The culprits behind the beating of a reporter in Guizhou that scandalized China have been identified: a local vice-police chief and two auxiliary officers perpetrated the assault.
On May 30, Jimu News reporter Li Xiancheng arrived in Zhijin County, a rural area of Guizhou Province, to investigate the drowning of two middle school teachers who were carried away by a flood after a hydroelectric power plant discharged water. Shangyou News reported that while Li was interviewing the relatives of the deceased teachers, a man claiming to be their neighbor accosted him and demanded to know his identity. The family denied knowing the man. The man then reported Li to police, claiming that Li was a “suspect person.” Police arrived on the scene and checked Li’s journalist credentials and then allowed Li to continue his reporting trip. Soon after, a black Audi began following Li, as did a white van. The white van blocked Li’s path and three men, again identifying themselves as the neighbors of the deceased, stepped out of the car to berate him. They then beat him, smashing his phone and glasses. Li reported the assault to the police but they claimed the assailants had “already fled.”
After Li’s rough treatment went viral on social media, the investigation was transferred away from local police to authorities in Bijie, the municipality that governs Zhijin County. Bijie city authorities announced today that the local police were behind the assault. Officials announced detentions of between 20 and 15 days for the officers involved, with the vice-police chief to be reassigned to a position outside of the Public Security Bureau and the two auxiliary officers both fired. The mayor of the town was likewise stripped of his role and position as vice Party secretary. The press release blamed the assault on a “small number” of cadres with a “weak grasp of the law.” It also apologized to the reporter who was assaulted and the media at large.
Li had been investigating why the teachers were in the flood path of the hydroelectric power plant. It had been rumored that the teachers were dispatched to a local riverbed to collect pebbles to beautify their campus before a visit by local officials. Li was also investigating whether the plant had negligently failed to notify locals of the discharge, implicating it in the teachers deaths. Before the results of the investigation were released, bloggers across China speculated that his beating was not a random accident but rather a coordinated effort to “cover-up” nefarious goings on in small town China. The day before the investigation results were released to the public, the WeChat blog @张3丰的世界 wrote, in a post now archived at CDT Chinese, that officials must know who was behind the beating and lamented the exorbitant burdens placed on small town teachers:
The destruction of his cellphone was an effort to destroy the reporter’s photographs and evidence—in short, to cover something up.
Ironically, these actions prove that there is something fishy about the death of those two teachers: it was an avoidable accident and someone has to be held accountable.
[…] Anyone with a brain can tell that the relatives of the deceased were not behind this as they would have no motive. The reporter’s article, no matter which tack it might take, would never work against the interests of the two teachers’ families. It could only harm the interests of other parties. Did the hydroelectric power plant fail to properly issue a notice about the discharge, as required by regulations? Was the Bureau of Education’s investigation a mere exercise in formalism?
[…] The local police would surely know of the men in the Audi. People who drive Audis in small villages are never “nobodies.” After the assault, the police said the “three men have already fled,” but after it became a topic of national discussion, they quickly arrested all three. Now the case has been transferred to the Bijie Municipal Public Security Bureau.
The other day, I read an essay on the hardships common to elementary and middle school teachers. During the pandemic, teachers were in charge of vaccinations. If a child wasn’t vaccinated, they couldn’t attend school. Teachers were tasked with inspecting children’s vaccination records, and government organs routinely leveraged teachers’ connections with pupils and families in order to promote their own agendas. It’s difficult to overstate the toll this took on teachers. Heading to the river to collect pebbles is but one of the new tasks they’ve been delegated.
Teachers take on everything. In small towns, this trend is even more severe. A reporter’s investigation might uncover the unfair treatment suffered by teachers and expose the balance of power in small towns. His beating was in fact an exercise in those power dynamics. Reporters are bespectacled outsiders, who show up waving around cell phones. They must be eliminated.
They want to cover up and smother the truth. This type of “cover up” in fact exposes the truth. A journalist’s scars are a testament. [Chinese]
The tragedy of the teachers’ deaths remains unsolved. Li is reportedly “depressed.” It remains to be seen whether other journalists, or perhaps Li himself, will be given the opportunity to investigate their deaths freely.