping Report

Recently, the PSB released a report on its nationwide anti-kidnapping activities in 2011 which contains some impressive statistics. You can find an English AFP piece on the report here, or read the full report in Chinese.

The report is, unsurprisingly, triumphant and self-congratulatory, and there are some things to celebrate. Chief among them is the claim that the PSB rescued 8,660 kidnapped children ((This number does include children who were trafficked into China from other countries, mostly Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam)) and 15,458 trafficked women over 2011. That’s great, although with media reporting on this subject controlled we more or less have to take them at their word as there’s no way to independently confirm those numbers. Still, even one child rescued is good news.

That said, as someone who has spent the last year talking to the parents of kidnapped children, it is difficult to read the report without getting angry. It states, for example, that the disappearances of children are uniformly treated as criminal cases, and that these cases are to be “swiftly developed and investigated” with the same urgency the PSB might use in pursuing a murder case. But in actuality, everything we’ve heard from parents indicates that this is not how things work in practice. In every case we’ve looked into, police initially tell parents to look for their children themselves, assuming the child has run away or is visiting friends, and telling parents they won’t take the case until the child has been missing 24 hours ((This is not a legal regulation, but it does seem to be the de facto practice at many local police stations.)). When they do take the case, investigations are slow and remarkably lazy. In the 2011 disappearance of Lei Xiaoxia (one of the subjects of our film), it took police months to request surveillance footage from the school where Lei went missing — by which time it was already deleted — and nearly a year after her disappearance, the police still haven’t interviewed any potential witnesses.

Interestingly, the 24 hour window after a child’s disappearance is something that is explicitly addressed in the PSB report, which calls it ‘a golden window of opportunity’ and mandates police to begin their investigations as soon as a disappearance is reported. Clearly, though, the national PSB has some discipline issues lower in the ranks, because many local police stations are not actually doing this.

Another lauded accomplishment is the DNA database, which allows parents to get free DNA tests so that if their child is ever discovered as the result of an anti-kidnapping operation, they can be quickly and unequivocally identified as the parents. This is very much a good thing, but again, the execution has been spotty at best. In the case of one of our subjects — coincidentally, Lei Xiaoxia’s parents — police demanded they pay for the test themselves, and wouldn’t back down until the parent of another kidnapped child who was more familiar with the law called them and asked why they were trying to charge money for a service that was meant to be free. This sort of situation is not uncommon, and the availability of the DNA database also needs to be more widely publicized, as some parents aren’t aware that they have the right to a free DNA test.

Another positive development has been the official anti-trafficking Weibo, which became an avenue for tips collection. The account collected 2,000 tips on trafficking cases in 2011. This is not to be confused with Yu Jianrong’s “rescue street children” campaign, which was quickly marginalized in early 2011 thanks in part to condemnations on the opinion pages of Chinese papers like the Global Times.

Analyzing the Numbers

Of course, the report doesn’t mention how many kidnapping cases remain unsolved. If there were 8,660 children returned home in 2011 ((Note that the kids may have been kidnapped years or decades ago, their cases were solved in 2011 but they were kidnapped and sold at different times)), what percentage of the total number of kidnapping cases is that? Going by the official government numbers, which put kidnappings of children at around 10,000 per year, that would make the child-returned-home rate about eighty percent. Going by the the US’s estimates in its human rights report, which pegs yearly child kidnappings at around 20,000, the solve rate is about forty percent.

Previously, I had been inclined to believe the US government estimates rather than higher independent estimates, which run up to 70,000 children kidnapped per year, but looking at the evidence we have — since there are no public statistics about this issue — it becomes very difficult to believe that only 20,000 children are kidnapped per year.

Now, obviously the numbers we have are very small, but the cases we’ve looked at do offer a good spread across victim demographics, old vs. new cases, and case types, so they may give us a decent sample of “average” missing child cases, although they are limited geographically to mostly eastern central China. Of the eight parent groups we’ve interviewed directly since March 2011, to date none of the families has seen their child returned. Of their larger social circle of dozens of parents of missing children, one child has been returned over the past year. Very conservatively estimating that loose social group to contain at least twenty sets of parents, that puts the solve rate at more like 5%.

