Author: CMP Staff

Xi’s Legal Buzzword Gets A New Center

Since the formal introduction of Xi Jinping’s banner term, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era,” at the 19th National Congress of the CCP in October 2017, a number of shortened permutations of the phrase have emerged to consolidate Xi’s leadership and legacy in various policy areas. Examples include “Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Military” (习近平强军思想), “Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization” (习近平生态文明思想) and “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” (习近平外交思想). 

Over the weekend, one of the more widely used short banner phrases, “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law” (习近平法治思想), was further elevated with the establishment in Beijing of a new research center with approval from the Central Committee of the CCP.

The Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law (习近平法治思想研究中心) is located inside the China Law Society (中国法学会), the official organization representing academic legal professionals in China. In a speech at the launch, the director of the China Law Society, Wang Chen (王晨), a former journalist who was director of the State Council Information Office from 2008 to 2013, said the Xi phrase is “the latest achievement in the Sinicization of Marxist theory on the rule of law.”

As we noted previously at CMP, Xi’s long-term game plan leading up to the 20th National Congress in 2022 is to secure his legacy with the contraction of this unwieldy banner term as “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想), and the rollout of these shortened, area-specific versions is an important part of this process.

An article on page two of the People’s Daily on June 27 yesterday announces the formation of the new center on “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law” (upper left). Just to the right a report called “Xinjiang Is a Beautiful Place!” quoting foreign artists on an official junket oozing praise for conditions in the region.

State media have continually emphasized that “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law” stresses the importance of law-based governance. But the ultimate foundation of this vision of governance is not the law but the Party. While people must respect the laws, the laws themselves must protect the Party and be subject to its interests and directives. Legal experts outside China have termed this “rule by law,” noting its fundamental departure from “rule of law” as understood in the UN system, as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”

The creation of the new Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law came just days after it was reported that millions of legal documents were removed from China Judgments Online, an important database of court judgements from across China that have provided experts with a valuable glimpse into Chinese judicial practice. Interviewed by the SCMP, Beijing-based lawyer Wang Fei expressed concern about the move. “Making the judgments available online was the best reform achievement of the Chinese judiciary in recent years,” he told the newspaper, “and this is very important for safeguarding justice.”

The People’s Daily also reported yesterday that the Central Committee had approved the establishment of a second group of departmental and regional centers for “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” The seven new centers will be located within the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and the China Law Society, and in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Shandong provinces. This brings the total number of approved departmental and regional centers related to Xi’s banner term to 18.

Our Color Must Not Fade

As China marks the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party this year, patriotism and love of the Party have remained central themes across the country. “Our republic is red,” Xi Jinping has said, “and our color must not fade.”

One key focus of the Party’s campaign to secure its position at the center of Chinese life and identity has been the nation’s youth. One of the most commonly seen phrases in Chinese schools in recent months has been “transmitting red genes, telling China’s story well (传承红色基因, 讲好中国故事).

In late May, a high school in Xianyang held a “sharing session” (分享会) on this theme. The audience sat through student-led Powerpoint presentations on the nation’s past, celebrating revolutionary stories and figures, and of course sharing Xi Jinping’s remarks on the importance of drawing lessons from the past.  

On June 5, close to 2,000 students from Chongqing University of Technology were taken on a tour of an exhibition to the spirit of Red Crag, a semi-factual 1961 novel set during the Chinese Civil War that “played a critical role in the heroism culture of the Mao era.” A news release from the university, employing a favored Xi-era phrase for pro-Party positivity, said that students had “gathered more positive energy” (收获了更多正能量) through the visit, and that they could therefore become a “new generation of youth being of use to society.”

Students from Chongqing University of Technology tour an exhibition to the spirit of Red Crag on June 5-6. At right, they stand before a sign that reads: “Transmitting red genes, promoting the Red Crag spirit.”

State media have also been publishing short themes from primary school students on the topic of “transmitting red genes, telling China’s story well,” like this recent one at The Paper, in which a first grader from Hebei province relates the story of Little Hero Yu Lai (小英雄雨来), a fictional tale written in the 1940s by Guan Ye (管桦), about a boy who leads a troupe of children in resisting the invading Japanese. Guan’s tale was published in the People’s Daily on April 4, 1949, under the title, “Yu Lai Is Not Dead” (雨来没有死). April 4 was marked as Children’s Day in China from 1931 through to the designation of International Children’s Day (June 1) by the Soviet Union in November 1949.

This page in the April 4, 1949, edition of the People’s Daily is filled with youth-related content. Aside from Guan Ye’s “Yu Lai Is Not Dead,” there is a story in the upper right-hand corner introducing the Soviet Union’s “Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization,” also known as the “Young Pioneers.” China’s own Young Pioneers organization would not be founded for another six months.

All across the country, students of all ages are being engaged in similar programs to advance “red education” (红色教育), urging them to celebrate the glories of the CCP, its courageous past, and its central role in Chinese life today.

Back in February, the Ministry of Education issued its “Guide to Introducing Teaching Materials on the Revolutionary Tradition Into the Primary and Secondary School Curriculum” (革命传统进中小学课程教材指南), which called for the nationwide implementation of Xi Jinping’s directive to “begin education in revolutionary traditions from childhood” (革命传统教育从娃娃抓起). The next month, the ministry announced a campaign of education in Party history for primary schools at every level across the country. The campaign, “Studying Party history from primary, forever walking with the Party” (从小学党史, 永远跟党走), was designed specifically for the commemoration of the CCP’s centennial. It outlined teaching priorities for local governments and schools, and pointed them to resources like this website, which offers short historical videos produced by the People’s Daily on such topics as “peaceful co-existence” and the “peaceful liberation of Tibet.”

While campaigns of education on CCP history have dominated the headlines this year, the push to double down on history to consolidate the Party’s central position in fact goes back to the second half of the Hu Jintao era. In the Xi era, the phrase “education in the revolutionary tradition must start at childhood” (革命传统教育要从娃娃抓起), which made it into a headline in the People’s Daily yesterday, dates back to a speech Xi Jinping gave in April 2016 on a visit to a revolutionary museum Anhui province’s Jinzhai County. Speaking almost graphically about the need to pass on “red genes” to the next generation, Xi said in that speech: “Education in the revolutionary tradition must begin with children, focusing not just on inculcation with knowledge but also the strengthening of emotional cultivation, so that red genes seep into the blood, and soak into the heart.”

The headline of an article on page nine of yesterday’s People’s Daily reads: “Education in the Revolutionary Tradition Must Start at Childhood” (革命传统教育要从娃娃抓起).

