When Expats Get Attacked.

Friday, December 11, 2009 8:37
Posted in category Uncategorized

One of the most interesting things about living in China is the phenomenon where something in the expat community happens that lights off a series of emails and text messages meant to unite everyone to either do something … or to not do something.

In the case of the email below, it is the later, and it is simply titled: attacked at the fabric market

*Physically Assaulted at Booth 272
* I went to booth 272, “Famous Costume Store”, at the South Bund
Soft-Spinning Material Market on LuJiaBang Road to have a costume made. When the costume was ready for pick-up, I gave the woman the slip of paper/receipt and she gave me the costume to try on. After trying it on, I changed back into my clothes, placed the remaining money I owed on the counter, picked up the slip of paper and the costume in the bag and proceeded to leave.

All of a sudden, the woman grabbed me on my arm, was yelling at me in Mandarin, and would not permit me from leaving the booth. I tried to pry her fingers from my arm to leave the booth, but I was unable to do so. Of course, I was also shocked, as I had no idea why she was grabbing me. She then proceeded to yank the bag with the costume in it and rip it apart, where an older man who seemed to work in the booth also helped her from taking the bag and costume from me. I was trying to hold onto the bag as well, as I had paid in full for the costume and obviously wanted what I had purchased. With the bag completely torn to shreds, the man succeeded in getting the costume from us.

I then pushed the woman off of me, and this is when she went in for the massive attack. She punched me in the face and she tried to pull a very large clump of my hair out. I was able to hold on to my hair higher up then where she had a hold of it, so I prevented her from ripping it out, as her strength in pulling would have indeed caused an enormous amount of hair loss. After the punch and the hair pulling, I knew I was in great danger and knew I had to remain standing, as I would most likely be further harmed if she got me to the floor. As I could not stop her from punching me in the face, I was able to kick her from the waist down. And remember, while all of this was happening, I was still in disbelief as I had no idea why this was occurring. The only thing I could do was to react in self defense.

A crowd of about 40 “spectators” did nothing but watch, including a man in uniform. Another man who seemed to have some authority went to break us up but with no force, so it was not effective in getting this woman off of me. Two English speaking tourists did not see what had happened, walking by after the fight, but seeing the crowd asked me if I was okay and if they could help. At this time, to the crowd, I was asking over and over again, “What is this about? Why have I been attacked?” A woman who spoke a little English said, “You have the slip of paper, she wants it.” To think this woman would attack me with such strength and anger with full intentions of hurting me for a simple piece of paper is hard to believe, but this was the only answer I received.

Since this has happened and I have shared my story with several people, I have heard of other incidents similar to this that have taken place at this fabric market. I have also learned that for our own safety as guests in this country, we should do the following:
1. Always carry a copy of your passport in your wallet, including a copy of your Chinese visa page.
2. Enter your embassy phone numbers for both business and emergency hours in your mobile.

The intention of sharing this story is to prevent as many people as possible from visiting this stall. *PLEASE* *DO NOT GO TO STALL #272.
* Please do not give business to someone who displays such unacceptable behavior, and please do not place yourself in possible danger. Please also circulate and share this story with everyone you know in Shanghai. It will also be sent to the expat publications, expo organizers, international schools and travel books, allowing as many people as possible to be informed of these occurrences.

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24 Responses to “When Expats Get Attacked.”

  1. ian channing says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Sorry, not too much sympathy here. Try learning the language of the country you live in, so that you understand what is going on around you, and then you will be entitled to moan about local manners.

  2. Kai says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 10:20 am

    The conclusion of this story is not satisfying.

  3. Tony says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Great comment ian. Since I live in the United States, can I go around punching all the people who don’t speak English in the face? Clearly, they deserve it.

  4. Rich says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    @ian – ouch. kicking a girl while she is down…. not very nice. Of course, I would agree that if she spoke Shanghaiese it would have helped, but I have been in the market when native Shanghaiese got into a bit of a rumble/ tumble over much the same thing…. either way, the stall owner went way over the the top.