Now, those sample sizes are too small to be scientific, and even if they were larger, they’re biased by location and also by selection — we only know about the cases of parents who want their cases publicized and have been in touch with other parents; some parents of missing children may choose to stay quiet and put their trust in the police rather than trying to look for themselves. It would probably be inaccurate to try to extrapolate much from the anecdotal data I’ve presented above — although we’re trying to figure out a way we might conduct a more exhaustive survey somehow — it does make the Chinese government figure of 10,000 children kidnapped per year look preposterously low, and even the US government figure seems to perhaps be an underestimation. If you assume that the solve rate really is 86% like Chinese government statistics would suggest, there would be only a 0.001% chance of us picking eight sets of parents and none of them having their children rescued ((although there are selection issues here in that they all agreed to speak with us, which not every parent would)). Could we really be that unlucky?

Anyway, we’re looking into how we might be able to analyze this sort of thing more systematically and scientifically for our film, but without trustworthy public statistics, it is very difficult. Anecdotal data is troublesome to work with, but if nothing else, I’m quite sure that the Public Security Bureau has not earned the triumphant tone of its yearly anti-kidnapping report. Although many of its policies sound good in theory, they don’t seem to be being put into practice, and one wonders, if the public security bureau can’t manage its own officers, why the hell should anyone trust it with finding their children?

The Real Threat

While the central government is busy rounding up everyone who might have once glanced at Ai Weiwei, and simultaneously instituting what appears to be some kind of “no lawyer left behind” detention policy, the rest of China is mostly ignoring it. That’s not a surprise, of course; it isn’t being reported in the media aside from the occasional screeching prose of the state-media’s shrillest news organs, which no one reads anyway.

Whether Ai is guilty or not; whether these other lawyers and writers and “dissidents” are guilty or not, they aren’t an actual threat to China or to CCP rule. Neither was the Jasmine Revolution, which — shock! — wasn’t orchestrated by any of the people they’re now rounding up anyway.

What could be a threat is the growing tension between the privileged and the non-privileged classes, the haves and the have-nots, the daguanguiren ((达官贵人)) and the laobaixing ((老百姓)). There is, at present, no push for revolution, no great Westernized uprising. There’s nothing to make a sexy headline out of on CNN. What there is, though, is bubbling dissatisfaction just below the surface of everyday life that bursts out in spurts when the inequities of society make themselves unavoidably obvious.

At present, this happens mostly with car accidents.

Everyone knows, of course, about the Li Gang incident, but there have been many like it, and when conditions are right, what starts as a traffic accident quickly becomes a “mass incident.”

Take for example, this incident in Changchun:
Essentially, what happened is that a police officer driving his own car got angry with an old woman who wouldn’t get out of his way. He eventually got out of the car, argued with the old woman, and then started to beat her, grabbing her by the hair and punching her in the face, according to an interview she gave that’s excerpted at the end of the video. The old woman’s daughter came over and he hit her, too. That was when passers-by started to gather, and they were not amused.

Watch the video. At the 1:00 mark, the narrator says “Rationally, everyone [jumped in] to prevent the [police]man’s crude behavior.” Then the video cuts abruptly to a shot of a mob going absolutely apeshit on the police officer’s car (which he, by that point, was wisely hiding inside). Even after police arrived, they kept smashing the car, and began chanting “Apologize, apologize!” Several scuffles with police occurred. Hours later, after police unsuccessfully tried to get the mob to disperse, the police finally got the man out of his car and into a waiting police van (2:19, note the people in the background still fighting to break through the police lines and attack him).

Of course, there’s more to this than privileged versus commoner (he was also beating an elderly woman, which wouldn’t win him many friends regardless of the prevailing mood of the time in any society). But the old woman he beat puts it in terms of haves and have-nots, and apparently so did the policeman. She says he told her it didn’t matter if he beat her to death or not, he could afford to pay the compensation money. She also said he looked down on thelaobaixing, the common people.

This is, of course, an isolated incident. But this kind of thing happens a lot, and moreover, it obviously speaks to deeper issues. Unsurprisingly, it spread quickly across the internet, and has been reposted many times already. This posting on 56.com, for example, has already been viewed over half a million times. So has another posting of the same video on the same site. This one, on 6.com, has over 600,000 viewings.

