Thursday, September 18, 2008

The police & the law

A friend of mine lost his passport recently.

He thinks it must have been when he went to watch some Olympic athletics at the Bird's Nest a few weeks back, and thought he might need ID to get in.

In fact, there were no ID checks at all at any of the stadiums (not even for holders of Olympic passes that gave access to restricted areas?? I did hear of some people swapping theirs around for a day, or lending them to friends.....). However, it is a long-standing 'law' here that everyone must carry ID at all times - and for us foreigners, that means our passports. No-one has ever paid a blind bit of notice to this in the past, but this 'law' was being heavily emphasised in the run-up to the Olympics, and, since the early summer, there have been numerous stories of people being randomly stopped and challenged to produce their ID, and threatened with spot fines of some hundreds of RMB if they were caught without (and this was usually being done not by policemen but by officious neighbourhood volunteers, whose authority to do this was highly questionable).

My friend had to go and report the loss at a police station, before he could make his application for a new passport at the British Consulate.

When the officer processing the complaint heard that my friend had taken his passport with him to the Olympics, he chided him that this was "Very, very foolish."

"But it's the law," objected my friend. "We're told that we have to."

"Oh, yes, it's the law," responded the policeman. "But it's very, very foolish."

Or "more honoured in the breach than the observance", as the English idiom has it - like so much of the Chinese legal code.

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