    @Kai – We could always play that game where we just make one up!

    @Tony – fair point. My inlaws have been in the states for many years, and if in this position, I am sure they would have been equally confused. IT gets beyond language when the adrenaline starts pumping, and at the end of the day I think what is sad is that this person will retrack from “Shanghai” a bit more…

  5. Kei says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Know the culture. In my opinion, having traveled across China, I find Shanghai to be the most unfriendliest place, and people their are terrible.

    Hope this incident don’t put a dent on your opinion of all Chinese people. It really is just Shanghai. I find people from Xinjiang to be the nicest and most friendly. Though it wasn’t fun getting caught in the riots.

  6. Ju says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Violent behaviour can never be justified, except in self-defense, when no other alternatives seem to be the solution.
    As many, I’ve travelled to many countries, in both cities and the countryside; violent behaviour does occur more in cities, but in my opinion, it has nothing to do with the country or the nationality, nor does it relate to cultural blunders or language issues.
    I hope the author of this blogpost is alright; I understand his emotional reaction. Good thing we are warned now, yet again it could happen anywhere.
    These people should be reported to the police, and mutual help should be at the centre of debates in schools…

  7. Rich says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 9:47 pm


    What I have found interesting about the market itself is that, like the copy markets, you have a high concentration of people in cramped places, and the stall owners are simply rude. If you have an interest in something, they have no problem being aggressive, and they show little appreciation for the business.

    As for the culture of Shanghai. I would agree that Shanghai has a very different feel, but I find that in private the Shanghaiese are no different than anyone else I have ever met. I public though, there is certainly a different culture that exists. Part of this is due to the fact that 40% of the city is populated by immigrants from all over China (and the world), and so the sense of equity changes quite a bit as a result.

    …either way, I would say the government would do itself a favor by going in and providing some customer service training to the stall owners of major markets in town. I have heard a number of similar stories from others, and while the above highlights an issues between a foreigner…. often times the locals are treated far worse.


  8. Rich says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 9:48 pm



    What amazes me to this dy though is that there is a culture of apathy here, so when someone is getting their ass kicked no one will step in to stop it. There have been some really sad cases of this where people ended up in far worse conditions.


  9. maurice says:

    December 11th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    this is shocking.
    they’ll never have my business I can assure you of that !

  10. Don Tai says:

    December 12th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    This violent behaviour is unacceptable, regardless of language barriers. Note that the people who work in these stalls are usually uneducated farmers and, in my view, can become very violent with little provocation. It does not happen very often, but when it does it can get bloody. I would urge you to report the person to the police as quickly as possible.

  11. David says:

    December 13th, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Imagine if this happened during the expo. Are there any photos
    of this place ?

  12. Javier says:

    December 13th, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I just cannot believe it. Today I have been in the market to pick up a couple of shirts (at stall 211 actually), and I kept the receipt (actually the shopper gave it to me so I can bring it back with my measures). This does not seem real at all. Who is that person?

  13. Daniel says:

    December 13th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Sorry, I have this feeling that this is not the entire story. Something is missing here.

    Either way, this entire “fabric market” is a tourist scam. These people in the booth pass on the orders to random “tailors” which results in 70% of awful quality or that the garment doesn’t suit the buyer. Even if now and than one can get something decent by luck, it’s a complete waste of time. Unless you are looking for something unique, pay a visit to some malls in shanghai which frequently have large discounts.

  14. jaded expat says:

    December 14th, 2009 at 8:13 am

    sounds like both are at fault–i’ve had chinese people grab me because i don’t understand something and we don’t end up in a fight. i’d be interested to hear the chinese lady’s point of view, something along the lines of “this dumb expat comes into my store, tries to walk out without giving me the receipt, and when i tried to explain to her what’s up, she went apeshiat, got up in my grill, and started shoving. uh-uh grrfriend!”