What’s most telling about this video is not the comments, which call for the offending officer’s head on a platter, and many of which also condemn police officers and public servants in general for their increasing lack of concern for the common people. No, what’s most interesting about this video is that it’s from early December 2010, but it’s still being passed around on Chinese social networks today.

These stories keep getting passed around beyond their news shelf life, I suspect, because they are tapping into an increasingly common feeling of anger and exploitation among those who really are laobaixing. The story may be from December, but the feeling is as widespread today as it was then, probably moreso.

Are people about to take to the streets and launch a second Communist revolution to overthrow the new bourgeoisie? Absolutely not. But instead of harassing innocent dissidents and their lawyers, China’s leadership would do well to pay more attention to these issues.

Ai Weiwei may prove to foreigners that there’s no rule of law in China, but most Chinese don’t know or care. What they care about are cases like this, and little by little, the police and the businessmen and the chengguan and the officials — all agents of the government and the Party — seem to be doing their best to drill home the message: we do not care about you.

The 9.18 Protest: a Show of Force

Much like Tom Lasseter, I had never been to a protest in China before yesterday. Unlike him, though, I’m not a professional reporter, and I got to the scene late, so I was mostly confined to the outskirts with the Chinese media, some expelled protesters, and a few curious onlookers.

I happened to have a camera, and created this video. Nothing about it is particularly good from a videography point of view–virtually everything that could go wrong did at every stage of its production–and to top it all off I got the date wrong. Not the most auspicious start to our plans for adding video content to this site. But I’m going to post it anyway, because I think there are aspects of it you will find interesting.

(Here is a direct link to the video on Youtube. If you live in China, you will need a VPN or some kind of proxy to see it.)

It was especially idiotic of me to get the date wrong, considering that it wasn’t exactly an accident the protesters chose September 18th.

But, as Mr. Lasseter said, it wasn’t much of a protest. It was rainy, there weren’t many people there, and I don’t think Japan is going to leave the Diaoyu Islands or return the Chinese captain just because somebody baked a cake.

Han Han recently wrote a blog post on the subject that was quickly deleted in which he expresses his thoughts on the protest:

People without their own land fighting for someone else’s land; people who aren’t respected demanding that someone else should be respected…how much per kilogram do people like that cost?

But anyway, protesting [something like this] is safe, fun, and makes you look cool. The key is that after the protest is over, you can still work and study as usual, in fact it might even look good on your resume.


Anyway, none of that is important, what’s important is that if I was allowed to protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping today, I would gladly protest for the Diaoyu Islands or the Olympic Torch tomorrow. But it’s a paradox, because in a time when you could protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping, you wouldn’t have problems like the Diaoyu Islands or [people trying to snuff out] the Olympic Torch to protest about. Protests of external issues are meaningless to a people who can’t protest peacefully about domestic ones, it’s all just an act.

What was impressive was the show of control put on by the police, especially given that the protesters were there in support of the official government line. By the time we got there in the afternoon, police had cordoned off at least a one-block radius in every direction around the Japanese embassy. The streets to the north and east of the embassy, outside of the police tape, were lined with PSB officers, one standing every five feet or so for several blocks. There were easily a hundred of them, and obviously many more inside the police tape.

At the northern entrance to the cordoned-off area on Ritan Road, People’s Armed Police officers in green camouflage guarded the area, but most of the other police there were regular PSB officers, milling about and sometimes photographing or filming the crowds outside their lines. Police vehicles were entering and exiting the scene regularly.

By the time we got to the Western approach to the embassy, where a small crowd had gathered on the intersection of Xiushui St. and Xiushui North St., there were reportedly no protesters left inside the cordoned off area, just some Western reporters and a whole lot of police. It was a show of force, a demonstration of control.

The reporter you can hear in the video above was not the only one complaining bitterly about how the Chinese media wasn’t allowed in. After our camera was turned off, another reporter came up and asked how to get in. “Good luck,” the first reporter said, “they’re not letting anyone Chinese in.” “I’m from Taiwan,” the second reporter said, but he, too, stayed outside the lines. A team from another domestic media outlet circled the scene with us (coincidentally), filming down each street towards where the protesters had been, but were never allowed to pass through police lines.

