By Alex Endress
In Xiejiaqiao, a tiny village outside of Hangzhou, there is no sheriff. There aren’t any patrolmen, either.
“We have no need,” said Wang Ai Xian, a 40-year-old woman living in the village. “We trust each other.”
Wang, who grew up in a neighboring village and moved to Xiejiaqiao 20 years ago, said she doesn’t lock her door unless leaving for more than a day. She can’t even remember the last crime committed in the area.
There were 5.3 million violent crime cases in China recorded in 2009, according to the 2010 edition of “China’s Rule of Law” released by the Social Sciences Academic Press. However, the village of Xiejiaqiao has no formal record of crime statistics, and neither does the surrounding township of Henglu, according to Luo Zhongming, vice township leader.
“There is not enough crime to keep any sort of record,” said Luo.
Xiejiaqiao, like many rural villages in China, tends to police itself. While a pair of police officials from the county level visit the village twice a month for a report on area stability, the closest thing to local law enforcement in the village is a three-person “Violence Avoidance Committee.”
“We try to solve disputes in the village as peacefully as possible,” said Zhou Jian Guo, president of the committee. “Rarely does a problem go beyond us.”
Although the committee is in place to deal with any dispute that may arise in the village, it usually works to clarify property boundaries during the summer, which is when the village’s main cash crop (the pecan) is in season, Zhou said.
One of the most recent offenses involved a fight that erupted from a gambling dispute in 2002, Zhou said. The violent conflict resulted in a broken window at the town’s government office. Both parties were sent home and the offender who broke the window was obligated to pay for damages. No other punishments were enacted.
While local laws vary from village to village, most tend to keep an eye on one another, said Luo.
Two years ago, a villager spotted a man using an electrical device to shock and harvest fish in a popular local water hole, according to Luo. The township fined the perpetrator 500 RMB ($77) and seized his fishing equipment, but allowed him to remain in the township.
“The only threat around here is people from foreign villages,” said a man from Huangbaiwu, a neighboring village of Xiejiaqiao who referred to himself as Mr. Chen. “If we see strangers, we run them out of town.”