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By ChinaChange.org, published: September 24, 2013
The news came in the form of a nightly order from the CCP Propaganda Department. Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰) was a street vendor from Tieling county, Liaoning province (辽宁铁岭县). On May 16, 2009, while selling chicken strips, roasted sausages and other snacks with his wife Zhang Jing near a crossroads in Chenhe District, in the city of Shenyang (沈阳沉河区), Xia Junfeng was seized by urban enforcers known as Chengguan (城管) and taken to their office where he was beaten. During the course of the beating, Xia Junfeng fought back with a small knife he carried in his pocket, stabbing two Chengguans to death and injuring one. He was convicted of intentional homicide and sentenced to death during the first trial, and the second trial, held in July, 2010, upheld the verdict of the first trial (read Teng Biao’s defense here or the closing argument). The case has garnered wide online attention in China since the onset. It has been reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing, now that review comes to this end. Twitter and Weibo respond Tuesday night:
@langzichn: [presumably the order itself] The review on Xia Junfeng’s death sentence for intentional homicide has concluded. It will be carried out on September 25. All media outlets, if reporting on it, must publish the authoritative information issued by the court. No commentaries, no links, no hype.
@wenyunchao: @深夜一只猫: Media professional @康少见 said that [the Propaganda Department] had issued an order on media coverage of the Xia Junfeng case. Media outlets must publish only the Xinhua report. This means that a verdict has probably been made about the Xia Junfeng case, but his wife @沈阳张晶 still knows nothing about it. Please pay attention, everyone.
@youyuping: Xia Junfeng is going to be executed. I cannot believe it.
@lihai54: Justice dies in front of our eyes.
@happyfan: Justice does not die. RIP, Xia Junfeng.
@WuyouLan: I can’t sleep as it hurts to think that tonight is perhaps Xia Junfeng’s last night in our world.
@yangpigui: Words were issued tonight and the execution is set for tomorrow. No room left in between. How they have determined. Is there anything the lawyers can do?
@WuyouLan: If I could, I would like to take one day away from my own life and give it to Xia Junfeng. I believe Xia Junfeng can therefore live to be at least 100 years old. What pains me most is that we are watching a life being destroyed – by injustice at that — without being able to do anything.
@gaodongmei: F*** you, a crazy regime courting your own demise!
@libdave I’m overwhelmed by sadness & a sense of powerlessness.
@liushui1989: To kill Xia Junfeng means that Chengguan, or the government, is digging grave for itself.
@xcityonfire: Unless we overthrow it, “digging grave for itself” will always be its main business. On what day doesn’t it “dig grave for itself?” Alas!
@tufuwugan (activist who was involved in earlier stage of the Xia Junfeng case): F*** you CCP! About ten days ago I had a feeling that you son of bitch were going to do something heartless, I didn’t expect it to happen so fast! F*** you!
@wenyunchao: Times Square [New York] is very cold. The news of Xia Junfeng makes it colder. My fingers, typing on the screen, become dumb.
@wenyunchao：This evil regime, when executing a powerless street vendor who merely defended himself, does not even plan to let him meet with his wife and child for one last time.
@akid_: Zhang Jing (Xia Junfeng’s wife) seems desperate and scared, on the verge of collapsing.
@as50as: I personally hope that big names will stand up and mobilize all forces for one last cry: Free Xia Junfeng!
@wentommy: Tomorrow [Wednesday] Xia Junfeng will be verified of his identity and executed. The family has not received any notice. They are still hopeful. What a torture it must be!
@tufuwugan: Tears came. For the one life that will soon pass. For the old and the young of his poor family. For this condemned country. No matter how hard we try, this evil group always answers us with the most egregious and heartless acts. F*** you!
@49laihong: Heavens, I can’t believe Xia Junfeng will be put to death tomorrow. How many more lives will this evil system destroy?
@c06658: Even this Weibo post of Si Weijiang (斯伟江, well-known lawyer) was deleted: “Are there colleagues from Shenyang? Please direct message me tomorrow morning at your earliest convenience. I need your help! Thank you!” You can tell the Propaganda Department has deployed across the board. Tomorrow is ominous for Xia Junfeng.
