In some ways, “vigilantes” are the opposite of what their name suggests: rather than rogue agents meting out street justice, they are individuals deemed trustworthy by authorities, working under the guidance of local police forces, deputized to surveil their fellow citizens. In recent years, as Beijing has encouraged the “masses” to take a greater role in public safety, vigilante groups—and their close cousins, “safety promotion associations”—have sprung up across the country, working with the police to conduct traffic stops, mediate disputes, or even “catch [suspects] on the spot.” Indeed, China’s police are likely in need of some help.

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