Murder and Mayhem in the Dog World
As a kid during the war (the big one) I used to read comic books and later watch movies with Charlie Chan (no relation to Jackie) that had mistaken ideas of the way Chinese talked and acted, no doubt holdovers from the fabricated fancies of the late 19th-Century novels about building the railroads in the wild west. One of those terms used in both media was the saying, “Chop-chop!” which supposedly meant “Hurry!” After I judged a dog show in northeastern China this Spring (2005), I learned a more primitive, new meaning for the words. Unfortunately, the trip did not work out as well as other China trips have.
I previously reported about a 2004 assignment I had in greater Beijing, and the aftermath. One rich exhibitor had shown a dozen GSDs under me at a specialty held, figuratively, in the shadow of the Great Wall, and a few months later he disappeared. It developed that he had some co-ownership or sales type arrangement with a Japanese fancier, and some matters about the finances resulted in the Chinese businessman being murdered. Almost a year later, the details are still being investigated.
On the last weekend of April 2005 I was once more in the middle of a similar storm: I judged a show in another northern part of China, where violence in the dog world again erupted. Partly because they did not expect anyone to be at this show who spoke English, another SV judge accompanied me on the flight from Hong Kong to Shenyang (not far from North Korea) in order to translate and to carry out some other business with GSD people in the area. We went by car the couple hours from Shenyang airport south to Anshan, a city between Shanghai and Shenyang. There did not seem to be many big kennels in this region, but with the language barrier and local politics, graft, and crooked police, the actual numbers were kept obscured. On the panel with me was an all-breed judge from Taiwan, and the GSDs were supposed to be shared between me and the other specialty judge on the three or four days of the holiday-weekend shows. (Mayday has a Leninist as well as more ancient agricultural significance here.) I later found out that the reason they had more judges than turned out to be necessary had to do with the local political corruption.
The show on the first day started off extremely slowly. It was a sort-of sports stadium and exhibition arena where the shows were scheduled. Around one half of the inner perimeter were the exhibitors’ and venders’ booths, and the rings were set up on the opposite side of the large field. We were there on time, and I noted the large number of police wandering around in groups. Nothing seemed to be starting, and we judges were finally told we would have lunch and then start. However, after eating, we were told to walk back to the hotel a few blocks away and await further word. Eventually, we were summoned back to the field inside the coliseum to begin. After some difficulty with the language and the reticence of the management to openly talk about it, I learned why the delays and the drastic absence of exhibitors who were expected. It seems that either the proper permits were not secured, or the cops had not been paid off as much as they felt they deserved, to turn an eye away from irregularities. The chief of which was the fact that many dogs are unlicensed, and when these are discovered, the police have the power to seize them and summarily kill them. A bit more extreme than fining the owner, as we would expect in more civilized countries! But this is not a civilized area of China! The world has many more countries where the police are absolutely corrupt than those that we in America and Europe are familiar with.
A big contrast with shows run in more advanced democratic countries (those where the political machines are more answerable to the people) was evidenced by another judging assignment in Korea a month later, where one show was held on the grounds of a college, and local and provincial authorities were guests of honor, given the “tasks” of posing for photos with the top winners, giving welcoming speeches, and other photo-ops for their political benefit. But in China, dog shows (indeed, dog ownership!) is a new concept. The sport is very primitive, largely unorganized with many regional clubs (merely businesses, frequently) “doing their own thing.” At Anshan, with no support from or courtesy bow to the politicos, the power of the local and corruptible cops was a big problem. Exhibitors who did not license dogs hid them or simply went home when they saw the uniforms. They cannot be blamed for being afraid their dogs would be killed or their hobby-businesses ruined, because in many politically primitive parts of China it is not wise to let government know what you are doing. It is similar to many countries, principally the Communist regimes, wherein people first had to register their firearms, and then (when the whereabouts of the weapons were known) surrender them to the State.
Thus it turned out that the number of entries was so small, that one judge could have done it all. Easily! There was a lot of wasted “dead time” for judges, and frustration for exhibitors, show organizers, and spectators. My escort (who was supposed to share in my judging load, but was told there was no need because of the disappearance of so many dogs) paid for my hotel bills and more out of his own pocket, expecting to collect later from the club. But the receipts were not forthcoming, and I believe he is still out most of those expenses. The organizers of the show in Anshan were gentlemen from Nanjing, where I had judged the previous fall. Mr. Wang and his associates there had put on a fabulously successful show there, and I was expecting all to run as smoothly here, but it was not so. At times, we two judges were told to drag out the judging because there weren’t enough dogs left on the grounds, and certain breeds were scheduled on certain days; then we were told to hurry through the judging before the police could decide to do something. A couple of times we were told to go back to the hotel and cool off while the show managers saw if the police would leave (they did not). Mr. Wang could not easily work his way around the “roadblocks.” One thing the armed cops did was to prevent some dogs from coming in to the inside of the stadium, simply by blocking the doorways. This resulted in our frequently waiting to judge a class when it was known that entries were on the other side of the barrier of uniforms.
