Chinese and the disrespect for authority

Why do Chinese not listen?

Why do Chinese not care?

Rather, the question I’m asking is why do Chinese have such a problem with authority?

Why do they disregard “the rules”?

To the outsider, their wanton disregard of the rules is both flagrant,  and arrogant.  And it contributes to the more chaotic situation of it’s society today.

The anything goes mentality within China harks back to the Wild West.  Many an American living in China today, upon returning home for a visit, use this phrase to best describe China today.

So let’s ponder the reasons. 


Quite frankly, China is a mess.   There is no way in hell China only has 1.3 or 1.4 billion people.   It is more likely that officials undercount more so than overcount.   Many a Chinese statistic is unreliable, if not all of them.   That’s not a diss.  It’s just a reflection of how lacking the powers that be have on the situation at hand.  Ok, maybe it is a diss.  China has had 60 years now to get things right.   China is pretty good at a lot of things(propaganda control, anyone?), but statistics isn’t one of them.
Bottom line, I think China has a population close to 1.6 billion, at least.   That makes the CCP and what it’s done all the more impressive.   Or rather, if you insist on saying it’s a monument to the people despite the CCP, well….I won’t argue that one.

But the People around us, on the subways, in line at the elevator, etc,simply make China hard to control as a rule loving society.

Rules, rules, rules, everywhere a damn rule.

Quite frankly, the Chinese have grown up seeing nothing but rules.   Or slogans.   And it’s only human nature when you receive too much of something… become desensitized to it.    Yes, we all know murder is wrong.   The State doesn’t have to show that.   What is irksome is that the State feels the need to explain everything.    Right or wrong, the State feels we have no common sense.

Upon entering the subway platform, a whole list of rules is spelled out….

No spitting

No littering

(Now why one on earth would I want to spit on the platform?)

In a way, these dire warnings are an insult to the decency of the Chinese people….except their not.

When crossing a pedestrian bridge one sees the same signs

“No throwing litter on the highway”…..

You don’t say….

The Pace of Development

How often do we see people of all stripes jumping a barrier in the median, to get to the other side?  

Willfully dodging cargo trucks and the like.

We think the worse of these people, don’t we?  The animal within us begs these people get what they deserve.    One of my staff actually once ran over one of these people.   His car was confiscated for a week. 

Than we realize they are crossing the street this way, stupid that it is, because there are no pedestrian bridges within site.   If there is something China needs more of, it’s bridges to allow people to cross the street.   

Now am I saying bridges don’t exist? 

No I’m not.

Are they few and far between in some places?


Especially in the Sprawl of Shenzhen.   Shenzhen, pls don’t forget is a city of migrants.  Everywhere a migrant.  Factories have thousands of workers.   Yet the infrastructure to support the population simply doesn’t keep up.   So it’s not that we can carte blanche ridicule the Chinese as heathens.

Or am I an apologist?

When these pedestrian bridges do exist, they are maybe a 100 yards away, as is the intersection, and the laziness within us all takes over.   When you have too many people, or a densely populated country, the ability of the bureaucracy is paramount.  If the competency of the local bureaucracy is not up to snuff, the local population suffers.  Simple as that.

This is why Japan, with it’s crazy population density(I lived in Tokyo 4 years. I know of what I speak) is able to avoid such issues.  It has a first rate local bureaucracy.    More competent than China’s?   

Hands down.  

Have you noticed the glass in front of the subways now, on every platform?  Japan had that in 1993!

Economic Pressures                       

Ok, this is a gimme.

Why does the farmer lace his watermelon with a toxic sweetener?
Nevermind the tainted milk….may as well say the tainted everything.  Fake meat, pork, milk, etc.
When I buy milk in China I try to buy Hong Kong Milk.  I figure the veggies are relatively safe.  I try to buy food made by foreign companies if I can, but is that really practical? We know the rice is good, right?

The big companies cheat because on a large scale the profit motive is just too big to ignore, and in China money solves everything.    Profits are thus readily accessible on a large scale if you know who to take care of.

The 800 million people in the lower classes don’t have that option.  They can’t pay anybody off.  So they cheat.  And they justify it with an irritating nonchalance based on poverty.
They are desperate enough not to give a damn, and that’s a scary thing.

I’m constantly amazed at how people in China, with some of the dirtiest waters in the world, continue to love their fish.   Never a big fish eater to begin with, I avoid the stuff whenever I can.   I look for frozen fish, though when I do shop.  

And why is it so hard to rein in those people that so unscrupously  poison the food chain?   Now we come full circle:

Too many people.

Incompetent bureaucracy

Outright Disrespect for Authority

There was a video I saw awhile back of a woman causing a disturbance in a Beijing subway.  Short story, she didn’t want to follow the rules for getting onto the subway platform(I’ve tried to pull up the video but am not having success) .    Surrounded by police, they asked her to come with them, and several times she responded with a snarling “我不去“, or “I won’t go”.

Well….as many of us know, talking that way to a cop in the States’ is pretty much unheard of.    Just by refusing to cooperate you are going to jail, regardless of your guilt or innocence as regards anything else.   Than you have tasering, and all that stuff.

