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China: The Murder Case of Yao Jiaxin

Over the past few months, the cold-blooded murder of a young woman, Zhang Miao, by affluent music student Yao Jiaxin, has been the most heated topic on the Chinese Internet.

Most netizens believe that Yao Jiaxin must be given the death penalty for justice to be served. However, as if to add oil to boiling water, on the eve of the verdict in the murder trial, which concludes on April 22, 2011, propaganda authorities have demanded that all media outlets use the Xinhua report as their only news source, as well as to monitor all related online discussions.

To review the murder case, before looking at Chinese netizens’ reactions, we have:

The murderer – Yao Jiaxin

Yao Jiaxin is a student at the Xi'an Conservatory of Music. At around midnight on October 20, 2010, he hit a 26-year-old woman, Zhang Miao, with his Chevrolet near the university campus. When he saw Zhang was copying down his car's license plate number, he took out a knife and stabbed Zhang six times until she died. While he was trying to escape, he hit two other people in a nearby village and was caught on the spot.

On October 22, the police managed to connect the two car accidents together and arrested Yao Jiaxin on charges him of murder. On October 23, Yao described the details of the murder case to the police. He was then put on trial on March 23, 2011, at the Xi'an Intermediate People's Court. Since Yao has confessed to his crime and shown remorse for the murder, it is quite likely that he will escape the death penalty, like other hit-and-run incidents.

However, online public opinion demands that “Yao Jiaxin must die”.

When the news was first reported online, many believed that Yao was a typical second generation rich kid. Below are the results of a human flesh search done on Yao's father's military background (via the China Strong blog) [zh]:

【父药青伟从石家庄军械技术学院毕业后分到西安工作,系总后西安军事代表局驻华山厂军代表(政委),”一辈子当甲方,都是别人来求他”。药青伟06年退下 来前取得了副师级的待遇,一次性拿到将近30万,每个月退休工资近6000元。药家住新城区20街坊(华山厂家属院)军代表楼。】

[The father, Yao Qingwai, graduated from a military institute in Shijiazhuang. He was assigned to work as military representative at Xi'an Hua Shan military factory. "Being a representative, people had to beg him for help." He was a deputy general before his retirement in 2006 and received a 300 thousand retirement fund. Now he still receives a CNY [Chinese Yen] 6,000 monthly retirement salary. Their apartment is still in the military factory campus in the new town district, on 20th Avenue.]

Even though a number of state media tried to cool down netizens’ hatred towards Yao by providing various details, such as his mobile phone mortgage, to show that Yao's family is not that rich, such efforts have failed. In Tianya Forum‘s discussion thread [zh]:

fanyanjun 2011-04-18 13:11:13

枪决立即执行,还犹豫啥。
要不以后谁敢上马路呀?

Why all the hesitation? Should be shot to death asap.
Who dares to cross the road in the future?

Fly together 2011-04-18 13:13:39

不管是穷二代还是富二代,杀了人就要偿命。。。

No matter if Yao is second generation poor or second generation rich, he has to pay for his crime with his life.

New anger 2011-04-18 13:34:17

践踏完道德和别人的生命~还要继续侮辱别人的智商~!
屎可忍尿不可忍~

Upon violating human morality and taking away someone's life, they have to insult people's IQ!
We cannot bare such shit.

Zhao Gau 2011-04-18 13:47:20

不管他们这些利益集团走狗放什么屁,药家鑫都得死,不死不行!

No matter how the running dogs of special interest groups fart around, Yao Jiaxin must die!

hailangpeng 2011-04-18 14:56:52

无良媒体 和药八刀一起杀掉 杀无赦

Should execute the immoral media along with Yao!

The victim – Zhang Miao

In his defense, Yao said that he stabbed Zhang because she was a rural peasant, implying that she might blackmail him over the car accident. One of Yao's university classmates supported such opinion on her microblog, saying that she would have stabbed the woman to death as well if she had wound up in Yao's position.

