Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Stand Your Ground

George Zimmerman is in the news again. He’s back in Florida, booked on another domestic violence charge – his second. Earlier this year he was busted for speeding through Texas and yes, he had his concealed gun and valid registration. The media was very clear on that subject. 

This entry isn’t about guns, and it isn’t political. It is about ‘standing ground’. I had in mind to write this several months back, thanks to my good friend and constant correspondent Kevin. He and I have opposing views on just about any socio-political hot button from abortion to gun rights, with the Stand your Ground law smack in the middle of it.

He who fired the ‘ground-standing’ shot heard ‘round the world - Mr. Zimmerman, making headlines again, brought the topic back to my scattered mind. Kevin wanted to know about ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in China. The short answer is: there are none.

If I left it at that, this would be a very bland, boring and unnecessary blog entry. So, I’m going to delve.

First, let me state: China is a gun free country. Therefore, Stand Your Ground legislation as it exists in America (with regard to guns) would not be applicable. Second: The Chinese government doesn’t necessarily concern itself with day to day interactions between citizens. They focus more on general social mores: one SHOULD maintain filial piety and loyalty to his/her country. People SHOULD strive to be ‘good’, productive, strive for high standards of living, of decency, dignity and decorum… and on and on. To be a member of this society implies adherence to these social ‘laws’. To my knowledge, there is no law or edict that states one has the right to defend him/herself by whatever means necessary, even unto the death of the offending party. 

What if there is a death? Criminal charges may or may not be filed. The altercations’ victors are not legally charged with a killing unless someone – usually a member of the victim’s family presses charges. In such cases, usually the police will negotiate a settlement between the ‘ground stander’ and the victim’s family. Some monetary value is agreed upon, depending on the status of the victim: was he/she a breadwinner? Were there many family members to support? Children to send to school? Such compensation would mirror approximately the financial value of the deceased. Not a lifetime value, mind you, but enough for the victim’s family to bridge the gap between what their slain loved one might have earned and the lack of those earnings, till they can figure out how to make up those resources.   

If the police cannot help the parties arrive to an agreement – i.e., the slain person’s family still wishes to take the matter to court, the police will then file charges and the matter will be brought before a judge, usually within a few weeks. Should the accused be found guilty, he/she would be remanded to some form of custody for a set period of imprisonment.

Most opt for settlement, mainly because if the matter goes to trial, which would most likely lead to incarceration, the victim’s family will receive no funds. Not that folks here are meretricious, but life in China is hard and people are pragmatic. Better to receive some sort of compensation so that life can go on. It is easier to grieve the loss of a loved one when all other aspects of life are at least somewhat maintained.

Does that mean that there is no Standing of Ground over here? Not on your life, my friend! (pardon the pun).

I never really gave this much thought, but I do get irritated on crowded buses. They get packed with people, even to the doorwells. Most times, those blocking the doors will not move to let passengers on or off. When a rider’s stop arrives, he/she is required to squeeze past or eek by those ‘blockers’, or shove them out of the way. It is even more difficult to do if/when that person has a suitcase or some other large bundle.

This doesn’t just happen in doorways. Sometimes, riders find a comfortable place to stand – near an open window or under an air conditioning vent, or maybe they have a group of seats scoped out for the chance at sitting, if theirs will be a long ride. That person will not move, even as the bus fills up. Newly boarded passengers have to ooze past those glued to their spots in order to find a place to stand that will afford them some sort of strap or pole to grip while the bus jounces around. This situation is aggravated if the unmoving passenger has a large bundle, a stroller or a suitcase.

And speaking of getting a seat… little old ladies may be harmless in the states, but over here, heaven forbid you should come between an empty seat and a senior citizen desiring to rest! Usually, women are more aggressive than men in this aspect. I have literally been pushed out of the way by tiny, wizened womenfolk who wish to park themselves where I had been planning to rest my duff.

I talked with Tristan about this matter after a particularly aggravating, jerky bus ride. He too averred he does not get out of the way, even if he could. He could not explain why. I suppose this behavior is so deeply ingrained in the culture that many Chinese would not be aware of doing it until it is pointed out.

You could say that, in China, bus riders definitely ‘stand their ground’. But it is not just bus riders.

At the farmers’ market, grocery stores, mom-and-pop operations, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hospitals and just about everywhere I’ve gone, the Chinese have demonstrated a ‘Stand Your Ground’ mentality. It is nothing to cut in line at the supermarket, a train ticketing window, the bakery or a noodle stand. It is perfectly acceptable to shout questions or proffer money at cashiers, even while they are in the middle of a transaction with another customer.

You will not get wait-service in a restaurant unless you loudly call for it. You will be pushed aside and possibly stomped on at tourist venues, relics, temples or at the lake. You’d better be ready to bark your order to the cashier at McDonalds’ before someone cuts in from the side and takes your turn. In short, anywhere one is required to queue up and maintain decorum you will find a slew of eager, impatient Chinese ready to take advantage of any opening, no matter how small.

That includes driving. Unless your vehicle is within kissing distance from all vehicles around you, you can count on being cut off. That goes for dump trucks and double-decker buses as well as battery powered scooters.

While on the subject of scooters: they ride anywhere – sidewalks, bike paths, turning lane, center lane, right lane… wherever they can make their little put-puts go. As a pedestrian I have engaged many times in a tango with a scooter. So far those dances have not ended up in disaster for me, although once, during a heavy rainfall I did see a scooter knock a young woman wearing heels to the ground. While the bus I was riding ground slowly past, I could see their wild gesticulations. No doubt they were attempting to lay blame on each other to avoid having to pay compensation.

As you can see, there is plenty of ‘Standing Your Ground’ over here, and not much of it has to do with violence. Over here, ‘standing your ground’ means taking and defending your little portion of… whatever it is you are currently defending, whether standing room on a bus or your place in line at McDonalds’.           

A headline making case over here involved a man who, while arguing with a woman over a parking space, grabbed her daughter out of her stroller and flung her to the ground. The child died 2 days later, of injuries sustained from being spiked like a volleyball. The man was arrested and tried, found guilty of murder and currently serving his sentence. He has filed an appeal based on the fact that he did not intend to murder the child. His defense is based on the fact that many people in China use baby strollers for many different reasons, among them for vegetable transport.

This is true: I have seen strollers ‘recycled’ into shopping carts. This man maintains that in his drunken state he thought he was throwing vegetables around. I’m not sure how drunk one would have to be to mistake a baby for a cabbage. Perhaps it is possible… In any case: the mother stood her ground to have this man arrested, tried and imprisoned. The defendant is standing his ground by asserting he thought he was flinging cabbage. This is one argument the courts are going to have to straighten out.

Foreigners who come to China unprepared for this mentality are in for a shock. Mostly, they consider the Chinese rude for standing their ground. I contend it is not rudeness, merely culturally different. Could you imagine that type of imperative coupled with a handgun?     

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