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
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
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]:
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.
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:
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.