Josh at Cup of Cha has a great piece on the anger of the common Chinese man especially the fist fights and beatings that you can sometimes see in the streets. This is usually accompanied by a large crowd who don’t do anything but simply watch.
For a foreigner, this usually means stay away. You don’t want to get caught in the middle as everyone will automatically forget what they’re doing and as the Chinese unfortunate sense of strong nationalism kicks in turn against you.
As you’d expect a great conversation has been started in the comment section. Including a post by a guy called nichtich trying to explain why Chinese people react the way they do:
“OK, I’m Chinese, and I’ll try to explain that.
Fist fighting on streets is not about honor or anger so to speak. I think the sence of power is more relevent here. As you already noticed, fist fights rarely come when two men fight each other evenly. It’s more like a group of men beating one or a man beat women/elderly or even a group of girls beat another girl. Why is that? It shows power. It means “I’m without honor, I don’t play fair”, which is more scary.
Common Chinese people, or the “laobaixing”, don’t have the tradition to stand up for one another. When they see some thugs beat someother man, they will watch it, and learns who’s the thug that you should avoid and what to do to avoid get caught by any thug, but not rise up against the thug.
Whether it’s unique to chinese or not, i don’t know. But I think it’s more or less common in country with dictatorship ruling. It’s all about power. Not only goverment have more power than people, some people have more than others. And on the lowest level of the power ladder, it needs constant demostrating to assure others your position.”
I can say that after getting caught in one of these fights last summer — where my physical safety wasn’t harmed — I’m not so much afraid for my safety as I am for my dignity and now that I look back on my encounter maybe being scammed out of money.