Airport Bomber Wins Praise, Reinvestigation

Beijing airport bomber Ji Zhongxing is in custody in an undisclosed location following surgery to amputate his left hand, injured in Saturday’s blast. The explosion appears to have been a desperate protest after eight years chasing adequate compensation for an alleged beating in 2005 by Dongguan police, which left him paralyzed. He faces at least three years in prison, but widespread public sympathy in light of his apparent unwillingness to hurt others has prompted a reinvestigation of his case.

Much of Ji’s story has so far come to light through his now deleted blog posts, highlights of which are translated at Shanghaiist. In a thorough update at The Los Angeles Times, Julie Makinen provided more details from his brother:

One night, Ji Zhongli said he received a phone call that his brother was severely injured and was in a hospital. It took him more than 24 hours to travel to Guangdong, he said, and only after he arrived and paid the hospital some money did doctors perform surgery on his brother.

“The doctor said if they had operated earlier, they might have been able to help him,” Ji Zhongli said.

After a month in Dongguan, the two returned to their hometown in Shandong. Ji Zhongxing began to pursue a legal case, seeking about $50,000 in compensation, but he lost. In 2009, however, Ji Zhongli said the family was visited by some officials from Guangdong.

“They said, ‘We are here to visit you, to see how you are doing. We have 80,000 renminbi [about $12,000] for you.’ We initially rejected this, then they raised it to 100,000 and all we had to do was sign the paper. We got the money. We thanked them.”

But then, Ji Zhongli said, “The person told us that this paper says you cannot petition anymore. … We felt we were cheated. That’s why my brother felt so mistreated. He needs a lot of care, continuing medical support, money to buy him products to maintain himself. My father is old and his own legs are not well, it’s hard for him to take care of my brother himself.” [Source]

At Global Times, Chang Meng noted that the Dongguan and Shandong authorities’ versions of events contradicted each other. The Dongguan local government insisted that Ji had been injured in an accident, while officials in his hometown backed his claim that he had been beaten. Chang also described skepticism at the petitioning system and the promised reinvestigation of Ji’s case:

Although Dongguan set up a special team Saturday night and vowed to conduct a thorough reexamination of Ji’s claims, Web users were skeptical about the credibility of the team and said a third-party agency should conduct the investigation.

[…] Such extreme cases have led to increasing doubts about the efficiency of the petition system that allows people to complain to specific government agencies. “Petitioning is only a supplement to the judicial system, but judicial injustice and limited channels to express grievances have made more and more people petition. However, most petitions still don’t get a result,” Wang Cailiang, a Beijing-based lawyer who has dealt with many petitioning cases, told the Global Times.

The quick reinvestigation into Ji’s case also brought up public fears of more copycats pursuing violence in order to get their requests noticed.

However, this is an inevitable trend if local authorities don’t face up to problems in governance and the judicial system, and continue to suppress petitioners to maintain stability, said Wu. [Source]

The copycats may already have started: South China Morning Post’s Vicky Feng reports that two other men have been arrested in Beijing for making bomb threats within hours of the original explosion. One threatened to blow up a video arcade after spending too much money there; on Sunday, according to The Nanfang, another man called in a bomb threat to a Shenzhen bank because he was unhappy with the service. But the man behind the other case on Saturday said he was protesting against land seizures, a major source of unrest in China. From SCMP:

Many Chinese netizens blamed a “butterfly effect” and criticised the government for failing to address petitioners’ grievances. “If the government continues in its corrupt ways, everybody will become Ji Zhongxing,” said one Weibo user. “Using lives to protest is the last way for ordinary people to seek changes,” wrote another.

Others have praised police for handling all cases swiftly.

On Monday, police carried out a series of raids throughout the capital, which led to the seizure of 327 pistols, 631 fake pistols, more than 12,000 rounds of ammunition, 1,123 knives and 61 crossbows, Beijing News reported. [Source]

Authorities have also stepped up airport security in both Beijing and Shanghai.

In similar cases in the past, those responsible have received a surprising degree of public support, even when others were killed. Ji’s reported efforts to ensure that no one else was injured raised the tone of many online comments from sympathy to outright praise. In one widely-quoted Weibo posting, professor Zhao Xiao issued a challenge: “For ten minutes before triggering the explosion, Ji Zhongxing warned others away so that only he would be hurt. Who in this country dares stand up and say ‘I am more righteous’ than such a kind-hearted fellow as this?”

Such praise was not unanimous or uncontroversial, however. Global Times and China Youth Daily both acknowledged Ji’s grievance, but stressed that his actions were “not tolerable” and “extremely unwise”. Some netizens felt similarly and were appalled by the more sympathetic reactions, as Offbeat China reported:

On the flip side, other netizens think a violent act like this should be condemned, regardless of what the backstory is. Like netizen 但斌 commented: “If all of those who are wronged think they have the right to do something like this in public, the result is unthinkable. To not to do things that would hurt innocent people in public areas is the bottom line.”

Some even compared Ji’s blast with the Boston Marathon bombing. They asked why two similar bombers who both felt wronged by their society received such different responses. For example, one netizen 凝哲同学 commented: “Public opinion in China is so twisted, especially among the opinion leaders. They don’t condemn someone who took a violent act in public space. Instead, they call him a hero for not hurting more people.” [Source]

Video of the explosion persuaded some that Ji’s concern for others’ safety may have been exaggerated:

Regardless, Ji Zhongxing has now become emblematic of many others. Citing a series of encounters over the course of her career, Caixin reporter Luo Jieqi wrote that “siding with a man who commits a terrifying act is normal when you hear so many stories of people so wronged they lack the will to live.”

After the airport explosion, a respected lawyer posed a question on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. He wondered where all the reporters had run off to when Ji was beaten so badly he was paralyzed. Now that he has set off a bomb in the Beijing airport, the reporters are swarming all over him.

My conscience has been asking me the same question. If Ji had found me at the time, would I have told his story? The story’s chances of being chosen in a news pitch meeting would have been very small because it would not have been influential enough. It’s too common today. I remember a sentence from a news textbook: “Dog bites man” is not news; “man bites dog” is news. Ji’s experience was a dog-bites-man story.

[…] The media is not so big and strong. There’s a hand over our throat. Reporters have to race against official restrictions. Sometimes before our voices can be heard, the news has been drowned out. That’s just the way things are. The state’s information mechanisms are closed off. The dark side of a story is often hidden away. Certain people always figure out some way to prevent media supervision. They are unbelievably shameless. [Source]