Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Police Shoot a Man Dead. Justified Force or China's ‘Stability Maintenance’ at Work?

Viral images of a petitioner, Xu Chunhe shot dead by a police officer at Qing'an train station. His mother and children were around when the incident happened.

Viral images of a petitioner, Xu Chunhe, shot dead by a police officer at Qing'an train station. His mother and children were around when the incident happened.

The shooting death of a man inside a train station by police has touched off debate over citizen's rights and the costs of maintaining stability in China.

On May 2, a police officers approached Xu Chunhe at Qing'an train station in the northern province of Heilongjiang after he reportedly prevented people from entering the station, which had refused to sell him tickets. The situation soon escalated between Xu and the police and ended when one of the officers shot him. Photos of Xu’s body on the station floor – his child standing over it – quickly circulated around the Internet in China, followed by allegations of police brutality.

Xu, a peasant living in northeastern Qing'an county, had done part-time labor to earn a living before he broke his leg in a traffic incident. According to a report in Chinese media outlet Caixin, Xu's wife suffered mental illness, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Xu's 82-year-old mother wanted her three grandchildren to enter a welfare home and started her petition journey to big cities, but she ended up begging in the streets with her three grandchildren in Beijing. In February, local authorities took them back to their village after a Beijing newspaper reported on their grievances.

Police initially downplayed Xu's shooting death, saying he had attacked the police and tried to grab the officer's gun, adding that Xu appeared drunk. But many cited the incident as a typical case of state violence in its efforts to maintain stability at all costs.

In response to public skepticism, China's state television broadcast an edited version of the train station's surveillance footage 12 days after the shooting. In it, Xu can be seen fighting the officer. As an officer hits Xu with his baton, Xu at one point picks up his young daughter and throws her at the officer. Xu and the officer continue to struggle and Xu eventually takes the officer's baton. As Xu swings at him, the officer fires, hitting Xu.

China’s Xinhua News Agency said an investigation by Harbin Railway Police found that the police acted properly. But the family’s lawyer, Xie Yanyi, alleged the video shown on national television was edited to defame Xu morally and filed suit against CCTV accusing the network of distorting fact and broadcasting a biased report.

The release of station surveillance footage seemed to alleviate some of the public's concerns, but not completely. Some argued that Xu using his own daughter as a weapon against the officer proved he deserves no sympathy. But others have questioned why the officer seemed to shoot to kill, instead of wound, why the video was released after so many days, and even if Xu really attacked the officer to begin with.

Many believed that the train station refused to sell tickets to him because the authorities had tried to stop him and his family from petitioning in Beijing, a concerning development if true because the government has recently vowed to protect citizens’ petitioning right. In China, petitioning is a system for ordinary people to appeal to the provincial or central government to investigate abuse of power or corruption committed by local authorities. Many petitioners end up in Beijing and some become beggars so that they can continue to petition in the capital. Because of their persistence, petitioners are labelled as paranoid or mentally ill. Local authorities often “kidnap” the petitioners, send them back to their hometown and stop them from traveling out again.

The case garnered widespread attention on Twitter-like Weibo, with Xu seen as representative of China's ordinary people. A commentary on Beijing Times criticized the police's impartial investigation:

【京华时报:庆安事件不能止于对警察开枪的调查】徐纯合为何封堵通道阻拦旅客进站?在警方的调查信息中,忽略了徐纯合“犯浑”的主观动机调查。对于警方合法正当执法带来的后果,当地政府为何要先行与死者亲属签订补偿协议?当地铁路警方又为何要捂盖子捂这么久?真相还不够完整。

Beijing Times: “Qing'an incident cannot end with the police investigation on the shooting.” Why did Xu Chunhe stop other travelers from departing on the train? In the police investigation, Xu's intention was ignored. If it were appropriate for the police officer to shoot, why did the local authorities sign a compensation agreement with his family? Why did the railway police withhold the surveillance footage for so long? The truth is incomplete.

He Weifang, a famous law professor, criticized CCTV report:

〔公信枯竭綜合症〕看了央視關於慶安警察槍擊的報導,就畫面展示情況而言,警察開槍具有正當性。但前因後果仍有疑問,死者為何會突然阻止其他旅客進站,為何對警察于預火氣衝天,央視竟不置一詞。事件的調查居然由公安系統進行,結論如何取信于人?央視也不是一個令人信賴的媒體。奈何!

