The Chinese Government has launched a large-scale “people’s war” against organised crime, as well as the industries and regions most affected by it.
- Villages are turning to crime to achieve the Chinese dream
- Skills in drug manufacturing, theft and kidnapping are passed down generations
- Dr Bakken’s research suggests a high crime rate is covered up
Human trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking and pyramid schemes will be a major focus of the nationwide crackdown, according to a document released by Beijing.
A joint circular from China’s main law enforcement and justice organs called on criminals and corrupt officials to turn themselves in by March 1, in exchange for lighter punishments.
It also called on the families of people involved in organised crime to surrender their relatives to police, promising rewards and protection to informants.
“[The crackdown] is a people’s war and we must rely on the active participation of the people,” the circular said.
Borge Bakken, a researcher from the Australian National University and the author of the book Crime and the Chinese Dream, said previous violent crackdowns on crime from the 1980s onwards were ineffective.
“They were pretty draconian, they were extra-legal,” he told the ABC’s The World program.
Dr Bakken said the campaigns resulted in increased crime rates across China, and it appeared the Government was distancing its current efforts from past crackdowns.
“Now they say ‘we will do it by rule, by law’, whatever that means in China that doesn’t have due process and an independent judiciary,” he said.
It is common throughout Asia for villages to specialise in a specific trade, with skills passed down through the generations.
However in the course of his research, Dr Bakken found that in some villages in China, the specialty is crime.
Skills passed down through the generations can include drug manufacturing, theft and even the kidnapping of children.
“They are turning to a kind of illegal entrepreneurialism in the countryside,” Dr Bakken said.
Whole local economies are based on a specific organised crime which local police turn a blind eye to, and these village gangs are set to be targeted in China’s new campaign.
Dr Bakken described the methods used by one “robbery village” that targeted crowded locations like train stations, and would have one member cut a commuter’s hand to create a bloody and chaotic scene.
“People think it is a terror action, and in the chaos that is following that kind of attack people are fleeing,” he said.
“They are leaving all of their luggage. And then they have 20 other people from the same village picking up the luggage and running off with it.”
Dr Bakken said growing financial inequality, and the difficulty of making money in rural areas, was part of the reason many Chinese villages had turned to crime.
Statistics manipulated to fit with propaganda
According to Dr Bakken, one journalist who was following these stories has been banned from reporting the incidents because they do not fit the ideal of a harmonious society pushed in government propaganda — a cover up he suggests is part of a wider manipulation of the figures.
According to the 2018 crime index, China ranks significantly lower than the United States and Australia — but according to Dr Bakken’s research, the figures do not reflect reality.
“One obvious way of falsifying the crime rate is by not giving you the real data known to the police,” he said.
In Guangzhou, Dr Bakken’s research team found that 97.5 per cent of crime was not reported in the official statistics.
Of 2.5 million cases of crime, in 2015 the police commissioner reported 59,985 — exactly 15 less than his ‘target’ of 60,000, down from 90,000 at the start of his tenure in 2012.
The murder rate in China is around 10,000 per year according to official statistics, 25 per cent less than the rate in Australia per capita.
“I have the internal numbers from the beginning of the millennium, and in 2002 there were 52,500 murders in China,” he said.
Instead of 25 per cent less murder than Australia, Dr Bakken said the real figure was closer to 400 per cent more.
“That is a kind of propagandistic way of falsifying numbers to say we have a harmonious society.”