The 13th Five-Year Plan, which established the framework for government policies from 2016 through 2020, explicitly mentioned the development of “red tourism,” an endeavor that picked up pace during the period. According to the “2021 Red Tourism Development Report” (2021红色旅游发展报告), released earlier this week, consumption in the red tourism industry reached 1,287 RMB per capita in 2020, a year severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The report estimated that the total contribution of the red tourism market to China’s economy has already surpassed one trillion yuan each year, “effectively fueling the revitalization of old revolutionary areas.”

Putting the Party at the Center of Education

Xi Jinping, echoing the words of Mao Zedong, has said repeatedly since coming to power that the Chinese Communist Party “rules all.” In October 2017, this signature phrase defining the CCP as the unmovable center of all (党是领导一切) was even entered for the first time into the Party’s Charter.

But how can the leadership ensure that this message is learned and internalized? In China’s universities, maintaining the Party’s centrality is achieved by what is called “ideological and political work” (思想政治工作). And in an era where mobile phones are central to life and education, this work needs to go digital.

Which is why the Central Propaganda Department, along with the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Education and the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League, announced in late May that it would launch “a group of high-quality public accounts for ideological and political work in higher education” (一批优质高校思政类公众号).

 The announcement came with a list of the first public accounts to be launched, a total of 200 accounts in 12 categories, from universities to “knowledge service providers” (essentially, education-related media) and university Youth League branches. The announcement made clear that all public accounts must adhere to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想), and must “deeply implement” goals on “strengthening and improving ideological and political work ” as set out by the general secretary.

We include below a comprehensive list in Chinese of the public accounts to be established:

[1] Official University Accounts (40 in total)

一、高校官微(40个)序号 单位 公众号名称 1 北京大学 北京大学 2 清华大学 清华大学 3 北京交通大学 北京交通大学 4 北京科技大学 北京科技大学 5 北京林业大学 北京林业大学 6 南开大学 南开大学 7 天津大学 天津大学 8 大连理工大学 大连理工大学 9 东北大学 东北大学 10 复旦大学 复旦大学 11 上海交通大学 上海交通大学 12 东南大学 东南大学 13 华东师范大学 华东师范大学 14 合肥工业大学 合肥工业大学 15 浙江大学 浙江大学 16 厦门大学 厦门大学 17 中国海洋大学 中国海洋大学 18 武汉大学 武汉大学 19 华中科技大学 华中科技大学 20 华中师范大学 华中师范大学 21 华中农业大学 华中农业大学 22 中南大学 中南大学 23 湖南大学 湖南大学 24 华南理工大学 华南理工大学 25 四川大学 四川大学 26 电子科技大学 电子科技大学 27 西安交通大学 西安交通大学 28 陕西师范大学 陕西师范大学 29 西安电子科技大学 西安电子科技大学 30 西北农林科技大学 西北农林科技大学 31 北京工业大学 北京工业大学 32 上海海事大学 上海海事大学 33 南京航空航天大学 南京航空航天大学 34 江西财经大学 江西财经大学 35 浙江工业大学 浙江工业大学 36 河南大学 河南大学 37 湖北大学 湖北大学 38 华南农业大学 华南农业大学 39 西北大学 西北大学 40 西北工业大学 西北工业大学

[2] National Ideological and Political Work Platforms (4 in total)

二、全国性思政工作平台(4)41 中国大学生在线 中国大学生在线 42 全国高校思想政治工作网 高校思政网 43 易班 易班 44 中国高教学会辅导员工作研究分会 高校辅导员

[3] University Ideology and Politics Innovation and Development Centers (3 in total)

三、高校思政创新发展中心(3个)45 高校思政创新发展中心(北京师范大学) BNU思享者 46 高校思政创新发展中心(北京林业大学) 实践育人创新发展中心 47 高校思政创新发展中心(上海交通大学) 上海交大思政创新发展中心

[4] Three-Way Education Pilot Areas (8 in total)

四、三全育人试点区(8个)48 北京市教育委员会 首都教育 49 天津市教育委员会 津门教育 50 上海市教育委员会 上海教育 51 浙江省教育厅 教育之江 52 安徽省教育厅 安徽省教育厅官微 53 福建省教育厅 福建教育微言 54 湖北省教育厅 湖北省教育厅 55 湖南省教育厅 湘微教育

[5] Three-Way Education Pilot Universities (7 in total)

五、三全育人试点高校(7个)56 中国人民大学 中国人民大学 57 太原理工大学 太原理工大学 58 海南大学 海南大学 59 云南大学 云南大学 60 塔里木大学 塔里木大学 61 武汉生物工程学院 武汉生物工程学院 62 河北工业职业技术学院 河北工业职业技术学院

[6] Party-Building Demonstration Universities (7 in total)

六、党建示范高校(7个)63 哈尔滨工业大学 哈尔滨工业大学 64 同济大学 同济大学 65 中国科学技术大学 中国科学技术大学 66 重庆大学 重庆大学 67 贵州大学 贵州大学 68 西安外事学院 西安外事学院 69 湖南化工职业技术学院 湖南化工职业技术学院

[7] Three-Way Education Pilot Faculties and Departments (9 in total)

七、三全育人试点院系(9个)70 云南师范大学商学院 云南师范大学商学院 71 北京邮电大学电子工程学院 北邮电子工程学院 72 郑州大学化学与分子工程学院 郑大化学 73 安徽师范大学文学院 安徽师大文学院 74 西南交通大学土木工程学院 西南交大土木工程学院 75 东北财经大学工商管理学院 东北财经大学工商管理学院 76 江南大学食品学院 食品小微 77 江苏农牧科技职业学院动物医学院 共创美好动医 78 西南政法大学新闻传播学院 西政新闻传播学院

[8] Party-Building Model Faculties and Departments (10 in total)

八、党建标杆院系(10个)79 北京协和医学院阜外医院党委 中国医学科学院阜外医院 80 上海外国语大学新闻传播学院党总支 薪火相传 81 同济大学建筑与城市规划学院党委 同济大学建筑与城市规划学院 82 浙江师范大学人文学院党委 浙师人文之窗 83 南京大学哲学系党委 南京大学哲学系 84 华南理工大学建筑学院党委 华南理工大学建筑学院 85 西南财经大学金融学院党委 西南财经大学金融学院 86 天津理工大学材料科学与工程学院党委 材聚天理 87 中国矿业大学矿业工程学院党委 阳光矿院 88 北京理工大学机械与车辆学院党委 机车新青年

[9] Knowledge Service Organizations (17 in total)

