WHY IS ASIA SO SAFE?
How is there so little street crime?
Don’t get me wrong, there is crime in Asia. There is government corruption, bribery, domestic abuse and organized crime. However, a traveler is highly unlikely to get caught up in this. “Street crime” such as robbery, assault, rape and murder are astonishingly low, especially in North Asia (Mongolia somewhat excluded). In large Asian cities, I have no fear listening to my iPod and walking home through unknown neighborhoods for two hours in the middle of the night.
Travelers and expats appreciate this quality over here, yet can’t seem to explain exactly why it is. Rich and poor are living together. Surely, there are plenty of “opportunities” for crime walking down the streets. So why is Asia so safe?
Here are a few factors that likely influence the low street crime of Asia:
THE SHAME FACTOR
In the USA, South America and elsewhere, crime is often glamorized and romanticized. Many celebrities have even been caught exaggerating the length of jail time that they have actually served. Inversely from Asian culture, this criminality builds credibility and respect in the western world, and convicts may even be seen as attractive to the opposite sex. (Yes, I know you’re not attracted to criminals and that you’re still waiting for a doe-eyed John Cusack to appear dripping wet and hoisting a boombox…)
Asia is different.
Not only are street crimes such as thievery and assault illegal, they are also shameful in Asia. The same kind of shame that comes from an abhorrent crime such as child molestation (in the USA) may be brought on by a “petty” crime such as pickpocketing (in China). The shame is not only felt by the criminal, but also by his/her family, and often by the whole village. While an American may be caught recording or boasting about their assaults on the street, no one in China would think of doing this. With little glory and romance in crime, young Asians tend to aspire towards a more “respectable” financially lucrative career for prestige.
IT’S CROWDED AND URBAN
Asia is stuffed with Asians. In my home country of the USA, people often assume “more people + less space = more confrontation”. Since geographical crime statistics are often difficult to discern, this attitude is debatable.
Urban activist Jane Jacobs coined the phrase “eyes on the street” to describe why crowded and active urban streets are likely to be safer, as crime is less likely to happen with potential witnesses and everyday heroes that could step in and help.
Since Asian cities are filled with convenience stores, shopfronts and street food vendors, there are an abundance of eyes on the street to keep one safe on the sidewalk.
This would surely be a controversial hypothesis. Many scientists now believe that around 50% of our behavior is based on the DNA we’re born with, while 50% is based on our environment. Therefore, our genes are built on experience from our evolutionary past. This is called the “50-0-50” rule (‘0’ actually representing parental influence).
Since China was among the earliest civilizations, and still prospering today, the genetics have been passed down from generation to generation to be harmonious. Since much of Asian civilization and ethnicity (especially Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam) comes from China, the DNA in these countries is particularly accordant.
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
Some people often ask me why the Chinese don’t protest their government more often. It doesn’t seem to me that the current Communist Party changed the mindset of the Chinese in regards to their acceptance of authority. In the minds of the citizenry, the current Communist Party is just another dynasty. With respect and adherence to authority, Asian citizens are less likely to be a nuisance.
Authority can be a government, an employer, or a family. With so many eyes on you, all with high expectations, you’re more likely to grow up to be self-conscious and cooperative.
LACK OF SINGLE PARENT FAMILIES
Two-thirds of young criminals in the USA come from single-parent, usually fatherless, families.
In Asia, marriage is often based on a rational compatibility, not love or spontaneity. Couples won’t marry because it sounds like an exciting idea, but rather because it makes the most sense for their future and for their respective families. Once children are born, family members generally assume a role and adhere to it. If there is stress in the family, the parents are more likely to unhappily stick it out to survive, putting others ahead of them.
“If you govern by regulations and keep them in order by punishment, the people will avoid trouble but have no sense of shame. If you govern them by moral influence, and keep them in order by a code of manners, they will have a sense of shame and will come to you of their own accord.”
Confucius advocated that punishment should take the form of social ostracism, rather than forced suffering. These beliefs still persist today. Confucianism is not a religion, but rather an ethical and philosophical system, which has endless applications within a society. Confucius, the bearded Yoda of ancient China, advocated relationships based on mutual respect and piety, but also strict hierarchy and adherence to law.
Even in today’s ever-changing Asia, Confucius still has a great influence. Increasingly, “Confucian Classrooms” are operating in Chinese prisons, rehabilitating inmates by understanding societal harmony and Chinese history. Today, many Chinese are living their daily lives with little knowledge of laws and little contact with the police. However, they are disciplined within their communities by the invisible laws of Confucianism.
COOPERATION WITH POLICE
In the US, due to a distrust or resentment of the police, crimes often are carried out with no arrests, as it is difficult to persuade citizens to cooperate and speak to the police. In Japan, police officers are viewed with the same esteem that a schoolteacher may receive. The police are not seen as bullies, but rather as community servants there to help. As a result of their image, witnesses are more likely to cooperate. In Japan, 70% of crimes end in a conviction, while in the US, 20% of crimes end in an arrest.