  15. JerryG says:

    December 16th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    “Better City Better Life” – Drivers have no regard for human life, noise pollution is at an all time high, people urinate where they please, no one says excuse me or sorry (in English OR Chinese,) The govt wants to stop internet porn but it is available at almost any DVD vendor or “salon”…and if you call 110 to report it they treat YOU as the criminal. I think the message is clear…”Shanghai does NOT welcome you!”

  16. Vivi says:

    December 17th, 2009 at 1:32 am

    First thing I have to claim is the stall owner is NOT Shanghaiese.

    Second, the expat woman is at fault. The slip of paper is a contract for both sides. If she didn’t give it back to the stall owner, she can ask for another costume at any time again. No wonder the stall owner was so eager to take it back as to grab her arms. And then, the expat woman did not want to understand what was going on, the stall owner tried to play the hard ball, the women wrestling is on. That’s the whole story.

    The crowd won’t help. Obviously, cause they don’t know what’s going on. Trying to stop them is very dangerous, if I were there, I won’t help, sorry.

    For the receipt, you can only have it if the stall owner gives it back to you, normally with a tick or “taken” on it.

    It is hard to comment on the whole thing. The expat woman is obviously at fault, the stall owner is rude. Neither of them did enough communication. It really helps if you understand the language, but what matters most, is whether you are open for a conversation or not.

    @ JerryG, what you said is about non-Shanghaiese,totally. Please make that clear. Thx.

  17. Rich says:

    December 17th, 2009 at 5:08 am

    @David – I would agree which is why I would suggest EXPO committee gets down there and does a bit of training.

    @Jaded – fair point. Would be very interesting to have the other side of this as well

    @JErry – I would disagree with your conclusion, but certainly at times I have shared your pain

    @Vivi – many are in fact from Yangzhou, but have several generations in Shanghai. At least that has been my experience.

    As for who is at fault, I would point back to Jaded Expat’s comment that it would be interesting to have the other side of the picture. I have seen similar activity between local buyers in the same market, and in one case in particular the buyer was just being unreasonable and got yelled at.

    However, to say that the problems that Jerry mentioned are only non-Shanghaiese is also going a bit too far. Certainly there are a fair share of “waidi” run issues, but many of the issues he mentioned are ones that you will find your ordinary Shanghairen contributing to as well.


  18. Vivi says:

    December 18th, 2009 at 12:10 am

    @Richard, I can promise you ZERO stall owners are Shanghaiese.

    All the stall owners are from the neighboring province, Zhejiang, Jiangsu or Anhui. The moved to Shanghai in about 10 or maybe 15 years ago. Most people can’t speak Shanghaiese at all, some even didn’t have the desire to learn. (Well, those who tried to learn are soon be defeated by how difficult it is, and they can only speak very horrible Shanghaiese.)

    I think the point It is very hard for a expat to tell if a local guy is Shanghaiese or not. In fact, most taxi drivers are from Chongming, which is only seen as part of Shanghai in administration. Shopping malls even in Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road are hiring rural girls. Why? Because young generation are getting more education and normally get a job in the office. And it means, when you think it is a disgusting thing done by Shanghaiese, it actually has no link to us at all.

    What Jerry said is totally about non-Shanghaiese. I’ve never seen any Shanghaiese urinate in public except for my 5-year-old nephew. Well, the old generation think it is ok for a kid and they treat him as a puppy, but I can’t accept it. No Shanghaiese adult will do that, cause it is totally acceptable.

    According to Zhou Libo, Shanghai culture is a mix of Yangtze Delta Culture and Western Culture. I can’t agree with him more. And besides, Yangtze Delta has been China’s most wealth region for almost a millennium. Suzhou, a city Shanghai has been long belonged to, has more “zhuangyuan” than any other city in China. No wonder, people here are unique!

  19. Vivi says:

    December 18th, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Sorry, forgot to mention, I can make the conclusion cause I was a regular customer there years ago. And I’ve talked to almost all stall owners, I can assure you, there is no Shanghaiese.

    I’ve only visited the fabric market once or twice after the relocation. The price is up, and the quality is down after the relocation. The owners are rude cause they can always make business with the expats, who can’t tell the difference of those materials. It means they can make much more profits on expats than locals.

