Friday, August 8, 2008

Chinese Embarrassed Before Opening Ceremony?

by Kathryn Casey

I have to admit that I have the impression I’m safer in other countries than I am here at home. Sometimes I wonder if it’s true or a product of reading American news about crime here and often not much about troubles in the rest of the world.

Wondering, I recently googled “international crime rates” and discovered fallacy and truth in my assumption. According to world stats site NationMaster, the U.S. ranks 24th out of 63 nations in murders per capita, at .04 murders per 1,000. That sounds high, but we’re way better off than folks in country number one, Colombia, with .62 murders per 1,000. We’re also safer than folks in nations such as Thailand, Mexico, Zambia, Bulgaria, and Lithuania. That’s good, I guess, until you take a gander at the rest of the list. U.S. murder rates dwarf those in the United Kingdom and most of Europe. (I bet we could start a lively discussion about why that's true.)

The reason I started thinking about international crime is that the Beijing Olympics open tonight. Compared to we rowdy Westerners, Asian nations have historically had little crime. Maybe that’s partly the case in China, because authorities keep a tight lid on the populace. Getting ready for the games, for instance, the government not only attempted to restrict Internet access for journalists but advised citizens on what to wear. (Any more than three colors of clothing at one time was discouraged.)

According to our own government, China is low-crime, and travelers to Beijing should feel pretty safe. Still, there's always some danger. Last week reports surfaced of terrorist attacks in Kashgar, where 16 police were killed by grenades. Those responsible were identified as Muslim separatist groups. Although Kashgar is a western town, far from Beijing, there is concern that the attackers could attempt a strike at the Olympics. And while admittedly at lower than U.S. rates, China isn't immune to violent crime. In fact, with rampant industrial and cultural change, crime rates in the country are climbing, especially among rural teens.

It’s just such a crime that caught my attention and started all this musing: the July 6th murder of Diana O’Brien, a Canadian model working in Shanghai.

Striking with long brown hair and remarkable eyes, O’Brien had been in Shanghai for only two weeks, when her body was discovered crumpled and bleeding at the base of a stairwell. Police found her apartment ransacked and missing computer equipment, cameras, and jewelry. An autopsy determined that O’Brien, 22, had been stabbed seven times, including in the heart and liver.

At first, suspicion centered on a man who’d allegedly been stalking the striking young Canadian, someone she’d met at one of her jobs. She’d traveled to China believing she’d be modeling, but, as is often the case with these overseas "modeling agencies," O’Brien was disapp

ointed in the work, which turned out to include dancing on a podium at a nightclub to promote a brand of whisky. She was talking of returning to Canada early, friends say, at the time of the murder.

Despite the stalking lead, the murder, it now appears, was simply a botched robbery.

Late last month, Chinese authorities arrested Chen Jun, an 18-year-old migrant worker. At the time of his arrest, authorities say he had in his possession items from O’Brien’s apartment. On July 24th,

Jun’s confession was played for the nation on Chinese television. Showing no emotion, he said he'd gone into O’Brien’s apartment because he saw an open door. He’d lost his job in a tea room and needed money to return to his rural province. As he was grabbing her laptop, O’Brien entered and went after him, intent on reclaiming her property. He pulled out a folding knife, and stabbed her. When she screamed for help, he stabbed her again.

A neighbor heard O’Brien screaming but thought it was "just a domestic squabble" and didn’t call police.

Now that he’s in custody, Jun faces a trial and a possible death sentence, the usual fate for a Chinese national convicted of murdering a foreigner. The Chinese government is undoubtedly miffed that this brutal crime took place so close to the Olympics, when appearances are of such grave concern. Just goes to show you, even an oppressive government like China's can't wipe out crime.

I’m not sure why this case interests me other than that it illustrates the universality of senseless acts of violence, that every nation has members of that abhorrent subset of mankind for whom life is cheap.


Leah said...

Interesting thoughts KC. I am always surprised that we are the country that had a bombing when we hosted the olympics in Atlanta and it hasn't happened someplace else.

Kathryn Casey said...

Let's hope this is a safe Olympics. The photos of the opening tonight look fabulous. We're having friends over to watch and eat Mexican food.