The Shanghai Mounted Police

Written by Julen Madariaga on March 19th, 2009

My anonymous friend N. has sent in this picture recently taken in an underground station in Shanghai Xuhui. It is a poster depicting a (Kazakh?) horseman riding with a baby just at the moment when a Shanghai policeman has engaged him in a vicious exchange of toothiness.

Government slogans are some of the phrases that I find most difficult to translate from Chinese, perhaps because they don’t usually make sense.  Anyway, here is my take:  “Policemen harmoniously build peace”. And the three sub-slogans on top:  “Penetrate the bases”,  “Penetrate reality”, “Penetrate the masses”.

Police PR campaign

Yeah, said like this, it sounds like something out of 1984, but that’s only if you are not used to Chinese government slogans. This is a PR campaign that has been done many times before in China. The objective is to show the police close to the people, as explained in this old article in the Xuhui district website.

We already saw some similar campaigns in late 2008, and more are sure to come this year, as the government takes every possible measure to avert risks of instability.

On the other hand, I am not sure how necessary this is. From my own observations, policemen here don’t have the bad image they have in some places in the West. They tend to be quite humble, they rarely use violence, and they get yelled at by the citizens they are supposed to protect. More than once I’ve had them visit my house at midnight, just to shyly ask us to please turn down the music and try to not let more people in if we don’t mind.

So  I have to say that, at least in Shanghai, the government has done a good job of managing police PR. Even I find it hard to believe that it is this same 公安 (police)  who arrests activists and bloggers,  the same who kicks villagers out of their old houses marked for destruction.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Mar
    20
    6:54
    AM
    FOARP

    Actually, I found more hatred for the police in China, beneath the gloss of 警察叔叔- type thinking imbibed in school than I did in the UK, even in the East End of London. Cop Killers will always get a good press in some quarters, but it’s hard to imagine folk over here talking up for someone stabbing police in their own police station as they did in Shanghai.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Mar
    20
    11:38
    AM
    uln

    Hmm. True, I hadn’t thought of that one. It was a particular case though, which had a particular story behind it. I am pretty sure that most Chinese don’t usually support such violent behaviours.

    In the post I wasn’t really thinking of stabbing, but of the general associations of “police”. In many circles in the West (leftists?) the word “police” has in itself a negative connotation, as in “police state”. I really haven’t felt this in China. Perhaps I haven’t been with the right people.

    To tell you the truth, I find it extremely difficult to understand the relations in China between the police and the people, and how is it possible that in an authoritarian regime police have much less apparent authority than in our countries.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Mar
    23
    6:49
    PM
    TK

    Well, I think you just have not yet faced the different branches of the public security organs.

    The ministry of state security and its organs here are crafted along the lines of the USSR’s KGB and East Germany’s notorious “Stasi”.

    You would not believe the depth of infiltration of the state security organs in all levels of society in China.

    If you have gone recently to renew or change your registration at your local police station you may have noticed, that they have now finally gotten a grip on their databases as well. Relational databases that show also the people you are usually in touch with, at work, friends, your mobile phone number and people whose numbers you call frequently or sms. Thanks to GPS they can also now track where you are.

    If you have not gotten around using PGP for your sensitive e-mails, it is now about time.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Mar
    23
    10:48
    PM
    uln

    @TK - thanks for the info. I am aware that this is in many ways a police state, and if you read my past writings you will see I am not an optimist regarding the system in China

    The point of this post was just the success of PR. That is, the perception and the attitudes of the locals towards the police. I have lived in other police countries before, and this is the one where the attitude towards the police is most relaxed. In other places people are either hostile or just very afraid of the police. Even in Europe in some social circles I have seen more hostility towards the police forces than I can see in Shanghai.

    @FOARP- Regarding the case you mention of the guy who was executed after killing a few cops. I don’t think the (minority) reactions of some netizens can be interpreted as a display of general hatred for the police. Cases like that happen regularly in China, and those reactions were for a big part based on pity for what was considered a victim of the system. There is a similar case in the book I just reviewed that happened some years ago, where netizens tried to turn a college serial killer into a hero. The police had nothing to do there. And again, I never see any reactions like that when I speak to people in Shanghai.

    [Reply to this comment]

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    5
    3:53
    PM
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    16
    1:30
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