We live in a world that’s anything but shy of conflicts. That’s why I’m constantly amazed by how much we citizens of the world share many similarities in our taste in uniforms. We love babes in police uniforms, I mean, both Americans (Hello, Magic Mike!) and Chinese, except, while posting sexy photos of oneself wearing, or almost wearing, a police uniform on the social media can get one a few followers and likes, or, with some luck, the status of the “Internet sensation,” in China, that can actually get one some sweet jail time. That’s how “dignified” the Chinese police uniform is. Or not.
That’s what happened to Wang, a 23-year old model who was convicted on the charge of “fraud” — for the lack of an appropriate translation for zhaoyaozhuangpian zui, or 招摇撞骗罪 — and sentenced to 9 months in prison with a one-year reprieve by a district court in Beijing earlier this week. A few months ago, Wang posted on Weibo as @馨儿徽安:
I became a police officer in my hometown, and everything is starting from zero, so I’m learning very hard. As a jinghua (or a “police flower,” a term used in China to refer to female police officers — author), I have a lot of presure on me… Jinghua is just a title. I use these titles such as “jinghua” or “model” for business negotiations at the dinner table, and get deals and investment.
To this post, Wang also attached three photos of herself wearing a police reniform and bikinis.
Wang was reported to Weibo by a user and her post was flagged as “false information” by the website’s administrator. The post was taken down by Wang shortly after, and by then it had been reposted and commented on for hundreds of times, which was, however, pretty inconsequential considering Weibo’s 300 million users.
It’s unusual for somebody to be prosecuted for a post that has so little impact. In fact, Wang is reported to be the first in China who has been sentenced to prison for posing as a police officer online. Many people expressed on Weibo that they think the punishment she received is too severe for her deed. “I don’t think [Wang] should have been punished so severely. Wang was just wearing a police uniform; she didn’t con anybody out of money,” as @笔者楚觉非V commented on Weibo.
The problem with the case, however, is not just about the degree of punishment, but about principles too. What really constitutes “fraud” in China is unclear, both in principle and in this specific case. As a netizen @lucan路璨 has pointed out, Wang has stated in her profile (and her account is “verified” for her identity) that she’s a model. If she did reveal her true identity, that means that she didn’t have the serious intent to mislead others to believe her false identity as police officer. In that case, her posing would be a performance — Wang herself also stated herself that she did it just “for fun” — rather than serious impersonation, or fraud.
If that’s the case, Wang shouldn’t be punished for “fraud,” an opinion shared by some netizens, such as @lucan路璨, who wrote, “Please tell me which law prohibits people from wearing police costume?” Technically, @lucan路璨 was right. Wang’s “uniform” was just a “costume” that she kept after a photo shoot where she was hired to pose in it. So where should we draw the line between performance and fraud? Or, in other words, where should we draw the line between speech and action, for performance is a form of speech, while impersonation is an act?
Now, speech can be the basis for legal action in China, but many Chinese are aware of the lack of freedom of speech in China and their expressions of grievances and demands for the rights to free speech are not rare in online discourse in recent years. However, unfortunately, few have brought up the issue of speech in the debates surrounding Wang’s case. (I have made some comments on Weibo about Wang’s case and free speech. The responses I got were pretty negative and off the point.)
A couple of people did bring up the idea of “thought crime.”
One of them is @NOD净化者, who wrote, “Faint. Only when there’s a victim who has been conned and when her action resulted in serious consequences should we use the Criminal Law. Should we prosecute people for thought crimes?”
@NOD净化者‘s comment is in response to the comments by a user who claims to represent “Central China University Law School Student Union” (@华中大法学院学生会), who supported the court’s decision because “many countries have criminal laws that include crimes of impersonating public servants.”
However, even if the question of speech is put aside, the truth is, Wang is not in trouble just because she’s an impostor, but also because she’s a “slut.” Not only her originally post attracted much criticism, but even after she was convicted, many continued to attack her unsympathetically:
This whore wants a good reputation. Die! — @东坑家人.
[Wang] deserted morality for fame? So sad. — @-必修课.
Look, [you’re] obsessed to be famous, and can’t you be famous in jail now? This is what you get by following the fad. — @zeeyorl
Stupid, you deserve it. Hahaha… Still want to show off, want to be famous? — @红烬Ash
It is safe to read these allegations as misogynistic vent of anger, jealousy, and hatred, from both men and women. Sexism, coupled with the good old authoritarianism, are what Wang is truly up against.
@笔者楚觉非V‘s comment seems to have hit the hail on the head here:
As to her indecent poses, they got her in jail because she tarnished the image of people’s police force. [However,] imagine if Wang was dressed up as a nurse, a teacher, or a maid; would she be punished like this? No. They’re all occupations, but are treated so differently. Why?
The logic behind this hypocrisy is that it’s acceptable to degrade nurses, teachers and maids — occupations traditionally taken by women — but it’s a crime to degrade police officers — an occupation traditionally taken by men — remember? A woman police officer is sexualized as a “police flower” — and, more importantly, an occupation that represents the state and its (masculine) power over its people.
The truth is, Wang’s offense doesn’t lie in her posing as what she is not. There have been plenty of images of beautiful young women and men posing as police officers “with dignity” in the public space but no one would have even bothered to ask whether they are models or real police officers. There’s also plenty of sexy photos that can be considered way more indecent than her photos floating online, but rarely anybody has gotten into trouble with the law for them. (“What if she didn’t wear any clothes? What would that be? Pornography, body art, or body painting… I want to ask how many years can she get for that?” as @烦人先生2447486305 asked.) Wang’s offense lies in her juxtaposing an image of a desired — sexually objectified — young woman with the image of the police force. At the same time, she dared to do so with a certain “shameless” spectacle. And that — THAT is the worst HUMILIATION thrown in the face of the stern-faced paternal state. (Even the name of her crime, zhaoyaozhuangpian zui, screams out this frustration of a self-righteous patriarch. Literally, zhaoyao means to bluff, to show off, or to parade. Zhuangpian means to con, to trick, or to swindle.)
“Don’t you repeatedly make fun of the system. [Remember,] the system has power,” as netizen @林水邑风 wrote. Read: if you dare to disgrace the state, you’re going to jail.