Chinese online public opinion has once again changed the course of an event, this time regarding a forced demolition and consequent self-immolation protest in Yihuang county, Jiangxi.
On September 10, the Zhong family were confronted by 40 local police officers and urban administrators seeking to carry out the forced demolition of their home to make room for new construction. To protest against the demolition, three family members set themselves aflame and jumped off the roof of their house. They were sent to a hospital in Nanchang city all in critical condition and one of them pronounced dead on September 18.
Southern Metropolis Daily was the first mainstream newspaper to report the incident on September 12. EastSouthWestNorth website has translated the full report. The incident was quickly “harmonized” (suppressed) in mainstream media and major web portals by the propaganda department and web-censors.
However, a critical turn happened on September 16 when two female members of the Zhong family, Zhong Rucui and Zhong Rujiu, decided to travel to Beijing for a petition visit (a process whereby citizens can have their grievances heard by government). On their way to Nanchang airport, they were chased by police and government officials. In the end, the two girls reportedly locked themselves in the airport lavatory and sent out mobile text messages to local reporters seeking help.
A number of blogging journalists started to live cast the event on Sina and Tencent micro-blogs. Among some of those reporting were Deng Fei and Miss Cha. Although most of the original text messages on the micro-blogs have been deleted, a number of messages and photos have managed to spread throughout the internet.
For example, the photo below showing the helpless expression of two sisters has been reposted on Sina's microblog 2479 times and has so far received 842 comments in one single thread:
Below are some of the comments:
刘长: Once you understand their facial expression, you will understand China.
石扉客: Misery wrapped in white clothes; bloody red in youthful bodies.
Many netizens were asking what could be done to help the two girls. Deng Fei disclosed the county secretary's phone number in his microblog:
After the two sisters were forced to leave the airport, they checked in to a small hostel in Nanchang. Deng Fei interviewed them and posted an update on their situation on September 17:
He also taught the two sisters how to update their status via mobile phone:
【钟家女儿不再磕头，转开微博自救，支持】中国维权史上的新一页，生于1988年的钟如九，得知了昨日上午微博直播的事情，见证了中国互联网守望相助的巨大力量，这个22岁的女孩决定不再像父辈一样以头抢地、磕头哭告、拦轿喊冤找青天，而选择了微博维权。请看新浪微博 @钟如九和腾讯微博 @钟小九 。
Soon after, Zhong Rujiu also opened a micro-blog and started updating her status. At 1am on September 18, her uncle was pronounced dead in the hospital from the self-immolation protest, and government officials proceeded to immediately rob the corpse. Zhong RuJu wrote:
After the government took away my uncle's body, we tried to stop the car of the county magistrate, Su Jinguo. But Su just sat inside the car without saying anything. Then around 40 government officials dragged us away. Su's car left.
My two sisters left for the hospital first, I followed after. Soon after, I stepped out of my room, and 4-5 Yihuang officials tried to grab me. I ran away and jumped into a cab to escape.
Following the above message at 9:07am on September 18, Zhong RuJiu went to the hospital in Nanchang to see her mother and sister. Soon after she arrived, she was forced into a bus that took the Zhong family (five people in total) back to Yihuang. The photo below shows Zhong RuJiu crying helplessly on the bus:
The photo has been reposted by tens of thousands people online, but was deleted as soon as the web-censors discovered it on September 18. As Xu DaNei from FT Chinese pointed out, netizens were even more outraged by this incident than the recently revived Diaoyu Islands conflict between China and Japan.
Despite pressures of censorship, Deng Fei continued to follow the story:
【请不要删除我这条微博】我既不转发叶忠诚老人遗体被宜黄县长苏建国带队抢走，也不像 @张洪峰 直播钟家悲惨现状；不展现宜黄书记县长两个建国在英雄城南昌的不堪行径，更不批评北京和江西视而不见，却删贴撤稿。我被告知：再整宜黄事，可能有麻烦。但我还是要向这个饱经中国苦痛的老人鞠躬，一路好走
On the afternoon of September 18 around 3pm, the Jiangxi official media outlet reported that the Fuzhou City had decided to investigate the Yihuang county party secretary Chiu JianGuo and county magistrate Zu JianGuo. The city also fired the deputy magistrate Li Mingjun. In the late evening, China Central Television (CCTV) also stepped in to broadcast the debate and channel the public opinion. Zhong RuJu continues to update her family status via microblog with tens of thousands fans.