As I spoke to the protester you hear in the video, one of his friends circled us, photographing me repeatedly. I have no idea why, but it underscored the mood amongst the crowd at the Western entrance — angry, suspicious, and mostly all armed with cameras.

The police, on the other hand, were calm. They directed people around the blocked off area, they stared, and they waited. After all, there were so many of them that nothing was going to happen. And there’s only so long one can spend filming police cars before it’s on to the next story.

“Who Lives in This Room?”

Today is another translated quickie from one of Ai Weiwei’s volunteers about a near miss with police who were searching for him. I wonder if sometimes the eternal anticipation and impossibility of finding a totally safe place to stay isn’t more draining than the moments when people actually do get arrested and have the names they collected destroyed in one way or another before they’re thrown back on the street. Anyway, the original post is here.

I came home from writing my diary at the net cafe around 11:00 at night, and the door of the guest house was already closed. I gave the landlady a call and she opened it for me, then I watched a little TV, washed my face and fell asleep.

I sleep very lightly, so if there’s any noise at night I can hear it. Probably around 3:00 A.M., I heard loud footsteps outside the door. At first my response was that it must be travelers getting into the guest house late, then I faintly heard:

“Whose lives in this room?”

The landlady said, “That is a husband and wife, they just got in.”

“And that one?”

This building was built facing the street, with the back facing a mountain; I was staying in one of three apartments on the third floor. Mine was the one facing the mountain.

At this time I started to feel something wasn’t right, I got up quickly and stood behind the door.

The landlady pointed to my room and said, “This is a man who has been here a long time helping us rebuild [the town after the earthquake last year], an engineer from Hebei.”

There was a loud noise, the people who lived across were unhappy: “What gives you the right to be checking rooms in the middle of the night? We obey the laws!” A group of people went back down the stairs without having opened my door, but for those few minutes, I was really nervous.

I didn’t know who it was outside, I just felt that it was dangerous and guessed that they had been looking for me. Before, I was continuously switching hotels, but this landlady was the one who I was most comfortable with, who I had the best relationship with. If my clothes were dirty I could take them to her place to wash them, and after they dried she would bring them back for me and lay them out on my bed. When I [first] met her, I told her, “If people come asking for information about me, such as my ID card number, you have the right to not show them.” She also knew that I had come for something being withheld [from the public] by the local police substation; she said “I know.”

Early the next morning, I went out for breakfast. Nanba Street is very short, around 100 meters in all, so when a stranger is on the street it is easily noticeable. When I had finished my meal and was heading home, the landlady came over anxiously and said, “Last night seven police officers came looking for you, they said they were looking for someone from Beijing who spoke Mandarin; they are checking all the guesthouses in Nanba. They were pianjing [片警, a common nickname for community police responsible for public order and security], I think they were looking for you.”

I said to the landlady, “It’s OK, I haven’t committed murder or arson or anything like that, moreover I speak Sichuanhua [Sichuan’s regional dialect]. Moreover, I’m not the same ‘me’ that I was last time I came here*, and this time I have a completely legitimate reason to be here, so ‘they’ won’t do anything to me.”

The landlady said, “You should still go, don’t put me in a difficult situation. I’ve already told the police you don’t live here.”

I thought that was true, I couldn’t implicate her, and more over she had already “saved” me once. Soon afterwards, I saw a bus out the window, quickly got my things together, and went to a place not too far from Nanba.

That night, the landlady sent me a text saying I had forgotten to bring my towel, and that in the afternoon men from the local police substation had come looking for me again, so it was fortunate that I left so fast.

Guo Ke

*Although I understand the Chinese, I have no idea what he means by this. Perhaps I’m reading it wrong, or perhaps it requires some background information I’m not privy to. In any event, if anyone wants to take a stab at it, the original sentence is “因为我已经不是上次来南坝的我了…”

Also of Interest:

-Finally Mutant Palm updates! And it’s about a conference that looks pretty interesting.
Thoughts on Being Gay in China.