Behind the Li Gang Case, Part 3: “A Sleepless Night in Xiaofeng’s Home”

Behind the Li Gang Case:

This is the third (and final) post in our translation of Wang Keqin’s investigation into the outcome of the Li Gang incident. This post is a translation of an essay by Wang Keqin’s student, Feng Jun, about a night he spent with the victim’s family (her name was Chen Xiaofeng) while compiling his report on the case.

Unlike the first two pieces, this essay doesn’t concern itself with the facts of the case and instead focuses on the emotions of the Chen family and the feelings of the reporter himself as he spends a night in their home, haunted by thoughts of the innocent, dead daughter who used to sleep in the room he is now in.

Translation

It’s two o’clock in the morning on November 12th, and I can’t sleep. Xiaofeng’s father and mother are sleeping soundly, and her brother Chen Lin is asleep in the next room. Just now I went out into the courtyard to piss, and in the utter blackness of the night, I suddenly felt an indescribable panic. I thought of Chen Xiaofeng; was I once again dreaming of ghosts? In the late-night stillness, I was uneasy.

On the afternoon of the 11th, Chen Lin told me that the room I was sleeping in was the one that Xiaofeng had liked best when she was alive. The computer I’m using right now is one Xiaofeng used to study before she went off to college. The small courtyard outside is where they took family photos with her, and there’s the little dog, the desk, the chair, the teacup…

The whole Chen family is asleep, but I don’t even feel tired. Sweeping my eyes over the things in this room, I sigh softly. When did Xiaofeng leave them?

A few barks from the dog, does it mean that Xiaofeng is home? Has she come to visit her father, mother, and brother? Or has she come to drive off the stranger who is using her computer and sleeping in her bed?

There are strange customs in Xiaofeng’s hometown. The remains of those who die in accidents outside cannot enter the family home. Unmarried women who have died cannot be buried here, one must find a similarly-deceased and unmarried man, “marry” them, and then bury the girl where he and his family are buried.

When we were chatting, Chen Lin told me quietly, “It took us two days to sort out my sister’s funeral affairs.” I asked to visit Xiaofeng’s grave, and Chen Guangqian [the father] shook his head over and over in admonition. No one in their family knew where she was buried.

Not long after Xiaofeng’s body was taken from Baoding to the Xinji No. 2 People’s Hospital morgue, the family of an unmarried dead man came forward and “proposed marriage”. Then, they buried her. Only after 49 days have passed can the Chen family go to find her grave and burn incense and funeral money.

“We just know which village, but we’re not sure of the specific place. When the time comes, we’ll go ask,” Chen Guangqian explained.

Oh Xiaofeng, when will you be able to come home? You must know that your mother has cried so hard her eyes have swollen up and she no longer wants to eat, that your father has withstood immense pressure for you, and that your brother has been wearing himself out seeking fairness and justice for you. Then there are your uncles, the local leaders, and even I came here to visit you, but it is impossible…

At the dinner table, the small sort one kneels at, the three Chens and I sat one to a side. Xiaofeng, the place I sat was your spot, your mother held her bowl, looking dazed around the table, and finally taking a meager sip of porridge. She misses you, Xiaofeng…

Remembering past times, four people in a five room pingfang ((Literally, “flat house”, the traditional style of dwelling in China’s countryside, a one story house, generally with a walled courtyard in the front.)), two mu of farmland and a little courtyard, what a warm and happy family…

I can imagine this place was once full of laughter. The deep love between mother and daughter, the deep affection between father and daughter, the love of siblings; now it’s more desolate in the bleakness of Beijing’s early-winter cold. Here, people speak little, wear expressionless masks, and move sluggishly. They’ve lost a relative, a love, and a family treasure.

Now, the Chen family is living their original rural life. Empty rooms are kept tidy, and the courtyard is piled with corn stalks, the tractor loaded with heating oil for the winter. The oil can heat the air, but it can’t warm the hearts of the Chen family, and no matter how many cornstalks there are, they still can’t be used to fight…

The corn has been harvested and there’s nothing to do in the fields, so on the afternoon of the 11th, the father Chen napped for a while. A few days earlier, Chen Lin had also tuned up the computer. Mama Chen made meals for me and the neighbors who dropped in to chat.

Xiaofeng’s family is in a village near Shijiazhuang, and 26 days after her death, at around 10:30 in the morning on November 11th, I arrived at their house. Coming from nearby Xinji City, the crisscrossing roads perplexed my cab driver and I, and we stopped to ask for directions: “How do I get to the family home of Chen Xiaofeng, the girl who was killed in the accident at Hebei University?” The country folk quickly asked in reply: “Where are you from? Why are you looking for them?”

When I got my things and walked into Xiaofeng’s home, the door was closed. I called a few times, and Chen Lin and mother Chen surprisedly welcomed this unexpected guest into their home.

A few minutes after I got there, the village head and the Party secretary showed up, saying a villager had called and reported someone in a cab asking directions to the Chen family home. In the kitchen, they asked Chen Guangqian who the person who had come was. I have heard that tomorrow, the village leader, a village cadre, and the Party secretary will come to the Chen family’s home again.