@wentommy: Execution without a just trial is a murder; execution without notifying the family is an assassination.
@daxa: Si Weijiang (斯伟江): Do not believe in these rumors! “Article 423: “Before the first-instance people’s court carries out a death sentence, the convict should be informed that he has the right to meet with his close relatives. Where a convict applies for a meeting and provides a specific contract method, the people’s courts should notify his close relatives. Where a convict’s close relatives apply for a meeting, the people’s court should allow it and promptly arrange the meeting.” (The Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation on the Application of the “PRC Criminal Procedure Law”)
@wentommy: Neither the relatives nor the lawyers have received the news of the fall execution, but the news rooms did. This is an ethical tragedy, a legal tragedy. On top of that, it forces the media to bear the shame.
@tufuwugan: A quick briefing about me verifying Xia Junfeng’s execution: media have indeed received notice. This source of information has been confirmed. That’s why a lot of media outlets and journalists came out tonight to express their feelings and concerns. Though they don’t know exactly what the outcome will be, it’s clear that it’s going to be very bad. I also spoke to Zhang Jing [Xia Junfeng’s wife]. She also received the bad news from reliable sources. But she has not received any formal notice. If the outcome turns out to be a good one, I am willing to assume legal responsibility for spreading rumors!
@scgxzlx: RT @卢晶3世观察: I have no more to say to this country.
@freedomandlaw: If a society has lost all peaceful means to reach justice, then eye-for-an-eye retaliation takes on God-given legitimacy.
@wenyunchao: When the day breaks in China, can friends in Beijing please take the day off, go to the Supreme People’s Court, and shout “Have Mercy!”? I can’t think of anything else to do.
By Teng Biao
Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰) was a street vendor from Tieling county, Liaoning province (辽宁铁岭县). On May 16, 2009, while selling chicken strips, roasted sausages and other snacks with his wife Zhang Jing near a crossroads in Chenhe District, in the city of Shenyang (沈阳沉河区), Xia Junfeng was seized by urban enforcers known as Chengguan (城管) and taken to their office where he was beaten. During the course of the beating, Xia Junfeng fought back with a small knife he carried in his pocket, stabbing two Chengguans to death and injuring one. He was convicted of intentional homicide and sentenced to death during the first trial, and the second trial, held in July, 2010, upheld the verdict of the first trial. The case has garnered wide online attention in China since its onset. It is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court in Beijing. Dr. Teng Biao was Xia’s defense lawyer in the second trial, and the following is an excerpt of his closing argument. Several volunteer translators, Yaxue included, have collaborated on a complete translation of Dr. Teng’s defense in the hope to shed light on, and call for attention to, the Xia Junfeng case and the ill system at its root. The Chinese original is here.
Since the Chengguan system was established in 1997, its drawbacks have been clear. The crimes it has committed have been many and have bred bitter resentment among the population. To date, there is no national “Urban Administration Law” or administrative statutes to govern it, and Chengguan “enforcement” has never had any legal basis. Nor has there been any consistency or standards in its enforcement approach as well as its leadership structure. It has had no legal oversight but still acts as law enforcement. Its members have no clear legal definition. Their personal qualities are as varied as to have thugs and hooligans in their midst. In many cases, they rob, and work for personal gain by harassing and harming citizens at will under the name of enforcement.
In this system of vague legal status and inadequate oversight, Chengguan’s violent habit becomes a necessity, and a part of the system. Extralegal violence, thus employed to compensate for inadequate regulation and an absence of authority and legal deterrence, is no longer individual behavior. Such violence exists everywhere with the permission of the authorities. It is needed because of an overriding concern for “city image” and “urban management.” Finally, when extralegal violence is not monitored by the people and the media, and not punished by the law, it is only natural for Chengguan members to feel justified. Using violence with impunity enables the Chengguans to see violence psychologically as their “privilege,” a sign of status and pride. Since the legal and political status of Chengguan is unclear, it is only natural for its members to seek personal gain, vent their anger, and prey on the citizens they were intended to protect. Once violence starts, it has its own momentum, and, with a specific system enabling it and Groupthink encouraging it, it eventually becomes a habit and an addiction.
