I guess it’s just one of those days. This morning saw the rise of incident 1, which was the most-searched for item on Baidu when I checked. This evening, news of incident 2 is spreading quickly via a Youku video, although it’s clearly in danger of being deleted.
Incident 1: Hunan Traffic Cops Beat Driver for No Reason
This morning, Baidu’s hottest topic was this, a story of completely unnecessary violence on the part of traffic police that finally attracted a mob who flipped a police car in Hunan. I don’t have time to translate the entire article, but here’s the summary of it I wrote this morning for The World of Chinese, slightly expanded:
Traffic cops [交警] in Hengdong, Hunan, appeared at an intersection where they generally do not in large numbers. Several cars passed through the intersection with problem. Suddenly, a BYD F3 drove through the intersection and they flagged it down. The driver stopped on the street on the other side of the intersection, at which point the traffic cops dragged him out of the car and started beating for no apparent reason. When his mother came over, groveling on her knees and begging the cops not to hit him, they started beating her, too. The same thing happened to the driver’s wife when she came out. This attracted a large crowd, which surrounded the cops and asked them to stop. The police then began threatening the crowd, and continued beating until both the driver and his wife had been knocked unconscious.
At this point, someone called the actual police [保安], and the traffic cops told them that the man had been driving drunk, but this was quickly proved to be false. Then the traffic cops said they hadn’t beaten anyone and blamed the violence on a local bully/gangster. Onlookers started laughing at this point, as hundreds of people had seen them beating the man. Although the traffic cops themselves were unharmed, at some point the crowd of onlookers got angry enough to flip a police car onto its side and, from the look of this photo, rip the lights off as well.
Eventually it turned out that the intersection was meant to be closed for the military to pass through, but the traffic police had not informed anyone of this or put up any signs about it being closed. According to the article, the traffic police in this country are already notorious for being unfair, violent, and generally disagreeable.
Incident 2: Harbin Chengguan Beat Street Vendor (?)
Meanwhile, this video is currently spreading through Chinese social networks. It’s a couple days old but appears to be just getting noticed now, approaching 200,000 plays and climbing at a rate of about 10,000 views every 15 minutes at the moment. At the moment, it seems to be spreading mostly through Harbin networks, as the incident happened in Harbin ((I used to live in Harbin and many of my Chinese friends are from the area, which is how I got clued into this.))
The video is extremely chaotic, loud, and shaky, so it’s very difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. The my interpretation is something like this: Before the video starts, Harbin chengguan obviously got into some kind of dispute with the man who they start beating when he follows them at the beginning of the video. Based on some of the comments, it appears the chengguan may have taken the man’s money too, but there’s no clear shot of them doing that in the video. There’s already a large crowd, so obviously whatever they were doing was drawing a lot of attention. Shortly after the video starts, they are clearly gang-beating someone, perhaps several people quite violently, and appear to throw some punches and kicks at onlookers who get too close, although it’s very difficult to see clearly.
The crowd, which is quite large, is mostly hurling abuse at the chengguan. One of the more audible things I heard screamed at one point was “Are you guys chengguan or gangsters?” There were also lots of curses in both Mandarin and in the northeastern dialect.
The chengguan eventually seem to realize things are way out of their control, but the crowd follows them, not physically preventing them from moving but also not letting them get away, and continuing to hurl abuse at them. The video ends when they get to a police station. Several witnesses and victims go into the station to give statements, as does the cameraman. The crowd stays outside the station doors, blocking traffic and watching. A very loud young woman shouts at them repeatedly that “everyone” should go into the station, since they all saw the event, and to ensure that the chengguan don’t “get away.” Unsurprisingly, the police are not big fans of that plan — there’s no way the 1/10th of the crowd could possibly have fit into the station anyway — and try to talk both her and the crowd down. That’s where the video ends.
I have no idea how this situation was resolved, the video cuts off and there don’t appear to be any news stories about this event that I was able to find via Baidu. By tomorrow afternoon, I expect the video will either have amassed half a million (or more) views, or it will be completely scrubbed from the internet.
These are some comments from the Youku video, so they only pertain to incident 2.