Public trust depletion syndrome: CCTV’s footage seems to justify the police’s shooting. But doubts still exist. Why did Xu suddenly block the entrance? Why was he furious about the police intervening? State television didn’t say a word. How could the conclusion convince the public when the investigation has been undertaken by the security department?

The post was quickly removed. A censorship order was issued demanding all media outlets, online and offline, not to “follow up on or hype the Qing’an shooting incident” and to “take note and delete negative, harmful Internet commentary”. The Weibo account of Zhang Xuezhong, a well-known dissident and law expert, was deleted after he wrote an article criticizing state violence to maintain societal stability:

徐纯合不过是维稳体制的又一牺牲品,而维稳只不过是专政的当代说法。[…]徐纯合仅仅因为他的底层身份,就被剥夺了正常购票乘车的权利,最终就在自己母亲和子女的眼前,惨死于警察的枪口之下。

Xu Chunhe was another scapegoat of the stability control system, which is another term for despotism. […] due to his ordinary status, Xu was deprived of the right to buy train tickets and was shot to death in front of his mother and children.

Sun Liping, a famous sociologist, believed Xu was killed by the hostility of the system against petitioners:

庆安枪击事件,有质疑者谓之谋杀,我觉得无论如何和谋杀是不贴边的。如果人们质疑的那些理由成立,我愿意将其原因称之为对上访者的体制性仇视。也就是经过对上访人员多年的污名化过程,慢慢在有关部门人员中形成了这样一种思维定势:他们是会给自己添麻烦的麻烦制造者,是一种可以随意处之的异类。

Some call the shooting murder, but I don’t think so. I’d rather attribute it to the systemic hostility against petitioners. After years of defaming petitioners, officials have gradually formed a mindset: they are just troublemakers, they are disposable freaks.

He further elaborated:

徐纯合被枪杀事件,社会强烈要求公布视频。这当然是重要的,因为可以明确开枪者的责任,更重要的是一件公众充满质疑的枪杀事件不应成为秘密。但我觉得更重要的是在视频之外。事件的起因究竟是不是徐因此前有过上访行为而上车受到阻拦。如果是,无论视频展示的具体情节是什么,这都是维稳恶政造成的血案

The public strongly demand the authorities to release the surveillance video of the shooting. It’s certainly important because it not only confirms the police’s shooting accountability, but make sure that a dubious shooting doesn't become a secret. However, I feel what’s more important is beyond the video. Does the tragedy arise from Xu being blocked for his previous petitions? If it is, this shooting would be a bloody case caused by misgovernance in maintaining stability, no matter what details the videos reveal.

Wang Zhi’an, an investigative journalist, argued that the allegation of Xu assaulting the police officer doesn't justify the shooting:

只要袭警就击毙的观点是错的。袭警也分多种情况,打耳光是,打一拳也是,捅一刀也是。都击毙么?许多群体性事件都伴随有袭警行为,直接拿机关枪突突么?开枪必须有现实而紧迫的危险,这个标准应该事先有程序规定,事后有检察机关审查。不经审判直接剥夺公民生命的权力,只能是例外,要格外谨慎。

It’s wrong for police to shoot and kill whenever assaulted. Attacking police includes many things like slapping, punching or stabbing. Should police kill them all? Should police just directly open fire on protesters of mass incidents [massive protests] with machine guns even those the incidents could lead to violent act and police assaults? Police open fire only if they face real and urgent dangers. There should be a standard laying out the procedure in advance, and afterward there is an investigation. It should be the exception, the result of extreme caution, for police to kill a civilian without a trial.

Xu had participated in local Christian activities and built an online talk group, which remains active with nearly 200 disciples. Wang Yi, who is a Christian, expressed a strong feeling of compassion towards Xu:

我仍要承认,徐纯合是我在这个时代最卑微的弟兄,最可怜的弟兄,也是最失败的弟兄之一。我在彼时,不会比他做得更好,忍得更久。基督徒之所以被称为圣徒,不是因他们的道德,是因他们愿意让耶稣的宝血,来遮盖他们的失败。我蒙召就是为着这样的人,因我自己就是这样的人

I have to admit that Xu Chunhe is one of my most humble, miserable and poor brothers in this day and age. I wouldn't do better nor endure longer if I were living in his conditions. Christians have been named saints not because of their virtues but because they want to let Jesus’ blood cover their failures. I’ve been called to work for these people for I myself belong to them.

2 comments

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site