I believe Zhang Xudong and Shen Kan would have never displayed their cruelty and gratuitous violence toward their wives and children, because in a family environment they adhered to the principles of love and decency. But in the milieu of the Chengguan’s collective enforcement, they were overtaken by the desire and passion to inflict violence. Although, for Xia Junfeng’s interest and for the sake of the case reaching a just decision, I as the defense lawyer must point out that Shen Kai and Zhang Xudong’s actions at the time broke the law. Still, I don’t just blame them. They were my countrymen, living in the same imperfect world as the rest of us. They were no doubt victims of the Chenguan system as well. I hold deep empathy toward them, and can feel their family’s loss and pain, which are also the misfortune of all society.
In this case, the Chenguan system has already destroyed two families; do we have to destroy a third one? We have lost Shen Kai and Zhang Xudong. Several dozen citizens have been beaten to death by Chengguans. We have already paid a heavy price for the brutal Chengguan system, and now, do we have to sacrifice justice in order to endorse an ill-conceived system and the brutality committed by its members? Must we make the judiciary an avenging hand that puts Xia Junfeng, a husband and father of a nine-year-old, to death?
Chief judge and judges,
In the worldwide trend against the death penalty, most countries have abolished it by law or in practice, and in the countries where it is still in use, it is reserved for the most egregiously violent crimes. It’s bad enough that we have been applying the death penalty in economic or non-violent criminal cases, are we now going to apply it in cases of excessive self-defense or justifiable self-defense as well? Cao Haixin was executed for self-defense, and the tragedy is a shame in the judicial history in Henan. Today, in the 21st century, are we going to repeat the same tragedy in Liaoning?
The death of two citizens is a tragedy for our society, but if Xia Junfeng were to be sentenced to death, it would be an obvious and gargantuan mistake, a tragedy unbearable and unacceptable to society that will cast a shadow on the Chinese judiciary for a long time to come. If Xia Junfeng were to be sentenced to death, many more innocent, helpless vendors will die at the hands of Chengguans. If one were to be sentenced to death for self-defense, he or she would be inclined to kill excessively and kill many more without qualms, because one can only die once. If one were to be sentenced to death for self-defense, there would be no boundaries between guilt and innocence, good and bad, life and death; and the power of the rule of law, already pathetically weak in our society, would be destroyed altogether by evil, chaos and brutality.
Without exaggeration, sentencing to death a citizen who was only defending himself will have disastrous repercussions for the whole society since it would embolden the attackers and intimidate those who resist unlawful violence. While evil-doers are encouraged, victims will be harmed the second time by the court after sustaining harm first from violent crimes. The act of self-defense in the face of unlawful harm is not only a virtue but an instinct. But instead of being protected and praised, if such an act is condemned with a sentence of death, then today’s verdict will hurt not only Xia Junfeng’s legal rights, but also the dignity of the law itself, social ethics, and the citizens’ sense of right and wrong.
It is my hope that the court’s decision today will indicate that our judiciary system is still able to uphold the basic sense of right and wrong and a modicum of independence. It is our hope that the judiciary process of Xia Junfeng’s case will show the world that the long-suffering Chinese people can draw lessons from their miseries and stand firm on the side of the rule of law and humanitarianism.
First published by Human Rights in China in New York as a part of its press release, which also includes a translation of Chen Pingfu’s Indictment.
On Tuesday, September 4, a 55-year-old man was on trial for “inciting subversion of state power” in Lanzhou, the capital city of northwestern province of Gansu, China, and the evidence cited in the indictment (see below for translation) consists of a long list of blog posts and nothing else. So it is a case of the crime of self-expression. The sentence hasn’t been announced, and at the end of the trial, the court announced that he would continue to be “residing under surveillance” (监视居住) until the sentence comes.
His name is Chen Pingfu (陈平福). He was 20 years old when China, under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, reinstituted national college examination. He excelled in the exams, and entered Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou majoring in mathematics. Upon graduating he was assigned a teaching job at the vocational school of Victory Machinery Factory of Capital Steel (首钢胜利机械厂) in Gaolan (皋兰) on outskirts of Lanzhou. There he taught math for more than two decades.
