Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I noticed quickly when I moved to Suzhou, China that crime is relatively low here, especially, violent crime; it’s mostly due to gun ownership being banned in China.

China has four times the population of America with far less criminals. Many sociologists say the social stigma of being labeled a thief and a harsh prison sentence is a deterrent from committing the crimes in China in the first place.

I also noticed that China doesn’t have the number of drug crimes that America is plagued with. Most crimes in America are drug related but China isn’t overwhelmed with those issues.

My students in my cultural diversity class here in Suzhou are fascinated by the availability of weapons in America. Their perception of gun ownership in the U.S. is greatly influenced by the world media coverage of America’s high crime rate.

Many of my students see the U.S. as a gun toting society with its citizenry hell bent on getting their way with gun in hand. Violent films and news broadcasts give the impression that America is a dark and dangerous place to live or visit. I tell my students that most Americans are not criminals waiting for an opportunity to rob or steal.

The right to bear arms is not something you will find in China. That is certainly a good thing and it makes for great conversations in my classes here. I tell my students that you have to practice common sense when it comes to personal property especially in America because thefts do take place. But not everyone in the U.S. walks around with weapons in order to protect themselves and their property. One of my students said “guns are like toys for most Americans,” and she went on to say, “the weapons they own is a sign of their immaturity and insecurities.”

I told my students in class that “in times of struggle gun owners are usually killed by their own weapon.” I then went on to say “and there are more guns in America than people.” My students always laugh at those statements and the statements are always followed up with many insightful comments by my students.

I find the Chinese here to be relatively honest, nonviolent, and on the most part helpful. I never worry about my personal belongings being stolen because from my own personal experiences I never had anything stolen here. I never have to lock my apartment door because I know when I return everything will be there as I left it.

In 2009 an American couple left an unwanted shirt in their Hotel room in Shanghai. A Hotel employee showed up at the Shanghai train station on his own to return the shirt to them. They tried to give the Hotel employee a tip for his trouble but he refused to take it. That experience left a huge impression on that couple and it was something they never experienced before. They said to me “experiences like that are not something you can easily describe to a person because China’s culture is not something that can easily be expressed in words it is something you have to experience.”

China however is not free from crime because the country does have its share of criminal organizations. Criminals here ignore intellectual property rights and they illegally copy popular products such as BlackBerry phones, various brand name wristwatches, computer operating systems, and brand name clothes. You can buy a fake Rolex watch that looks like the real deal, and fake brand name smartphones on China’s city streets. Counterfeit currency is another criminal enterprise here in China. The China Government has to constantly come up with ways to make it more difficult for criminals to print fake currency.

The Shanghai Daily Newspaper ran a story about a pickpocket ring in the Northern city of Xinjiang and the elaborate distractions the criminals come up with in order to pick your pocket. It was News because of the boldness of the criminals.
In the Chinese City of Fujian an illegal smuggling operation of human cargo was shutdown in 2008 and the criminals were given long prison sentences. Some of the people who were smuggled out of China illegally found themselves in various U.S. cities forced into prostitution.

There were about 270 cities in China last year that saw a huge rise in Cell Phone thefts. The reselling of stolen phones has become a huge criminal enterprise as well and the tracking of stolen phones is almost nonexistent in China. The cell phone companies in America can turn a stolen phone off and make it impossible for a thief to us a stolen phone. China either doesn’t have or is unwilling to use that technology to curb the theft of cell phones.

I’m not able to adequately describe the cultural differences between America and China nor can I explain why crime is so much higher in the U.S. There is however something deeply ingrained in China’s culture that sets them apart from much of the problems that is currently plaguing our western societies. I believe greed is destroying our American culture and the U.S. is also losing touch with its core values and principles that led to its greatness.

One of the values I learned from my Grandfather if you are kind and respectful others will be kind and respectful in return. That insight is also ingrained in China’s culture and it is also something we can all learn from through experience and practice. I didn’t have to travel halfway around the world to be kind hearted and respectful towards those around me. It was something that was already instilled in me from my Grandfather at a very young age.

I also discovered over the years that what you give to others is returned to you in greater fold and that is something I have experienced firsthand. I always tell my students our self-worth is not determined by our material possessions. Our self-worth is ultimately determined by what we give to others. The Chinese seem to understand that better than your average American.

Our American Founding Fathers believed in Life, Liberty, and a pursuit of happiness but in order to find the happiness we seek we must first have the life and liberty to bring happiness to others.

The happiness I was seeking was already within me but I didn’t discover that happiness until I brought it to others. I think that is why I enjoy the company of my students and why they enjoy my company. My students want to learn all they can about the American culture and at the same time I am gaining tremendous insights about China’s culture and its rich traditions.

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill

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