Hah.

In villages near Beijing, tiny roads spread in all directions. For a southerner like me, it’s hard to get used to. I don’t belong here, the person who is used to this place is Xiaofeng, Hebei University’s Chen Xiaofeng…

Now it’s three o’clock in the morning. Just now I went out to pee again, and it’s still silent, so silent I don’t dare to think. I’ll sleep with my clothes on, and when I sleep I can dream of the home I’m used to in the south, dream of my beloved father and mother, and of my nieces and nephews.

In dreams, everything is possible, our harmonious dreams! ((This is a bit of a play on words, as he’s suggesting both that actual dreams allow us to reconnect harmoniously with our family and our past, but it’s also a jab at the concept of “harmony” used in government propaganda; Feng Jun is suggesting that it’s just a [pipe] dream. There’s a clever mix of cynicism and optimism in the twin meanings that’s very difficult to translate, perhaps someone else could have a better go at it.))

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0 thoughts on “Behind the Li Gang Case, Part 3: “A Sleepless Night in Xiaofeng’s Home””

  1. The whole dealings with compensation is not surprising. Even in the US there are often court rules where if the plaintiff discloses the case/compensation, the compensation would be canceled. Yes this is set up to protect the powerful, but being rich and powerful does have its perks.

    Personally I think the most important thing here is whether the song gets the justice which he deserves. To me that is around 2 years in prison. While it’s easy to dislike the son for his reckless comments and entitled attitude, that is not the crime. The crime is him running over people. For that he deserves a few years in prison. If you look at reckless driving in general people are not punished all that severely around the world for it.

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  2. 2 years in prison? For killing someone (and injuring someone else) with the car, then attempting to flee the scene of the crime (not to mention use his father’s official position to get out of punishment)? WHAT? Two years would be an absolute joke and a travesty of justice. Liu Xiaobo got 11 years for signing a piece of paper; you’d be happy with this kid getting 2 years for killing an innocent girl?

    In most states in the US, 2-5 years is the minimum sentence for vehicular homicide, and given that (1) Li Qiming attempted to flee the scene, and when stopped, essentially attempted to blackmail uni guards and (2) there were no weather conditions to account for Li Qiming’s difficulty controlling the vehicle, I suspect that in many states, he’d get something more like 10 years, maybe more. The max in many states is 20 or 30 years, and ask yourself this…why SHOULDN’T he get the maximum sentence?

    Taking into account the habits of US juries, and the fact that he killed a young woman, Li Qiming would be critically fucked if he went on trial in the US. ‘Course, still beats Cuba, where they execute people for vehicular homicide.

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  3. LOLZ. This is about the nth post of yours which cynically celebrates the lurks and perks accruing to the rich and powerful. Not a nice personality trait. You must be a wannabee who has almost arrived.

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  4. Custer – why on earth would you draw any parallels to the AMERICAN justice system? Is that supposed to be a role model? In most countries you would make a distinction between if it was your meaning to kill anyone, or if it actually was an accident.

    I do not of course want to defend Li Qiming, but I really hope that as many countries as possible differ themselves from the juridical system in the US..

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  5. “2 years in prison? For killing someone (and injuring someone else) with the car, then attempting to flee the scene of the crime (not to mention use his father’s official position to get out of punishment)? WHAT? Two years would be an absolute joke and a travesty of justice. Liu Xiaobo got 11 years for signing a piece of paper; you’d be happy with this kid getting 2 years for killing an innocent girl?”

    Bad as this is, the former governor of South Dakota only did 3 months for vehicular manslaughter a few years ago. It’s amazing what a public official can get away with. We’re not always that much better than the Chinese this way.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Janklow

    Of course, this is South Dakota I’m talking about, which is the American equivalent of Gansu province. Janklow had long bragged about his serial violations of traffic laws and his ability to drive from Pierre to Sioux Falls in two and a half hours (the last time I did that, seven years ago, it took six).

    So yeah, no guarantees that the powerful will get sentenced properly in the US, either. Janklow is out now, has been re-admitted to the bar and is raking in money as a lobbyist again. Figures.

    Hopefully Li Qiming will face worse punishment than he did…

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  6. In fact LOLZ, if there was a Chinese version of The Picture of Dorian Grey, your portrait would be that of a Shaanzi coal mine owner. You give loawai in China a bad name. Even after responding to your drivel, I need a cleansing hot shower. Don’t bother, this is a personal attack.

