Sunday, October 23, 2011

10 scandals that shocked and shamed China

1. Killer milk

China's biggest food scandal left at least six infants dead and hundreds of thousands of other children with kidney problems after they drank milk adulterated with melamine, a chemical used to make plastic.

Dairy producers had added the substance to artificially boost protein content and increase profit. News of the milk scandal stunned a nation which had just celebrated the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

A volley of questions followed from angry Chinese citizens, a key theme of which was whether the national obsession with wealth had destroyed all sense of morality, opening the way for people who had no compunction about killing babies for a fatter profit margin.

Officials were sacked and a few other culprits executed and jailed. But Beijing has since cracked down on the parents' protests and even jailed one of them, Zhao Lianhai.

2. Death of a 'vagrant'

In 2003, 27-year-old Hubei graphic designer Sun Zhigang was arrested in Guangzhou, after he failed to produce his local residence permit. Without his papers, he was assumed to be a vagrant and taken to a detention centre. He died three days later, an apparent victim of police brutality.

His death triggered a huge outcry and focused national attention on the shoddy treatment of China's underclass, which includes not just beggars but also migrant workers. Reports surfaced of other police abuses, including making money off their detainees by selling their services as unpaid labour.

Public anger led the State Council to rescind a 1982 law that allowed police to detain people who fail to produce local residence permits.

3. Better dead than injured

Chinese student Yao Jiaxin, 21, hit waitress Zhang Miao with his red Chevrolet last year when she was cycling home from work in Xi'an.

Fearing that the injured woman would seek compensation, he then stabbed her to death. He confessed he murdered her because he feared the 'peasant woman would be hard to deal with' over the accident.

Yao was executed by lethal injection this year. His case highlighted a quirk in China's traffic laws which has serious unintended consequences: If the victim dies, the driver responsible is required to fork out a lump-sum payment in compensation, but if the victim lives, the driver has to pay all the medical fees arising from the accident for the rest of the victim's life.

Yao, who reversed his vehicle and ran over Ms Zhang a second time before stabbing her, allegedly told the local media: 'If she is dead, I may pay only about 20,000 yuan (S$4,000). But if she is injured, it may cost me hundreds of thousands of yuan.'

The fear of being saddled with huge, seemingly endless payments was underscored yet again with the incident involving Yue Yue, the toddler who died last week.

4. Brick kiln slaves

The country was shocked that slavery, abetted by government officials even, still existed when hundreds were rescued from forced labour in brick kilns in northern Shanxi province.

Many of the slaves were abducted as children. They had little to eat, and beatings and other forms of abuse were frequent. Guard dogs prevented their escape while police in cahoots with local officials obstructed attempts by parents to locate their missing children.

Such scandals did not end in 2007. Another case was uncovered last week.

5. Unlucky Samaritan

Technician Peng Yu helped an elderly woman up on her feet after she stumbled and fell while jostling with a crowd that was trying to board a bus in Nanjing in 2006.

She later accused him of causing her to fall, and sued him. The judge ruled in her favour, saying common sense dictated that only the person responsible for the act would offer a helping hand.

The verdict led to an uproar about warped legal outcomes. Even now, it is often cited as the reason the Chinese are wary about helping strangers in need.

6. Burying a train

A day after one of China's biggest rail accidents which left at least 40 people dead, officials swiftly buried parts of the wreckage and called off rescue operations.

The unseemly haste was underscored by the discovery of a little girl among the ruins a day after the order was issued. The perceived cover-up and mishandling of the Wenzhou accident in July stoked massive outrage among netizens and other commentators.

State media launched a rare and concerted attack on the authorities, pressing for answers and accountability. The results of the official investigation have not been released.

7. Heroine killer

When a local official in central Hubei province tried to force himself on Ms Deng Yujiao, 21, a pedicurist at a hotel in 2009, she grabbed a knife and stabbed him to death.

The outpouring of sympathy for her and anger towards the official became so strong that she was eventually released without punishment.

The strong public reaction tapped into growing resentment among ordinary Chinese towards corruption and other official misconduct.

8. Vigilante justice

Yang Jia, an unemployed man, was a ruthless killer who charged into a police station in Shanghai in 2008, throwing petrol bombs and stabbing six policemen to death.

But the Beijing man, who was taking revenge for being beaten by the police earlier, was hailed by many Chinese as a hero.

He was likened to ancient Chinese heroes who sought vigilante justice as netizens expressed outrage at the police brutality they often witnessed in China.

9. The infamous son

Drunk driver Li Qiming knocked down two university students on campus last year, killing one of them.

When security guards tried to stop him from fleeing the scene, he shouted: 'Go ahead, sue me if you dare. My dad is Li Gang!'

Li senior was the deputy director of the local public security bureau in Baoding, northern Hebei province.

Fierce protests online ensued, with many slamming it as an example of officials' offspring, the so-called guan er dai, abusing power and believing that they are above the law.

Li Qiming was sentenced to six years in jail.

10. Burning issue

The cost of China's rapid development took a fiery twist in 2009 when Madam Tang Fuzhen set herself on fire in an attempt to stop the forced demolition of a private building.

The self-immolation in Chengdu, Sichuan province, was filmed on a mobile phone and spread quickly online.

It created a furore over China's demolition law and the forced demolitions which are prevalent across the country, often incurring the ire of the people because of inadequate compensation and the use of thugs to evict residents.