Eluding the Cat: Yunnan Government Asks Netizens to Help Investigate Detainee Death (Updated)

In a sign that Chinese officials are growing increasingly wise to the power of public opinion online, the Yunnan provincial publicity department has invited netizens to join an investigation into the death of Li Qiaoming.  The Chinese cybersphere has been abuzz about Li, whom police claim died in a game of ‘eluding the cat’ (躲猫猫) with fellow prisoners.  From The Guardian:

Chinese officials have invited internet users to help them investigate a suspicious death in custody after police claims that the man died during a game of hide and seek prompted outrage, the country’s media reported today.

Li Qiaoming died from a brain injury sustained at a detention centre in the south-western province of Yunnan. Police in Puning county claimed he was injured while “eluding the cat” — as the game is known in China — with fellow prisoners.

[…]While many assumed the notice was a spoof, more than 500 applied, and 10 joined the committee in a visit to the scene of the incident today, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported. They include an insurance salesman, a technology worker and an art student.

According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, though netizens initially met the security bureau’s announcement with skepticism, by the end of the day over 500 had responded to the invitation to join the investigative committee.  ESWN translates:

Yesterday a public notice was issued by the Yunnan Provincial Publicity Department’s Press and Publication Administration.

“The injury and subsequent death of the Yuxi city Hongta district Beicheng town young man Li Qiaoming in a detention center has received broad media attention, especially on the Internet.  The term ‘eluding the cat‘ has become a hot Internet term in a very short time.  In order to satisfy the public’s right to know, the Yunnan provincial publicity departhment will form an investigative committee with other relevant departments and proceed to Kunming city Puning town on the morning of February 20 to find out the truth about the incident.  We are presently looking for four netizens and other representatives from society to serve as members of the committee.  You can register between now and 8:00pm on the evening of February 19, 2009.”

[…]”There are no hidden secrets. Tomorrow, we will take action and demonstrate that this is not a show.”  Yunnan province publicity department press and publication administration deputy director Gong Fei said that the main reason why netizens were suspicious about the ‘eluding the cat’ incident was that the information had not been open and transparent in a timely manner.  This time, the relevant departments (which includes the Yunnan provincial party public department, the Yunnan provincial public security bureau, the Yunnan Political Legal Committee and the Yunnan provincial procuratorate) have been encouraged to accept oversight from the people and the media, to respect press laws, and to allow people to keep track of the case at hand.  Their public invitation to netizens is the first of its kind in the history of the Internet in China.

Gong Fei said: “Before the public notice went out, we spent the entire morning convincing the other departments to cooperate with the media interviews.  In the past, we did not respect the rules of journalism sufficiently and we did not understand the new media well enough.  That was why we had a problem with public opinion.  The purpose of this investigation is to show that there are no hidden secrets in this case.”  This decision had not been easy to make.  “We basically discussed this for one whole morning.  But in the end, we thought that a news story cannot just be ‘blocked.’  Besides this closed and opaque approach violated the people’s right to know and caused the public to misinterpret the facts.”

*CDT has made minor changes to the translation for purposes of clarity.

The controversy began a little over a week ago, when on February 12 the Puning county public security bureau announced that Li had sustained fatal brain trauma after being beaten by other detainees and running into a wall during a game of 躲猫猫 (eluding the cat).  躲猫猫 has since become a hot search term on the Internet in China.  The news has generated over 35,000 comments on QQ.com.  ESWN has translated parts of another original Chinese article published in the Southern Metropolis Daily:

“I thought that he might have killed himself when he was caught committing a crime.  I never thought that he died while playing ‘eluding the cat!’  This goes far beyond my imagination!”  Although nobody did any push-ups during the ‘eluding the cat’ game, someone died nevertheless!  Are there any safe games or physical exercise left under the sun?”

The netizen ‘cos222′ said that the ‘eluding the cat’ explanation was so absurd that it must be true.  There was no reason for the police to create problems for themselves.  While the police continue their investigation, the “eluding the cat” term continues to propagate on the Internet and may have a chance to become another popular saying on the Chinese Internet in 2009.

QQ.com has photos and video of TV news coverage of the ‘eluding the cat’ incident.

Puning police answer reporter questions.

Puning County police answer reporter questions.

puning-detention

The detention center in Puning County, Yunnan Province where Li sustained his fatal head injury

Update:
躲猫猫, ‘eluding the cat’, has also buzzed into the online Mandarin-learning community on the Travel China Guide forums.

Roland Soong of ESWN has continued thorough coverage of the event.

In addition, Oiwan Lam of Global Voices writes on a relevant question: “China: Eluding the Cat Investigation, Netizen’s Power or Government PR?” (h/t ESWN). Included in the post is one netizen’s very pointed question:

What are you trying to lure? How come a propaganda department would take up a criminal case’s investigation? What does it mean? A bunch of dark birds, how can you be scientific? Will the report be convincing? Even though you are from the civil sector, how can you ensure what you see is the real? you are doing meaningless thing, why don’t you take a shower and sleep early?