Mixed Findings from Fruit Vendor’s Autopsy

An autopsy on a watermelon vendor allegedly beaten to death by chengguan urban management officers two weeks ago has offered a mixed picture about the true cause of his death. The report found that Deng Zhengjia died of a “brain hemorrhage induced by external force”, but revealed a preexisting condition that may deflect some blame from his assailants. From Amy Li at South China Morning Post:

Police released the findings of the autopsy report on the death of Deng Zhengjia, 56, on Wednesday, China’s Southern Metropolis Daily reported. The Linwu farmer was reported dead on July 17, after he and his wife clashed with local urban management officers, or chengguan, at their watermelon stand.

[…] A doctor specialising in brain diseases, quoted in Chinese media reports, said that even without external cause, a “malformed vascular” could rupture and lead to a hemorrhage. His comments triggered an outpouring of angry comments online. [Source]

Deng’s death refocused the spotlight on chengguan brutality, with a dozen similar attacks reported since, according to The Financial Times’ Jamil Anderlini. The very next day, a street vendor was allegedly beaten with bricks by a gang of four or five chengguan in Heilongjiang. In perhaps the most extreme incident, a Qinghai policeman who intervened in a brawl involving chengguan said that they turned on him, beat him with his own baton and told him “if you didn’t wear this uniform today, we’d beat you to death.” Anderlini suggests that the apparent rash of clashes may be a byproduct of China’s economic slowdown, which has driven up unemployment and therefore the number of people trying to make a living on the streets.

At The Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Wasserstrom argued that these stories, like that of fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, have forced the government to defend its own narratives about its place in history and its relationship with the people:

The government’s quick response to the powerless peddler’s death and slow movement in bringing the disgraced power holder to trial speak to an awareness of these problems. In the case of the peddler, the authorities moved swiftly to defuse the situation. They are punishing and investigating members of the chengguan and offering compensation to the victim’s family. These moves are designed to shore up the idea that, in the People’s Republic, the authorities are on the side of ordinary people.

[…] The authorities in both cases are working to show that old narratives about the present being unlike the past remain relevant, treating thuggish chengguan and the latest official targeted for punishment as scapegoats, outliers, not typical parts of a deeply corrupted system. Unfortunately, that system, official fairy tales to the contrary, actually shares many of the flaws of dark periods in the nation’s past. [Source]


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