Blogger Candy Lu [zh] has screen captured the microblog conversation. The exact wording of Yao's university alumni is:

我要是他我他媽也捅,真是輿論都向著受害人,怎么没想着受害人当时不要脸来着,记车牌?

If I were him (Yao), I would have stabbed her as well. How come the public opinion all supports the victim? How come they do not consider how shameless it is for her to mark down the car's license number?

Such prejudice against rural peasants only further outraged netizens. Second-hand-mud-horse expresses his anger in some prose dedicated to Zhang Miao [zh]:

张妙,你傻不傻。
药家鑫下车查看你的伤势的时候,为什么要眼睁睁的看着它。或许你善良的心让你以为他是来送你去医院的。
可是你错了,他只是来看看你是农村人还是城里人。
张妙,你竟然傻的被药家鑫看出了你是农村人。在药家鑫的眼里,农村人的命太不值钱了,撞伤倒不如撞死。可是,他忘了碾压数次直接把你压死。不得已一个激情挡不住的掏出从车上带下的刀,狠狠的捅入你的身体。八刀。

张妙,你傻不傻。
即使药家鑫拿着刀来查看你的伤势怎么了?
即使药家鑫想了半天你是农村人怎么了?
预谋杀你的时间太短了,他们说这是激情杀人,不算故意杀人。
是我们都太孤陋寡闻,竟然没听说过激情杀人。

Zhang Miao, how silly you were?

When Yao Jaxin checked on your injury, why did you stare at him. You probably thought that he was going to take you to the hospital.

You were wrong. He was checking if you were rural peasant or city dweller.

Zhang Miao, how silly that you let him know that you were from the rural area? In Yao Jaxin's eyes, a rural peasant's life is worthless. Death would cost less than injury. But he forgot to crush you with his car. Instead he stabbed deep into your body with his knife, eight times.

Zhang Miao, how silly you were?

Even though Yao Jaxin checked on your injury with a knife,

Even though it took him awhile to figure out your rural background,

The time for a premeditated murder was too short. They called this murder out of rage, rather than intentional murder.

We are all too ignorant to hear of such a term before.

Zhang Miao. Image posted by Powerful-weibo.

Zhang Miao. Image posted by Powerful-weibo.

Microblog user Powerful-weibo posts Zhang Miao's photo and explains her background [zh] in his microblog:

她的死,引发舆论大地震。家境贫困15岁辍学、每天不吃早饭省钱给妹妹。卖馒头、摆小摊、做服务员…攒钱给弟弟,自己不舍得买衣服。春节前,贫困的她 还硬塞给妹妹100元…始终肩挑做大姐的责任。在她失业的那天晚上被无情杀害,留下2岁孩子。杀她的人叫药家鑫。张妙,一个至死都活在贫穷里的80后 女孩。

Her death has resulted in an earthquake in the public sphere. She was from a poor family and stopped attending school when she was 15. She skipped breakfast everyday to save money for her sister. She sold buns in the market and worked as waitress to support her brother. She seldom bought clothes for herself but during the Lunar New Year, she gave her sister CNY 100 in pocket money… she always took on the duty as a big sister. She was killed on the night she lost her job, leaving her 2-year-old son behind. The murderer is Yao Jaxin. Zhang Miao, a post-80s generation girl, poor her whole short life.

Within one day, the post has attracted more than 3,000 angry comments, most of them demanding the death penalty for Yao.

Prominent children's author Zheng Yuanjie created an opinion poll on Sina Weibo [zh] today (April 21). In less than 3 hours, 7,379 people had participated in the vote with 97% (7,182) demanding the death penalty. Only 3% (197) support an amnesty from a death sentence:

Jungle law

Why are Chinese netizens so angry and obsessed with seeing Yao be given the death sentence? There are several explanations.

In Baidu Tieba, Civilized-cyber-cafe believes [zh] that those who demand the death penalty for Yao are just an irresponsible angry Internet mob:

杀死药!!!我们这些伪愤青网络暴民才能爽一下杀死药!!!我们对生活,对国家的不满才能发泄出来杀死药!!!是不是就能让国家更好,我不关心,我们就是 要杀死他!!!杀死药!!!法律是不是就更完善也不关我们的事 ,我们只是这次要他死杀死药!!!

