Death in China: Crushing Dissent or Tragic Accident?

McClatchy reports on the case of Qian Yunhui, a villager in Zhejiang who was crushed under a truck in an incident many view as revenge for his efforts to lead villagers in protesting the building of a power plant:

In a country where public dissent against the government is rare — and quickly silenced when it appears — Qian continued to lead demonstrations and submit petitions despite having been sent to prison twice in three years. He wrote letters to provincial and national leaders naming the government officials and companies he accused of stealing land — something most Chinese would consider extremely dangerous.

His provocative campaign ended Christmas morning. That’s when after receiving a phone call, Qian’s family said, he walked out of his modest concrete home to meet someone, though it’s not known whom. Villagers found his body a short while later, mangled under the front wheel of a construction truck. The fat tire had crushed Qian’s chest and neck, coming to a rest at the back of his head — the pressure sent blood and flesh spurting from his mouth. Qian’s face lay in the cold mud, eyes shut.

Every villager interviewed by McClatchy in Zhaiqiao said they thought Qian, 53, was murdered as a warning to locals that it was time to stop talking about the power plant. Witnesses, they said, had seen men holding Qian down as the truck pulverized his body.

Government officials maintain that Qian died in a simple traffic accident, an unfortunate bit of bad luck on a wet patch of road.

The difficulty of drawing a conclusion about what happened that morning says a lot about the system in which China’s authoritarian government operates.

January 12, 2011 10:24 PM
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