九、知识服务类机构(17个)89 中国教育报刊社 中国教育报 90 思想理论教育导刊 思想理论教育导刊 91 思想教育研究 思想教育研究 92 思想理论教育 思想理论教育 93 高校思想政治理论课教学活页 高校思想政治理论课教学活页 94 思想政治理论课高精尖创新中心 思想政治理论课高精尖创新中心 95 复旦大学中国研究院 复旦大学中国研究院 96 高校博物馆联盟 全国高校博物馆育人联盟 97 电子科大网文评价中心 全国高校网络文化研究评价中心 98 中国教育电视台《师说》栏目 师说 99 中国教育电视台《我是辅导员》栏目 我是辅导员 100 中央广电总台央视综合频道 时代楷模发布厅 101 《社会主义核心价值观研究》杂志 社会主义核心价值观研究 102 时事报告杂志社 时事报告 103 学习出版社 今天我学习 104 党建杂志社 党建网微平台 105 《半月谈》杂志社 半月谈

[10] University Marxist Academies (16 in total)

十、高校马克思主义学院(16个)106 北京大学马克思主义学院 PKU马院 107 清华大学马克思主义学院 清马来了 108 中国人民大学马克思主义学院 中国人民大学马院 109 北京师范大学马克思主义学院 京师马院 110 南开大学马克思主义学院 南开马院 111 天津大学马克思主义学院 TJU马院 112 东北大学马克思主义学院 东大MARXISM 113 吉林大学马克思主义学院 吉林大学马克思主义学院 114 复旦大学马克思主义学院 复旦思想理论 115 浙江大学马克思主义学院 浙江大学马院 116 山东大学马克思主义学院 马院之声SDU 117 武汉大学马克思主义学院 HANMA 118 华中师范大学马克思主义学院 华中师范大学马克思主义学院 119 中山大学马克思主义学院 中山大学马克思主义学院 120 西南财经大学马克思主义学院 西南财经大学马院 121 西南大学马克思主义学院 西南大学马院

[11] University Youth Leagues (73 in total)

十一、高校共青团(73个)122 北京大学团委 北大青年 123 清华大学团委 清华研读间 124 北京科技大学团委 北科大青年 125 北京中医药大学团委 岐黄青年汇 126 中国矿业大学(北京)团委 青春矿大 127 中国政法大学团委 法大青年 128 中央财经大学团委 神马中财 129 中国人民公安大学团委 公大团宣 130 中国民航大学团委 航大青年 131 天津师范大学团委 继之青年 132 石家庄邮电职业技术学院团委 石邮青年 133 河北农业大学团委 农大青年风尚 134 山西师范大学团委 山西师范大学团委 135 内蒙古农业大学团委 内蒙古农业大学团委 136 内蒙古师范大学团委 内师青春汇 137 大连海事大学团委 大连海事大学团委 138 大连理工大学团委 大连理工大学团委 139 长春财经学院团委 长财青年 140 东北师范大学团委 东师青年 141 东北农业大学团委 掌上东农 142 黑龙江大学团委 黑大青年 143 华东政法大学团委 华政青年 144 华东理工大学团委 小花梨 145 上海交通大学团委 益友sjtu 146 东南大学团委 青年东大说 147 南京大学团委 南大青年 148 南京工业大学团委 南京工业大学团委 149 湖州师范大学团委 湖师青年1958 150 浙江工业大学团委 青春浙工大 151 浙江大学团委 浙江大学团委 152 中国计量大学团委 青春计量 153 浙江师范大学团委 浙师青年 154 合肥工业大学团委 合肥工业大学团委 155 福建师范大学团委 福师大小葵 156 福建农林大学团委 清新农大团委 157 华侨大学团委 华侨大学团委 158 漳州科技职业技术学院 科学家TFTC 159 江西中医药大学团委 江中青年 160 江西师范大学团委 青春师大 161 南昌大学团委 团学时空 162 南昌理工学院团委 南昌理工学院团委 163 山东政法学院团委 山东政法学院团委 164 山东师范大学团委 山东师范大学团委 165 中国石油大学(华东)团委 青春石大 166 河南师范大学团委 河南师范大学团委 167 郑州大学团委 郑州大学青年集结号 168 华北水利水电大学团委 华水青年 169 河南大学团委 河大青年HENU 170 河南科技学院团委 河南科技学院科院青年 171 河南农业大学团委 微晓农大 172 湖北工程学院团委 青春湖工 173 武汉理工大学团委 武汉理工大学团委 174 三峡大学团委 三峡青年 175 湖南农业大学团委 湘农青年 176 中南大学团委 中南小团子 177 湖南师范大学团委 湖南师范大学团委 178 广东科学技术职业学院团委 青春广科 179 广州城建职业学院团委 学在城建 180 广州大学团委 广州大学团委 181 海南师范大学团委 共青小海狮 182 海南大学团委 海大青年汇 183 重庆邮电大学团委 重邮小帮手 184 重庆大学团委 重大青年 185 西南交通大学团委 交大有思 186 西华师范大学团委 新语师大 187 贵州师范大学团委 贵州师范大学团委 188 云南大学团委 云大青年 189 西藏民族大学团委 民大青年 190 西藏大学团委 藏大微青年 191 西安电子科技大学团委 西电青年 192 甘肃政法学院团委 政法青年 193 青海大学团委 青海大学团委 194 新疆大学团委 红湖青年

[12] Others (6 in total)

十二、其他(6个)195 民办高校党建研究分会 民办高校党建与思政 196 同济大学实践育人联盟 全国实践育人暨创新创业工作联盟工作交流信息平台 197 中国传媒大学电视学院 中传新闻传播学部 198 中央美院学生工作部 中央美院学生工作 199 闽江学院 闽江学院 200 本禹志愿服务队研究生支教团 本禹志愿服务队研究生支教团.

Three-Child Policy Spawns Ridicule

China announced yesterday, following a meeting of top Communist Party officials, that it would allow couples to have as many as three children in a measure to encourage a rise in the country’s flagging birth rate, which has prompted concern from long-term economic planners. The policy change, the latest since the one-child policy was formally ended in 2016, quickly met with ridicule on social media.

As young families are struggling already to support a single child as well as four elderly parents, many wanted to know, how could officials expect them to have a second and even a third child — all to support the government’s long-term economic plans?

One user on Weibo contrasted the pragmatism of the pig farmer with the impractical arrogance of the Party apparatchik who simply responds to problems with policy announcements. “In my hometown, if a pig does not birth piglets, the pig farmers always go and look at what exactly the problem is,” they wrote. “Has the drop in vigor resulted from the fact that the enclosure isn’t big enough, the hygiene conditions are poor, or that the pig is under too much pressure? Once the problem is found it can be solved, and naturally the pig will have piglets. You can’t just send down an edict and expect a pig to give birth.”

Another post riffed on the four-character Chinese phrase min bu liao sheng (民不聊生), which means roughly “people have difficulty making a living” but is a composite of characters that literally mean “people” + “don’t/not” + “speak” + “birth/life.” The creator of the post offered this alternative translation of the phrase:

Translation: This points to the fact that owing to the extreme pressures of life people today don’t wish to have children. They don’t even want to talk about it.