I’ve yet to see a video of a policemen tasering someone in China, by the way.  This video was amazing to watch, not for the snarly holier than thou woman who didn’t want to follow the rules, but for the constraint of the police.     No one grabbed her, and they spent entirely too much time speaking with her.   The sad thing is video’s of this sort are all over the internet.

So why do Chinese so often neither fear nor respect the authority of the police?

My take again is that as China is an authoritative society, people are simply desensitized to punishment.   We in the West hear stories of black jails, arbitrary arrest, etc.    One would think a member of the local populace would thus be a wee more obedient. 

Rather, as the populace has become more sophisticated, educated, and aware of other cultures and their way of doing things, it’s inevitable that China is held up for comparison by it’s own people.    In their view, China measures out on the short end of the stick.   This emboldens those more sophisticated citizenry to stand up, and stand out.

This is a simplistic analysis, however.

The root cause is probably more so because the people in the cities are tired of seeing what one can get with the proper connections, and what those without connections cannot get.   Connections tend to mitigate the level of one’s education in China, more so than in any other country.   This means  China is increasingly becoming a country where success is not based on hard work, or level of education, as much so as “who you know”.     And well…that’s frustrating.

What of the peasants?  Or those that will never go overseas, or never come across a foreigner, much less have a conversation with one?    The peasants literally live in their own world.   Not sophisticated.  Certainly not stupid.   Just divorced from the ways of urban China.

During the upheaval of the Late Qing, perhaps even on a broader basis, from 1870-1950, the peasantry literally lived in it’s own world, it’s customs unchanged, it’s speed of life unaltered.   The wave of change reaches the countryside last.  

So why does the disrespect for authority seem to be so deeply rooted even there?   In the countryside, a county mayor is emperor.  He can do as he pleases.   His power is even more unchecked, and less transparent than that of anyone in Beijing.   He controls everything.   For every village chief arrested for abuse of power, a 100 go free.    My point is the fear of the peasants should be even more intense, but the disrespect remains the same.

My take is that a situation of unbridled abuse, either through confiscation of property, or what have you has existed so long, and become so entrenched, that fear and intimidation are now a part of the fabric of life.    That is, just like as within the cities, the peasants are tired of seeing their land taken for a pittance, while “the taker” turns around and flips it to a developer.  Just like as in developed countries, but drastically more so in China, find a rich man, and you’ll eventually find that part of the key to his wealth is that somebody got screwed.   Taking on authority is therefoe just 2nd nature, and no longer seen as a risk.   

So how does the bureaucracy respond?

This challenge of authority in Chinese society simply forces the State to create more rules.  And the cycle repeats itself:

You protest

I create more rules

You protest again

I create even more rules

It’s here one begins to appreciate the need for order and stability.    And why China’s leaders stress this all day and all night, through every possible medium.    Will China’s leaders someday “lose control” of the situation?   Probably.  No one knows when.    The less the people feel they are getting taken advantage of , maybe the farther out that day will be.


  1. I would add two major contributors to the "Everything goes" attitude in China : kids education and lack of civil society.

    * Kids education : when a kid does some typical kid's mischief, the adults will smile, and won't blame the kid. At best, they will move the kid and ask him/her to go play elsewhere. They won't teach delayed satisfaction to their kid either. Kid want to eat, then we won't wait for 5 minutes. Kid want to pee, kid won't hold it for 5 minutes, let's pee in the street. And if you ever blame the kid in front of the parent, even if it's for pooping in the subway (Shanghai, I'm looking at you), the parents will go berserk, kid is innocent, loss of face, yadayada. So growing up like this, you see yourself as entitled and *very* self-centered. The world bends to my needs. One-child policy made this worse, but speaking with in-laws, it seems that this way of educating kid goes back from before the one-child policy.

    * Lacks of civil society : Chinese have no notion of public good and civil society, plain and simple. Jingoism, nationalism is used as substitute. The ever useful Lei Feng memorabilia is used to suggest a blind obedience as an other ersatz of civil society. Recently, the CCTV channels shows spot on various civil actions (trash sorting, stopping to waste food), but it's purely by the example, with little explanations. The idea of common good, civil duty does not exist. Maybe because no clear-cut civil rights ?

  2. Indeed...the one child policy rears it's head once again. The actual need to show such ex's on TV, as trash sorting etc, merely reflect the lack of such stds in society today. Albeit, all societies have their flaws, and the goal is not to single out China's, yet I am time and time again bewildered at the outright contempt for authority here. I don't think the disparity in wealth is a blanket explanation by any means. Yet, I'm even more surprised by the constraint many Chinese police seem to show, vis a vis what we are always reading abt, etc. The outright contempt for authority in Sinoland is still unthinkable in American society. Afterall, we have background checks! And employers take them seriously.

  3. It's "restraint" not "constraint" and "they're" not "their."

  4. English is hard lol

  5. Anonymous on Oct 14th:

    Actually the use of "Their" was correct in that post. "Their" = Possession, and "They're" = They are

    Some just can't wait to pounce on others to the point of making themselves look ridiculous.

    You are correct about restraint though


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