Kill Yao!!! So that the angry Internet mob could rejoice and take pleasure in the killing of Yao!!! So that we can relieve the anger in our lives and towards the state, kill Yao!!! We don't care if this can help our country, all we want is to kill Yao!!! Kill Yao!!! We don't care if this can help to improve our legal system, all we want is to kill Yao!!!

On the other hand, Baidu Bar user Bobo-Bar believes that the public outrage is the result of fear [zh]:

他们害怕这个社会真的被丛林法则主宰,弱者彻底丧失法律的庇护。

They are afraid that the society will come rule of law of the jungle, and the weak become vulnerable.

What exactly is this jungle law in the Chinese context? Microblogger Exercise-book believes that there is a powerful organized force backing up Yao Jiaxin:

1. They have organized a team of lawyers to provide an excuse for the murder: murder out of rage;
2. They have organized a group of students calling for abolition of the death penalty;
3. They have organized a group of media to show how remorseful Yao is.

Yao's whole team is so well organized that they can exempt him from the death penalty with strong reasoning: that this was manslaughter by legal definition. It wins public sympathy and there is a reason behind the murder…

They are very successful in transforming the case from crazy murder to murder out of rage to manslaughter.
Eventually, it might as well turn into legal self defense, or a courageous act…
Everything is possible in this country, all it takes is public relations.

The discussion thread has attracted more than 2,500 comments and 10,000 retweets. And, as if public outrage was not already boiling hard enough, the State Council Information Office stepped in on April 17, demanding all media outlets use the Xinhua report as their only news source for the story, and requiring them to carefully monitor related online comments.

China Digital Times has reposted the media notice [zh]:

国新办:关于药家鑫案审理宣判的报道只使用新华社稿件,不再作跟进性报道,不再转发有关此案的稿件。严禁编发境外媒体稿件,严禁违规使用小报小刊、都市类媒体稿件,严禁将论坛帖文、博客文章作为新闻编发。相关报道不放突出位置,管好跟帖,防止持续炒热。

State Council Information Office: regarding the trial on Yao Jaxin, [all media outlets] can only use Xinhua's report. There should be no follow-up reports, no republication of overseas report and reports from magazines and small newspapers. [Editors] cannot push blog of forum posts to the news section. All related reports should not be put in an obvious position. Moderate comment sections to prevent any overheated debate.

With the stepping in of the propaganda authority, Yao's murder case has gone from an overheated online debate to a case which tests the Chinese government's control over online public opinions. The verdict will be released tomorrow, but won't look good either way the court rules.

  • http://oiwan.wordpress.com/ Oiwan Lam

    death penalty has just been announced for the first trial: http://t.cn/hdLHIQ [zh] it is likely that there will be a second trial later.

    • Jing

      He deserved to die, he did not think about how that “rural peasant” might have a family, might have people who care about her and how she a mere “peasant” might be worth more than he will ever be. All he thought about was protecting his honor, when he hit her, he should not have stabbed her when he was wrong. She helped her family through their hardships but all he ever did was sit and bask in his family/friends approvals. I truly hope that those family/friends have seen what a cold-blooded killer and loser he is. If not, nobody will have gained anything for a family and child has lost their sister/daughter/mother and nobody will have learned anything.

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  • John

    With all due respect to Oiwan Lam, there is no evidence of a conspiracy by the authorities to save the life of Yao Jiaxin. And as she later notes, contrary to her confident predictions, Yao was sentenced to death. Now Oiwan Lam is saying there will be a second trial. This is extremely unlikely – unless Lam is referring to the appeal. Yao has the right to appeal and all death sentences are reviewed by the Supreme Court. But an appeal is not a second trial. We will see what happens, but I suspect Yao’s appeal will be rejected as his crime was particularly heinous.

