Sunday, June 29, 2008

a death in Guiyang

I saw a link to a BBC news story with the headline Chinese riots over girl's death. There's so much Chinese news these days, what with the upcoming Olymic Games, the ongoing tragedy following from the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, the Tibetan conflict in which the Dalai Lama figures, the slowing of China's unbelievably fast-growing economy, Chinese massive energy requirements, Chinese environmental problems, and social problems stemming from the fast growth of China's middle class. The BBC article piqued my interest partly because I'd seen a recent headline on the Chinese power structure which pointed out that Communist Party leaders in local areas were practically autonomous. That article tallied with conclusions I'd drawn from reading Qiu Xiaolong's gritty detective stories set in southeast China.

News accounts of the riots are interesting partly because they don't all say the same thing. In the west, it seems to me, when there's broad coverage of an event, all the reporters have pretty much the same sources and their accounts differ very little from one another. It's more difficult to cover a closed society like China and -- sources being more difficult to find -- the accounts differ somewhat more.

In this case the western stories tend to build on one another as the set of facts enlarges. They differ in that, but also in the emphasis they place on the story's main elements. The current lead paragraphs in the AFP account gives some of the basics up front:
Rioters in southwestern China torched government buildings and cars after anger over a probe into a schoolgirl's death exploded into violent protests, locals and state press said Sunday.

The riots occurred Saturday in Guizhou province when protesters ransacked three government and police buildings after the girl's uncle died from an alleged beating by police trying to stop him from protesting against the handling of the case, locals and Internet postings said.
The BBC gives the map I put above and adds a crucial point:
Local residents were angered after a police inquiry concluded that the girl, found dead in a river earlier in June, had committed suicide. Her family accused the son of a local official of raping and killing her.
Reuters makes the cause of local anger more plain:
"Local residents were very angry about the injustice exercised by local authorities," the resident, who is an official at a local government office, told Reuters by telephone.
It's not surprising that the account in the politically-controlled Chinese news agency contrasts dramatically with the reports in free-press media. The Chinese story tells that there's been a riot, but the reporter tells us that a bunch of misguided people went overboard and attacked the local police station and government buildings because they were "dissatisfied with the medicolegal expertise on the death of a local girl student." The emphasis is on destruction of public property and efforts to restore order. The action of the mob is described as torching government office buildings and assaulting local officials. The scene is characterized by the word chaos.

You'd think that all reports coming out of China would be similarly slanted, so I was surprised to find an account on a Shanghai web site that I find better than many of the news stories that originate outside China. The site gives succinct coverage and a number of useful links:
Riot in Weng'an County, Guizhou Province

Several thousand rioters have gathered in Guizhou's Weng'an County, torched a police station, ransacked government buildings and overturned police cars, after allegations of a cover-up over a 15 year old girl's death blew up. Ming Pao reports the son of the county's vice-deputy mayor had raped and murdered the girl along with another youth and tossed her body into the Ximen River. Police only detained the suspects for five hours and released them without charge. EastSouthWestNorth says unconfirmed, conflicting reports are now swirling around the Internet but has several telling pictures which indicate a large proportion of the population was out on the streets. [Xinhua] [Reuters] [AP] [AFP] [Youtube videos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

By Kenneth Tan in News | Link
You can learn more about the shanghaiist site from their about page. It seems they actually publish from Shanghai in China. The wikipedia article on the city makes it sound like a very interesting place.

Here are photos from a site called eastsouthwestnorth. Notice that they all come from, the Chinese myspace site that went live about a year ago.

This is the young woman:

This shows the size of the crowd:

The city apparently has a large central square surrounded by government buildings:

One of the accounts says that locals hate their police:

One account says how much smoke there was:

Here you can see, in the aftermath, that young people participated:

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