Someone once said ‘an unjust law is no law at all,’ but perhaps a more accurate rephrasing would read ‘an unenforced law is no law at all.’ This has largely been our experience, at least, when it comes to navigating our way through the complicated legal terrain of the PRC. No approved foreign media outlets, but a hundred (illegal) satellite dishes on every apartment complex (and hotel for that matter). Only a handful of state-sanctioned (and censored) foreign films released in theaters each year, but literally thousands more (pirated and uncut) are available on almost every urban street corner. And it is also technically undocumented migrants to reside and work in Shanghai, never mind that they’ve literally built the place. You get the picture.
So it’s surprising, possibly even eerie, that so many of these phantom laws that we sort-of knew existed are being enforced all of a sudden. It all started back in January when sniffer dogs were deployed to stop the transport of combustibles on the subways. They were gone soon enough and no real effort was made to stop spitting, so it was soon forgotten. Then came the tightening of visa restrictions, raids in Beijing, and an announced satellite television crackdown all in April. These efforts were more successful in getting our attention. Just these past months we’ve been amazed to see everything from ‘random’ bag searches in the metro, police sobriety checkpoints for drivers on the weekends, and just yesterday we even saw someone get a ticket for jaywalking. What’s next, no smoking in places with ‘NO SMOKING’ signs and stopping your vehicles at red lights?
This should not be misconstrued to mean that we disagree with the government’s ability to create rules and enforce them, because that’s more or less what governments do. We just like to be in the loop is all. What should we be doing, and for how long? A little warning would go a long way, too, especially when it comes to changing the visas. Thank god there are people out there like China Law Blog (Shanghaiist’s favorite internet conciliere) to keep us from going too far astray.