Chen Shuizhong, 59, is suspected of murdering 47 people and injuring 34 by setting a bus on fire in Xiamen, Fujian Province, on Friday. He died on the spot from the flames and, according to local authorities, left a suicide note in his home stating that he had acted out of anger and dissatisfaction with his life.
The incident sparked hot debate on the Internet. More than 847,000 netizens discussed the topic on Sina Weibo within four days of the mass deaths, questioning the way local Party cadres dealt with family members of victims.
“Chen Shuizhong, who came from the dregs of society, was an elderly man who had endured great misfortune and had a hatred of society,” wrote Wang Zhaojun, a former Party official in Anhui Province, in an article published on a number of Chinese-language news sites. “He found he had nowhere to go and nowhere to turn, so finally he took a huge risk and killed everyone and himself. This image has left a deep mark in everyone’s hearts.”
Economics professor Zhao Xiao of the University of Science and Technology in Beijing suggested that the arson was a sign of social instability. “Today in China, social polarization, corruption, injustice caused by the abuse of power, and despair by the lowest social class have all reached an unprecedented level. It is like a bomb waiting to explode.”
After the arson, a member of the state council and director of the Ministry of Public Security, Guo Shengkun was appointed by the council to lead a team from the council and immediately go to Xiamen to inspect the area.
In an interview with The Epoch Times, a Xiamen citizen and the father of a victim, who wished only to be identified by his surname, Luo, said that around 90 relatives of victims were on June 8 called together by local government staff to a hotel far from the city. Without saying a word about compensation or how to claim the bodies, the staff told them that a lower branch of the local government would later deal with them. “This is about people’s lives. So many people died. It is so barbaric that the government dealt with it in this way,” Luo said.
Media control is also being enforced, according to author Cao Jun Shu, who recounted a private conversation he had with a media worker. “On the afternoon of the very same day, the media in this province had all received an order from high-ranking officials to keep certain information from the public,” he wrote on Sina Weibo, a well-used Internet service. The order came with instructions dictating the events that had transpired during the incident, and banned the publication of any discussion or commentary.
Chief editor of Fujian Today, Chen Qiuyu also felt the presence of censorship when he went to Xiamen on June 8, according to his Weibo posts: “Xiamen is under strict police control. High level officials asked us to avoid the topic [of the burned bus]!”
A June 9 video from Phoenix TV interviewed Chen’s family and neighbors who did not believe Chen could have committed the crime. “He is a nice business man and he is not abnormal… He has been here many years.”
The local government on June 12 had a harsher view. “Chen Shiuzhong was a lunatic and the entire society should punish him,” the authorities said in a statement.
Tai Yi, a commentator on current affairs, remarked on having mixed feelings about Chen. “I condemn his harming of innocent people, but I sympathize with the difficulty and misfortune of living in China.”
Adding to the general suspicions surrounding the episode was the fact that local authorities claimed that they had Chen Shuizhong’s suicide note, proving his guilt. But they refused to release it to the public, leading many to suspect that it simply did not exist.
With reporting by Huang Qing.