Over the past few months, the cold-blooded murder of a young woman, Zhang Miao, by affluent music student Yao Jiaxin, has been the most heated topic on the Chinese Internet.
Most netizens believe that Yao Jiaxin must be given the death penalty for justice to be served. However, as if to add oil to boiling water, on the eve of the verdict in the murder trial, which concludes on April 22, 2011, propaganda authorities have demanded that all media outlets use the Xinhua report as their only news source, as well as to monitor all related online discussions.
To review the murder case, before looking at Chinese netizens’ reactions, we have:
The murderer – Yao Jiaxin
Yao Jiaxin is a student at the Xi'an Conservatory of Music. At around midnight on October 20, 2010, he hit a 26-year-old woman, Zhang Miao, with his Chevrolet near the university campus. When he saw Zhang was copying down his car's license plate number, he took out a knife and stabbed Zhang six times until she died. While he was trying to escape, he hit two other people in a nearby village and was caught on the spot.
On October 22, the police managed to connect the two car accidents together and arrested Yao Jiaxin on charges him of murder. On October 23, Yao described the details of the murder case to the police. He was then put on trial on March 23, 2011, at the Xi'an Intermediate People's Court. Since Yao has confessed to his crime and shown remorse for the murder, it is quite likely that he will escape the death penalty, like other hit-and-run incidents.
However, online public opinion demands that “Yao Jiaxin must die”.
When the news was first reported online, many believed that Yao was a typical second generation rich kid. Below are the results of a human flesh search done on Yao's father's military background (via the China Strong blog) [zh]:
Even though a number of state media tried to cool down netizens’ hatred towards Yao by providing various details, such as his mobile phone mortgage, to show that Yao's family is not that rich, such efforts have failed. In Tianya Forum‘s discussion thread [zh]:
fanyanjun 2011-04-18 13:11:13
Who dares to cross the road in the future?
Fly together 2011-04-18 13:13:39
New anger 2011-04-18 13:34:17
We cannot bare such shit.
Zhao Gau 2011-04-18 13:47:20
hailangpeng 2011-04-18 14:56:52
无良媒体 和药八刀一起杀掉 杀无赦
The victim – Zhang Miao
In his defense, Yao said that he stabbed Zhang because she was a rural peasant, implying that she might blackmail him over the car accident. One of Yao's university classmates supported such opinion on her microblog, saying that she would have stabbed the woman to death as well if she had wound up in Yao's position.
Blogger Candy Lu [zh] has screen captured the microblog conversation. The exact wording of Yao's university alumni is:
Such prejudice against rural peasants only further outraged netizens. Second-hand-mud-horse expresses his anger in some prose dedicated to Zhang Miao [zh]:
Zhang Miao, how silly you were?
When Yao Jaxin checked on your injury, why did you stare at him. You probably thought that he was going to take you to the hospital.
You were wrong. He was checking if you were rural peasant or city dweller.
Zhang Miao, how silly that you let him know that you were from the rural area? In Yao Jaxin's eyes, a rural peasant's life is worthless. Death would cost less than injury. But he forgot to crush you with his car. Instead he stabbed deep into your body with his knife, eight times.
Zhang Miao, how silly you were?
Even though Yao Jaxin checked on your injury with a knife,
Even though it took him awhile to figure out your rural background,
The time for a premeditated murder was too short. They called this murder out of rage, rather than intentional murder.
We are all too ignorant to hear of such a term before.
Microblog user Powerful-weibo posts Zhang Miao's photo and explains her background [zh] in his microblog:
她的死，引发舆论大地震。家境贫困15岁辍学、每天不吃早饭省钱给妹妹。卖馒头、摆小摊、做服务员…攒钱给弟弟，自己不舍得买衣服。春节前，贫困的她 还硬塞给妹妹100元…始终肩挑做大姐的责任。在她失业的那天晚上被无情杀害，留下2岁孩子。杀她的人叫药家鑫。张妙，一个至死都活在贫穷里的80后 女孩。
Within one day, the post has attracted more than 3,000 angry comments, most of them demanding the death penalty for Yao.
Prominent children's author Zheng Yuanjie created an opinion poll on Sina Weibo [zh] today (April 21). In less than 3 hours, 7,379 people had participated in the vote with 97% (7,182) demanding the death penalty. Only 3% (197) support an amnesty from a death sentence:
Why are Chinese netizens so angry and obsessed with seeing Yao be given the death sentence? There are several explanations.
In Baidu Tieba, Civilized-cyber-cafe believes [zh] that those who demand the death penalty for Yao are just an irresponsible angry Internet mob:
杀死药！！！我们这些伪愤青网络暴民才能爽一下杀死药！！！我们对生活，对国家的不满才能发泄出来杀死药！！！是不是就能让国家更好，我不关心，我们就是 要杀死他！！！杀死药！！！法律是不是就更完善也不关我们的事 ，我们只是这次要他死杀死药！！！
On the other hand, Baidu Bar user Bobo-Bar believes that the public outrage is the result of fear [zh]:
What exactly is this jungle law in the Chinese context? Microblogger Exercise-book believes that there is a powerful organized force backing up Yao Jiaxin:
2. They have organized a group of students calling for abolition of the death penalty;
3. They have organized a group of media to show how remorseful Yao is.
Yao's whole team is so well organized that they can exempt him from the death penalty with strong reasoning: that this was manslaughter by legal definition. It wins public sympathy and there is a reason behind the murder…
They are very successful in transforming the case from crazy murder to murder out of rage to manslaughter.
