On Friday, November 30, 2012 Professor He Weifang of Peking University (北京大学) came to the University of Pennsylvania Law School to discuss legal reform in China. He reviewed a number of significant incidents in China that have over the past decade excited the online community and stimulated public dialogue on legal and political stagnation.
These events varied greatly in both who was involved and what the resulting implications were. The first incident involved the college-educatedmigrant-worker Sun Zhigang who died mysteriously in police custody in themedical clinic of a detention center in 2003. During government inactivity at the time of the SARS epidemic, this event only served to incense the public further. The policy responsible for the tradgedy, Custody and Repatriation shourong qiansong (收容遣送), was later deemed unconstitutional. Another incident that was mentioned was the dramatic crash of a slow moving high-speed rail train that resulted in 40 deaths and almost 200 injuries. Does China really need trains to travel at 350kph instead of 300kph? What about the officials who were arrested for amassing hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes? Another involved a man in Henan who was arrested by the police for the murder and rape of a woman in Hebei. When the Henan authorities contacted the police in Hebei that they had the confession of the man, they were met with confusion, as the case had already been closed and a suspect convicted and executed. Oops.
One of the more striking events was the stabbing of an official in Badong County of Hubei Province, known as the dengyujiao shijian (邓玉茭事件). A female pedicure worker, Deng Yujiao, refused advances and requests for sexual services from Deng Guida (no relation) and stabbed him to death. She was subsequently charged for homicide and not allowed bail. The apparent immorality and insensibility of the local officials created such an intense furor online that the government appeared to give in to public pressure when the charges were later decreased. Professor He believed that anybody should be able to defend themselves against these kinds of advances, but that depending upon the requests, "whether for sexual services or for an innocent game of mahjong" really determined the legitimacy of the application of extreme force in self-defense. But many women in China are forced to serve the "special requests" of men every day - it inspired this photo with the caption shei dou keneng chengwei deng yujiao谁都可能成为邓玉茭 Anyone can become Deng Yujiao. No doubt the artist wanted to illustrate how other vulnerable women can just as easily be forced into the position in which Deng Yujiao had been.
While these events were all different, they illustrated two very important trends. The first was an ever more intricate relationship between different segments of the government and the media, and particularly social media such as Sina Weibo, China's most popular micro-blogging website. The second is growing intolerance among the people of government incompetency and corruption and an increasingly difficult job for Chinese sensors to control the information available to the public online. Professor He lightened the subject with silly questions and jokes, but it seemed like he and the audience may have needed a bit of reminding that these incidents permanently scarred the lives and families of many people. You won't easily find a professor from the US traveling to China making jokes about 9/11 or the Aurora shootings.
One student in the audience who asked the final question explained how she heard many Americans talking in awe of China's economic success, but that when she and other Chinese international students came to North America, they worried about the future of the country they had grown up to revere. This was especially so, she said, when she saw former president Bill Clinton speak at the Palestra. There are no rallies like that for China with that kind of excitement for election of leadership. She asked, would she be able to her children participate in an election one day. Professor He concluded with optimistic comments, to observe the success in Taiwan and believe that democracy and freedom will one day make it to China, but for right now, 中华人民共和国没办法.
The talk was sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Contemporary China (宾夕法尼亚大学当代中国研究中心).
F. Miller SAS '13
F. Miller SAS '13