Hong Kong pop singer Jacky Cheung, dubbed the “God of Songs”, has been on a concert tour across the mainland recently.
However, it wasn’t his electrifying performances or the adulation of his ecstatic fans that trended on social media but rather the fact that his star appeal has helped law enforcers nab at least seven fugitives.
Since April this year, Cheung has been performing in various mainland cities such as Nanchang, Ganzhou, Jiaxing and Jinhua as part of a nationwide concert tour. At his concert venues, police were able to identify and arrest five fugitives who were passing through the security checkpoints.
Two more wanted men were caught while they were attending Cheung’s concerts, one in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia on July 6 and another in Luoyang, Henan province, on July 8.
The news went viral, and mainland netizens started calling Cheung the “enemy of criminals”.
That the Hong Kong singer has suddenly and accidentally become a “crime buster” illustrates a few facts about China.
One is that there are just too many Chinese fugitives across the mainland and overseas.
In June 2014, Beijing set up a special law enforcement agency under the Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Task Force charged with hunting down criminals who have fled overseas.
As of March 2017, the agency has arrested a total of 2,873 fugitives, mostly corrupt officials, in more than 90 countries and regions.
However, the arrests only represented the tip of the iceberg, as tens of millions of other fugitives who, unable to leave the country, are still hiding in various cities, towns and villages across the nation.
Seven of those wanted individuals have been arrested at Jacky Cheung’s concerts.
The second thing is that in recent years, less-developed inland cities, often referred to as second-tier and third-tier cities, have offered safe haven for criminals on the run.
And that helps to explain why many fugitives were caught at Jacky Cheung’s concerts: instead of going to big cities like Guangzhou or Shenzhen, the Hong Kong singer has mainly chosen second-tier cities like Jiaxing in the Zhejiang province and Luoyang in Henan province as legs of his tour. And it is these cities that have become popular sanctuaries for fugitives.
As many of these wanted people are charged with white-collar crime, all they need to hide and live safely in these second-tier cities, where local security and population control measures are often less rigorous, are enough cash and a false identity.
The third thing is that as many of these fugitives have been leading a “quiet life” under false identities in second-tier cities for a long time, many of them are already in their middle age – at least – and tend to become less vigilant and more nostalgic.
That can explain why some fugitives would risk being spotted by authorities and go to Jacky Cheung’s concerts: many of his songs were big hits back in the 1990s and form an important part of the collective memories of these people.
They had probably thought that it was worth the risk to go to the concerts and see their idol.
Last but not least, it is in fact the cutting-edge facial recognition technology that is now widely employed by mainland law enforcement, rather than Jacky Cheung, that has proven instrumental in catching these fugitives.
Many mainland police officers are now equipped with “police shades”, i.e., a special pair of goggles fitted with a tiny facial recognition camera and a computer chip connected to the national database of wanted individuals.
China is currently the leader in facial recognition technology.
According to state media reports, “police shades” were used at the 2017 Qingdao Beer Festival, during which law enforcement officers took 2.3 million digital facial images of the crowd with their new gadgets and were able to pinpoint 25 fugitives and 19 drug addicts at the event.
During the Spring Festival holiday this year, “police shades” once again demonstrated their might by helping police spot and catch seven wanted men among a huge crowd at the Zhengzhou train station, one of the country’s busiest rail terminals.
On top of that, Zhengzhou police also busted 26 identity thieves at the train station using the facial recognition goggles.
With facial recognition devices now being used across the mainland, perhaps the only way fugitives can avoid getting caught is to undergo a complete plastic surgery.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 13
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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