Xavier Magazine

Policing China

Kam Wong and Jeff Monroe tuck themselves into the back seat of a Toyota Corolla and begin touring the bustling streets of Hangzhou City, the wealthy capital of Zhejiang Province on China’s east coast. They’re hardly your conventional tourists, though. Wong, who chairs the department of criminal justice, and Monroe, an assistant professor of criminal justice, are in China as part of a two-week tour of the country’s police training colleges and police stations.


Once a bastion of secrecy and security, China is opening itself up to Western ideas, and Wong and Monroe are here for three reasons: to get a closer look at Chinese police practices; to expose Chinese students and government officials to a U.S. view of policing and human rights; and to take the first steps for creating an exchange program for students studying criminal justice.

As they tour Hangzhou City, their police escorts discuss crime control and prevention, proudly pointing out the video cameras along every street and the modern, high-tech police stations where banks of video monitors keep an eye on Hangzhou’s 6.5 million people.

What Wong knows and Monroe quickly learns is that policing in Communist China is not much different than in the United States—at least on the surface. They want to prevent crime and keep their people and cities safe. The differences are more subtle, embedded in centuries of social and philosophical approaches to managing society: The American visitors are joined everywhere by ever-present government escorts; the city streets are infiltrated with video to catch—and prevent—criminal activity.

Another difference is how police trainees are handled. At the station in Hangzhou City, Monroe and Wong meet young officers who are required to live in a barracks at the police station until they’re 28 or married. It is sparse: Each officer is assigned a bunk and a locker.

“I think the public sees policing as more like the military,” Monroe says. “At the police training universities, they can’t come and go as they please. It’s lights off at a certain hour, and they get up at a certain time. It’s an interesting culture, and it’s changing dramatically.”

Such treatment of police forces is a vestige of Communist China under former Chairman Mao Zedong when police were expected to control the population, not merely to chase criminals. Now that China is emerging as a global player economically and culturally, it is opening itself to policing experts worldwide to both share and borrow best police practices.

Wong, who came to Xavier last year, has well-established links with China’s Ministry of Public Security and several major universities. A native of Hong Kong, he became a police inspector when he was 18 years old before coming to the United States to complete his education. Now he travels to Hong Kong in the summers as a visiting Chinese law professor at the City University of Hong Kong and is recognized as an international authority on police practices. Much of his research focuses on the history and sociology of Chinese policing, and he’s often invited to lecture on his research into comparative policing.

And, following his trip last December, he wants Xavier students to benefit from his connections. “The Public Security University and Zhejiang Police College are enthusiastic about establishing formal links with Xavier,” he says.

One of his ideas is to have joint courses on the Internet for both Xavier and Chinese students. He is also proposing summer exchange students who would work as interns at local police stations in each other’s countries.

“These people-to-people exchanges are most important in developing cross-cultural linkages and, in turn, promoting interpersonal understanding and preparing our students to work in a global economy with emerging China as a key player,” Wong says.

While policing in China still reflects a philosophy of social control to prevent crime, it’s moving toward community policing, where police at the local level assist people in policing themselves, Wong says.

But that is a difficult transition in a country where there is only one police agency—the national Ministry of Public Security—though the system is tiered with local, provincial and regional offices.

“They’re bringing the community in and trying to work with them rather than to always be about crime control,” says Monroe.

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