On July 5, the US Embassy in Beijing posted information on “How to Deescalate Conflicts” in the US Citizen Services Section of its website. According to the document, there have been an increasing number of reported confrontations between Americans and Chinese – most of which seem to involve copious amounts of alcohol (big surprise). I haven’t been in Bejing in over a month, so I can’t say anything about the circumstances up there, but I live near one of Shanghai’s more prominent bar streets, and I can certifiably attest to a rise in tensions in this area. On one level, it’s reached comic book proportions: recently, someone set up a bench press on the sidewalk in front of one of the bars, and most nights two shirtless, heavily tatooed thugs spend their time lifting weights on the bench and leering at passersby. I exit the subway just across from them, and I’m always split between wanting to ask them what on earth they are doing, and wanting to hide.
Maybe it’s the heat; maybe there’s something more to all of the reports of civil unrest. And maybe I just need a vacation.
Anyway, below are the Embassy’s guidelines. In general, I think these are good rules of thumb for living just about anywhere. They also serve as a very subtle commentary on the often uneasy relationship between China’s foreigners and the locals. But more on that some other time. For now, let’s leave it to the Embassy:
July 05, 2007
The Embassy has seen more and more cases of minor confrontations involving American citizens escalating into serious altercations. In a few cases arguments over as little as 10 RMB have led to injuries, property damage, police involvement and restitution. Identifying potential confrontations before they become physical and extracting you from the situation before blows are exchanged is the wisest course of action. Becoming involved in a physical confrontation over 10 RMB just isn’t worth it.
While more easily said than done, this approach could require taking a non-confrontational attitude even when you are in the right, and backing down to someone in the wrong when the circumstances require it to avoid physical contact.
The fact is that getting involved in a “fight” with someone anywhere is a dangerous undertaking, but it is made even more dangerous by the willingness of bystanders to get involved without warning.
To avoid situations that might lead to a physical confrontation we ask that you please consider the following:
- If you become the target of attention of a drunken group or individual, leave the area immediately. Do not try to talk to them, reason with them, or argue with them. Once targeted, staying in the same area and “ignoring” them normally makes matters worse. Get away from them as soon as possible.
- Avoid situations involving individuals who are intoxicated, arguing, and/or causing a disturbance. Leave the area before they involve you in “their” problem.
- If you find yourself in a challenged situation, it is far better to disengage immediately and leave the area. Fighting over a bump, a perceived slight, a parking spot, 10 RMB, or a stare just isn’t worth it.
- Avoid putting others into a situation where they feel challenged and required to act. Be apologetic if the situation warrants, and do what you can to indicate that no offense was intended.
- If someone tries to engage you in a fight, back away and remove yourself from the area immediately. Should a confrontational situation occur involving someone in your party, companions should, if the situation permits, immediately step in and extract any would-be combatants as quickly as possible. Once disengaged, leave the area immediately.
- If you are out with friends or acquaintances who drink to excess urge them to return home as soon as possible. Many of the confrontational situations reported to us involve those who have consumed so much alcohol that their judgment is impaired.
Should you find yourself engaged in an altercation despite your best efforts, do your best to defuse the situation as quickly as possible and leave the area as soon as the situation allows. If the Police are called to the scene, “fight” participants are normally taken to the local police station to determine fault or work out a settlement. If injuries are claimed the police may require the claimant to go to a hospital to determine the severity of injuries. The severity of injuries will determine the seriousness of any crime committed.