A spoof even circulated online of a supposed article from Shanghai’s Observer website, which maintains a staunchly pro-Party stance and has been known to run vacuous pieces of propaganda like this one in February, which referred to the “pioneering and exemplary role” of CCP officials.

The mock Observer article bears the headline: “Party Members and Cadres At All Levels Must Play a Pioneering Role, Leading the Way in Having Third Children.” In a painfully comic illustration of just how ludicrous state propaganda can be, some readers found the spoof believable.

Referring to the original Xinhua News Agency release on the decision emerging from the Politburo meeting, the spoof article said: “In encouraging childbirth, Party members and cadres cannot be absent! Right now, as the state of our aging population is at its most critical point, the task of promoting and encouraging birth and economic and social development is arduous, and we most need to fully bring into play the pioneering model role of Party members and cadres, letting the flag of the Party fly high on the front lines of the struggle.”

It is interesting to note that today, the day after the formal announcement of the news coming out of the Politburo meeting, there is no mention of the policy on the front page of the People’s Daily. The general announcement does come on page two with a Q&A piece on the policy as a response to “improving the population structure,” but there seem to be no accompanying commentaries elsewhere in the paper.

Perhaps too much has already been said.

Speculating on the Party’s Centennial

As the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party approaches, promotional messages about the glories of the Party’s past and present have become nearly ubiquitous online and offline, splashed across banners and billboards. But the leadership has also been keen to ensure that promotion of the event conforms to the Party’s rules — and does not subject its image to the indignities of excessive commercialism.

Last month, the Party’s Central Office issued a blueprint offering guidance on how promotion of the anniversary should happen, including a pre-approved master list of slogans. And this week, market regulation authorities released a list of “classic cases” to warn for-profit businesses against misusing the glories of the anniversary for commercial campaigns.

A notice this week from the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) details 8 “classic cases” of illegal use of the Party’s 100th anniversary for commercial gain.

In its notice on Wednesday, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) outlined eight offensive acts that have recently been investigated in order to create an environment for commemoration of the anniversary that is “festive and warm” and yet “serious and solemn.” The cases outlined by SAMR, which are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg, offer an interesting glimpse into how some have sought to exploit the 100th anniversary.

One of the cases involved Beijing Haoso Finishing Touch Technology (北京好搜点睛科技有限公司), which operates the advertising business for the 360 Search platform ( under Qihoo 360, the Chinese internet security company. Beijing Haoso is accused in the notice of having “failed to review the content of the relevant advertisements, and to prevent others from releasing illegal advertisements with the help of the platform.” This included advertising content that “appropriated the images of staff at government organs,” and that apparently offered collectibles related to the Party’s 100th anniversary.

For these violations of the Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, the company was charged an administrative penalty of 170,000 yuan. A related case, placed at the top of the SAMR list, implicated the Henan regional agent for 360 Search, a company called Henan 360 Information Technology (河南三百六信息技术有限公司). The company was accused of publishing advertisements themed on the 100th anniversary that even made the claim that they were “officially approved for release by authoritative departments.” For these violations, local market authorities in Henan reportedly confiscated 8,800 yuan in ill-gotten advertising fees, equivalent to just under 1,400 dollars, but fined the company 945,000 yuan, a far more substantial sum.

One of the more colorful violators on the SAMR list was China Brewing (Beijing) Cultural Development, a distributor of Chinese wines and spirits. The company apparently created a standalone website to promote the 100th anniversary and its own commercial products, and invited visitors to participate and become “the chief designer of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Party,” by choosing from among 100 different commemorative images that included the Chinese Communist Party emblem.  

SAMR said in its notice that it “hopes that the majority of market players take these cases as a warning, effectively enhancing their legal awareness and consciously complying with the law.” The department said it would “ continue to crack down on commercial speculation in the name of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Party.”

Unnatural Causes

Officials in China announced yesterday that an investigation is now underway into the death of 21 runners over the weekend as they took part in a 62-mile race across rugged terrain in the northwest province of Gansu, amid freezing temperatures and inclement weather. Accounts repeated across Chinese media in the past two days have suggested that freak weather was the cause of the tragedy – an explanation that has been reinforced in some international media reporting of the story.

In the wake of disasters of this kind in China, discussion often centers on two words. On the one hand, there is the “natural disaster,” or tianzai (天灾), the act of God, suggesting that outcomes were beyond human control. On the other hand, there is the “human disaster,” or renhuo (人祸), the tragedy in which human negligence and perhaps corruption are major contributing factors. Historically, in the event of tragedy, the authorities and state media tend to lay the emphasis on natural, inescapable factors, thereby throwing off any hint of government responsibility.

A report on the tragedy in Gansu from the official Xinhua News Agency, posted on Sunday, poses the question directly: “Was this a natural disaster or a human tragedy?”  It goes on to discuss various aspects of safety and preparation. Quoted at the end of the story, sports official Li Shengxin (李圣鑫) mentions the importance of safety preparation and concludes that the inability of rescue teams to reach competitors quickly in this case was an important reason for the serious loss of life. This seems to place the Gansu tragedy somewhere on the scale between the tianzai and the renhuo. Perhaps not enough was done to prepare for freak weather.

But in an article posted to WeChat today, Chu Chaoxin (褚朝新), a former journalist for Southern Weekly and The Beijing News, takes issue with the entire premise that unusual weather patterns were a primary factor behind the Gansu tragedy. He cites as evidence the inconsistencies in reporting in the Chinese media of the account given by a single source, the local herder who managed to save the lives of six athletes participating in the event.

Chu’s doubts about the official narrative on the marathon tragedy, which is now tending toward the emphasis on natural factors exacerbated by poor preparation, center on a very basic question – is dangerous weather in this area of Gansu extraordinary, or in fact quite ordinary?

Our translation of Chu’s WeChat post follows:

Why Would the Herder Who Saved Six People Openly Lie?

I’ve managed all along not to say anything, but finally I feel I must say something – seeing as so many people have died. The reason I’ve said nothing these past few days is that I had no idea what to say. I am really very, very at a loss as to how 21 people can die just running a marathon.

But as information has proliferated [in this case] I’ve come to notice something really strange, and I feel it should be said.

At around 9AM on May 22, the Fourth Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon kicked off in Jingtai County, Baiyin City, Gansu. Officials in Baiyin have disclosed that the event was sponsored by the Baiyin Municipal Party Committee and Municipal Government, and hosted by the Baiyin Sports Bureau, Jingtai County Party Committee and Jingtai County Government, with Shengjing Sports and Culture Development (晟景体育文化发展有限公司) responsible for running the event.

It is truly unbelievable that it was at such a tournament, sponsored by the municipal government and hosted by the municipal sports bureau and the county government, that 21 people died.

Some have said that extreme weather was encountered and that was a disaster of natural causes. Other participants have said that this event, the fourth of its kind, was actually better organized than the previous three, making it seem even more a natural event.

