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What Sparked the Yan Zhou Unrest? China's Information Deficit in the Spotlight

Photo circulated on social media (via Epoch Times)

Photo circulated on social media (via Epoch Times)

The video below shows angry crowds turning over two police vehicles while police officers from Yan Zhou city in Shandong province escorted a woman from a crime scene June 8.

What made hundreds of people so angry? Why was their rage directed towards police?

The Shandong police released a report via their official Weibo and major state-affiliated media outlets, saying the uproar was caused by a misunderstanding related to a quarrel between two women, while the majority of Chinese netizens had a different explanation of events.

The popularly accepted version of the story runs somewhat like this: Around 9 pm on June 8, four “kidnappers” attempted to steal a three-year-old kid from his mother near a residential neighbourhood in Yan Zhou.

Residents thwarted the “kidnappers”, detaining one woman on the spot while they awaited police.

The crowd quickly determined that the woman suspect, a Han Chinese, was from Xinjiang, a region often associated with criminal activity and separatism in public discourse.

In one of the viral videos of the incident that surfaced on social media, a woman can be heard being questioned by an aggressive crowd and saying: “I haven't yet stolen [the kid]” (我又没偷成).

The video was widely cited as evidence the incident the crowd was responding to was a failed kidnapping. It was later deleted.

(New York-based Chinese-language broadcaster NTDTV used footage from the video clip in their news report).

According to NTDTV's report the crowd was angry that it took police more than 40 minutes to arrive at the scene and some of them expressed their frustration by flipping over two police vehicles.

The police had to phone in backup to suppress the riot and eventually arrested some 17 people.

The below Weibo post quoted by many news outlets reflected the sentiment of the angry crowd:

就家鄉濟寧兖州搶孩事件,可以總結幾點結論,1、人民群眾為人民,百姓的事情還得靠百姓;2、110只是個熱線電話,服務執行看心情;3、警察很忙,都在設陷阱抓「嫖」立功呢!孩子丟了沒錢拿,抓「嫖客」有提成;4、國家應該從此出台法律,處決人販子就直接人民群眾自行解決,就不勞「人民警察」出動了,一個小時出警和不出警一個結果!5、以後警察的職責就是抓「嫖」護官就好,人民不再依賴!

I draw a few conclusions from the kidnapping incident from my hometown Yan Zhou city: 1. Ordinary people help each other out, because they can only rely on each other;

2. 110 [emergency number] is just a hot line, whether they deliver the service depends on their mood;

3. Police are too busy putting up traps to catch “prostitution”! They can't make money when a kid gets lost, but get a share of the take when arresting clients of prostitutes;

4. The state should introduce new law so that people can execute kidnappers themselves, so they don't have to bother the “people's police”. There is no difference between late deployment of police and no deployment of police;

5. In the future, the police's duty should be specified as arresting [participants in] prostitution and protecting government officials, ordinary people don't need to rely on them.

However, police from Shandong province categorized the incident as a misunderstanding.

The woman suspect was trying to stop a mother from hitting her child, police said, and the two women entered into a verbal argument.

People passing by believed that the woman was a kidnapper, surrounded her and beat her up.

In the process, another man, who was mistaken as a kidnapper was also beaten up.

These two “suspects” were escorted to the hospital by the police.

Many netizens found the official report delusional, with one blogger called “Tea-leaf should stay in water” criticising the official version as follows:

官方版本的永远都在歪曲真相,把舆论指向平头百姓误导群众,偷孩子的变成好心劝解拉架的,黑的粉成白的,大反派秒变大英雄,从新疆跑大半个中国,几天换一个落脚窝点迂回到山东劝架,请问到底是有多闲?是兖州人民傻是管媒傻?视频里那个女人亲口说我又没偷成,那前排得人谴责她别人的孩子也敢抢,那女低头默认,不知道是兖州人民聋是管媒聋?警察40分钟出警不作为你不谴责不关注,偷孩子的不谴责不关注,只把关注忠心和谴责对象指向救人维护正义的人民群众,不知道是兖州人民瞎是管媒瞎。

The official version twists the truth and accuses ordinary people of being easily misled. The kidnapper becomes the good fellow who tried to stop a fight, black is washed into white and a bad guy has turned into a hero who travelled across the country from Xinjiang and ended up in Shandong to stop a fight. Who is the ignorant one, people from Yan Zhou city or the state-owned media? In the video, the woman said “I hadn't yet stolen [the kid].” People surrounding her were saying how dare you steal someone else's kid. The woman did not say anything to defend herself. Who is playing dumb? People from Yan Zhou city or state-owned media? You have not condemned the police for their 40 minute-late deployment, you have not condemned the kidnappers. All you have condemned are the people who came to the rescue. Who are the blind ones? People from Yan Zhou or state-owned media?

The above view was echoed by many in the comment thread of the news item:

“我又没偷成” […] 说是暴民的看看那个视频吧。人贩子可恶,警察40分钟才来到现场。掀翻是因为太生气。如果40分钟前孩子被偷成功,人贩子早逃出兖州了。只能说兖州人团结,没有冷漠的对待这个社会。官方嘴里的暴民救了孩子。

“I haven't yet stolen” […] Please take a look at the video clip. The kidnapper was wicked and it took the police 40 minutes to arrive at the scene. They turned the vehicles upside down out of rage. If the kid had been stolen, the kidnappers would have left Yan Zhou with 40 minutes grace. People from Yan Zhou have stood by each other and the so-called “rioters” have rescued the kid.

But whichever account was the truth, the episode reflected deep-seated distrust in both local law-enforcement and state media, a point well made in a popular Weibo comment.

可怕不是误会,可怕的是不再信任,这些类似的事,其实是心头压抑已久的一次爆发。国内百姓生活不易,低收入高税率,生活没安全感,还要低声下气面对各种人民公仆。这只是国内百姓的一个缩影和常态。长久下去只怕会有更大爆发。到时候就别指望转移矛盾到反日之类的上面了。

What's terrifying is not the misunderstanding but the distrust. This is another outburst [like] similar incidents. Life is difficult – low incomes and heavy taxes. There is no sense of social security and yet [people] have to face humiliation from all levels by the authorities. The incident is just a reflection of their condition, and, in the long run, larger scale outbursts are likely to take place. By that time, rage will not be so easily channelled towards anti-Japanese sentiment.

  • Thomas Fung

    Am excellent story on the greatest problem in Chinese government; not its abuse of dissidents, but rather poor management and lack of accountability. A good management system would monitor 911 response and accept negative feedback. Instead, problems are covered up.

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