Pri­vate Se­cu­rity:

More than Mus­cle?

NewsChina - - CONTENTS - By Li Mingzi and Xie Ying

Pub­lic events do not nor­mally have “snipers” hid­den among the watch­ing crowds, but at the World Body­guard Cham­pi­onship 2017, held in Chisinau, cap­i­tal of Moldova, in Septem­ber 2017, there were sim­u­lated at­tacks and kid­nap­pings, and dis­plays of pre­ci­sion driv­ing that would not look out of place in a Fast and the Fu­ri­ous movie. That year, for the first time, a Chi­nese team took part.

First held in 1998, the an­nual com­pe­ti­tion at­tracts par­tic­i­pants from more than 30 coun­tries, who vie to demon­strate their prow­ess in safe­guard­ing a tar­get in the face of any num­ber of sim­u­lated dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions. The Chi­nese team was led by Li Xu, one of China's top body­guards. His Nine Lives team thrilled the au­di­ence, in­clud­ing a soli­tary Chi­nese man, by com­ing top in sev­eral ex­er­cises. The man in the au­di­ence shouted ex­cit­edly when he saw the Chi­nese flag.

“He was even more ex­cited than us. He told us that he'd never imag­ined he'd see a Chi­nese team at a body­guard com­pe­ti­tion,” Li told Newschina.

But, he said, his team can­not rep­re­sent the na­tion. “We're just a pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he em­pha­sized, “but we are as good as any other for­eign team.” In the end, though, the home team pre­vailed, with the State Pro­tec­tion and Guard Ser­vice of Moldova win­ning out.

Al­though China is­sued the Reg­u­la­tion on the Se­cu­rity Guard Ser­vice in 2010, the pro­fes­sion is still some­what of a mys­tery to most peo­ple. Many think that body­guards are just “mus­cle” – mostly thanks to their strong con­nec­tions to mar­tial arts.

“I want to change the old im­age of pri­vate body­guards through the com­pe­ti­tion... I want to tell peo­ple that the job ac­tu­ally re­quires a wise head more than a strong body,” Li said.

Hu­man Shields

While the pro­fes­sion did not get le­gal recog­ni­tion un­til 2010, there have been body­guards for a long time in China – but most peo­ple only knew of them through their de­pic­tion in mar­tial arts movies, TV shows and nov­els. This is what led to the stereo­typed view of a body­guard as a kung fu mas­ter – like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan – who can sin­gle-hand­edly take on and de­feat 10 ad­ver­saries in a fight.

Most Chi­nese body­guards do have a mar­tial arts back­ground. Li was born into a fam­ily of mar­tial arts prac­ti­tion­ers, and he started learn­ing box­ing at the age of five. In his teens, he won a sil­ver medal at a mar­tial arts com­pe­ti­tion in Bei­jing, and he started work­ing as a body­guard in 1990. Li said his early en­gage­ment in the in­dus­try was largely due to Hong Kong gang­ster movies, but he never agreed with the no­tion that body­guards are just “mus­cle for hire.”

His think­ing was re­in­forced in 2005, when he went to train at the James J Row­ley Train­ing Cen­ter, near Wash­ing­ton, DC – which is home to the US Se­cret Ser­vice. Li, the first Chi­nese stu­dent at the cen­ter, par­tic­i­pated in more than 40 cour­ses, in­clud­ing knowl­edge of firearms, op­er­a­tion of por­ta­ble equip­ment, risk as­sess­ment and route anal­y­sis. He con­cluded that “a pri­vate body­guard's wis­dom lies in as­sess­ing po­ten­tial risks and pre­vent­ing them in ad­vance, rather than us­ing vi­o­lence if there is a threat to the per­son you are pro­tect­ing.” Af­ter he re­turned, he set up his own com­pany in 2006, the Bei­jing­based Nine Lives Pro­tec­tion Team. The firm's logo is a fierce big cat.

Shi Xingfeng, founder of the Bei­jing-based Bo­jing Se­cu­rity Agency, went through a sim­i­lar learn­ing curve. Hav­ing learned mar­tial arts at Shaolin Tem­ple in He­nan Prov­ince, glob­ally known as a cen­ter for mar­tial arts, Shi started work at a pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pany in Bei­jing in 2003, only to find that the boss re­garded him as lit­tle more than a hu­man shield. “Peo­ple thought that body­guards should stand in front of the boss to block any risk, and use vi­o­lence to solve it,” he said. Of­fended by the mis­un­der­stand­ing, Shi quit the next day.

