The lurid story of how a peasant girl named Zhang Miao was stabbed eight times to death by well-to-do college junior Yao Jiaxin last year, after he struck her with his car, has turned into a wide-ranging social debate about the “rich second generation.”
The term refers to those who have benefited most from China’s Leninist-corporatist model of development, whereby those with the opportunity and connections get rich—sometimes very rich—while others are left far behind.
Editorials, blogs, and discussion forums have been buzzing with talk of what punishment should be meted out to Yao. Some say it hinges on whether he should be classed as one of the elite or not.
The Chinese state broadcaster CCTV adopted a quietly forgiving tone in its coverage, according to bloggers, in an apparent attempt to diffuse the social tensions enmeshed in the case. The trial began on March 23. Netizens then savaged the official channel for what they saw as its attempts at manipulating public opinion.
On one program, a psychologist invited to speak on CCTV commented that Yao’s stabbing the woman eight times was “repeating his movements of playing the piano when being forced to do so in the past.”
The broadcaster also set aside time for Yao to express his tearful contrition at length, which reminded many of how a previous, much more explosive, case was handled.
In October last year, 22-year-old Li Qiming killed a young woman while driving drunk. After being confronted by security guards, he yelled out, “Go ahead, sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang!” Li Gang was the local deputy police chief. Later, CCTV organized Li Gang and the son to appear on a prominent news program, weeping dramatically about the incident for many minutes.
Bloggers saw echoes of the Li Gang incident in the Yao Jianxin case. “It’s hard for me to understand why, after every vicious traffic accident, be it the Li Gang case, the Qian Yunhui case [a village chief in Zhejiang Province who was crushed under a truck], or the Yao Jiaxin case, CCTV gives an ample timeslot to allow the murderers’ mentality to be rationalized,” Li Chengpeng, a journalist, wrote in his blog .
Li Chengpeng also criticized CCTV for inviting experts who failed to address how to punish the murderers, but instead delivered an elaborate and emotionally appealing talk on “human weakness” and “how personality is formed.”
The opinions posted on the popular Chinese forum Tianya also bitterly attacked how the case was handled.
Also, the defense proffered by Yao’s lawyer, that he had “killed in the heat of passion,” quickly became a new Internet meme of ridicule. This recalled the “My father is Li Gang” phrase, which became emblematic of the abuse of political power in China.
“What’s behind the fury of the masses is actually the explosion of a long-term, deep resentment,” the popular website Rednet said. In the last few years, complaints about the “rich second generation” and the “official second generation” have come to the fore, it said, setting popular sentiment against the justice system. The second term refers to those who have become rich explicitly through Party connections.
While some of the Internet discussion over the case is around whether Yao qualifies as a member of the “second rich generation” or not, he is certainly seen as a member of the “elite,” and his actions have been given a commensurately negative evaluation.
“The first thought that came to such a social elite after he hit someone with his car was to escape responsibility instead of saving the victim’s life. He even resorted to brutally stabbing her to death,” the well-known publication Southern Metropolis Daily said in an editorial.
It added: “Isn’t this an indication of social elites’ moral degeneration? … If the first stabbing is a knee-jerk reaction upon being shocked, are the following stabbings the result of adrenaline kicking in?”
Qin Yongmin, one of the founders of the Democratic Party in Zhejiang province, said in a telephone interview with The Epoch Times: “Today’s China is full of various chaotic social phenomena with people living in total disregard of morality or integrity.” He added that a flourishing civil society will be a precondition for repairing those ills.
Zan Aizong, member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, a human rights and literary organization, said that in the face of cases like this stabbing, if the Communist Party does not consider justice and fairness important, then such incidents will recur. “This country is doomed if the law is not taken seriously.”
Cheryl Chen and Jane Lin contributed to research