Bang! Bang! Shots In Shanghai
Guns are in the headlines again in China.
At midday Friday in Shanghai, a quarrel among five youths sitting at an outdoor café turned rough, according to local reports. Shots rang out and two people were left wounded, one of them falling in a pool of blood and the other clutching his neck as he fled in a getaway car with out-of-town plates.
Shootouts aren't the kind of heart-pumping action many people expect to see in a city that cultivates a chic image, much less in a nation proud of its total ban on guns.
Yet the shooting was also a loud reminder for many in this giant city that suggests guns are increasingly prevalent in China's fast-changing society. It's not a trend as obvious as the rise of other cultural changes, like coffee-sipping in French cafés such as the one where the crime occurred. While guns don't circulate in China anywhere near as much as in places like the U.S. and Mexico, there are holes in the government's blanket ban. (See a story on the subject here.)
In the official version, by Xinhua News Agency, one man had a handgun and fired twice after an argument. But a local media report, complete with photos of a bloodstained sidewalk in front of the Lohas Cafe, quoted a witness who suggested an actual gunfight took place, with more of the five men firing shots. (in Chinese here).
Shanghai police were characteristically measured in reporting the crime: just (some of) the facts. A three-line statement confirmed that officers responded to telephone calls about a fight, that one man was found to have been injured with a gunshot wound and that police are going all out to investigate the incident (in Chinese here). And indeed police were seen actively monitoring traffic Friday night, pulling over drivers for questioning.
Police rarely elaborate on criminal investigations and official statistics continue to show progress fighting crime. But once alleged perpetrators are found and charged in crimes like gunrunning or armed-robbery, Chinese magazine features and television documentaries increasingly fill in the gritty details.
Friday's incident took place in a Shanghai district quickly getting a reputation for headline grabbing violence. It's an unexpected location for crime. That's not least of all because Putuo district is just north of tony Nanjing Road, but also because incidents, including Friday's shooting, have occurred just meters from the Public Security Bureau, i.e. Shanghai municipal police headquarters.
Those include a possible suicide bombing in January at the entrance to the police building, a killer bus fire a year ago nearby, as well as a drama two years ago in a KFC that ended with a police sharpshooter taking down a man who had held a four-year-old girl hostage for several hours.