A Villager’s Death Exposes Chinese Government Credibility Crisis
Posted by Author on December 29, 2010
Wall Street Journal, Dec. 28, 2010-
On Christmas Day, Qian Yunhui, a villager in eastern Zhejiang province with a long history of petitioning against alleged abuses by local government, was crushed to death under the wheels of a heavy truck. That much is fact. Gruesome pictures of his mangled body circulated widely on the Internet within hours of his death.
But the online uproar that followed–and the response of local officials–offers a window into a new political reality in China, one that has profound implications for how this country is governed.
Was it a traffic accident, as some local officials insist? Or a homicide designed to silence a government critic, as many Internet users appear to believe?
Stung by the online reaction, local authorities held a press conference on Monday afternoon to discuss the case. It was a rare gesture by Chinese officialdom, an acknowledgement that public opinion is important and that the government is both sensitive to criticism and willing to respond.
Local officials said Mr. Qian, a 53-year-old villager in Yueqing near the coastal metropolis of Wenzhou, was crossing a road under construction on Saturday morning when he was run over by a truck and killed instantly. The driver, who didn’t have a driver’s license, was arrested. From the accounts of witnesses and the driver, officials said that the police believe that Mr. Qian’s was indeed killed in an unfortunate accident.
At the press conference, broadcast live online, officials admitted that after the incident there were violent confrontations between villagers and police that resulted in five policemen being injured and six villagers detained.
Local police even opened an account on the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo on Monday evening “in order to disclose the progress in a timely manner.”
The online furor obviously caught attention in higher places. Chen Derong, vice governor of Zhejiang province and party secretary of Wenzhou city, signaled that the verdict on Mr. Qian’s death was still wide open.
He issued an order that the case be investigated as both a homicide and a traffic accident, according to an online report by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
So much for openness and responsiveness. The problem is this: few online user appear to believe the official account.
On Sina Weibo, which has more than 70 million accounts, many users said that the answers provided at the press conference only raised more questions about the circumstances of Mr. Qian’s death. Online users are especially upset that some of the most popular postings on the tragedy have been deleted. The first Weibo item by the Yueqing police drew more than 25,000 comments, with the majority of them cursing and attacking the police for lying.
Added together, the government response can be seen as modest progress towards better governance and transparency. But it also demonstrates a credibility challenge the ruling class is facing.
“It’s become the habit of the majority of the people to suspect whatever the government says,” wrote a Sina Weibo user. “To verify whether some news stories are true or false, my answer is to look at if agencies concerned have come out to deny. Usually if it’s denied, it’s 80% true,” commented another.
The lack of public confidence in the government to carry out an honest investigation of Mr. Qian’s death also led to a serious online discussion on whether an independent third-party panel should be formed to monitor the process, and who should sit on the panel.
Some see a deeper crisis. Yasheng Huang, a professor at MIT’s business school, wrote on Sina Weibo: “No matter what the truth of Mr. Qian’s death, doesn’t this demonstrate a political crisis, considering the preference of public opinion? If you’re the ruler, shouldn’t you be feeling anxious and concerned? Even if you don’t strive for justice, equality and progress, shouldn’t you start considering (political) system reform simply for the sake of ruling?”
–Li Yuan, via Wall Street Journal
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This entry was posted on December 29, 2010 at 8:57 pm and is filed under Activist, China, Human Rights, Incident, Law, News, People, Politics, SE China, Social, World, Zhejiang. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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