On the cover of the excellent “Country Driving” by Peter Hessler, there is a photograph of a plastic policeman along the road in a desert plain of North West China. It looks so silly, with a life-size replica of a policeman staring straight in front of him on an empty piece of road. Why would you do that? Would it incite the drivers to hit the road in a more responsible fashion?
Is a policeman just a symbol, a puppet in a ritual?
In Shanghai I never saw this, so I thought it was only something done in the deserts of Gansu. Until one day, a few weeks ago on a holiday to Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, when the plastic policeman appeared at the corner of a winding mountain road. And a kilometer further on yet another one. And another one.
The plastic policemen were guarding the bends in an otherwise desolate forest, surrounded by mighty spruces and grazing yaks, adoring the scenery.