Yesterday’s front page of the Hainan-based Business Daily of International Tourism Island reported on the latest incident of violence involving chengguan, those city management officials tasked with enforcing regulations on local-level law and order, traffic, sanitation, and the environment. Yet this particular incident in Hunan province seems even more grimly odder than usual because the chengguan killed a melon vendor with his own measure weights.
On the morning of 17 July, 56-year-old “model worker” Deng Jiazheng and his wife drove from their home in Liantang Village in Hunan province to the prefecture level city of Chenzhou to sell watermelons. They set up a street-side stall on Jiefangnan Road, but a group of chengguan arrived and fined them 100 yuan for trading without a proper license. When the chengguan decided to also take a few watermelons, Deng’s wife tried to block their path and was forcefully pushed aside.
The couple packed up and moved to a different location, but just as they were unloading their watermelons again, a group of approximately ten chengguan rushed to the scene and an intense argument broke out. Passers-by filming the incident had their phones confiscated or smashed by the chengguan. Seven or eight chengguan then surrounded Deng and his wife and started beating them.
An eyewitness claims that Deng received a heavy blow to the head from a chengguan wielding one of the sliding measure weights Deng uses to sell his watermelons. Deng then fell to the ground, dead. Deng’s wife was also seriously injured and is being treated in hospital.
Before he died, Deng snatched an identification card off one of the chengguan, which his sister later posted as a photograph online. It pinpoints one of the chengguan involved as Liao Weichang, District Chief of the Third Law Enforcement Brigade.
The Linwu County Party Committee has acknowledged that Deng died in the course of law enforcement carried out by county chengguan, but has stated that the cause of death is yet to be confirmed. The Committee has also announced a meeting of all relevant departments to discuss the issue and placed the chengguan involved under disciplinary investigation.
Also of note is that the main story splashed across the same front page of the Business Daily of International Tourist Island alleges chengguan misconduct involving the newspaper itself. A series of photographs and a feature story accuse a chengguan in Lingao County, Hainan, of violently shoving volunteers involved in a campaign to promote public education about legal rights and confiscating copies of the Business Daily of International Tourist Island being distributed as part of the campaign. The report alleges he was drunk on duty and reeked of alcohol.
The Business Daily of International Tourist Island seems to have been the only Chinese newspaper to feature the melon vendor story on its front page yesterday, and perhaps only in reaction to the events described just above. However, the story was carried as a headline item by major online news portals such as Phoenix, NetEase and Tencent, complete with graphic photos of the deceased and his grief-stricken family members.
19 July: Tencent News is running a story detailing overnight developments in the matter. The local Party Committee has denied that Deng Jiazheng died from being hit on the head with measure weights by its chengguan, and interviews with street vendors who were at the scene of the incident have cast further doubt, though without providing a thorough refutation.
Additionally, on the night of 18 July, a brawl broke out between police and several hundred onlookers siding with Deng’s family members over disagreements regarding the process for removing his body, which had been lying in the street for almost 24 hours. Police tried and failed to remove the remains several times over some hours, with many of those trying to prevent the corpse from being taken away being severely beaten. Photographs appeared online of resistors with blood streaming down their faces from nasty head wounds.
20 July: Tencent News has reported that Deng’s family have received compensation of 890,000 yuan from the Linwu County government and have declared the matter closed. They thanked the county government for its handling of the matter and Deng has now been buried according to local customs.
Earlier, official autopsy results were published stating that Deng died of a heart attack, to which Deng’s daughter immediately expressed her outraged doubts on Weibo, claiming that the corpse’s cranium was clogged with blood. However, she quickly deleted the post.
Six chengguan suspected of being involved in the incident have been detained on suspicion of intentionally causing bodily harm. The Linwu County Standing Committee of the CPC has also sacked the bureau chief of the county’s Urban Management Regulation Enforcement Bureau (the organisation in charge of chengguan), Hu Chen, as well as the CPC vice-secretary assigned responsibility for law enforcement in the county, Zou Hongwei.
A short essay entitled “The Melon Farmer’s Chinese Dream” (translated by The Telegraph here) posted by prominent writer and social commentator Li Chengpeng on his official Weibo account on 18 July has gone viral, notching up almost 200,000 reposts and over 20,000 comments in the past two days. The essay is a bitingly eloquent criticism of the official discourse surrounding the incident and asks how one can talk of a national “Chinese Dream” if one cannot even protect the simple dreams of a melon farmer.
According to The Telegraph, the central Propaganda Ministry has responded by blocking Li Chengpeng’s access to Weibo for the next month.
The incident and its subsequent developments continue to be a hot topic of discussion on Chinese social media and online news portals.
Links and sources
Business Daily of International Tourist Island (国际旅游岛商报): 湖南一瓜贩在与城管冲突中死亡
Phoenix Net News (凤凰网新闻): 湖南被打死瓜农亲属：城管说“要打就打死”
NetEase News (网易新闻): 湖南临武城管被曝当街打死瓜农
Tencent News (腾讯新闻): 湖南临武城管疑用秤砣打死瓜农 警方现场维稳