The greatest ammunition at our disposal is not disbursed through the barrel of a gun but through, thoughtful actions, right speech, and an understanding heart.
When I first arrived in China back in 2009, I noticed quickly that crime is relatively low here, especially, violent crime; it’s mostly due to the illegality of gun ownership.
China with four times the population of America has far fewer criminals. Many sociologists say the social stigma of being labeled a thief in China is a greater deterrent than a prison sentence. I also noticed that China doesn’t have the number of drug crimes that America is now plagued with. Most crimes in America are drug-related but China isn’t overwhelmed with those issues.
My students in my cultural diversity class 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 a gun in hand. Violent films and news broadcasts give the impression that America is a dark and dangerous place to live. I, however, 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. I tell my students that you must 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 to protect themselves and their property.
In 2011, 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.”
In 2010, a popular program in China showed security camera footage of a man walking into a convenience store in Florida with a holstered pistol. The footage of him was like something out of an old cowboy movie. As he stood in front of the clerk at the checkout, a man walked up behind the gun tooting man and pulled the pistol out of the man’s holster. He used it to demand that all the money be handed to him from the cashier, and after receiving cash in hand. The robber removed the bullets from the pistol and handed the gun back to its rightful owner. He then apologized to the clerk and walked out of the store. The video went viral on social media not just in China but throughout the world. People overseas use these types of videos to make our country and gun advocates in America look stupid.
I once told my students in a class that “in times of struggle gun owners are usually killed by their own weapon.” I then went on to say, “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 from 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 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 was not always free from crime though because the country did and still has its share of criminal organizations. Criminals here still ignore intellectual property rights and they illegally copy popular products. In 2009, BlackBerry phones were hot items for bootleggers. Today, various brand name wristwatches, computer operating systems, and brand name clothes are copied and sold on the streets of Shanghai. You can still buy fake Rolex watches here that look like the real deal, and fake brand name smartphones on China’s city streets. Counterfeit currency is another criminal enterprise here. The China Government must continually come up with ways to make it more difficult for criminals to print fake currency.
In 2008, the Shanghai Daily Newspaper ran a story about a pickpocket ring in the Northern city of Xinjiang and the elaborate distractions the criminals came up with 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 shut down 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 in 2010 that saw a huge rise in cellphone thefts. The reselling of stolen phones was a huge criminal enterprise. Today, however, the tracking of stolen phones has become a huge deterrent for criminals. The cellphone companies in China can turn a stolen phone off and make it impossible for a thief to use it. China is now beginning to utilize even greater technology to curb the theft of cellphones with GPS tracking and other locator software. Modern cellphones cannot be completely turned off enabling the phone to be tracked which has also become a huge deterrent for thieves.
Artificial intelligence technology and facial recognition software have also become a huge crime-fighting tool. There are cameras everywhere in the most populous country on earth. If you commit a crime it is only a matter of time that you will be tracked and caught. Law enforcement can track down criminals by user apps and facial recognition security cameras. Artificial intelligence facial recognition technology has brought the crime rate down to an all-new low making the Chinese society a relatively peaceful society.
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 are currently plaguing our American society. I believe the U.S. is losing touch with its core values and principles that led to our greatness. At the same time, many in America still communicate the traditional values that resonate within our nation's core principles. Those core principals set our country apart, attracting our ancestors to our shores, they were the ones who built our great nation.
One simple lesson I learned from my Grandparents 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 kindhearted and respectful towards those around me. It was already instilled in me from my Grandparents from a 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 average Chinese person seems to understand that better than us average Americans.
Our American Founding Fathers believed in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but to find true happiness, we must first have the life and liberty to bring happiness to others. The happiness I was seeking when I first came to China was already within me, but I didn’t discover that happiness until I shared it with others. I think that is why I enjoy the company of my students and why they enjoy my company.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
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.
Thomas F O’Neill