The Long Arm of the Law Reaches Even in Overpriced Coffee Shops

I’ve been working on a bunch of blog posts, but since I need to finish up a draft of an article on the Tibetan crisis for The New Individualist, I’ll have to hold off for a few more days. But in the meantime…

Today, Allison and I worked on our individual projects in a coffee shop near Renmin University, called Rio Coffee, which seems to be a Korean-owned establishment, possibly even a chain. I enjoyed a ¥28 cup of black coffee (about $4), and Allison had a cappuccino beverage of some sort. For the most part, we were just doing research on their “free” internet service. She was researching historical scholarship on the ideas of Lenin, and his influence on others, and I was trying to find material for use in the Tsinghua University class I’ll be teaching tomorrow. And then, the long arm of the law stepped in.

To be honest, the incident was so odd that we aren’t even sure what happened, me especially with my ignorance of Chinese language. I can only recount what I saw. That is, as we were doing our thing, and another group of customers were doing their thing, several policemen entered the establishment. These didn’t look like beat cops. Several looked like more high-ranking officers, and some of them didn’t have uniforms at all. They marched into the back of the cafe, where a small group of customers were chatting over their beverages. I couldn’t see if they had any laptops or anything like that. What ensued was a loud argument back and forth from the cops and the people in the back.

Here’s what confuses me – I don’t know what offense prompted this. They might have been arguing amongst themselves, and this might’ve prompted a call to the cops to break things up. That’s unlikely, though. Allison and I weren’t wearing headphones, and the place is small enough such that if there had been a disturbance, we certainly would’ve heard it.

All we know is that there was some arguing for about ten minutes, and that eventually two of the men in the back were led out by the cops and taken away, with others in the group staying there. But even then, there were no handcuffs. So, no crime (evidently) in process, and senior looking cops taking guys away without handcuffs. There didn’t appear to be any cop cars waiting outside. So, what was all of that about?

It’s not impossible that these guys were dissidents, and that the police had a tip as to who they are. Who knows? Perhaps, Allison conjectured, they were being arrested for corruption. Given the periodic crackdowns on corruption that they have here, that may be the most likely explanation, and certainly if they were truly guilty of that crime (and in many cases, “corruption” is a stand-in for “we don’t like you, and you don’t have enough friends in high places”), then sure, they should go to jail. Even then, perhaps, there’s reason for pause, because corruption here is punishable by the death penalty. Whatever it was, it was weird being a witness to the whole thing, and it made me wish that I had my camera at the time. Which, of course, would’ve had to be used very subtly, so the cops didn’t realize they were being filmed. Even in the US, cops aren’t known to be all that fond of being filmed by third parties while they do their jobs. I hesitate to think of what Chinese cops could do if they realized they realized they were being filmed, by a foreigner at that.


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