Then there is the sheep herder who managed to rescue six runners and has received extensive media attention. In a report in The Beijing News on May 24 called, “The Shepherd Who Rescued Six Cross-Country Runners”(这名牧羊人,连救六名山地越野赛选手), the shepherd was revealed as saying that the weather that day was really bad, that there was rain and hail and that even cotton jackets did not suffice – that it was still really cold.

But then he told the reporter from The Beijing News that “this kind of bad weather is quite common.”

Screenshot of a report from The Beijing News on May 24 in which the shepherd who saved 6 runners says the weather that day was “quite common.”

If this sort of bad weather is quite common, then the fact that this time people have died suggests that this area is really not suited to this kind of long-distance race. The fact that no one died during any of the first three events can only be regarded as extremely lucky. To run this kind long-distance wilderness race in a place where this kind of inclement weather occurs frequently is really tempting fate, and to have people die was simply a question of when.

If this sort of bad weather is quite common, then why did the hosts wish to have this sort of competition? Was it because they didn’t realize that people might die, or because they underestimated just how lethal inclement weather in the area could be? Whatever the reason, so long as we can determine that this sort of weather is common in the area, then we can say that the tragic death of these 21 people is a man-made disaster (人祸) rather than a natural disaster.

This morning the May 25 edition of China Central Television’s “Morning News” (朝闻天下) also reported that it had interviewed the herder. This time, however, the herder’s statement had changed. This time he was quoted as saying: “Weather like that on the day of the accident is something we don’t see very often.” And, “Weather of this kind is truly very rare, very rare.”

So did the reporter from The Beijing News get this wrong?

When I went online to search for myself, I found that in separate interviews with other media on both the 23rd and the 24th, the herder said that this sort of weather is quite common. When he was interviewed by Xi’an Business (西安商报), for example, that is what he said, and there is video to support this.

It seems then that The Beijing News was not wrong in its reporting, but the herder who saved these six competitors has changed his statement. Why would he change his story?

Media have reported the herder as saying that he felt saving lives was just a casual act, and a big deal has been made of this online — that he feels this is something very common, something one should just do. Why would a simple herder so openly alter his statement and lie? Why would a good and kind shepherd offer the media two completely opposed versions of the same story?

With this kind of contradictory statement, there is most definitely someone at work behind the scenes, and he was most definitely asked to change his story. Someone is trying to transform a human disaster into a natural disaster.

Several surviving runners have reported that in one section of the course it was impossible even for motorcycles to get through. At the third checkpoint in the race, no supplies were available at all, to say nothing of preparation for rescue. This detail further suggests that the organizers of the race lacked sufficient scientific knowledge of the wilderness course. They did not even anticipate bad weather and made no preparations for rescue.

This was not a sports competition organized by the local Party and government — it was simply a real test of wilderness survival in which no allowances whatsoever were made for rescue. What is heartbreaking is that 21 challengers died in this real version of wilderness survival.

Some people have spoken out online accusing the participants of being ill-prepared, while others have accused the players of risking their lives for prize money. Comrades, gentlemen, this was a competition organized by the municipal government of a prefectural-level city, and hosted by the municipal sports bureau and the local county government. Even if the players were not adequately prepared, there was no reason whatsoever that the participants should die.

To say that this accident that killed 21 people was an act of God is stupid if not malicious. For so many people to die competing in a marathon, no-one, not the hosts and not the organizers, can be exempted from responsibility. There is no way this matter can be put to rest with a simple apology from one mayor.

Seeking Total Cyber Control

This week the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s chief internet regulator and censor, held a meeting in the city of Wenzhou at which participants spent two full days discussing the construction of a “comprehensive cyber governance system” (网络综合治理体系). But what exactly is this system? A set of technical censorship solutions? Administrative guidelines and laws? A nationwide team of internet content enforcers?

The answer is all of the above. Building a “comprehensive cyber governance system” is about ensuring that the Chinese Communist Party has the necessary laws and regulations in place governing internet content; that technical systems for internet control, including at digital platforms, are adequate to ensure compliance; and that the CAC has sufficient staffing at all levels nationwide to ensure that the Party’s internet guidelines can be strictly and properly enforced.

The idea of a “comprehensive cyber governance system” was first introduced in Xi Jinping’s political report to the 19th National Congress of the CCP in 2017. Lest one loses sight of the overarching goal in the niggling details, the phrase appears in a section on “tightly grasping leadership of ideological work” (牢牢掌握意识形态工作领导权), the first clue that this system is not primarily about data privacy or security, or protecting the population from such ills as online fraud. This is fundamentally about ensuring regime security through the ideological control of cyberspace. The same section of the political report talks about “creating a clear online space” (营造清朗的网络空间), a CCP euphemism for ensuring that online content is positive and uncritical.

A discussion of the concept of a “comprehensive cyber governance system” published in the official Legal Daily shortly after the 19th National Congress noted that the system included “both the protection of network security and risk avoidance, as well as the management of harmful information.” Dealing with harmful information, it said, was necessary to ensuring the “overall clarity of cyberspace.” The same article stressed the importance of legislation in creating this governance system, and mentioned as examples the November 2016 introduction of China’s Cybersecurity Law, and the August 2017 introduction of both the Administrative Regulations on Online Comment Posting Services and Administrative Regulations on the Management of Internet Forum Community Services – all of which predate the actual introduction of the concept of a “comprehensive cyber governance system.”

On the issue of administrative enforcement, Wang Sixin (王四新) of the Communication University of China emphasized in the Legal Daily discussion the importance of the CAC and its local offices across the country in enforcing cyber governance. “While the CAC plays the leading role, we must also focus on the role of local internet information offices in local management,” he said. But he also noted that the national network of CAC offices remained insufficient, a further key aspect of the building of a “comprehensive cyber governance system.” “We also want to create a comprehensive, coordinated law enforcement governance system with the CAC as the axis,” he said. “But at the county and city levels, many areas still do not have a dedicated CAC offices and CAC teams. Of course some places have begun to make efforts in this area, such as Tianjin and Jiangsu, which have added paid official positions for CAC offices. The problem, however, is that these personnel are new recruits, and they lack some understanding of the work of the CAC and its rules.”

Another crucial aspect of the “comprehensive cyber governance system” is the involvement of internet platforms, including private enterprises, which are often the first line of defense against sensitive information. Their primary role, said Wang, is “governing illegal and harmful content on the internet.”

We encourage internet enterprises to build their own internal systems, strengthening platform responsibility. For example, with strengthening their complaint and reporting mechanisms, and in accepting the supervision of government departments and the public.

