Le Monde has a series of captioned pictures [link no longer exists] documenting beatings inflicted on Shanghai residents who developers wanted cleared out (h/t Shanghaiist). The police were called but never came.

Beyond the fact that this sort of treatment is morally objectionable, here is why you should care:

  • Though China is relatively safe, one should absolutely not write off the possibility of violence in one’s business dealings in China. My law firm has been called in at least a half dozen times where violence was either threatened or occurred. We tell our clients that if they owe money to a Chinese company or are involved in any sort of dispute with anyone in China (partner, employee, etc.), they should avoid meeting to discuss the dispute/problem anywhere other than in a neutral, very public place in the day time. A high end hotel lobby in Shanghai or Beijing is a good choice.  Singapore or Tokyo or Seoul are an even better choice.
  • Know where the land came from on which you are locating your business. Make sure that you will not be hit up for compensation of someone displaced or that some higher-up government authority will not shut you down for the land having been acquired illegally. Do your due diligence on this and even considering putting something in your lease to better protect you. Beijing has been making a lot of noise lately about wanting to make its eminent domain policies fairer and as it does so, you can expect more problems to arise for those on illegally acquired land. There are huge swaths of land in China that were illegally acquired, particularly in third and fourth tier cities.

What are you seeing out there?

  • Bill Rich

    I think we all understand which law they are talking about when China is talking about “rule by law”.

  • Ben Tsui

    Pretty shocking stuff. Law and order in China is still quite primitive, even shocking to know that it’s happening in a big city like Shanghai. China after all is still a developing country.

  • A British friend made an observation that there isn’t much random violence in China. If you’re a Westerner, your chances of getting mugge are smaller than in New York or London. But that there is more targeted violence. Like he said “all violence is personal.”
    I don’t have stats, but we hear stuff in Hong Kong all the time. It’s a normal practice for companies here to people up in pairs if they have to go to the Mainland, particularly women business travelers. I don’t have that luxury, but I know it’s a common practice.
    A female Hong Kong friend in the garment industry got chased down by a man outside a Shanghai shopping mall who threatened to beat her. She had pointed out some price manipulation that somehow involved his girlfriend getting fired.
    A male American friend was followed and hit by thugs in an alley when he angered an influential business person.
    One male Canadian friend in Shanghai got called into the police for no reason for questioning right before leaving for a business trip in Hong Kong. He and his family have decided to go back to the West.
    Note: None of these people work in my company or do anything particularly political. (Our case is different because we work in news media)
    Thankfully, none of these people were seriously hurt, but it’s scary. Businesspeople shouldn’t be too lulled into complacency just because of all the hype over “rising China” and all the new shiny buildings. There are definitely developing-nation behaviors like physical intimidation and corruption.

  • James G

    I think that part of the sense of complacency comes from westerners receiving preferential, deferential treatment in China. It may be that the tax breaks and look-the-other-way days for yellow or red card business behavior are over, but socially that is still pretty much intact.
    As a U.S. citizen, I dislike the idea that we have any special moral authority, given our foreign and domestic policies of the last few decades. Of course that’s just my opinion and obviously others don’t share it. But I think one thing everyone needs to really consider is that for foreigners, especially non-Asian citizens of North America and western Europe, the Chinese authorities are increasingly regarding us in a manner similar to they way they treat their own citizens.
    I am sure there would be a sea-change in foreign attitude toward China if we had to endure many of the indignities (and worse) that Chinese citizens routinely go through, especially the non-wealthy and residents outside the BJ/SH/GZ areas. Imagine if the Shanghai and BJ governments went through the French Concession and Hutong areas, “appropriating” all the cute villas, boutique shops, galleries and apartments that we see in the pages of publications like the New York Times, and using violence, hired thugs, and trumped up charges to do so. It would be something beyond far beyond a rude awakening.
    I also think that street toughs who pick-pocket and jump people in petty disputes will be more likely to expand their scope in the future, to include non-Chinese. During my time in Shanghai I saw several instances of people getting absolutely leathered in the streets, with the police nowhere to be found, EVER. Maybe (somewhat selfishly among other things) what insulated me from feeling the same fear I might have felt had I seen such in Miami or Boston is that they were Chinese, I am not.
    Just my two cents.

  • neil

    Getting beaten up or imprisoned indefinetly for no apparent reason is a risk that you need to take if you want to go to China. But, this is also true for most countries in the developing world. People are just ignorant of the risks because statistically they are so unlikely to happen.
    As for business… personally I think that in doing business your chances of getting beaten up or jailed are much higher if you are in business, but still statistically very unlikely to happen.

  • LH

    This business of hiring thugs to beat someone up seems to be a relatively accepted practice in China. About a year ago, I was asked to mediate a dispute between two parties (both Chinese) who had formed a business together. One of the partners felt he was being cheated, and after trying for a long time to get some remedy by talking, resorted to hiring someone to beat the other party (badly). When I met with them I was expecting this matter to come up. Imagine in the U.S. that you were mediating a contract dispute where one of the parties had hired a gang member to beat someone physically! Naturally I told the party that had hired the thug that this was a completely unacceptable thing to do that put them in great legal jeopardy and weakened their case, etc. To my amazement, when they were face-to-face in front of me, there was no mention of it at all, it seemed a non-issue to them. I think this is the other side of the “equity” idea (that courts in China pay attention to “equity” in civil cases). The idea is that if you deserve a beating, then you deserve a beating. haha. This has nothing to do with all the cases of undeserved beatings, of course, but it does explain I think why it is a relatively common practice.

  • Anonymous

    Daylight, downtown does nothing to protect you. Just google “Li Gang incident” to see that a connected individual can run down and kill an innocent person drunk without a care in this world then brag about his fathers power and drive away. It happens everyday in China but this incident got on youku and for some reason people finally had enough and Li Gang and his son had to apologize.
    That’s it. The worst thing that can happen for running down innocent students on campus is to have to cry like a baby with your dad and apologize. However, this is a rare case where there was any punishment at all. Usually, it’s on the the KTV and fun, fun fun afterwards

  • Volker Müller

    “We tell our clients that if they owe money to a Chinese company or are involved in any sort of dispute with anyone in China (partner, employee, etc.), they should avoid meeting to discuss the dispute/problem anywhere other than in a neutral, very public place in the day time.”
    Sounds ridiculous. We are in China, not in the Wild West of the USA.
    To a certain degree economic crimes are socially accepted in China, but violence is definitly not.
    There is no place in China where I have concerns to walk alone 24h a day.
    Just imagine what happens if someone beats a foreign business persons, if would go into jail for quite a long time.
    One statement is true: people from Hongkong tend to be incredible timid. Seems that for many of them mainland China is still a terra incognita.

  • Dan

    Volker,
    You are just plain wrong. My tiny law firm alone has dealt with probably a half a dozen violent incidents (including holding people hostage for days over unpaid debts) involving businesses in China and probably another half a dozen more involving the implicit threat of violence. I hate to tell you, but is not that uncommon outside the major cities.

  • Wang Jia

    Volker Müller
    Your Nazi attitude about nobody dares to touch the white man in China is wrong. Wake up