In China we often come across cultural differences that we are unsure of how to approach. During this time we usually look to the locals to see what they’re doing and how they are reacting and try to adjust our ways of thinking to match theirs. Occasionally this doesn’t work as our own culture is so engrained in us that going against it seems wrong, usually morally.
The other day a foreign teacher at our school was riding down the street on his motorcycle when saw a large young man push a small college aged girl into the street. The girl began to run away and the man picked up a large bamboo stick and threw it at the girl, hitting her in the back. The girl immediately fell and began screaming and crying while the man approached her. The locals came out of their businesses and began to watch the scene but did not interfere. At this point the teacher decided to intervene. He pulled his motorcycle over and told the man not to hit the girl anymore. The man responded with, “This is China.” To which the teacher said, “Oh so China is a big guy hitting a little girl?” In an attempt to shame the man and cause him to lose face. (Let me interject for a moment to explain the concept of face: Face is important in Chinese culture. Essentially it is your reputation or how you look to people. Losing face is a great embarrassment to people and something no one wishes to experience. Many will go to great lengths in order to not lose face, even if they are clearly in the wrong.) At this point the young man’s sister and boyfriend decided to get involved in the situation. The sister began screaming at the foreign teacher telling him to mind his own business and stay out of their family affairs. Then she proceeded to pick up the bamboo stick that had been thrown at the girl and began to hit the foreign teacher with it. He pulled it out of her hands and threw it to the ground and began screaming back at her calling her a “Bitch” (which she was). The sister’s boyfriend then told the foreign teacher, “How can you call her a bitch? She is a girl!” Wha…? You can’t call her a bitch because she’s a girl but it’s okay to hit one? The foreign teacher decided it was time to get the police involved and gave them a phone call. At this point he wasn’t the only one, the business owners also began calling the police. At this point the sister, her boyfriend, the young man, and the beaten girl hopped on their scooters and hightailed it out of there. The police showed up about one minute later, took a report, and that was the end of it. No arrests, no action, and no attempt to find the abuser.
Now the foreign teacher and the rest of us foreigners are left to wonder, why didn’t anyone else try to stop the young man? This is perhaps the biggest cultural difference we find ourselves dealing with here, the inaction and stubborn refusal to step in, even when it means righting a wrong.