In May 2005, he suffered a heart attack and was sent to a hospital. His employer, a Mao-era state-owned enterprise on the brink of bankruptcy, was unable to help him with funds needed for surgery, nor could he afford it himself. He had to leave the hospital. His father gathered his younger siblings, pleading help from them for their older brother. They pulled together more than 50,000 yuan [about $6,000 at the time] and Chen Pingfu underwent a successful heart bypass surgery.
He was anxious to pay the debt, losing sleep sometimes, not because his siblings were pressuring him, but because none of them were well-off. One of his younger sisters, a cleaning woman in a small town making 150 a month yuan [about $20], gave him what was likely her life’s savings: 10,000 yuan [about $1,212].
With few means to make money, Chen Pingfu decided to play violin on the street. On Saturdays and Sundays he traveled 30 miles from Gaolan to downtown Lanzhou to do that. It wasn’t easy for an educated Chinese man with a keen sense of “face.” On his first trip, he chose a site but paced for an hour before taking out his violin and spreading a sheet on the floor that read: “Employee of Victory Machinery Factory, deeply in debt due to heart surgery, have to perform on street for alms.”
He played the famous Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto (the musical retelling of the Chinese classical tale of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the so-called Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Robert Shumann’s “Träumerei,” among other pieces. To those who thought he was a fraud, he gave his employer’s phone number for verification. But mostly he met with compassion, encouragement, and generosity. Once, a five-year-old girl pulled her mother to a stop, listened, and handed him a 1 yuan [about $0.15] bill with both hands. Another time, a man stopped and listened, then disappeared into a hotel but sent a porter with 50 yuan [about $6]. Other musicians gave him tips on how to play better. Along the way, he improved his playing.
It went well, so well that Sohu.com, a major Internet service provider in China, interviewed him about his “success” and the positive social aspects of his story. It is from this interview, now available on Youtube, and the articles listed in his indictment that I learned his story.
In 2009, as his factory prepared for bankruptcy and he had no job to go to, he played violin on street in the afternoons. For one reason or the other, he didn’t talk about the dark side of his street experience in the interview. On the street he was scolded and threatened by liuguan (流管, migrant population administration) and jiuzhu zhan (救助站, relief station) workers who came not to lend him a hand but to get rid of him. They told him, “The government forbids performing on street for money!” They pressed him onto the ground to subdue him. An officer from the relief station shouted at him, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” (Quoted from his blog post “Fight against Brutality and Pursue Civilization.”)
One time, a group of men from the Relief Station seized him and threw him into a truck with metal bars. In the heat of the summer, after struggling with the thugs, his heart beat faster and his chest tightened. He begged his captors to let him out, but they laughed at him, and one of them told him he was out of his mind.
On the street, he also witnessed other cruelties. A woman’s basket of peaches was snatched away from her by a chengguan (城管, urban management) officer; a middle-aged shoeshine man was chased away.
As he played violin on street, he also set up several blogs, pouring out his anger, his frustration, and his thoughts on the ills in Chinese society. Not surprisingly, he was summoned and warned by the authorities.
As 2011 began, Chen Pingfu found a teaching job in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Still in Chinese New Year holiday season, he took a flight, for the first time in his life, to Yunnan, some 1,500 miles away. He had had enough trouble playing violin on the street and writing blogs. His plan was to give up both and to teach children math and science and music. After all, he said, he needed to live first. Three days after he arrived in Yunnan, his former employer called, asking where he was. Soon after, the school’s principal, an old friend of his, received a call from police department in Gansu Province. The local police summoned the principal and interrogated him about Chen’s activities and their relationship. The principal pressed Chen about what he had done, and he didn’t want to be ruined for “hiding away a criminal.” Chen said again and again that he was not a criminal. The Yunnan police asked the principal to fire Chen and send him away within 24 hours.
He was back in Gansu Province in less than a week at his new job. This, despite repeated promises he had made to “relevant organ” that he would not write any more blog posts once he started working. Back in Lanzhou, he called the “relevant organ” to protest, and the person on the other end of the line burst out laughing.