    My mom tell me she spotted a fancy clothes, but the stall owner showed her a different cloth which looks similar but much less quality. When she insist on getting the one she wants, the owner told her it was sold out. And it happened MORE THAN ONCE. Well, that’s how they do business.

  20. Rich says:

    December 18th, 2009 at 1:43 am


    Not arguing about the fact that the stall owners are from neighboring provinces (my understanding was that they were largely from Yangzhou – famous for their three blades).

    As for what a foreigner can and cannot tell, I guess that is largely dependent on the foreigner, and the assumption you make about foreigners is no different than the assumption others have made about “Shanghaiese”.

    As for the cab drivers, that is correct. They are largely from Chongming (Shanghai Hukou holders), and I have written on that before and interviewed a number of cab drivers formally. Technically Shanghai-ren, but feel like different people.

    As for whose babies do what, all I can tell you is my own experience from my 6.5 years, and when I pass a woman who is speaking Shanghai dialect watching her son use a tree… I can make a fairly good guess that she is a Shanghaiese person letting her sson use the tree.

    Does she represent the average Shanghai person? Probable not, and to try and say that Shanghai people categorically do something or don’t do something is pointless in either case.. Shanghai ren number in the 17 million range, and that leaves a lot of room for anecdotal evidence.


  21. JerryG says:

    December 18th, 2009 at 2:58 am

    I did not imply any of this behaviour to Shanghainese. Simply an observation of things I see that do not equate to “A Better City Better Life” – it is too bad as I wish Shanghai to succeed.

  22. Vivi says:

    December 18th, 2009 at 4:39 am


    Well, a lot of tailors are from Yangzhou, before 1949. Now the group is much more diversified since the technique is easier to get.

    For the Shanghaiese topic, I am just very uncomfortable that expats recognize Chinese in Shanghai as Shanghaiese. These people from other regions in China might look local from expats’ point of view, but they won’t be local until they become real Shanghaiese. For a large part of them, that is mission impossible.

    The woman who watch her son use a tree, unfortunately, she represents the average Shanghaiese. I’ve stated the old and new generation have different views on that point.

    Not everyone who has a Shanghai hukou is Shanghai-ren. Yes, people from Chongming are different.

    Shanghaiese are always been criticized by people all around China. For decades, we had been criticized for having a desire to live in a capitalist life. We’ve been chasing for delicate food and fashion even in culture revolution era. We viewed life way upon the battle with the Soviet Union. Shanghaiese have a unique logic, taste, value and world. The culture is unique as I mentioned above, it is a mix of Yangtze Delta culture and Western culture, totally different from Chinese rural culture.

    Shanghaiese share the unique value. A dispute is rarely developed into wrestling in Shanghai. A recent news about a graduate suicide in Shanghai has made nationwide debate, and it also reveals different values from people in different area.

    Shanghai culture is open. You don’t have to be born in Shanghai to be a Shanghaiese. It is about if you have the desire and ability to adapting into the culture. Thx!

  23. Vivi says:

    December 18th, 2009 at 4:49 am


    A famous local writer/racedriver Hanhan wrote a blog, Have to Looking Forward to EXPO to express the same feeling.

    China is a very bureaucratic country, and we just have to live with it.

  24. Koi says:

    December 28th, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    So, to sum up the comments, in order of importance:

    1. The stall vendor was not Shanghaiese. My god, she wasn’t Shanghaiese! No Shanghaiese would act this way!

    2. Even if the non-Shanghaiese vendor acted violently, she was justified in doing so. The foreigner was at fault. The taking of the receipt could result in a future, contingent, loss of property to the non-Shanghaiese vendor. Therefore, the non-Shanghaiese vendor was justified in using any level of force necessary to prevent a potential, inchoate, loss of property, even lethal violence.

    Nice reasoning, people. Simultaneously discriminate against non-Shanghaiese waidiren, but also defend the non-Shanghaiese peasant turen against the foreigner.

    One detects a pecking order that’s clearly been imprinted in your minds.