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Minor lawbreakers feel no remorse despite humiliation of penalties

(Global Times)

08:44, October 23, 2012

Chinese people are not unfamiliar with spats and fights on public transport. Recently in Beijing, two passengers fought at a Line 2 subway station.

One rolled off the platform onto the track during the fighting, and the other jumped down to continue the scuffle. The two didn't stop fighting on the subway train track until they were taken away by subway workers. It was fortunate that the fighting lasted for only a short time and a tragedy was averted.

It remains unknown why many Chinese get so easily irritated by trivial matters. Those who do lose their cool so blatantly also disregard the great number of people around them. A Beijing subway employee told media that quarrels or scuffles break out at busy stations almost daily. Online, netizens banter that slogans like "please fight during non-rush hours" should be put up on platforms and in subway trains.

It is said that Chinese highly value saving "face." But this is obviously not the case when they engage in brawls. Last month on a Swiss flight, two Chinese came to blows due to a conflict over seating. No one could stop them from fighting and the pilot was forced to turn the plane around.

Calling for civilized behavior from such people clearly doesn't work, nor do fines. There are now calls for stricter punishment toward those involved in such fracas.

Detailed regulations concerning punishment for such behavior already exist. For small fights without serious consequences, mediation can be used to allow both parties to reach a settlement. Those that cause serious injuries or impair public order can be fined and detained and those committing crimes will of course face prosecution.

However, due to my experience in similar cases, most involved do not feel regret even after being fined or detained. For those fighting at subway stations, fines as high as 1,000 yuan ($159) could be imposed, but this is not a huge amount for many urban-dwelling Chinese people today. Even among those who are detained, which is a deeply humiliating experience, many still don't feel regret but believe they are treated unfairly.

I recently had to take on a case where a man brawling on the street was detained by authorities. The company he worked for learned about this and fired him. The man refused to believe this fight could have destroyed his career and sued the public security bureau for detaining him.

Therefore, it seems that the problem is not that the country's means of punishment are too lenient. It simply seems that they do not have an educational effect allowing people to reflect on their wrongdoings.

In this regard, we can learn from the US. More methods can be introduced beside legal punishment. In 1997, Jim Guy Tucker, former governor of Arkansas, was involved in a case of fraud. He was accordingly fined and imprisoned. Besides, the judge also ordered him to deliver speeches to middle school students across the state, talking about ethics and values.

In Hong Kong and many other regions and countries around the world, those who violate the law for minor offenses often receive hours of community service, which is aimed at forcing lawbreakers to really look at their previous deeds.

As for punishing those who fight on the subway, they could for example be made to maintain order at the station where the fight took place. This could not only educate the violators themselves, but also act as a warning to others.
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