Eventually, it might as well turn into legal self defense, or a courageous act…
Everything is possible in this country, all it takes is public relations.
The discussion thread has attracted more than 2,500 comments and 10,000 retweets. And, as if public outrage was not already boiling hard enough, the State Council Information Office stepped in on April 17, demanding all media outlets use the Xinhua report as their only news source for the story, and requiring them to carefully monitor related online comments.
China Digital Times has reposted the media notice [zh]:
With the stepping in of the propaganda authority, Yao's murder case has gone from an overheated online debate to a case which tests the Chinese government's control over online public opinions. The verdict will be released tomorrow, but won't look good either way the court rules.
death penalty has just been announced for the first trial: http://t.cn/hdLHIQ [zh] it is likely that there will be a second trial later.
He deserved to die, he did not think about how that “rural peasant” might have a family, might have people who care about her and how she a mere “peasant” might be worth more than he will ever be. All he thought about was protecting his honor, when he hit her, he should not have stabbed her when he was wrong. She helped her family through their hardships but all he ever did was sit and bask in his family/friends approvals. I truly hope that those family/friends have seen what a cold-blooded killer and loser he is. If not, nobody will have gained anything for a family and child has lost their sister/daughter/mother and nobody will have learned anything.
With all due respect to Oiwan Lam, there is no evidence of a conspiracy by the authorities to save the life of Yao Jiaxin. And as she later notes, contrary to her confident predictions, Yao was sentenced to death. Now Oiwan Lam is saying there will be a second trial. This is extremely unlikely – unless Lam is referring to the appeal. Yao has the right to appeal and all death sentences are reviewed by the Supreme Court. But an appeal is not a second trial. We will see what happens, but I suspect Yao’s appeal will be rejected as his crime was particularly heinous.
A similar hue and cry was raised by “netizens” around the Li Qiming (son of Li Gang) hit and run case. But in the end Li was sentenced to 6 years in jail – a penalty in line with interntational standards for his much lesser crime (although many netizens wanted him executed too). Li Qiming was supposed to have boasted “My father is Li Hang, sue me if you dare.” but a later investigation by a journalist showed eye witnesses said he was terrified and his actual words were “Please don’t tell my father.”
In both these cases, liberals backed what they said were citizens fighting against the machinations of a corrupt and authoritarian government. A better description would be a lynch mob.
Just for clarity, I am opposed to the death penalty on principle. So this includes Yao, even though his crime was absolutely despicable.
neither do i believe in the conspiracy theory. the politicization of the case is the stepping in of propaganda authority and the “questionnaire distributed in the court room” (in other reports), where the majority of the seats were occupied by Yao’s family and friends.
the excessive intervention of state authorities in civil conflicts is the source of conspiracy speculation. you may well say that the liberals as lynch mob, but the story ends in such a way because of their intervention, one may also argue.
i also am opposed to death penalty, and many liberals (human rights lawyers) in China also advocate against death penalty, some of them are in jail.
You say you do not believe in conspiracy theories, but quote a blogger called Exercise Book talking about a ‘powerful, organized force’ backing up Yao.
You say you are against the death penalty but say “it is quite likely that he [Yao] will escape the death penalty, like other hit-and-run incidents.” I presume the “other incidents” means Li Qiming. You don’t seem to have digested the fact that the Yao incident was not a simple hit and run but a deliberate, fatal stabbing. Are you suggesting Li Qiming deserved the same punishment as Yao Jiaxin, even though their crimes were of entirely different levels of seriousness?
You quote bloggers – most of whom have no direct knowledge of the cases – as if they were reliable witnesses, and Internet polls as if they were reliable guides to public opinion.
In the end, if you don’t believe a conspiracy, or powerful forces manipulated the court, and you don’t believe in the death penalty, what is your point exactly?
Everyone knows the Chinese news media are managed by the propaganda department – mainly because the government is paranoid about social unrest. Tell us something new.
I can’t see much to question about the court’s verdict in either the Li Qiming or Yao Jiaxin case. It’s open to you to believe the judges were responding to Internet agitation, but my view is that Chinese courts don’t need much encouragement to dish out harsh punishments.
It’s a very unedifying sight to see human rights activists and liberals joining in demands for Chinese judges to get tough. God help us if Chinese judges get tougher than they already are.
My point is simple, to raise a question: when 97% chinese netizen (more than 7500 votes) in Zheng Yuanjie (a popular children book writer)’s poll supports death penalty, instead of the explanation that they are all blood thirsty lynch mob, what are their reasons? and the conspiracy theory part that i translated is one of the reasons that i could identify from the online discussion.
if reporting a case like this = supporting conspiracy theory or blood thirsty revenge / death penalty, there isn’t much space left for deliberation…
I dare say if such a case happened in any country you would find a large majority in favor of shooting Yao. The instinct for retribution is strong – and a 97 percent majority in this particualr case requires no particular explanation.
But the key point that you continue to avoid, is that the assumption that you and the “netizens” made – that the government or “powerful forces” would find a way to protect Yao – was completely unfounded. You’ve been proved wrong but you refuse to admit it.
As for authors of children’s books who coordinate campaigns for the death penalty I suggest maybe they should find a more suitable profession. I wouldn’t want my kids reading books written by people like that, and I sare say I’m not alone.
the sentiment maybe the same, but definitely different reasons.
it’s hard to imagine that any other court in the world would do an opinion poll in the court room for a murder sentence.
And he eventually gets executed. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13678179
He got what he deserved. Oh, if only all of the countries in the world had such an efficient justice system! A little more transparency would be great but in a case where there was malice and a confession, just excellent!