Wang Sixin, Communication University of China

All of these are regarded by Chinese authorities as integral to the overall goal of creating a “comprehensive cyber governance system.” And according to the release from this week’s Wenzhou meeting, this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the CCP, has been designated as a critical year in the building of this vast political, technical, legal and human system of internet control.

MOFA Briefings Highlight Tense Media Relations

Media relations between China and the West now seem to be a regular theme at the regular press conferences held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). At a press conference yesterday, spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked by the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper to comment on a news report from the Wall Street Journal that sought to “play up” concerns, according to the reporter, about whether the Chinese-developed Sinopharm vaccine was adequately protecting those vaccinated in the Seychelles.

Broadly accusing Western media of “disinformation,” Hua responded: “I noticed relevant reports. Indeed, certain Western media outlets are obsessed with smearing the safety and effectiveness of Chinese vaccines. This is not the first time they spread disinformation against China. It once again exposes their unhealthy mindset of denigrating China at every turn.”

Using a phrase, “positive energy,” or zhengnengliang (正能量), that has been a centerpiece of Xi Jinping policy on the media, referring to an emphasis on uplifting messages over criticism, Hua added: “I hope media organizations can follow the principles of authenticity, objectivity and justice, report on the epidemic and vaccines in an impartial and fact-based manner, and use their voice to inject more positive energy to promote vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.”

Asked by the South China Morning Post to comment on remarks she made one day earlier about Chinese journalists being forced to leave the United States, Hua alleged that the US “has used every possible means to suppress Chinese media.” She referred to a February 2020 order from the US State Department requiring five Chinese state-run media outlets to register as “foreign missions,” and a March 2020 order that limited the number of Chinese journalists for state-run media outlets who could work in the US. Hua referred to this second action as an “expulsion,” though the March rules from the State Department did not amount to outright expulsion of the journalists.

Restrictions against foreign journalists, and intimidation in the midst of their work, are well-documented. But Hua sought to portray China’s treatment of journalists as humane in contrast to the US:

As reporters, you can easily imagine how you will feel if your press card is subjected to revocation at any time, or its validity will expire in just a few days after having a hard time getting the application approved, leaving you no choice but to immediately apply for a renewal for another three months.

Even though China has been doing its best to provide conveniences to foreign correspondents in both their life and work, some may still worry that they may encounter some trouble returning to China from their home country against the backdrop of COVID-19. The Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been accommodating their concerns and providing conveniences. I suggest that you put yourself in the shoes of Chinese journalists working in the US. For US journalists, I hope you may inform your government that most of you have visas valid for a year, and that we haven’t taken any countermeasures for US moves to restrict Chinese journalists’ visa validity to a maximum of 90 days.

At a press conference today, Hua Chunying was asked by a Bloomberg reporter to comment further on the departure of Chinese state media journalists from the US, which the day before she had called “politically-motivated suppression.” As Hua responded, she suggested  that the majority of foreign journalists working in China are granted one-year visas, a statement that does not accord with the experience of many journalists. In September last year, China refused to the press credentials of at least five journalists working for US news media in China, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China voiced concern that more foreign journalists might face the “constant threat of expulsion.”

Here is Hua’s exchange with the Bloomberg reporter, according to the Chinese-language MOFA transcript:  

Hua: As I have said in recent days, the US expelled 60 Chinese journalists in March of last year, and in May last year it reduced the visa validity of all Chinese media reporters in the US, without exceptions, to less than three months. Chinese journalists in the US now have to reapply for visas every three months, and often they must start the next round of applications as soon as their extensions are approved. This leaves the lives and work of Chinese journalists in the US in great uncertainty. A reporter from Xinhua News Agency submitted an application in November last year that was never approved, and they were forced to stop working in February this year, and had to return to China on May 1. A number of other journalists are waiting for approval from the US side. As a Bloomberg reporter you should understand that even under the circumstances of epidemic prevention and control, the Chinese side has still done its best to facilitate the work of foreign journalists in China, including American journalists.

Reporter: I may have misunderstood. Can you tell us more about the 90-day visa validity for US  journalists in China? Because I have colleagues whose visas are valid for only 90 days. I want to make sure I didn’t misunderstand you.

Hua: You are saying that you have colleagues in China whose resident press cards are valid for three months, right? The validity of your press card should be one year. The resident press cards of more than 95 percent of foreign journalists have validity for one year.

Reporter: Yes, but I’m actually going to the immigration hall tomorrow to get a three-month visa extension.

Hua: But you are sitting here very freely, which means that your work is not affected.

Running Defense for China’s Global Media Push

At a regular press conference yesterday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) responded at length to a research report to be released today by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Brussels-based federation of journalism unions, that looks broadly at China’s attempts to push its official media messaging across the world in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to a preview by the New York Times, the IFJ report, written by Australia-based scholars Louisa Lim, Julia Bergin and Johan Lidberg, sought out journalists in 54 countries, based on the IFJ network, to canvass their views on Chinese influence tactics. “As the pandemic started to spread, Beijing used its media infrastructure globally to seed positive narratives about China in national media,” the report says, “as well as mobilizing more novel tactics such as disinformation.”

Hua’s one-two-three rebuttal of the IFJ report yesterday (she actually makes five points neatly in succession) suggests she was clearly prepared for the question, a softball lobbed by a reporter from Hong Kong’s China Review News Agency (CNRTT). The report from the New York Times might offer a clue as to why she might have been so prepared. In his report, Ben Smith notes that he reached out for comment to Zhao Lijian  (赵立坚), deputy director general of the Information Department at MOFA. Briefed by Smith on the contents of the IFJ report, Zhao responded: “The accusation on China is what the U.S. has been doing all along.”

In her rebuttal yesterday, Hua continued with Zhao’s line of reasoning, suggesting that China has merely responded to tactics employed by the United States. She noted in particular the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021,” which in Subtitle D, “Countering Chinese Communist Party Influence,” allocates 300 million dollars for a Chinese Influence Fund to “counter the malign influence” of the CCP globally.

Accusing the US of “naked hegemony in public opinion or discourse” and arguing that media in the West, beholden to their capitalist masters, serve a conspiracy to disparage China, Hua suggests that Party-state media “uphold the principle of objectivity and truthfulness in news reporting, and do not fabricate or disseminate false information against other countries.”

Chinese diplomats and state media voiced similar claims to “objectivity” back in February as they objected to a decision by the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), the government regulator for broadcasting and telecoms, to withdraw the UK broadcast license for China Global Television Network (CGTN). However, anyone looking closely, even fleetingly, at Chinese official discourse on the role of the media, will understand that they are obliged to serve the interests of the Party-state. In his speech on media policy at the People’s Daily in 2016, Xi Jinping emphasized that media “must be surnamed Party” (必须姓党), and that they must love, serve and protect the CCP.

