China: Nationwide truth crisis as Qian Yunhui's death ruled an accident

First there was a microblog account [zh], opened by Yueqing police on December 27 to publish information related to the ongoing investigation into Qian Yunhui's death on Christmas Day. Then, with public belief that this was a case of murder growing, lawyers, scholars, editors, reporters and other microblog celebrities from across the country converged on Zhaiqiao village over the weekend, seeking to get to the truth of the matter

Proclaiming themselves independent citizen investigation teams, they traveled to Yueqing following two press conferences held by local authorities, who ruled out the possibility of murder and declared Qian's death the result of a traffic accident, and following widespread public dissatisfaction with the official verdict. The (two?) three independent investigations then more or less all came to the same conclusion as police, an inconvenient truth that there exists no evidence that Qian's death was not the result of a traffic accident.

‘What is the truth?,’ retorts Yu Jianrong, director of the Rural Development Institute’s Social Issues Research Center at the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences in Beijing and one of the lead civilian investigators having traveled to Yueqing: ‘If the land expropriation cases are not pursued and dealt with, there is no truth that will be able to convince these villagers.’

At EastSouthWestNorth, Roland Soong has covered most aspects of developments so far:

01/02, The Exploited Traffic Tragedy — An Analysis of the Case of Qian Yunhui
01/01, A Netizen's Analysis Of The Evidence In The Qian Yunhui Case
12/31, A Civilian Investigation Team In Yueqing

…and much more, at The “Accidental” Death Of A Village Mayor

The credibility and reputations of those who led the Yueqing investigations took hits online with the conclusion that Qian was not murdered, and an anonymous accusation materialized at one point saying that millions of RMB were handed out to purchase a favorable outcome. Speaking to/for the grass mud horses was ‘Butcher’, well-known for his early interview with Deng Yujiao and later work covering the Fujian Three trials. He emphasized that his goal in Yueqing was not to deliver a final word on the matter, but to expose any and as much wrongdoing which may or may not have taken place, and in refusing to let Yueqing officials (and the civilian investigators, most of whom have already returned home) off the hook so easily, seemed to reflect public mood well. On December 31, he wrote:


The truth comes out through questioning, not bullshit theoretical wordplay.

Han Han jumped into it this morning with his first post of 2011, ‘Do we need truth, or truth that suits our needs?’, which in part reads:


It's been over a week since the tragic death of village head Qian, yesterday was the day of mourning and things are still bubbling. I saw the news when it first broke, and was also angered and upset by the Yueqing police statement that there was ‘no logical reason why the deceased died in such a strange manner’, but I held off writing on this as I wasn't sure what the truth was.

A week ago, I was online with a few friends, one of which said, how tragic, someone in Wenzhou was held down on the ground by four security guards while a construction vehicle drove over him and crushed him to death. The way this friend recounted it sounded as though it was based on fact, but not knowing the background to this story, I just answered back, why would they hire four security guards just to hold him down, with that many people involved someone would be bound to spill the beans.

Later, I got a better sense of what took place, and so while I still had my doubts, I still tended to believe that village head Qian was murdered, or at least that some foul play was afoot, and yet still I couldn't bring myself to start writing. Because I knew, this was merely the truth that I wanted to believe, and very possibly was not the actual truth. The place where I grew up is the Shanghai countryside, where large areas of land were often expropriated at low prices, with only a few hundred RMB in compensation per square meter of housing.

Farmers’ land was taken through force at low cost, and then so-called planning parceled the land into various chemical industry areas, sold at high prices. This led to serious pollution, turning the river several different colors, and my grandfather could tell the day of the week just by looking at the water[…]


但问题是,这是真相么。我知道,这是你我乐于接受的,希望得到的,符合我们内心对这片土地上时常出现的不公正的悲愤的真相,但这不是真相,真相是什么,我不知道,因为我知道政府时常说谎,而且无论事情是真的假的,它总是习惯以一副做贼心虚的态势来处理问题,所以,我不能完全相信官方说辞。但我也不相信很多网友的推测,因为我不相信看图能断案,也不相信看两集LIE TO ME就能判断别人有没有撒谎,至于后来的很多所谓的疑点也越来越牵强,包括有人提出工程车不可能在24分钟内经过很多路口开9公里路,这是属于被情绪冲昏了头脑。

And with my hatred at the government over its selling of this land, I naturally felt respect for village head Qian. I figured the story went like this: an upright village elder repeatedly imprisoned for petitioning on behalf of the people, long engaged in a fight against local criminal forces, in the end was murdered either by the government or corrupt officials in what was set up to look like a traffic accident; villagers, after discovering the truth, were outraged and demanded justice, only to be ruthlessly suppressed by riot police who had already been kept on standby in preparation; police then arrested many of those seeking justice as well as Qian's family, kidnapped the corpses, and intimidated and bribed those in the know into keeping quiet, locking down the media, making this an ultimate case of injustice.

But the problem is, is that the truth? I know that this is what we would like, maybe even hope, to hear, the kind of truth that suits our anger over the the frequent cases of injustice that take place on our land. But this is not the truth. What is the truth? I don't know. Because I know that the government usually lies, and that regardless of what's true and what's not, it always tends to handle problems with a guilty conscience.

Which is why I still don't fully believe the official version. But nor do I believe what many netizens are speculating, because I don't believe a case can be settled just based on a photo, or that people are able to judge if someone is lying just because they've seen two episodes of Lie to Me. As for the many so-called points of doubt that are increasingly farfetched, such as saying that there's no way the construction vehicle could have made it through so many intersections in those 9 km in just 24 minutes, which is coming from people whose emotions have gone to their heads.



And then, there were the several citizen investigation teams comprised of lawyers who traveled to Yueqing, which everyone hoped would be able to overturn the police findings and discover evidence of murder and reveal an even more shocking plot. Unexpectedly, the results of their investigations were basically the same as that of the police. If this was the truth, it wasn't the truth that people wanted, which is why, naturally, the citizen investigation teams themselves came under suspicion, of having been bought out by the government, or just paraded out by it as a sightseeing tour serving only to placate netizens.

While the investigations were carried out a bit hastily, and the evidence they examined wasn't complete, personally, I trust the reputations of these lawyers and media workers, and I don't think the government would have been able to buy out or groom these people—who, most days, don't exactly do what they're told—to carry out a citizen investigation just to swindle the public, because the government lacks the intelligence and inclination to try something like that. If the government were that dedicated to swindling people, then many other sudden incidents wouldn't have been handled the way they were, pitching the public against officials.

The government ought to think carefully why it is so many of the public are, for now, so willing to believe out of hand any accusation against it, and why so many people don't believe a word the government says. Why people feel that murdering a repeat petitioner is something you are capable of doing. Why those with so much public credibility instantly become monsters the second their investigation results turn out the same as yours. Why your means of handling problems always look like you have something more to hide. Regardless of whether this was a murder or an accident, village head Qian can now rest in peace, because it's because of this incident that everyone now knows just what sort of injustice villagers have received, and how weak, as the enemy, your credibility is.

Sometimes the truth doesn't suit people's needs, but the truth is bigger than people's feelings, and feelings are bigger than the position one takes. You can't assume a fact to use in criticizing your opponent; that, after all, is how they do things.

A ceremony mourning Qian's death was held on January 1, a week after the accident. Most outside observers had left by then, but several video clips taken at the ceremony and of the police response shortly thereafter were posted online. Clips uploaded to Chinese video-sharing websites have been deleted, but several have been preserved on YouTube. Also see several photos below.


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