Xiamen’s Bus Arsonist: the Unlikely Martyr

At The Atlantic, Fei Wang describes the hard life of Chen Shuizong, the alleged arsonist in the Xiamen BRT bus fire that killed 47 people on June 7, who like suicide bomber Qian Mingqi two years ago has received a surprising degree of sympathy from some netizens.

Web user reactions to Chen’s apparent suicide fall into two broad categories. While there was little controversy that Chen’s actions were wrong, a significant portion of comments analyzed evinced a soft spot for individuals whose lives are worsened by mismanagement and negligence from government agencies. To these sympathetic Web users, Chen’s life represents a tragic example of what someone born in 1950s China had to face. He suffered through the Cultural Revolution when, like many youth, he was forced to relocate to the countryside. Chen eventually returned to the city but struggled financially ever since. In order to claim post-retirement benefits, he faced endless tangles with bureaucrats, and Chen’s helplessness turned into desperation.

[…] Other users posited that Chen could have been called a martyr, if only he had aimed at a different target. Weibo user @天边那抹残阳 wrote, “We ought to punish the system and bureaucracy that caused this tragedy. He should have targeted the people who caused his problems, and he would have become a hero!”

[…] Another strain of online argument tilted in the other direction; netizens in this camp expressed sympathy for Chen’s struggles but argued that criminal intent to end innocent life should not be tolerated or forgiven. A series of images from a Japanese drama, frequently posted in connection with this case, eloquently argues that as difficult as Chen’s life had been, the mind of a criminal does not deserve sympathy. As a journalist for the Beijing News remarked after covering the news in Xiamen, “There is a significant difference between sympathizing with the citizen Chen Shuizong and sympathizing with the suspect Chen Shuizong.” [Source]

See also two propaganda directives on the case at CDT.


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