In 2008 dur­ing a per­for­mance tour in Spain, he met with a for­eign pri­vate se­cu­rity firm and ac­cepted a job of­fer, where he ex­pe­ri­enced what is was like to be a “Western-style” pri­vate body­guard. “It's a de­cent job and the role a body­guard plays is to as­sess and avoid risk,” he told Newschina. In 2010, Shi re­turned to China and founded his own com­pany based on these work­ing prac­tices.

Most se­cu­rity pro­fes­sion­als agree that their job re­quires much more brain power than phys­i­cal­ity. Wang Haichun, CEO of Hangzhoubased se­cu­rity firm Tianzun Spe­cial Guard, did not em­pha­size his mar­tial arts back­ground, in­stead talk­ing of his qual­i­fi­ca­tion in drift driv­ing and his abil­ity to play golf. He is also plan­ning to learn to

fly. “We only pro­vide high-end body­guard ser­vices for celebri­ties, business-peo­ple and politi­cians,” he said.

High-end ‘Shad­ows’

The pin­na­cle of be­ing a pro­fes­sional per­sonal se­cu­rity provider lies in high-end ser­vices, and this is where the real money is. A man­ager at Qufu Xuanyuan Spe­cial Guard In­sti­tute, a pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pany based in Shan­dong Prov­ince, told the China Eco­nomic Her­ald, a Bei­jing-based pa­per, that its staff had only worked as low-end se­cu­rity guards in res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties, and the firm was op­er­at­ing at a loss, un­til they put their staff through pro­fes­sional train­ing and started work­ing for celebri­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Wang Haichun, a big part of his com­pany's work is pro­tect­ing su­per­stars, es­pe­cially when they go to a city for a pub­lic­ity event. “Crowd con­trol is very tech­ni­cal – if the fans are too far from the star, they think the star is ar­ro­gant, but if they get too close, it might be harm­ful to the star,” he said. “And in many cases, our du­ties are more com­pli­cated, we have to be in­vis­i­ble. Wear­ing a black suit, sun­glasses and an ear­piece, those body­guards hide in the dark like shad­ows and co­op­er­ate with vis­i­ble se­cu­rity staff to check for any po­ten­tial risks.”

Shi said that his com­pany had pro­vided nine “shad­ows” to pro­tect Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger when he vis­ited Bei­jing in Septem­ber 2017. They checked out ev­ery place on the ac­tor-turned-politi­cian's itin­er­ary be­fore­hand – and even some that were not on the sched­ule.

Li Xu de­fines his com­pany at an even higher level – They only pro­tect cap­tains of in­dus­try and po­lit­i­cal big shots. Since most of their clients need to travel incog­nito, they pro­vide “three-di­men­sional” pro­tec­tion, in­clud­ing “be­hind-the-tree” guards in charge of re­mote surveil­lance, “un­der-the-win­dow” guards to keep the perime­ter safe, “on-the-stair” and per­sonal body­guards for in-house safety.

“These [high-end] se­cu­rity per­son­nel de­serve a higher salary and a higher so­cial po­si­tion,” Li said. Ac­cord­ing to Li and Wang, a se­nior body­guard can earn around 0.25-1 mil­lion yuan (US$38,462153,846) an­nu­ally, de­pend­ing on the na­ture and du­ra­tion of their ser­vices.

That's one of the rea­sons why their com­pa­nies rig­or­ously screen can­di­dates and pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive train­ing – Wang is even plan­ning to get psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sess­ments for his em­ploy­ees.

“We have to en­sure the staff we pro­vide is 100 per­cent re­li­able,” Wang said. “Gen­er­ally speak­ing, we pre­fer re­tired sol­diers, since the mil­i­tary will have looked into their back­grounds be­fore and they are

highly dis­ci­plined... We also hire those who have a mar­tial arts back­ground or who grad­u­ated from a sports col­lege, but we won't ac­cept any­one with a crim­i­nal back­ground or some­body who was in­volved in gang­land,” Wang said.

Ac­cord­ing to Xin Shi­cai, pres­i­dent of Qufu Xuanyuan Spe­cial Guard In­sti­tute, even those with a mil­i­tary back­ground should re­ceive strict train­ing, since pri­vate se­cu­rity guards are in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment and re­quire a dif­fer­ent set of emer­gency ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Se­cret So­ci­ety

But as se­curely as they guard their clients, they guard the se­crecy of their business even more. As com­pe­ti­tion in the in­dus­try heats up, few will re­veal de­tails of their jobs and train­ing meth­ods – they do not even tell their fam­i­lies. This means it is hard for me­dia or in­dus­trial an­a­lysts to get spe­cific in­for­ma­tion on how big the mar­ket is and how many peo­ple are en­gaged in it.