    A similar hue and cry was raised by “netizens” around the Li Qiming (son of Li Gang) hit and run case. But in the end Li was sentenced to 6 years in jail – a penalty in line with interntational standards for his much lesser crime (although many netizens wanted him executed too). Li Qiming was supposed to have boasted “My father is Li Hang, sue me if you dare.” but a later investigation by a journalist showed eye witnesses said he was terrified and his actual words were “Please don’t tell my father.”

    In both these cases, liberals backed what they said were citizens fighting against the machinations of a corrupt and authoritarian government. A better description would be a lynch mob.

    Just for clarity, I am opposed to the death penalty on principle. So this includes Yao, even though his crime was absolutely despicable.

    • http://oiwan.wordpress.com/ Oiwan Lam

      hi john,

      neither do i believe in the conspiracy theory. the politicization of the case is the stepping in of propaganda authority and the “questionnaire distributed in the court room” (in other reports), where the majority of the seats were occupied by Yao’s family and friends.

      the excessive intervention of state authorities in civil conflicts is the source of conspiracy speculation. you may well say that the liberals as lynch mob, but the story ends in such a way because of their intervention, one may also argue.

      i also am opposed to death penalty, and many liberals (human rights lawyers) in China also advocate against death penalty, some of them are in jail.

  • john

    Dear Oiwan,

    You say you do not believe in conspiracy theories, but quote a blogger called Exercise Book talking about a ‘powerful, organized force’ backing up Yao.

    You say you are against the death penalty but say “it is quite likely that he [Yao] will escape the death penalty, like other hit-and-run incidents.” I presume the “other incidents” means Li Qiming. You don’t seem to have digested the fact that the Yao incident was not a simple hit and run but a deliberate, fatal stabbing. Are you suggesting Li Qiming deserved the same punishment as Yao Jiaxin, even though their crimes were of entirely different levels of seriousness?

    You quote bloggers – most of whom have no direct knowledge of the cases – as if they were reliable witnesses, and Internet polls as if they were reliable guides to public opinion.

    In the end, if you don’t believe a conspiracy, or powerful forces manipulated the court, and you don’t believe in the death penalty, what is your point exactly?

    Everyone knows the Chinese news media are managed by the propaganda department – mainly because the government is paranoid about social unrest. Tell us something new.

    I can’t see much to question about the court’s verdict in either the Li Qiming or Yao Jiaxin case. It’s open to you to believe the judges were responding to Internet agitation, but my view is that Chinese courts don’t need much encouragement to dish out harsh punishments.

    It’s a very unedifying sight to see human rights activists and liberals joining in demands for Chinese judges to get tough. God help us if Chinese judges get tougher than they already are.

  • http://oiwan.wordpress.com/ Oiwan Lam

    Hi John,

    My point is simple, to raise a question: when 97% chinese netizen (more than 7500 votes) in Zheng Yuanjie (a popular children book writer)’s poll supports death penalty, instead of the explanation that they are all blood thirsty lynch mob, what are their reasons? and the conspiracy theory part that i translated is one of the reasons that i could identify from the online discussion.

    if reporting a case like this = supporting conspiracy theory or blood thirsty revenge / death penalty, there isn’t much space left for deliberation…

  • John

    I dare say if such a case happened in any country you would find a large majority in favor of shooting Yao. The instinct for retribution is strong – and a 97 percent majority in this particualr case requires no particular explanation.

    But the key point that you continue to avoid, is that the assumption that you and the “netizens” made – that the government or “powerful forces” would find a way to protect Yao – was completely unfounded. You’ve been proved wrong but you refuse to admit it.

    As for authors of children’s books who coordinate campaigns for the death penalty I suggest maybe they should find a more suitable profession. I wouldn’t want my kids reading books written by people like that, and I sare say I’m not alone.

  • http://oiwan.wordpress.com/ Oiwan Lam

    the sentiment maybe the same, but definitely different reasons.

    it’s hard to imagine that any other court in the world would do an opinion poll in the court room for a murder sentence.

  • superuser
  • James

    He got what he deserved. Oh, if only all of the countries in the world had such an efficient justice system! A little more transparency would be great but in a case where there was malice and a confession, just excellent!

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