The Qian Yunhui case of Zhaiqiao Village, near Yueqing city, in Zhejiang Province, seemed wrapped up and closed. But recurring eye witness accounts detailing the unclear circumstances of Mr. Qian’s gruesome death have kept fuelling suspicion and unwillingness to accept the official story of the local government that Qian’s unfortunate death under a truck outside the city was nothing but an accident. For an account of the story, see Tom Lasseter’s article “Death in China: Crushing dissent or tragic accident?,” http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/01/12/106671/death-in-china-crushing-dissent.html#ixzz1B5ehiLkS. For more details, including photos and translations of eye witnesses and Qian Yunhui’s family members, see also http://www.zonaeuropa.com/201101a.brief.htm.
What is particularly interesting this time around, is the disbelief on the part of the very vocal online choir that is China’s more than 45o million Internet users. Many of them do not believe, do not accept, the conclusion of a citizen investigation team that was invited by the local authorities to “independently” search for the truth in this case. As their conclusion corroborated the official story, it too was doubted.
In the article “The Qian Yunhui case interrogates public trust in the government,” http://www.nbweekly.com/Print/Article/11795_0.shtml by the scholar Wu Danhong (吴丹红) in the magazine Southern Metropolis Weekly, the point is made that the credibility crises that face China’s local governments is a huge problem for effective governance in the countryside. Wu explains how discontent in Zhaiqiao Village had been brewing for a long time, accelerating from 2003 onward when the plans for an electrical power plant unfolded. Due legal process was neglected and local critical voices were suppressed and silenced. Wu points to the fact that local officials have too many vested interests in the local economy – they have to build a track record of economic growth and personal careers – thus they are players on the football pitch as much as referees and guardians of fair play. Bottom line, this must change, or people’s trust in officials and their governance practice will not be regained. As one post commenting on Wu’s article bluntly stated “我相信再过不久,我们会农民工起义的时间了,” or “I believe that before long, we’ll enter a period of peasant and migrant worker uprisings.”
The outcome of the participation of the citizen investigative team this time resemble another famous investigative citizen/bedizen involvement in another case, “eluding the cat,” which involved the death of an inmate in a Kunming prison, Yunnan Province, in 2009. Yet, there are differences between the cases too. In Kunming, the assembled team of citizen bloggers invited by the local propaganda department boss Wu Hao (an avid micro blogger on Sina’s weibo, he was recently in January 2011 transferred to a new assignment) found no evidence that pointed to a homicide. The public opinion storm, which had brewed on the Internet died down.
A few aspects make the Qian Yunhui case stand out from the case of “eluding the cat.”
1. The former has to do with the deep chasm, widened in recent years, between local subjects/farmers in the countryside and officials. The latter case concerned an urban problematique. Arguably, though unhappiness with the police department is widespread in Chinese cities, it is nowhere near the distrust farmers harbor against local officials and policemen far away from the larger cityscapes. This fact alone makes it almost impossible for people with first-hand knowledge and experience of the situation in the countryside to believe ANY evidence indicating the innocence of local officials and lack of responsibility sensitive cases that clearly involve details of fraud, violence, and unfair compensation for lost land.
2. The credibility of citizen investigative teams has been tarnished. Even if the teams consist of renowned scholars such as CASS professor Yu Jianrong or rights activists, they are not part of the legal establishment, so they will not have access to all the details and facts that local governments sit on, and can easily hide. “Citizen investigators” have no official role, no mandate, to conduct their investigations.