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  7. @ King Tubby: [never mind, I am an idiot]

    @ Jojje: The American system differentiates between intentional and accidental as well. “Vehicular homicide” can be accidental. The Judicial system in the US isn’t perfect, but I’d sure as hell rather be caught committing a crime in the US than here…

    @ Nicholas M: Yikes, that is scary. Did he flee the scene, though? To me, that makes a huge difference. Anyone can have an accident, although if you’re drunk that makes it more or less the same as intentional homicide, in my opinion. But either way, fleeing the scene after killing someone makes it way, way worse (morally speaking, in my opinion)

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  8. in china if found guilty he could get “Capital punishment” for this crime thats why they done the deal ??? make all the diffance when you life is on the line as well ….. but as god said “a eye for a eye ” so sod the money and pay up

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  9. The average sentence for vehicle homicide in the US is between 3-10 years. However many if not most people would get paroled within 2 years. When I first read this story I remember reading bits about Chinese sentencing on similar crimes where the 2 years figure was mentioned, which is why I think 2 years is applicable here as well. Since you are from Boston, this summer you probably heard about multiple accidents involving irresponsible seniors who plowed into crowds killing multiple people. I remember the sentencing for one of the seniors was something like 2 years parole and that’s it, so no even actual jail term. To me there is not much difference between this driver in China and the seniors who know they can’t drive but drive anyway then end up killing people. There was no intention deliberately kill people however there is the negligence when ended with people dead. In the case with the Chinese driver he left at the scene of the accident, which would add some additional time. However just because just because he runs off with his mouth and tried whatever he can in order to get less jail time doesn’t mean he deserve the max sentence. Max sentence is typically reserved for repeated offenders and not first time offenders.

    I think it would be interesting to look at other justice models as well. In England for example, aggravated vehicular homicide carries from 8 to 25 years. My guess is that the average sentencing to be around 10 years but I don’t know much about parole system there.

    Finally, on stories about justice you always read comments like “chinese lives are cheap”. Well of course, the easiest way to check how much a life is worth is to look at your own life insurance policy. Since insurance policies typically deals with some kind of multiples of your salary, the fact that you make more than the average Chinese person (I hope so) means your life is worth more than theirs, if you must put a monetary figure to it anyway. A lot of the posters like King Tubby seem to have some kind of hatred against realism and those who speak on realistic terms but someones gotta do it.

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  10. As much as I hate spoiled rich kids who thinks that they are entitled to privilege (which believe me, I hate them a lot), I don’t think people are viewing this from a totally calm mind, and I don’t support internet mobs already flooded with extreme emotions to be deciding what kind of punishment should be given.

    I think the main reason that is stopping someone higher from coming down and kicking this low level politician in the face to pacify the public, is that they don’t want to encourage further mob action, as such action would validate mob justice. Whether you think this is legitimate public expression of their opinion or not is another deal, but I think the CCP is really on the watch for repetition of cultural revolution or 89. Why else wouldn’t the boss of Li Gang just organize a show trial, sentence his son 20 years, and earn a lot of popularity with the people? Very easy and doesn’t hurt himself at all.

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  11. @ lolz: I’m not from Boston. I’m not sure I agree seniors who kill people are necessarily the same, though, just because in a lot of cases their judgment is also gone and they aren’t really capable of soberly assessing their driving ability anymore. Frankly, I think that, as much of a pain in the ass as it would be, they ought to make all drivers retake the written test every ten years, and all drivers over 55 to retake the actual driving portion of the test every 5 years.

    Anyway, for me the Li Qimiao case isn’t as much about his vehicular homicide (horrible, but it happens) as it is about his attempt to flee the scene, and his quasi-attempt to bribe/threaten the university guards into letting him go.

    You’re right about average sentencing for vehicular homicide in the US, but consider those two factors — especially how the latter part is going to play for a jury — AND consider the fact that people who kill young women typically get the harshest sentences…I find it extremely unlikely that he’d get a lenient or even moderate sentence in the US. Now, how quickly he got paroled would be another story entirely…

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  12. @custer

    Googling the term “hit and run sentences” you can actually get some idea of what the sentencing is like for hit and run accidents from the US and some other places.

    On the top you will get a news article describing a person (Claudia Cabrera) getting 8 years for horrifically killing (dragging the victim by 400 feet) in USC, then attempting to get away. Cabrera was actually driving on a suspended license and was drunk.

    Two months ago Indiana courts sentenced one Brandon Jones to jail for 2 years after he hit and dragged his female victim for some 30 feet before fleeting.

    The most severe hit and run sentence in the US I found is 50 years. In this case one lady (Aimee Michael) not only killed and flee, but also tried to cover up her crimes by repairing her BMW. However, the driver also killed not one or two, but 5 people, and she is black (yes being a minority in the US means getting harsher sentences if you look at the numbers).

    As for other countries, you can find an article in England where some guy (Ashley Kelf) hit and killed a teenager with his car, then burned the car in order to hide evidence. That guy got 14 months.

    Apparently, in Canada there is one entitled Porsche SUV driver (Paul Antunes) who ran a red light and killed two people, then tried to get away but was finally caught. He got a 5 years in jail.

    Now, I can see just why people would want this Chinese guy to get a much stiffer sentence (rich kids in China can be very obnoxious), but fatal hit and run isn’t nearly a severe crime as many think it is. Being an arrogant ahole isn’t a crime. The fact that the local state official tried to pressure the victim has more to do with the state official. Maybe someone should investigate the connection between Li Gang and the state official. This has little to do with the sentencing of the driver.

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