Bizzare Deaths: Chinese Prison Guards Get Creative With Explanations

April 13, 2010 4:02 pm Last Updated: April 13, 2010 7:23 pm

The official explanations for deaths in police custody in China have become increasingly exotic, and frequent, in recent years. The benign but often incomprehensible explanations offered by police are belied by the grisly findings of witnesses to the bodies of the deceased.

Many cases have been reported in the Chinese media, with ensuing derision from the online commentariat.

‘Face Washing’

According to a report by, a 54-year-old male named Xue was detained under suspicion for bicycle theft. He was found dead on April 7 in a detention center in Hubei Province, in front of the wash basin outside his cell. According to the man’s family, who viewed the body at the morgue, Xue was found naked , and had blood in his mouth, ears, and nose.

Police said that forensic examination did not reveal bodily injuries, and ‘drowning’ was the cause of death. They also said that the family agreed to have the body cremated, and that the case was “well-solved.” However, an informant said the police bought the family’s silence for 300,000 yuan (US$44,000.) Police declined to comment on the accusation.


China Youth Daily reported another unusual death on March 30. Wang Huixia, a villager from Shanxi Province, was taken by police for questioning on Dec. 11, 2009. About 20 hours later, she was dead. In spite of wounds on the woman’s body, police pronounced ‘heart attack caused by excitement’ as the cause of death.

Her family members were allowed to see the body on Dec. 13. They said that there were clear ligature marks around her wrists and ankles, and her legs were both bruised and swollen. Bruises were found on her back, waist and mouth. Her family said that she had no history of heart disease.

The woman’s three children and the village leader have appealed to higher authorities repeatedly, but their appeals have been rejected due to “insufficient evidence.” They have not been able to obtain a copy of the emergency rescue response record.


A 50-year-old male died in a Jiangxi Province detention center in March 2009. The police claimed he died from a nightmare. About a month later, a 17-year-old student died in a detention center. The cause of death was due to a bad sleeping position, according to the police.

Other well-known claimed causes of death while in detention include playing hide-and-seek with other detainees, taking a shower, drinking hot water, falling in the bathroom, using the bathroom, hanging by a shoe lace, and others.

Each of these claims have been met with collective derision by bloggers , while new cases keep coming to light.

Beijing criminal law expert Pu Zhiqiang attributes the phenomenon to an unsound legal system. “When we talk about such abnormal deaths, we actually mean deaths from interrogation using torture,” Pu said in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA).

”The root cause of interrogation using means of torture in China is the practice of using oral confessions made under pressure as evidence for backing guilty verdicts. The system does not protect the rights of suspects and detainees.”

Teng Biao, a law school lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law told RFA that many laws are not executed in practice, because the police system will not relinquish its power.

An RFA article published on March 31 maintains that the suspicious nature and frequency of claimed deaths continues to erode the credibility of law enforcement departments, and exposes the lack of transparency and justice in China’s legal system. It clearly indicates that the Chinese communist regime fails to protect the safety and rights of detainees, the article said.

Read the original Chinese article.