Hua also repeats the notion, introduced by Xi Jinping in August 2013, that China must tell its own story. While Hua portrays this policy, which now underpins the “external propaganda” of the CCP, as merely about diversity of views globally, it should be borne in mind that this Chinese “voice” is conceived at the policy level as a managed voice, and it assumes restrictions on speech within China that have grown more severe in the past 10 years.

A translation of Hua Chunying’s remarks follows:

I also saw this New York Times article. The report it cites is not yet available, so I can’t comment in detail. However, I see that the report claims that it finds that China is increasing dissemination of positive narratives about China around the world. To me, this feels like an affirmation of the work of our Chinese journalists.

I can start with some preliminary responses based on the relevant elements of the New York Times report you just mentioned.

First, the world is inherently rich and pluralistic, and in the field of media, there should not be only CNN and BBC, but all countries should have their own voices. As a country with 1.4 billion people, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, with 5,000 years of continuous civilization, and with the world’s second-largest economy and being the largest developing country, China certainly deserves to have its own place in the international public opinion landscape.

Secondly, the US side, on the one hand, abuses its hegemony of discourse to unscrupulously attack China with disinformation under the guise of “freedom.” On the other hand, it places ideology above the principle of objectivity and truthfulness. It rationalizes its political operations by smearing and suppressing Chinese media. This is a naked hegemony of public opinion or discourse. In the face of such wanton smear attacks and rumors and lies against China, China certainly must make its voice heard and must state the truth on a range of important issues involving the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving behind an objective and truthful collective human narrative and memory. This is the genuinely responsible attitude of a responsible country.

Third, we Chinese preach that no one can stand without trust, that no endeavor can prosper without trust, and that we must treat others as we would like to be treated. Chinese media uphold the principles of objectivity and truthfulness in news reporting, and do not fabricate or disseminate false information against other countries. I have seen the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” passed by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which proposes to spend 300 million dollars a year to disseminate negative information that smears China. The New York Times report mentions that China sometimes provides some anti-epidemic materials to media in certain countries. This means nothing whatsoever, and has nothing to do with influence, infiltration or propaganda.

Fourth, the systems of each country are different, and how media operate will naturally vary. To evaluate the professionalism of media, the most important thing is whether they adhere to the ethics of journalistic professionalism, and whether they can report objectively and fairly. Xinhua is an internationally renowned news agency with a history of nearly 90 years, providing authoritative and professional news and information to its various users around the world in accordance with the common operating rules of news agencies. I think Xinhua’s cooperation with other national news agencies is no different from the cooperation between the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Kyodo News Agency and other news agencies around the world. Just because Xinhua comes from China, a socialist country, does not mean you can deny Xinhua and other Chinese media the right to exchange and cooperate with one another. To accuse Xinhua and other Chinese media when they carry out normal news and information exchanges and cooperation with news agencies in other countries shows ideological bias and political discrimination.

A Murder to Ensure a Proper Burial

On April 7, Jizhou Studio (极昼工作室), a narrative non-fiction account at Sohu News, published a story called “The Man In Search of a Corpse” (寻找尸体的人). Written by Li Xiaofang (李晓芳) and Chen Kaiyue (陈锴跃), the story gave a chilling account, based on police records released in January, of the murder on March 1, 2017, of Lin Shaoren (林少仁), who was forcibly inebriated and then nailed inside a coffin.

The absurd cultural roots of the crime, and the possible involvement of local officials, made the story an instant hit on WeChat and other social media platforms, and the original post was quickly removed – though it remains at a number of locations, including The Paper (and archived at CDT). The gist of the story is that in order to skirt around local laws since 2012 in the city of Shanwei (汕尾市) mandating cremations and prohibiting burials, one wealthy local family paid a huge sum to secure a corpse that could be cremated in the place of a deceased family member, Old Huang, who had died of lung cancer. The deadly scam allowed the Huang family to retain Old Huang’s corpse for internment in the family burial plot. The unfortunate choice for the corpse was the very much alive Lin Shaoren, an intellectually disabled man dear to his family who spent his days collecting plastic bottles and idling outside a local convenience store.  

One of the men possibly involved in the scam, which perhaps points to a local black market in corpses to circumvent cremation regulations in a region where ancestral rites are still taken very seriously, was the former deputy director of the Party and Government Office in Guangdong’s Hudong Township, who had also been in charge of the local funeral register.

On April 8, the day after the story was published, there was a flurry of discussion in chatrooms on WeChat as Li Xiaofang, the chief author, reported urgently that the parents of her co-author, Chen Kaiyue – a university student from the Shanwei area who had helped conduct interviews in the local dialect – were being harassed by local police and other officials demanding their son return to face investigation.

WeChat discussion on April 8 about the harassment of the parents of university journalism student Chen Kaiyue by local authorities in Shanwei

It soon emerged that Chen Kaiyue is a current student in the journalism program at Guangdong’s Shantou University. According to the discussion online, Chen had been urged by local authorities in Shanwei to return home immediately and face investigation, otherwise the police would “enter the university and arrest him.”

Former investigative reporter and CMP fellow Tang Jianguang posts about the “censorship storm” surrounding the Jizhou Studio story.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported that Chen’s classmates had appealed for help, saying that police officers from Jieshi Township, which is under the jurisdiction of Shanwei, had paid a visit to Chen’s parents to “verify the situation,” and that the local Party secretary had phoned Chen urging him to “write a document in order to eliminate the negative impact of the incident.” This likely refers to a demand that Chen essentially sign a formal statement with wording provided by authorities, retracting the story and admitting guilt for having disturbed social order through its publication.  

In the comments section below a post to Weibo by journalist and former CMP fellow Tang Jianguang (唐建光), readers expressed the hope that the young journalism student could be protected from retaliation by local officials. “I hope the internet can protect this young person who has not done anything wrong,” said one user. “In the way they avoid pursuing the root causes and instead deal with the people who uncovered the problem,” another wrote, “one can suppose the worst possible motives here. How many of them were buyers themselves in this racket and hidden [from responsibility]? How powerful is crony capitalism!”

The original story is well worth a read, an interesting look at some of the stronger journalism and non-fiction writing being pursued in China despite much tighter controls on reporting in recent years under Xi Jinping. We offer an inferior, excerpted translation below.

The story’s arguable shortcomings should be acknowledged as well. For example, it is only much further down in the piece that Lin Shaoren, the victim, is actually identified by name (real names are used only for Lin and his brother). Instead, the murdered man is called repeatedly “the fool son of the Lin family” (林家的傻儿子), or just “the fool son.” The constant reference to “the fool” is painful to read, and the insensitivity to those with intellectual disabilities rattles in translation. It is noteworthy that in reporting on the censoring of the Jizhou Studio story, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily referred instead to the murder of an “intellectually disabled man” (智障男子), better according with professional consensus on how to refer to people with disabilities.   In the excerpt below, we have taken liberties with the translation of these unfortunate references to “the fool son.”