In his blog posts, he told his stories, the humiliation and brutalities he had been subjected to. He reflected on the fundamental ills of the system, the lack of rule of law, and the abuses of power around him. He cheered the democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. He expressed deep gratitude toward the ordinary Chinese who had helped him in one way or the other. He voiced his intense disgust for an education centered on tooling children according to the Party’s design. He hoped China would transition peacefully into a democratic country where traditional Chinese culture can be restored and a constitutional political system established, and where he can make a living and play violin freely without being persecuted by the authorities. Chen was determined to continue to speak out. He said in one of his blog posts: “As long as they don’t have an explanation or justification for me, I will continue to tell my story, expose the inhuman crimes perpetrated by the so-called people’s servants, and condemn this lying system.” (Quote from “I May Be Beaten to Death by Thugs, but I Will Not Be Cowed to Death.”)
On June 27, 2012, he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for his blog posts and subjected to residential surveillance. He would have been jailed if not for his coronary heart disease.
“At the hardest time of my life when I had to give up treatment and go home to wait for my death…when I needed relief the most, there was no government to be seen. But when I was deeply in debt, and jobless, and had no choice but to play violin on the street to help myself, the Relief Station of Lanzhou’s municipal government came with a barred jail truck,” Chen Pingfu wrote in one post. (Quoted from “Weasels Serve Chickens.”)
In another, he wrote, “Looking back at my life thus far, I found that I had lived meaninglessly for all these years without doing one worthwhile and meaningful thing. I cannot swallow the humiliation in silence; I have kept thinking and reading to break the cultural dictatorship so that my mind can go to a farther and wider world.” (Quoted from “I Cannot Bear the Humiliation in Silence.”)
But instead of a farther and wider world, he has found himself in jail—in China.
For those of you reading this outside of China, it’s important to understand that China has probably close to a dozen different kinds of police. There are traffic police, railway police, bus police and countless others. When there is a problem, like when my friend had her i-Pod stolen as she got on a bus, it took 6 phone calls to figure out which police should handle the case (ultimately it was the bus police, even though they didn’t think it was their jurisdiction because she wasn’t fully on the bus when it happened).
Of these police, there is one branch that is the most feared and despised, they are known as the Chengguan (City Management).
While most criticisms of gov’t agencies are only ever whispered behind closed doors to your closest friends, this isn’t the case with the Chengguan. Why? Because in many cases the they are seen as the fun police (at least that is how I see them). Their job is essentially to stop people from selling goods on the side of the road or next to the market.
On my way to work every morning I stop and get breakfast from a small cart across the street from the hospital. These friendly people have even paid for a permit to sell from this spot, yet whenever there are “important” guests in the city the Chengguan chase them away. A few days later when the vendors return it seems that all of the other customers who also missed their breakfasts are muttering about how awful the Chengguan is.
I’m not just writing about this scourge because they interfered with my breakfast (it is a factor though), they are also behind many of China’s recent protests/riots.
Here is a short list of articles from ChinaSMACK.com concerning the Chengguan, make sure to read the comments from the Chinese posters (but they are filled with profanity)
- Controversial Chengguan Handbook Outrages Netizens
- Chengdu Beauties Surround Chengguan Who Beat UpOld Man
- Hui Minority Beats Lanzhou Chengguan Onto Knees Crying (the nature of this story is celebratory)
- Street Peddler Beaten & Paralyzed By Shanghai Chengguan
- Kunming Protest After Chengguan Beats Man to Death
The most recent event involved a pregnant woman from Sichuan who was selling fruit by the side of the road. When the woman refused to pay the “fine” the Chengguan beat her so badly that she miscarried (further coverage from ChinaDigitalTimes.net). This bit is denied by the gov’t, but the fact that so many people believe it would happen speaks volumes about how thuggish these police can be.
The result was several days of some of the worst rioting seen to date in China, which required hundreds of armed police to stop. Dozens of cars were destroyed, and gov’t buildings were set on fire. This type of violence is practically unheard of in China.
These pictures come from a friend on twitter who lives in the area
So far all these reasons, we despise the Chengguan, the one element of the gov’t that can be criticized publicly without repercussion. After all the party needs a group of thugs to enforce its unpopular rules, and by concentrating so many misdeeds into a single organization, they remove themselves from the blame. Perhaps this is the ultimate purpose of the Chengguan, to serve as a scapegoat for societies frustrations, but perhaps some of this anger has already started to shift to those pulling the strings.