The Li Gang case of October 2010, in which the son of an influential local police official struck and killed a female college student while driving on campus — and tried to hide behind his father’s authority by shouting, “My father is Li Gang!” — struck a nerve with many Chinese. The case spoke to a generalized fear and resentment over the perception that, in this transitioning society marked by deep social inequality, those with power and wealth can act with impunity.
This month in China we’ve seen a spate of cases reminiscent of the Li Gang case almost one year ago, and the theme of the second-generation rich and powerful — known in Chinese as the fu’erdai (富二代), or the “children of the rich,” and the guan erdai (官二代), the children of officials — has been a recurrent one in China’s media. [View this CMP/Link TV video for a quick review of two recent cases.]
The headlines were dominated this month by the story of Li Tianyi (李天一), the son of famous Chinese vocalist Li Shuangjiang (李双江). The young Li was sentenced to a year in a correctional facility after a September 6 incident in which he and a second teenager attacked a couple in Beijing in a road rage incident. According to eyewitness accounts shared widely in China’s media, as Li Tianyi and his accomplice repeatedly struck the couple they shouted, “Who dares dial 110!” “110” is China’s emergency hotline.
Right on the heels of the Li Shuangjiang case, Ma Wencong, the son of a rich family in the city of Wenzhou — again driving a luxury car — was involved in a dispute over parking in which he struck a shop owner and the woman’s 18-month-old daughter. Huge crowds surrounded Ma Wencong and police responding to the scene, hemming them in for more than five hours. Rumors spread in the crowd — and quickly went nationwide through social media — that Ma Wencong had issued threats by saying, “My father is the mayor.” Meanwhile, crowds destroyed Ma’s Mercedes-Benz.
Chinese media quickly reported that this latest catchphrase for “second-generation” arrogance was a rumor, and that the words “My father is the mayor” were never spoken by Ma Wencong. But as an editorial on People’s Daily Online wrote yesterday, rumor or not, “My father is the mayor” and other such catchphrases speak to a deep anxiety in Chinese society about privilege, inequality and the protection of the rights of ordinary people.
It’s worth noting too that the People’s Daily Online piece is part of the continuing discussion in China in recent weeks about “rumors,” what they signify in Chinese society today, and what if anything should be done about them. And behind this issue, of course, are growing questions about how China’s government will decide to deal with increasingly influential domestic social media such as Sina Weibo (Microblog).
On the topic of the fu’erdai (富二代) and the guan erdai (官二代), readers might also read up on the recent arrest of one member of the so-called “four capital playboys” (京城四少), who will stand trial for numerous counts including illegal weapons possession and destruction of property.
A translation of the People’s Daily Online editorial follows:
People’s Daily Online
September 26, 2011
“My father is the mayor!” A few days ago, on the streets of Wenzhou, as a scuffle and war of words broke out over the parking of a car, it was this sentence spreading among the crowds that resulted in the gathering of thousands in a short space of time. Not only were [the suspect] Ma Wencong (马文聪), the son of a wealthy family, and police officers on the scene surrounded for more than five hours, but many people lost all sense of control, attacking and destroying [Ma Wencong’s] Mercedes-Benz. . . At the same time, via the microblogs the phrase “My father is the mayor” spread quickly. But ultimately the facts showed that these words that had caused such a furor were just rumor.
How is it that a rumor can have such energy? Going back to the scene, we have a troublemaker driving a luxury car, who strikes others and acts crudely, clearly the posture of someone who has “connections.” Then you have the traffic police mishandling the situation, leading to resentment over how they are “partial” to one side. Once you put all of these pieces together, this strikes a nerve with people. Word goes around about the supposed utterance, “My father is the mayor,” and then everything falls into place. Finally, you have the internet allowing it to spread like wildfire.
While the rumor may have been fake, the psychological forces that created the rumor are very real. Crowds massed and surrounded [a suspect] because of a single, “My father is the mayor,” first of all because they were angry at how the suspect relied on his “influence” to do whatever he pleased, and this arrogance filled them with righteous indignation; secondly, they were anxious, wondering whether a troublemaker with such “connections” could really be held to account. Would his father’s influence mean the matter was settled without a satisfactory conclusion? Can the rights of ordinary victims receive protection? A reporter from Wenzhou Evening News who was on the scene reporting at the time also had this feeling, that the real hope people had in passing these words along was that the weak could get assistance so that the matter could be settled better and quicker.
Since last year, when the [phrase], “My father is Li Gang,” emerged from the scene of a car accident on the campus of Hebei University, “My father is so-and-so” has become a news meme. Whether it is a real, “My father is Li Gang,” or “My father is the village chief,” or a fake, “My father is the mayor,” all of these point to the same social problem: a number of members of the privileged class, using their power and wealth as an umbrella of protection, challenge public order and good morals, and harm the public interest. Meanwhile, rigged employment, “relying on Daddy’s connections to get a job,” selectivity in enforcement [of the law] and other such issues of social inequity exist, and these constantly harden people’s prejudice toward the identity of the “father,” on both real and psychological levels, creating a sense of concern about harm to one’s own interests and creating many “indirect stakeholders” (非直接利益相关者). Whether one’s father really is the mayor or not is not important. What is important is whether certain people can use their special status to ride roughshod over others.
In that case, all of those people with no “background” are latent victims, and who can say when they might meet with similar fates. This in fact is a kind of collective anxiety.
A civilized and harmonious society cannot tolerate the unbridled repetition of these “My father is so-and-so’s.” And getting rid of this problem meme can’t be achieved through the spreading of rumors, through the letting off of emotions, or through unwarranted accusations. Even less so can this be achieved through violence. We must return to the path of reason and rule of law . . . Li Qiming (李启铭), the son of Li Gang, was sentenced to six years in jail. Li Shuangjiang’s son, Li Tianyi (李天一), received a year of detention in a correctional facility. Ma Wencong (马文聪), who was rumored to be the son of the mayor, has been arrested for the crime of willfully inflicting harm on another. Wang Shuo (王烁), one of the so-called “four capital playboys” (京城四少), will stand trial for numerous counts [including illegal weapons possession and destruction of property]. All of these results demonstrate the serious attitude of relevant departments [to these cases], and this sends a warning shot to arrogant “second-generationers” (二代) [NOTE: This terms refers to both the “second-generation rich” (富二代), or the sons and daughters of the wealthy, and to the “power progeny” (官二代), the sons and daughters of Party and government officials). At the same time it tells us all that the forces of fairness and justice, and responsible action, are the only resolute means by which we can remove the phenomenon of “My Dad is so-and-so.”