Last week, when my doorbell rang at the optimum moment between my boyfriend leaving for work and me leaving for work—a thirty minute gap that seems to be the only time my local police station does any work—I knew who would be waiting even before I wrenched the reinforced steel door open.
I had my passport, foreign expert certificate and residence permit all primed and ready in a nearby drawer. Almost before the barely post-pubescent police officer opened his mouth, my papers were thrust in his face with a winsome grin and a cheeky, “I’ve got my documents ready, elder brother.”
China is a police state. Why? Because the police are paid more than the teachers—a definition straight from the mouth of V.I. Lenin and one of the few I wholeheartedly agree with. Blame my Trot father for that.
Even if you don’t agree that the above definition, you will surely agree that China’s police force and its bungling subsidiary, the chengguan, are an ever-present feature of life here. I have seen uniformed police and chengguan attending concerts, guarding swimming pools, and hanging around my community watching older residents play cards.
I have no clue how many plainclothes police officers I have encountered during my time here; the only ones who gave themselves away were a pair whom I saw bust two guys on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road back in 2004. They tazered the men, then beat them up on the ground, in full view of the crowds of shoppers. The only others I can say for sure I’ve spotted are the ones meandering around Tiananmen Square, dressed like a child’s drawing of a spy.
Bottom line, the Chinese police—sorry, the Public Security Bureau’s operatives—are everywhere.
“When the policeman questions you, you must be careful. They will try and trap you. Do you know? Trap? What it means?”
Yes, I knew what trap meant. But the way those broken English words came out of William’s mouth did not inspire much confidence. My skinny, dweebish visa agent stared at me with a bureaucrat’s humorless gaze. I had just spent the last hour being coached on how to survive a Chaoyang District Public Security Bureau investigator’s interrogation. Tomorrow I would have to walk into the PSB and lie to the Chinese government. If they believed me, I would be free to continue my life in Beijing. If they didn’t, I could be asked to leave China in ten days. My head was boiling in a stew of Chinese corporations, names, and addresses, a fabricated record of my last seven months in the People’s Republic. In less than twenty four hours my life had been turned upside down. How the hell did everything get so fucked up?
I talked a little bit in my last post about how the Shanghai Expo is definitely not about cultural sensitivity. But if I left any doubt, on day two of my expo adventure, my cousin told me the following story: I was walking through the entrance line like we did yesterday and approached the security check. […]