A bus plummeted into the Hongshan Reservoir in southwest China on July 7 in what is suspected to have been a revenge suicide attack by the driver, killing 21 and injuring another 16. Chinese media has been forbidden to freely report the incident.
Many of the victims are said to be students who were on their way to take the annual college entrance exam. By 10 p.m. on July 7, rescuers had found at least 37 people, among them 12 students, five of whom were dead.
The Hongshan Reservoir is located in Anshun City, Guizhou Province.
Chinese authorities have been tightly controlling all media coverage of the event. Chinese media outlet Caixin did an exclusive report on July 10, but it was taken down soon after.
The driver, 52-year-old Zhang Baogang, had been a city bus driver since 1997. According to Caixin, Zhang’s old home had just been demolished at 10 a.m. on that day. A local resident directed the Caixin reporter to the house. All that was left was a sofa, bed, TV, and other personal belongings, buried under piles of bricks. Apparently, Zhang had rushed to the house when he heard that the demolition team had arrived, but he was not allowed to go near it.
According to a July 8 report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), Anshun city authorities issued an emergency notice to disciplinary committees at all levels, prohibiting any media interviews and saying, “all information must be reported according to the official release,” and “individuals will be held accountable for any release not following the rule.”
Mr. Cheng, a person familiar with the situation, told RFA that he received the surveillance video of the bus plunging into the reservoir an hour after the incident. His analysis of the video is that the driver’s intention was clearly a mass revenge killing and suicide.
Cheng mentioned that the authorities were aware that the driver had ingested pesticide, although it wasn’t made public. As for the type of pesticide he had taken, they weren’t sure.
A local journalist said the driver was a veteran and a petitioner over an unresolved house demolition. All local Chinese media and journalists were warned not to discuss the case, the RFA report said.
In recent years, Anshun city has engaged in large-scale urban expansion, including demolition and renovation, around the Hongshan Reservoir area. This has caused sharp conflicts between the government and the local people. According to Chinese search engine Baidu, the project also included the rerouting of Qianfeng river into Hongshan lake through a new tunnel. However, local media has been prohibited from publishing any information related to the conflict.
An online screenshot revealed the bus driver’s name and the demolition events that took place earlier in the day, both of which had not been made public by officials. Zhang had tried to lodge complaints with the government about the demolition, but to no avail. Withholding Zhang’s name from media reports is believed to be a tactic to maintain social stability as it would prevent acquaintances from revealing any facts about the incident.
In addition to his grievances about the forced demolition, Zhang’s daughter had committed suicide by jumping into the reservoir last year because she had received poor marks on her college entrance exam.
A surveillance video posted online shows the bus moving slowly at first, seemingly to avoid traffic, then, suddenly, making a left turn, crossing over six expressway lanes and breaking through a safety barrier before plummeting into the reservoir.
One netizen commented: “Forced demolition is violent, and the victims have no place to seek justice. This is the direct cause of this tragedy. In hardship, a person will ignore his own life and others’ and even disregard the life of the innocent. This wrong mentality is directly caused by brainwashing from atheist communism. Therefore, the driver himself and the other victims have all died at the hands of the communists.”
Another netizen wrote, “Death is the most tragic way to fight against dictatorship.”