The Man Who Sought a Corpse

Everyone in the village knew that the intellectually disabled son of the Lin family had disappeared. For two and a half years, no one could say whether he was dead or alive. The Lin family had reported his disappearance to police, and the whole department had gone out searching for months, though fruitlessly.

The day after the disappearance, the owner of the small convenience store at the entrance to the village had gone over to ask the Lin brothers: “Where has that one in your family gone?” The son had been mild-mannered. And though mentally not too bright, he had gotten on well with people. Often, intellectually disabled people from their village and other villages around had gathered outside the village entrance, out in front of the convenience store. At their most lively, there might be three or four of them crouching in a row, their eyes casting about, and no one knew what they were thinking.

The Lin family imagined all sorts of worst-case scenarios. Lin Zailong (林再龙), 28, the family’s youngest son, said: “I wondered whether my second brother might have walked out that night and accidentally fallen into the pond.” Rumors spread around the countryside that some elderly and homeless people who wandered about and seemed to have no one to rely on were sometimes carted off and their organs sold. After Lin Zailong heard this, he worried that perhaps this fate was what had befallen his brother as well.

The Lin family’s disabled son was born in 1981, the second of six brothers. When he was just six months old, his mother, Chen Xiangmei (陈香妹), noticed that the child was a bit different, his expression blank. When he was old enough to speak, he seemed unable to speak a word, and when adults spoke he couldn’t understand. Chen Xiangmei felt in her heart that the child’s mind might be defective, that he was a fool.

If he’s a fool, Chen Xiangmei thought, then he’s a fool. So long as he learns to say ‘eat’ when he’s hungry. Her second son grew well to his 30th birthday, with a fleshy round face, small eyes, his height just under 1.6 meters, his body strong. He was almost never sick. She taught him on her own from childhood, though still his speech was speech was obscure and others could not understand. But he could express himself over the simple demands of life — eating, bathing, sleeping. And he could get on with life. He remembered his own name, and their home address. For Chen Xiangmei this was enough.

68 years old now, the whites of Chen’s eyes are clouded as with a layer of fog. Speaking of her disabled son, raised with such great difficulty, she can’t stop crying. “When I think of him, it’s like a knife is twisting into my heart.”

On the day of his disappearance, her son woke around noon. He said he planned to go out after lunch to collect plastic bottles, which he exchanged for money to buy cigarettes and snacks. All his life he had lived in the town of Jinxiang, in Guangdong’s Lufeng City. He was familiar with the roads crisscrossing several villages in the town. He would go out every day to collect scrap and watch games. He would generally return home at night without incident.

That day, he had put on a military cap patterned with desert camouflage and gone out, stopping first at his brother Lin Zailong’s house. Lin Zailong had just gotten married that year, and he had new baby. He enjoyed his white and tender little nephew, and from time to time he would go over to have a peak, cooing and playing with the baby, laughing happily. After sitting for a while, he picked up his woven snakeskin bag and said he was going out to collect bottles. That was the last memory his brother had of him.

Six o’clock that evening, Chen Xiangmei felt a bit panicked. Her disabled son had not yet come home. Usually, as mealtime approached, he would arrive home just before. She called over to her youngest son, Lin Zailong: “Your brother hasn’t come home since one o’clock.” Lin Zailong reassured her. Surely, he would come back later.

A mother always seems able to sense when things are wrong. That night, Chen Xiangmei was unable to sleep. She lay awake in bed, tossing and turning. It was midnight, and still she did not hear the familiar voice calling out from the door, sticky as though with a mouthful of sugar. Chen Xiangmei got up and called her third son. The third son, who was off working in Wukan, answered her cal and drove back to Lufeng overnight. At dawn, the family went out searching through several villages in Jinxiang. But there was no trace, like a raindrop lost in the sea.

The Lin family’s disabled son had disappeared in March 2017. It was another two and a half years before the family received a call, in November 2019, from the town’s police station. Only then did they learn that he had died on the day he had disappeared. A criminal ruling made public in early January this year [2021] on the website China Judicial Documents (中国裁判文书网), describes in detail what happened on that day.


After leaving Lin Zailong’s rented house, the Lin’s disabled son walked another two or three hundred meters and turned onto the village’s main road, a busy village road always bustling with traffic. There are two public garbage bins on the side of the road. As the Lin’s disabled son was bending over to fish out plastic bottles from the garbage cans, a white van pulled up beside him. A chubby middle-aged man got out of the car and exchanged a few words with him. Then, determining that he was intellectually disabled, the man pushed and shoved him into the van and drove away from Jinxiang.

On the way, the middle-aged man bought six bottles of red rice wine, more than 30 proof, and made sure the Lin’s disabled son drank them all. Then, he stuffed him into a coffin he had prepared in advance and sealed it up with nails, killing him.

The reason for this killing was absurd. A local man in his 50s had died, and had asked before his death that he not be cremated. Instead, he wanted to be buried. Someone was willing to pay the money, and someone was willing to help make it happen. And so, the Lin family’s disabled son became the substitute. He was killed and sent to the funeral home as a substitute for the crematorium.

. . . . .

[The article follows with a section on Chen Fengbin (陈丰斌), the local man who was later found to have kidnapped the Lin’s son.]

According to a criminal ruling released in early January 2021, Chen Fengbin’s work after the crash included transporting caskets for people. He met an older brother surnamed Wen, who often helped the funeral home by driving bodies or delivering people to the funeral home. When he was too busy, Wen would ask Chen Fengbin to help, the cost of transporting a casket is 200 yuan.

[Later section on the family wishing to have a burial and avoid cremation]

In February 2017, Old Huang, a resident of Lufeng’s Hudong Township, was suffering from advanced lung cancer. On his deathbed, he voiced his last wish to his brother Huang Qingbai (黄庆柏): That he not be cremated. As early as 2012, the city of Shanwei under which Lufeng belongs began implementing an “All In One Stroke” (一刀切) policy banning burials and the sale of burial coffins. Huang Qingbai approached a friend and asked if there was any way for him to realize the last wish of his beloved brother? The friend gave him the phone number of someone working at a funeral home.Huang Qingbai reached the funeral home contact, Liang Chenglong (梁成龙), then 58 years old, who was the former deputy director of the Hudong Township Party and Government Office as well as the funeral registrar. In a later confession, Liang Chenglong claimed that Huang Qingbai wanted the phone number of the funeral home driver, so he provided Huang with the contact information for Old Wen, and claimed he did not know about the Huang family’s transfer of the body to avoid cremation. However, it is noted in the transfer for examination and prosecution from the Lufeng City Public Security Bureau that: Liang Chenglong agreed the matter of the body transfer with Lao Wen, and asked that received 10,000 yuan once the matter was resolved.