A recent murder story has captured the attention of Chinese media and netizens.
And unlike most murder cases, many people are siding with the killer.
On Chinese New Year eve, 35-year-old Zhang Koukou sought revenge on the three people who were involved in his mother’s death. Zhang witnessed his mother getting beaten to death when he was only 13.
More than two decades later, he embarked on his revenge mission, killing Wang Zixin and his two sons, Wang Zhengjun and Wang Xiaojun.
On Feb. 15 shortly after noon, 71-year-old Wang Zixin was on his way home to prepare the big holiday dinner for the Chinese New Year. Zhang, reportedly a former special forces soldier, appeared out of nowhere and stabbed him multiple times with a knife. Zhang then used a gun to kill Wang Zhengjun and slashed the throat of Wang Xiaojun.
After the incident, Chinese media, including Beijing News, interviewed local villagers in Zhang’s hometown of Wangping village in Hanzhong City, Shaanxi Province, to understand why Zhang had committed this violent crime. Some details are inconsistent among different media reports, but the main thread of the story revolves around an incident back in 1996. Zhang’s family got into a dispute with Wang’s family, who were neighbors. Zhang’s mother got into a tussle with one of the Wang sons. Eventually, Wang Zhengjun hit Zhang’s mother on the head with a wooden club, leading to her death. At the time, Wang Xiaojun was the local village chief, a low-level government post. It was Wang who used his clout to allow his brother to get off lightly for the murder—just seven years of imprisonment. Villagers said the brother only ended up serving three of those years.
Faced with such injustice, Zhang turned to revenge. He set fire to Wang Xiaojun’s car but told villagers who had gathered around to make sure the fire was controlled, because he was worried it would spread to nearby homes.
After he took care of that business, Zhang went to his mother’s grave to give offerings. He ate a bowl of noodles at a local shop then turned himself in to the police.
Other members of the Wang family were unharmed.
The news led to an outpouring of sympathy from Chinese netizens, who thought Zhang did a righteous deed in order to avenge his mother.
Some wrote long essays in his defense—including a mini-biographic tale written in classical Chinese style. Many noted that the ancient Chinese would regard avenging wrongs done to one’s parents as an act of honor and filial piety, listing off examples of notable figures from Chinese history. The Classic of Rites, a seminal text in the Confucian canon, states: If one’s parents are killed, the children and their mortal enemy cannot live under the same sky, netizens wrote.
One Party official, the head of a state-affiliated law research institute, took to WeChat, a popular social media platform, to call for Zhang’s release.
Others asked who were the ones who protected the murderer, back in 1996? Are those people still in positions of power? In a society without impartial rule of law, power can always stand above the law, said China political commentator Wu Xiaohua. “Those without power or influence will thus resort to violence to seek justice,” Wu said.
After news of Zhang’s murder case went viral, local police gave their version of the story, based on sentencing documents that were issued after Wang’s trial in 1996. Zhang’s mother had walked by the Wang family house and spat in his face, igniting the confrontation. When Zhang’s mother used an iron tool to hit him, Wang Zhengjun retaliated and hit her head, causing her death. Many netizens cried foul, however, and didn’t believe the story.
On Feb. 21, WeChat account “Cloud Media” conducted an interview with Zhang’s father and sister, who denied this version of the story. Zhang’s sister, Zhang Libo, said the Wang family bribed villagers to testify against the Zhang family in court.
Zhang Dun contributed to this report.