Rules are rules in the west and western people generally comply with the rule of law. Life cannot be any simpler in these countries—usually it’s just follow and be safe and happy.
Rules in modern China, on the other hand, are meant to be broken! As long as you know the right people, you can get around any “problem.”
Of course, this doesn’t include “laws” the government have set to maintain power—like strict internet blockades on human rights issues, democracy, speaking out against top government officials or policies, being a religious follower or practicing Falun Gong—those can all land you serious jail time.
We’re just talking about everything else, traffic rules, bribery, corruption, murder—you know, the ho-hum law stuff.
When Chinese move to the west, they often have a hard time getting used to the strictness and properness of the system, and higher level of trust among people.
Case in point.
Anecdote 1: (this is just a joke, but makes a point)
A Chinese boy studies in the U.S. He falls for an American girl. One day, they are holding hands and waiting in front of a red light. The boys sees that the oncoming car is still quite a distance away, and drags his girlfriend to rush through the red light. The girl is mad. She says if a man dares to rush through a red light and break the law and risk her life, what other things will he do? So she dumps him.
Back in China he falls for a Chinese girl. While at a red light, he simply holds his girlfriend’s hand and waits. His girlfriend is mad. She says if a man doesn’t have the guts to rush through a red light, what good is he? So she dumps him.
A friend from China asks if I can bring him some medicine for his mother to treat her cancer. He gives me the doctor’s name and I promise without a second thought.
When I go the the pharmacist, I am told that I must have a doctor’s prescription.
Since I have a good friend who is a doctor, it should not be a problem, I think. But when I ask, he flatly rejects me. He says he cannot prescribe anything without seeing the patient.
I know about this rule of law, but I have never thought it’d actually be followed to that extent. After all, we are such good friends. Another friend told me later that that doctor puts too much at risk if he does the prescription. He has spent over ten years to become a doctor. Just one illegal deal can get him disqualified and his time and effort for all these years will be for nothing!
If you get a ticket in China, if you have a friend in the police department, they can put in a word for you, and get the ticket cancelled. Relationships and connections in China are so valuable. A lot of effort is put in to buttering up friends who can be useful.
In the west, a ticket is a ticket. You might be lucky to get out of it by pleading your case, and sometimes they’ll reduce the charge and just make you pay a fine (sort of corrupt, but not totally) so you don’t get a point on your license, but not usually.
Research by Mona and Katy Mantyk.