“I don’t raise pigs” (我不养猪 wǒ bù yǎng zhū), a Hunan police station’s nonsensical comment on the death of a woman in their custody, is the latest incidence of “gobsmacking rhetoric” (léi yǔ 雷语) to go viral. “Gobsmacking rhetoric” is online slang that can be used to describe inappropriate official rhetoric that bowls over readers. In a popular culture context, it is solely humorous.
On June 14, a woman died in a Cili County police station. Police attributed the death to sudden cardiac death caused by malignant arrhythmia. The woman’s daughter then posted a video in which she alleged that her mother had died while under interrogation. The news went viral on Weibo, spurring investigative journalists to look into the claim. A reporter for Benliu News, a Gansu state-controlled outlet, called the police station in question to ask whether anyone had died there and received this odd response: “I don’t know. Our sow didn’t have a litter. I don’t raise pigs.” The bizarre police response massively increased attention on the case, prompting authorities to announce an investigation into the death. Many online called for the investigation to look into the “I don’t raise pigs” comment. The WeChat public account @犯犯之谈 posted an article titled, “She went in living, she came out dead,” that castigated the police for their bizarre comment:
“I wonder whether those officers are just used to treating the station like a pigsty and the people like swine, or whether that officer [on the phone] was putting on a performance and feigning mental illness? Oh wait, that’s right—if you’re mentally ill, you can get away with murder!” [Chinese]
Red Star News, a Chengdu outlet backed by that city’s authorities, published an article calling for an investigation into the “I don’t raise pigs” comment:
In recent years, there have been a number of heavily criticized examples of “gobsmacking rhetoric.” China News Service once reported that a villager asked a local leader for assistance with securing relocation compensation after his house was torn down. The villager indicated they were at their wit’s end and planning to jump to their death. The leader’s astonishing response was “Skip the first or second floor. If you’re going to jump, go straight to the fifth floor.”
As the saying goes, “Words reveal the heart. Actions demonstrate it.” When public servants utter “gobsmacking rhetoric,” it may seem accidental, but in fact, it exposes that in their heart of hearts they have no principles, no thought of the people, nor even any basic morality. It’s hard to imagine that such irreverent leaders would have any respect for regulations or for the masses. And as for that specific phrase—“Our sow didn’t have a litter. I don’t raise pigs”—the relevant organs should investigate who said it, what the context was, and why it was said. They should issue an explanation and handle the matter in accordance with regulations in order to address the public’s concerns. [Chinese]
“Gobsmacking rhetoric” is not a new phenomenon, but it has been pervasive this year. In February, Quzhou traffic police posted a click-bait article to WeChat titled, “This Year The City Has Caught 624 Drunk Drivers, 25 of Them Female. Do You Recognize Any? How Much Did The Drunkest Woman Drink?” The article published the 25 women’s names, license plate numbers, and blood-alcohol content, among other information about their offenses. None of the 599 male drivers had their personal information exposed. (The traffic department deleted the article and apologized after it went viral.) Classics of the genre include a 2017 line from a low-level bureaucrat in rural Jiangxi who told a local farmer, “It’s funny that you talk about ‘rule of law.’” Another infamous classic of the genre dates to 2014, when a local Party secretary declared, “If you want to defend your rights, go to America. If you want to be a citizen, go to America. This here is China!”