Confessed Police Killer Lionized by Thousands in China
Friday, November 14, 2008
BEIJING -- Yang Jia slipped into the Zhabei Police Station in north Shanghai through the service entrance. A knife in his right hand and a mask over his face, he fatally stabbed four police officers on the first floor and one each on the ninth and the 11th before finally being subdued.
Yang, 28, has confessed to the crime and is destined for execution. But in a bizarre twist that reveals the fissures that run beneath China's elaborately constructed social order, he is also an unlikely hero. Thousands of Chinese have lionized him for standing up to the security forces that are increasingly seen as a blunt instrument of the Communist Party's chief aim: to ensure its authority by maintaining stability and stifling dissent.
At one of Yang's hearings last month, hundreds of protesters descended on the Shanghai Higher People's Court, carrying signs that read "Long Live the Killer" and shouting "Down with the Communist Party" and "Down with fascists." Many of the protesters were educated and middle-aged.
More than 4,000 people have signed an open letter posted online urging that Yang's life be spared. The letter has been erased from many Web sites by government censors, and coverage of the case in the state-run media has been strictly controlled.
As heinous as the July 1 crime reportedly was, and despite Yang's confession, many Chinese still doubt the government's findings. Public support for Yang has been bolstered by reports that he had been mistreated by police on at least two occasions and may have been seeking revenge.
"There are many citizens who have suffered similar treatment but are too afraid to speak out," said Liu Xiaoyuan, the family's attorney. "They feel that if someone stands up to the police, he or she is fighting for justice on their behalf."
There are tens of thousands of protests each year in China, according to the government's own figures, and the number is rising. They range from rural protests over land grabs to the recent unrest in southern China over factory wages and dismissals. Many protests involve public outrage over heavy-handed tactics by the police or the wealthy, who are perceived to take advantage of the country's millions of laobaixing, or ordinary citizens.
Yang's story has generated an uncommon level of public interest, with everything from his personal background to the minute details of the crime becoming fodder for feverish discussion among his backers.
Yang is an unemployed former supermarket clerk from Beijing with wide-set eyes, an open face and short-cropped hair. He loved hiking, photography and curling up all day with a good book, according to a MySpace blog he created before his rampage.
Part of the controversy surrounding the case involves his previous confrontations with police. Two years ago, Yang sustained a concussion and lost three teeth when police beat him for cutting in line at a train station in Shanxi province, according to lawyer Liu.
On Oct. 5 of last year, according to Yang's courtroom testimony, he was falsely accused of stealing a bicycle he had rented in Shanghai and was insulted and beaten by police. When he asked for a written explanation and $30 in compensation, his family said, police offered to pay him $210 but refused to provide any written account of their actions. Yang said he refused the money; he wanted police to admit they were wrong.
Police said Yang was stopped for riding a bicycle without registration plates. Though he repeatedly cursed them, police let Yang go after "educating" him, Shanghai public security officials said at a news conference this summer. Yang then filed multiple complaints demanding that the offending officer be fired and that he be compensated for mental stress, state-run media reported.