De­spite the se­crecy, it is ob­vi­ous there is grow­ing de­mand for their ser­vices, but firms are also strug­gling to fill po­si­tions. A Chongqing­based pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pany told lo­cal pa­per Chongqing Business in early 2018 that the cur­rent drop-out rate for their re­cruits is 85 out of 100, and there is a se­vere short­age of qual­i­fied can­di­dates that far out­strips de­mand.

Xin Shi­cai told the China Eco­nomic Her­ald that their business has ex­panded to pris­ons, govern­ment departments and large en­ter­prises. An­other lo­cal se­cu­rity com­pany in Shan­dong also told the pa­per that they have set up more than 30 branches in cities like Bei­jing and Shang­hai. In Qing­dao, also in Shan­dong, a lo­cal se­cu­rity firm even launched an app called Jin Yi Wei, which trans­lates to “the im­pe­rial body­guards in the Ming Dy­nasty.” The app has 47 se­cu­rity firms to choose from, with over 50,000 pro­fes­sional se­cu­rity staff. The com­pany hopes its leap into the dig­i­tal econ­omy will be as suc­cess­ful as ride-hail­ing apps.

Thanks to China's em­brace of glob­al­iza­tion and the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, Chi­nese pri­vate se­cu­rity ser­vices have be­come a cross­bor­der business. Li's em­ploy­ees of­ten es­cort their high-rank­ing cus­tomers abroad, and Wang said they are in talks with a con­struc­tion en­ter­prise to pro­vide over­seas se­cu­rity ser­vices. They have also con­tracted with a tourism com­pany to of­fer se­cu­rity on tours to the Antarc­tic.

Pri­vate in­dus­try an­a­lysts the Qianzhan In­dus­trial In­sti­tute pub­lished a re­port in 2015 on the mar­ket prospects and in­vest­ment in Chi­nese se­cu­rity ser­vices, in­di­cat­ing that turnover in 2015 was 54.6 bil­lion yuan (US$8.4B), a 15 per­cent an­nual com­pound growth. Sup­pos­ing that Chi­nese pri­vate se­cu­rity ser­vices grow by 10 per­cent ev­ery year, the mar­ket will ex­pand to around 100 bil­lion yuan (US$15.4B) by 2021. In 2016, Phoenix In­tel­lec­tual Think Tank un­der ifeng.com and the Ts­inghua Cen­ter for Us-china Re­la­tions re­leased a re­port on the se­cu­rity man­age­ment of over­seas en­ter­prises, which said that the over­seas mar­ket for Chi­nese se­cu­rity ser­vices was US$10.3 bil­lion in 2015.

Many in­sid­ers be­lieve that as China did not open the pri­vate se­cu­rity mar­ket un­til 2010, the in­dus­try is still in its in­fancy, and there could be prob­lems on the hori­zon. Xin Shi­cai, for ex­am­ple, said that the mar­ket has not yet fully opened, es­pe­cially in some sub-sec­tors like pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for cargo ships against piracy. Other in­dus­try an­a­lysts warned that a short­age of qual­i­fied staff and the lack of a code of con­duct make it hard to man­age the in­dus­try prop­erly.

More­over, many se­cu­rity per­son­nel in­ter­viewed com­plained that there are no reg­u­la­tions or laws to pro­tect their own se­cu­rity and ac­knowl­edge their so­cial sta­tus. Wang Haichun de­scribed be­ing a body­guard as a “go-it-alone” in­dus­try. He re­called how strained and iso­lated he felt when he was threat­ened by his boss's ri­val when he was work­ing as a pri­vate se­cu­rity guard in 2004. Now, at his own com­pany, he set up a sep­a­rate se­cu­rity team to pro­tect his em­ploy­ees, in case they are caught in an emer­gency or in a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion.

“Al­though the Reg­u­la­tion on the Se­cu­rity Guard Ser­vice has been in ef­fect for eight years, there are still prob­lems,” Zhang Hong, a deputy pro­fes­sor in the science of pub­lic or­der at the Peo­ple's Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Uni­ver­sity of China, told Newschina. “Many [pri­vate] se­cu­rity guards still re­main un­der­ground or op­er­ate in a gray zone, and due to the ab­sence of de­tailed in­dus­try rules, no­body has a clear idea on how to de­velop and man­age se­cu­rity firms. We are in the same plight as eight years ago,” he added.

A body­guard train­ing class in Qin­huang­dao, He­bei Prov­ince, Oc­to­ber 12, 2015

Em­ploy­ees of Hangzhou-based Tianzun Spe­cial Guard take part in a train­ing ex­er­cise, March 2018

Wang Haichun (First R) and some of his staff at Tianzun Spe­cial Guard

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