Dog showing in China is primitive not only in regard to the organization and lack of political infrastructure conducive to such sports, but also to the hobby breeding as well. There, more people look upon dog breeding as a business than even is done in the USA! But in China, it is done with a vengeance. There are many who raise dogs as a matter of love, but they are a minority so far; it has not been all that long since Mao’s edict about dogs being banned because they were a sign of “Western decadence,” and the people have no personal or national memory of living with dogs the way the rest of the world has.
Before judging commenced, we walked around and looked at the stalls where people were selling goods and dogs. One exhibitor had a number of white Pekingese, with one advertised as being worth more than “a million dollars U.S.” Later, when he had his dogs shown under me, I found none worthy of a hundred dollars. His big champion did not even win his class. I have seen truly tremendous Pekes in Beijing and Guangdong on previous assignments, so I know China has some great examples of the breed. But there were none in Anshan this day. After I finished the Toy group, that owner/entrepreneur came to the ring shouting and demanding that I judge the breed and group over, because he had not won with his million-dollar (pet-quality) dog. He was so much of a threat, that the show chairman had to beg (or bribe?) the cops to stand around between him and me, as we were hustled off to the hotel again. As it was, the cops had no interest in keeping the peace, only in getting their graft, so it fell to the show organizers to deal with the threatening exhibitor.
And here is where my reference to “Chop-chop!” comes in. As a result of the defections, the entries were pitifully small. On the final day of sparse showing, my fellow SV judge and I were at the show for only a couple of hours before we had to leave for the airport, while the judge from Taiwan finished his portion of the show. It was not until I returned to the States that I learned about the violence we had fortuitously missed. On the last show day, after my departure, they discovered why the “gate” (money collected from admissions) was so much less than the crowds would have indicated —some local guys had been selling fake tickets for the dog show. The organizer of the event had the ticket gangsters beaten up, I was later told (probably a fistfight had resulted from being confronted). The next day the gangsters surrounded the organizers at their equipment truck and hacked both arms of the organizer and one hand of his younger brother. They were almost chopped off, I was told. Three of the gangsters were seriously wounded.
I did not learn all this until I had been trying to get photos of the show for magazine or website articles. A pretty young lady who did her best to translate for me as a ring steward, tried to get info on the photographs, and had contacted a Mr. Zhou, listed as the local chairman of the dog show, then waited for the chairman the whole morning on May 14, but he didn’t come. Then she telephoned him several times, and finally a girl who answered the call said he was suddenly ill. She said she had the photos, and would send them to my email address, but they never followed up on that promise. It is a custom in the orient to avoid saying “no,” which leaves Americans and most Europeans confused, thinking that there is simply a delay while the nodding and apparent agreeing of the Asian is only a form of politeness. So this report has none of the usual illustrations that accompany my other articles on judging overseas shows.
Both in China and Russia, their rough equivalents to the Mafia have a great deal of power. The vacuum created when long-term Communist tyranny fell apart allowed gangster elements to gain control because there has been no established rule of law for the people and by the people, as Lincoln described it. The same thing is happening in Iraq, where Hussein’s removal was accomplished without a functioning alternative government ready to take over right away. In Russia and China, as a result, the majority of “instant millionaires” get their wealth by dubious means, and are lucky if they can keep it by force and bribery. The small-time gangsters are content to pull off scams like selling counterfeit tickets and trying to kill or maim anyone who stands in their way.
Overall, I had been thinking, it was a disaster. I lost a little money on it, since I had to pay my friend back for the excess money he advanced for my ticket and expenses, and I couldn’t recoup quite all my costs. I did not get any judging fee, either, and it is unlikely that I will, since Mr. Wang had said before we left that they lost money on the show. Perhaps Mr. Wang should have made sure everybody was paid off ahead of time, or had the proper certificates or permits issued. My wife gets upset when dog shows cost me money instead of paying all expenses, so I’ll have to be more careful next time to make sure I get enough in advance. But my self-pity vanished when I learned how much greater the damage had been to Wang and his brother. Wang struck me as being a nice guy, and I surely hope he recovers, with the full use of his hands and that the gangsters are punished.
You may have read an article of mine of some years ago about “judging in the war zones.” I had been in places where bombs have been detonated short blocks from the show grounds, hostilities were taking place of borders not far away, threats of imminent full-scale attack were made (China on Taiwan), and other hot spots. So this incident did not shake me much. It worries my wife, though, who does not want me to return. However, while I am not rash, I remain undeterred, and will continue to enjoy the sometimes strange experiences of judging trips to exotic locations.
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