Matt Schivenza‘s always interesting blog has a new post up on nudity (well, sorta) in China, entitled, “Foreign Woman Removes Top At Beach in Qingdao, Causes Major Disturbance.
The post tracks exactly what I was talking about this morning with a client. No, not nudity, but rule of law in China and how so many Americans misunderstand its extent in China and misperceive what China is really like.
Bear with me here as I discuss the rule of law in China as the nudity discussion will follow.
The client with whom I was having this discussion is a very successful and sophisticated international businessperson who has been doing business in China for around five years. He was telling me of how an American competitor of his had gotten into legal troubles and was on the verge of pulling out of China. My client told me he thought his competitor had brought the problems onto his company by believing he could get away with not following Chinese laws. We then talked about how when it comes to China’s laws relating to business, they are actually usually fairly clear and actually usually not all that bad. We both agreed that companies that follow China’s business laws overwhelmingly avoid problems.
But, we both also agreed that what we were discussing had little to nothing to do with China’s non-business laws and little or nothing to do with the corruption. In other words, China’s business laws, as written are good and following them usually insulates you from problems. But, not following them and having the right connections (which damn few foreigners have, despite their thinking otherwise) can oftentimes serve to avoid problems also.
Which all brings me back to nudity and to Matt’s post.
Matt’s post is on a Qingdao newspaper article about the reaction to a Bulgarian blonde who insisted on running around topless in the middle of a hot day at Qingdao’s Number 1 Beach . This is Qingdao’s most popular beach and the last time I was there — in April — it was crowded. The Bulgarian caused quite a stir and gave rise to a local newspaper article, which Matt translated.
The article noted how despite the controversy and approbation by many onlookers, the lack of any law clearly prohibiting the conduct precluded anyone from putting a stop to it:

Shortly thereafter, this reporter went to the beach management office, where he was told by a person responsible that although the beach had encountered topless guests in the past, they had never found one daring to go topless in front of so many people. “There’s nothing we can do about it!”. This reporter was told that in the past several days many residents and guests alike have complained about this matter, but because no clear law exists prohibiting this sort of behavior, beach employees simply could not intervene.

Matt sees all this as proof of the rule of law:

I find this story amusing because a) the Bulgarian woman continued sunbathing topless despite what appears to have been an enormous amount of attention on top of the persistent questioning of the reporter, b) that the supposed ‘moral outrage’ involved didn’t prevent beach-goers from crowding around the woman and taking her photo, and c) that rather than compel the woman to put her top back on, the beach officials were preventing from doing so due to the absence of a clear legal statute regarding these matters. See, China is a nation that respects the rule of law!

To a certain extent, I have to agree. This does not prove there is freedom of political expression and this does not prove bureaucrats do not sometimes act thuggishly, but this does prove that China does have laws that are followed.
This also proves something perhaps even more important. This proves something many of my expat friends in China are always talking about. They say they find it ridiculous that China is viewed as this incredibly oppressive place where the government is spying on you all the time and concerned with your littlest actions. They oftentimes like to tell me that China actually has more freedoms than the United States or England. I am very skeptical of these comparisons, but I certainly concur that individual freedoms in China are given a fairly decent swath, so long as they do not impinge upon the government/party.
What do you think?