Murder of Infant Generates Outrage Online and Off

In 2011, the death of a toddler after being hit by a car while bystanders stood by but didn’t help generated outrage on Chinese social media and raised questions about Good Samaritanism in Chinese society. These questions are now being raised again as netizens express anger online at the murder of an infant by a car thief. The Los Angeles Times describes how baby Xu Haobo was abducted when his father left him in the family car while he ran into a grocery store he owned to turn on the heat. He came out to find the car, and his two-month-old son, missing:

The baby’s unintended abduction captivated China and led to one of the largest manhunts in recent memory. By 7:30 Monday morning, provincial radio had broadcast a notice asking listeners to watch out for the family’s gray Toyota RAV4 and the infant. The search lasted into the next day, with taxi drivers joining a police search that stretched into neighboring provinces.

“We night drivers have all come out, we’re calling each other, we were out with the day shift,” a taxi driver was quoted telling the provincial television station Monday night.

Other media outlets described citizens driving around Changchun with their breastfeeding wives to provide for the infant in case he was found.

On Tuesday morning, police reported, inspectors identified the stolen car in a residential parking lot 20 miles outside the city. The infant’s clothing was found nearby.

Soon the thief turned himself into police and admitted strangling Haobo. Chinese netizens have compared the case to a similar case in New York, in which the thief left the child unharmed and called the police to report his whereabouts. From the NPR blog:

In two different countries, two grey SUVs were stolen with babies still inside, while the parents popped into supermarkets. There’s an uncanny similarity between the two cases, even though one happened in Changchun in northeastern China, the other in the Bronx. But how the cases played out is very different.

In the American case, which happened last month, as The New York Post puts it, “The silver Jeep was found abandoned just over an hour later with the child unharmed — after the perp phoned in the car’s location to police.”


The grisly fate of 2-month-old Haobo has led to an outpouring of shock and grief online. “The difference between China and the U.S. is not just the crime rate,” commented a young writer named Sun Yuchen, who works for the outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper, “The fractured Chinese reality has made people lose their basic morality. We are becoming a nation with no bottom line, no humanity.”

The Washington Post blog has more on the reaction to the crime by netizens and residents of Changchun, where Baby Haobo was killed:

As thousands turned out for a candlelight vigil in Changchun, sorrow online turned to hand-wringing and even anger over the money-crazed values of China’s new society.

“How did the social security become this bad? How did man lose all his humanity?” posted one mother named Che Xiaoyan.

And the Guardian reports on the way story has been controlled by propaganda authorities, and used by commercial enterprises:

Other posts held a mirror up to the intense government control and crass commercialism that define life in China. Journalists leaked a circular from the Changchun propaganda department instructing local media on how to report on the crisis. “No frontpage coverage allowed,” it said. “There shall be no questioning of the police’s work.” Posts containing the instructions have since been deleted by internet censors.

A Buick dealership in a neighbouring province used a picture of the baby in a microblog post advertising a GPS system that would guarantee customers “peace of mind” in similar circumstances. The dealership was skewered by netizens – “go die” wrote one – and subsequently issued an apology. has more about the Buick ad.


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