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A knock on the door

By Brian Hennessy - posted Friday, 2 August 2019


A few weeks after I arrived in China, there was a late-afternoon knock on the door of our apartment. When I opened it, five people were standing there eyeballing me. The PSB. Two policemen in uniform, and three female officers in civvies. One of them taking my photo.

Uniform Number 1 asking if he can enter. "OK", I say. Then all five of them inserting themselves into our home. Looking around. My Chinese wife objecting to this intrusion: "What are you doing here, and why did you take a photo of my husband without asking permission?" No answer.

Uniform 1 asking if he can view my passport. The law says that I must comply with this request, so I fetch it. Meanwhile my wife produces our marriage certificate, and tells them that we own this property – just in case they are looking for an excuse to lean on us.

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Facing him as I hand over my passport. Trying unsuccessfully to look him in the eye. He quickly checks my face against the passport photo, then searches for my visa but can't locate it. I take my passbook back and find the right page for him, confident that all is in order. He photographs the document with his smartphone.

My wife addressing the intruders again: asking why so many of them are here. Angry at their unstated suspicions. No response.

Uniform 1 handing my passport back to me. A female officer telling my wife that I should have registered my presence with the district PSB as soon as I arrived, and then applied for a foreigner's residency permit. OK, but I'm only here for two months and I have a family visa allowing me to stay for up to 180 days if I wish. This is a minor administrative matter, not a security issue requiring investigation by a PSB task force.

Anyway: how did the cops know I was on their patch, and how did they know where I lived? They had identified our gated community (one of many); knew which building we lived in (there are six); used an electronic pass to get inside (where did they get that personal security device from?); got the lift up to the 6th floor; and then knocked on door number 3 (ours).

My guess is that the security guards – who are employed by the management service, and who are supposed to protect the residents – reported to the Police that a foreigner was living inside, and collaborated with the raid.

Then the paranoia (Mine. A survival skill in China). Wondering about the unfriendliness of the folk who ran two small noodle restaurants adjacent to one side of the front gate. Elsewhere in China, they would have been smiling and saying hello as we walked past – hoping to attract our patronage. Not this sour-faced lot, though. Something was up.

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My wife reflecting, then recalling that a shop-owner on the other side of the front gate, had asked her twice for the specific location of our apartment. An inappropriate request which was ignored. Perhaps the police had asked him to elicit this information.

Get the picture?

New faces in town. Many busy-bodies noticing the lone foreigner and gossiping about him, his attractive Chinese wife, and his reasons for being here. And the security guards who are supposed to be looking after him, ingratiating themselves with the authorities. A shameful cabal of racism and suspicion.

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About the Author

Brian is an Australian author, educator, and psychologist who lived in China for ten years. These days he divides his time between both countries.

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