“It’s true, no one has it easy…these days, actually, the situation is that low-level people harass the people who are even lower than them ((This is a reference to social/economic class, not character; what the commenter means is that the chengguan aren’t people with any real status either.))”
“What a tragedy, even the battle-capacity of chengguan has gone done, how are we ever going to retake Taiwan now? There’s so much left to do.” ((This comment is almost certainly sarcastic.))
“Rise, people who are no longer willing to be slaves! ((This is a line from the Chinese national anthem))”
“Whose money are those fucking chengguan taking…”
“I really want to know who that woman [who is yelling in the video] is…especially during that last bit, haha, it’s like that part in Let the Bullets Fly where Jiang Wen is shouting at the mob of commoners, and no one moves an inch, then he says Huang San is dead and everyone goes at once.”
“[In response to the above comment] the People need a wake up call….”
“That woman talking is just a stupid cunt, blah blah, get them, everyone go inside, it’s all just blah blah blah….and that guy next to her, what a lout.”
“After a century of slumber, my countrymen are finally awakening. Watching the girl at the end calling for everyone to go in, and then seeing no one at all enter, my heart grew cold. It’s like in Lu Xun’s story “Medicine” where the numb Chinese watch as the martyr is executed in front of them. Everyone is just watching as though the matter doesn’t concern them. But people are slowly waking up to reality. The first line of our national anthem teaches us this; everyone chants the anthem numbly but have you ever thought about what it says carefully? Rise, ye who are no longer willing to be slaves, let our blood and our bodies become the new Great Wall. ((This comment was originally written in traditional characters, so there’s a decent chance it was written by someone from Taiwan or Hong Kong.))”
“[In response to the above comment] Well said! Are you Chinese? If you are, vote up!”
“To the girl that is talking, are you afraid that China isn’t in chaos? It’s because of people like you that Chinese society is not harmonious.”
“[In response to the above comment] What’s wrong with protecting the rights and interests of citizens? What is called “unharmonious”? She was doing it in the interests of everyone, do you get it? Always standing on the edge, sleeping a deep sleep, that is “harmony” that’s what cowards like you do.”
“The level of a nation’s civilization is not in whether or not it can host the Olympics, whether or not it can put on a World Expo, whether or not it can host the Asian games, or in how much trash American national debt it can buy. It’s not in the number of millions of people who can travel abroad, it is in letting citizens sit at home without fear of burning to death, letting vendors sell their wares without fear of being slapped around, letting people walk without worrying about being run over by Li Gang’s BMW, and letting people eat without worrying about being poisoned.”
There are tons more comments on Youku, but that seems as good a place to stop as any. In the time it took me to translate those, views of the video jumped by another 20,000, and another 40 or so comments were posted. Local “mass incidents” like this have been happening for years, of course. The difference is that now they’re all broadcast on the internet, and (mostly) interpreted by netizens within a national context rather than a local one.
Note how many of the comments above — chosen more or less at random, I basically just translated a couple full pages that were at the front of the comments thread — refer to this as though it were a national issue, or indicative of a larger national issue, rather than just a local scuffle ((Comments about the character of Dongbeiren nonwithstanding)). China is big enough that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in one’s backyard too often, but clearly people who surf the net are starting to feel like they’re seeing the same thing over and over again (probably because they are). These “local issue” protests aren’t really local anymore. No one in Beijing is going to take up arms against Harbin chengguan, of course, but the actions of people in Harbin or Hunan are now interpreted as reflecting not just local issues, but national ones.
I believe that is a significant shift from the prevailing mood, say, ten or fifteen years ago, and one that we can almost certainly attribute primarily to the internet. The consequences of this shift in national policy are not yet evident, but I expect them to be. This, I suspect, is one of the things about the internet that makes the government so nervous.
I’m sure I will be accused of taking these comments “out of context” or picking only the ones that serve my Western imperialist agenda ((like all Westerners would do, as we were trained by our Western government.)), but go browse the comments on the Youku video yourself, assuming it still exists by the time you see this — it may well not. There is a very clear mood there that’s reflected in the comments I translated above. I’ll leave the extrapolation and a better explanation of my theory to the comments for now; this post is already way too long.