Quote of the Day: “‘Uniform’ Has Been Transformed From a Noun Into a Verb”

A recent altercation captured on video shows an off-duty, uniformed toll-booth employee in Yulin, Shaanxi province, berating a truck driver at a restaurant and trying to force him to eat food from a garbage can. The disturbing video has provoked much discussion online about the perceived impunity of individuals in uniform, the abuse of petty authority, and how the problem of school bullying may be a reflection of the prevalence of bullying behavior in society at large. 

An official statement, issued on March 23 by the Yuwu Branch of the Shaanxi Transportation Authority, confirmed that the uniformed man in the video is indeed an employee at a local toll-booth station, and that he has been suspended from duty, pending an investigation. The statement, however, seems to attempt to minimize the altercation by relegating it to the level of a petty quarrel.

The comment below, from Weibo user 落枫LF (luòfēng LF), sums up some of the socioeconomic inequalities inherent in the bullying incident, the official reaction, and the relatively light punishment imposed on the uniformed aggressor:

From the handling of this incident, we can glean three things:

  1. In the context of contemporary Chinese society, “uniform” has been transformed from a noun into a verb. [Implying that “to uniform” someone is to use the power of one’s uniform to force them to obey or comply.]
  2. The crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is used only to punish ordinary people, not officials.
  3. It seems the [uniformed] man is on the state payroll. If he were a temporary worker, he would have been fired long ago. [Chinese]

Stories abound of security guards, traffic police, and chengguan urban enforcers leveraging the power of their uniforms to overstep the bounds of their authority and to bully, intimidate, and abuse generally law-abiding citizens. Earlier this year, following two incidents in which delivery men were stabbed (one fatally, by a neighborhood security guard), writer Zou Sicong reflected on the “capricious, unsupervised, and unscrutinized” violence inflicted by neighborhood security guards. Chengguan urban enforcers, ranked as China’s least-loved public officials, are particularly notorious for abusing the limited powers bestowed upon them. They have been known to harass and rough up local merchants, tear down holiday decorations for no good reason, intimidate reporters, and even face off with steel-pipe-wielding toddlers.

A WeChat essay by journalist and blogger Wang Xiaolei dissects the power dynamics inherent in the recent restaurant confrontation. The uniformed man’s threatening tactics were not random, Wang writes, because from the video, it is abundantly clear that he first makes sure that his victim is someone he can bully with impunity. Only once he is certain that the other man—a long-distance semi-truck driver from a different county in Shaanxi—is not someone who outranks him does the uniformed toll-booth employee begin threatening and berating the truck driver:

This is the complete truth of the incident: the man in uniform carefully selected his target, and identified the man he would bully and humiliate.

That is also the most ironic part of the whole thing. The man is ferocious, aggressive, and domineering, but his evil is actually quite selective, for he takes great care to identify and “vet” his target.

Had the other party not been a semi-truck driver, or a driver from another county, chances are that the man in uniform would have continued eating his fried noodles in silence.

[…] Let’s take our thinking one step further. Why does the man in uniform, before throwing his weight around, take such care to confirm who his target is? What is he so worried about?

He’s worried because he knows that while the driver is of a lower socioeconomic status, he himself is not exactly middle- or high-status at all. A dog’s status depends on the status of his master, and the [toll-booth employee] knows that deep-down, he’s just a dog wearing a cheap uniform collar.

The uniformed man knows he can get away with humiliating and abusing the truck driver, but on the other hand, there are far too many people out there who could do the same to him. If he is not careful, he could get more than he bargained for. Even some of the tougher truck drivers would be capable of giving him a dose of his own medicine. [Chinese]


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