Reporting from Beijing (LA Times)— A farmer who said his house had been demolished set off three bombs at government buildings in the eastern Chinese city of Fuzhou on Thursday, killing himself and one other person and putting nerves on edge at a time when authorities are increasingly anxious about social unrest.
The bomber was identified as Qian Mingqi, an unemployed 52-year-old. The other person killed was not immediately identified. Six people were injured.
Bombings of this magnitude are relatively rare in China. Officials’ nervousness was evident from a ham-handed attempt to keep the incident out of the news. Angry reporters in Fuzhou complained that police confiscated their notebooks and cellphones and deleted photographs from cameras. An early report posted on the official New China News Agency site that described the attack as retaliation against local government was later removed.
Nevertheless, in an age when cellphone cameras and microblogs are challenging authorities’ penchant for concealment, photographs appeared almost immediately on Twitter and other sites showing a gray smoke cloud billowing over the government district, a blackened car that had concealed a bomb and a body lying under a hedge outside a government building.
Radio reports said the bomber left messages on a microblog hosted by Web portal Sina.com saying his house had been “illegally demolished” and that he was “forced to step on a road I don’t want to step on.”
The three blasts took place minutes apart, police said in a statement. A car bomb exploded in a parking lot at the prosecutors office at 9:18 a.m., followed at 9:29 a.m. by a blast at the local government office for the Linchuan district of Fuzhou. At 9:45 a.m., a second car bomb exploded outside the Drug Inspection Bureau office.
A 4 p.m. news conference by local authorities to discuss the explosions was abruptly canceled, and some journalists were told to stay the night at a nearby hotel.
The most serious of the explosions was outside the Linchuan district office.
“I heard a loud bang,” said Sun Zhongkai, a printer whose shop is near the office. “Our windows shook, although I didn’t realize right away that it was a bomb. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
What is perhaps most ominous for Chinese authorities is that, within hours of the explosions, the bomber was already becoming something of a folk hero on the Internet.
“Well done my brothers!” wrote one anonymous supporter, and another crowed, “Like the waves of the Yangtze River, one follows another. From China will emerge another Bin Laden.”
The case bears a resemblance to that of Yang Jia, a 28-year-old unemployed man who gained notoriety — and some supporters — after killing six police officers in a Shanghai suburb in 2008 apparently in retaliation for a beating he allegedly received while being apprehended the year before for riding an unlicensed bicycle.
In recent years, China has seen an alarming number of incidents in which disgruntled individuals have used knives or homemade explosives to exact revenge against society. Often incidents are triggered by land confiscations carried out to make way for real estate development or other grievances that have gone unaddressed by the nation’s dysfunctional court system. Scholars also blame widening income disparities.
Demonstrations are also on the rise. Sun Liping, a respected sociologist at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, reported this year that there were 180,000 “mass incidents” in 2010, double the number from 2006.
“Our society is going through a period of great change, so it is not unexpected that there is a rise in individuals who take these kinds of extreme measures,” another academic, Liu Shanying of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said Thursday.
Liu urged, however, that people not speculate too much about the Fuzhou case until it is clear what happened.