On the Connection Between a Topless Woman in Qingdao and Rule of Law in China

The Matt Schivenza blog has a new post, Foreign Woman Removes Top At Beach in Qingdao, Causes Major Disturbance. [link no longer exists].

Matt’s post tracks what I was talking about this morning with a client. Not nudity, but rule of law, and how so many foreigners that do business in China misunderstand its extent and misperceive what China is really like.

The client with whom I was having this discussion is a successful and sophisticated international businessperson who has been doing business in China for around five years. He was telling me of how a Spain-based competitor of his had gotten into legal troubles and was on the verge of pulling out of China. My client thought his competitor had brought the problems onto themselves by believing they could get away with not following Chinese laws. We then talked about how when it comes to China’s laws relating to business, they tend to be fairly clear and not that bad. We agreed that companies that follow China’s business laws overwhelmingly avoid problems.

We both also agreed that what we were discussing had little to nothing to do with China’s non-business laws and little or nothing to do with corruption. In other words, China’s business laws — especially those laws that typically impact foreign companies in China — are mostly well-written and foreign companies that abide by them are usually insulated from China legal problems. But, not following them and having the right connections (which damn few foreigners have, despite their thinking otherwise) can sometimes serve to avoid problems also.

Which all brings me back to nudity and to Matt’s post.

Matt’s post is on a Qingdao newspaper article about the reaction to a Bulgarian blonde who insisted on running around topless in the middle of a hot day at Qingdao’s Number 1 Beach. This is Qingdao’s most popular beach and the last time I was there — in April no less — it was crowded. The Bulgarian caused quite a stir and gave rise to a local newspaper article, which Matt translated.

The article noted how despite the controversy and the approbation by many onlookers, the lack of any law clearly prohibiting the conduct precluded anyone stopping to it:

Shortly thereafter, this reporter went to the beach management office, where he was told by a person responsible that although the beach had encountered topless guests in the past, they had never found one daring to go topless in front of so many people. “There’s nothing we can do about it!”. This reporter was told that in the past several days many residents and guests alike have complained about this matter, but because no clear law exists prohibiting this sort of behavior, beach employees simply could not intervene.

Matt sees all this as proof of the rule of law in China:

I find this story amusing because a) the Bulgarian woman continued sunbathing topless despite what appears to have been an enormous amount of attention on top of the persistent questioning of the reporter, b) that the supposed ‘moral outrage’ involved didn’t prevent beach-goers from crowding around the woman and taking her photo, and c) that rather than compel the woman to put her top back on, the beach officials were preventing from doing so due to the absence of a clear legal statute regarding these matters. See, China is a nation that respects the rule of law!

To a certain extent, I have to agree. This does not prove China allows for freedom of political expression and this does not prove Chinese bureaucrats do not sometimes act thuggishly, but this does prove China does have laws that are followed.

What do you think?

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