The following was written by CDT’s Jonathan Ansfield for his Biganzi column:
Anyone who revels in shaming queue-jumpers in China might take this as a cautionary tale:
According to a report in Zhengzhou’s Dahe Bao, a motorist waiting to gas up at a filling station died on Tuesday at the hands of a trucker who refused to get in line. An eye-witness set the scene for the paper:
He pulled in but didn’t queue up. He pulled straight up to the pumps and asked the attendant to refill his tank. One of the men waiting behind him was infuriated, and tried to persuade him to wait at the back of the line. The guy who jumped the queue wouldn’t go along. The two began to argue, and then it came to blows. During the tussle, the guy who jumped the queue grabbed ahold of the gas dispenser and pounded the heck out of the other guy, and right away his head began to gush blood and he dropped unconscious to the ground.
Wednesday’s initial report didn’t say whether recent shortages at the pumps played any role in the incident, though Reuters made the link and led on it. A day after the run-in, the government announced hikes in the price of gas and diesel, effective Thursday.
Lest one think all Henanites have chips on the shoulder causing them to commit acts of lunacy, deceit, or barbarism – just a stereotype, but one viral enough to make the The Wall Street Journal – Wednesday’s China Youth Daily carries a weightier report of one woman’s decade-long battle simply to prove herself sane.
CYD investigative journalist Liu Wanyong, who exposed a retired mayor’s mafia-style business empire last year and weathered tremendous physical and legal risks in the process, heads down to Kaifeng to take on the case of Jiang Fan.
In 1996, Jiang, a battered wife of four years, decided to lodge a complaint against her by-then-estranged husband, a court official. But no court, procuratorate, or woman’s federation official in Kaifeng would take up her claim. So the next year, she petitioned the provincial office in Zhengzhou. Only then did the Letters and Petitions office in Kaifeng begin to pay attention. It convened a hearing, where Jiang testified about the beatings before experts identified as procuratorial scholars. In fact, they were psychologists representing provincial and city mental health authorities. It was a trap.
Two days later, without explanation, Jiang’s husband was informed she’d been certified a “paranoid psychotic”. He himself didn’t agree with the “expert appraisal” – the wife-beater presumably knew better – and Jiang was even allowed to stay on in her job at the infirmary of the school that signed off on the diagnosis. Yet she’s spent the ten years since then trying to fight it.
It took Jiang seven years just to obtain a copy of the appraisal, which then helped her unravel what had happened. As it turned out, before the 1997 hearing, Kaifeng party committee had passed down an official order to local petitions, education and school officials to take the necessary steps to settle Jiang’s dispute quietly, including committing her. Jiang has spent the past three years in local courts. In 2005, she got the diagnosis overturned and cleared her name. But she’s still seeking a public apology and financial compensation — for defamation, court fees and, er, mental suffering.
The CYD report does not speak of the problem in general, but Chinese officials have long been known to declare petitioners and other malcontents insane as a means of “settling” their problems. Some actually do go insane fighting the latter injustice. Who can forget the “mentally disturbed” northeasterner who held the Reuters Beijing bureau hostage under a fake bomb threat for a few hours in 2003? What ever happened to him, anyway? (No one seems to know).
Jiang Fan, by comparison, is taking the high road. She tells Liu she still believes in the law. Luckily for her, she secretly recorded her encounters with officials from the very start in 1996. Liu lifts a couple of damning exchanges directly off her tapes. The reporter also notes evidence supporting her account from two Chinese television reports in recent years.
Henan bashers are among the many netizens conveying sympathy for her on the comments board of the People’s Daily site.