Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Beijing Airport bomb: A desperate cry for help?

By Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
July 24, 2013 -- Updated 0544 GMT (1344 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many on Chinese social media sympathized with plight of Beijing airport "bomber"
  • But an editorial in state-controlled Global Times said this action is never justified
  • Incident the latest involving petitioners airing grievances and seeking social justice
  • China grappling with rise in social unrest sparked by official corruption, wealth gap

Editor's note: "Jaime's China" is a weekly column about Chinese society and politics. Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and was TIME Magazine's Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

Beijing (CNN) -- "I have a bomb!" a wheelchair bound man shouted, holding what looked like a homemade bomb. "Stay away from me."

Minutes earlier, Ji Zhongxing had wheeled himself into Beijing International Airport's arrivals terminal. As he began to distribute leaflets to publicize his cause, he was stopped by airport security. Arriving passengers walked past him, seemingly oblivious to the looming danger.

Ji had written on his personal blog in 2006 that he had been attacked and beaten by security guards outside a police station in Shandong Province in 2005 after carrying a passenger on his motorcycle. He was paralyzed after the incident and petitioned for official compensation.

Shortly after his standoff with airport security, the disgruntled petitioner detonated his device, causing a minor explosion and injuring his arm. A policeman also suffered minor injuries but there were no other casualties, except perhaps China's fragile facade of stability.

Sympathy

The country's mainstream and social media covered the explosion and its aftermath. Rather than decry what was an act of terror, many people sympathized with Ji -- some even depicted him as a hero for warning people away before setting off the bomb.

But an editorial in the state-controlled Global Times this week stated that although cases like Ji's were sad, extremism by victims was not "tolerable."

His grievances can't provide moral support for his extreme actions.
Global Times opinion

"It's important to remember that Ji should be condemned and dealt with by law. His grievances can't provide moral support for his extreme actions, nor can they shield him from legal punishment," the editorial stated.

"Behind extreme crimes at the cost of self-harm, there are often unfortunate stories of suffering and tears. We support and call for the authorities to investigate those sad stories and consider investigation to be an important element that cannot be neglected when tackling extreme cases."

Central concern

Authorities will also be worried that Ji's act may spawn similar actions

Ji's act was the latest in a number of incidents involving petitioners airing grievances and seeking social justice.

Read: Chinese petitioners claim hotel used as 'black jail'

In 2011, Qian Mingqi, a 52-year-old unemployed man, set off consecutive explosions in three government buildings in Jiangxi province, killing two -- including the bomber himself -- and injuring ten people.

Qian, it turned out, had been trying to seek redress for the loss of his property, which he claimed was illegally demolished by local authorities. "Ten years of fruitlessly trying to seek redress have forced me to go on a path I did not wish to make," he had posted on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog.

While these sad tales have become more frequent, they are not new. I've seen this replayed many times.

Annual petition

The Chinese practice of going to Beijing to "shangfang" (petition) is centuries old, dating back to the days when aggrieved citizens could petition the emperor.

Every year, ahead of the annual meeting of China's legislature in Beijing, police take away thousands of petitioners from around the country seeking redress for problems with local officials.

The Chinese government should give people more space, to be able to speak out and participate in local affairs. It's a good way to defuse the anger of the people.
Li Fan, political scientist

Many of them phone media offices like ours to seek help, or to simply vent their frustrations.

Every month or so, we receive packets in the mail containing handwritten accounts and pictures, recounting their sad stories.

China is grappling with an acknowledged rise in social unrest, sparked by public anger over land grabs without proper compensation, official corruption, the growing gap between the rich and the poor and environmental damage.

Abusive behavior

Allegations of official abuse and police brutality are common. Spontaneous riots are also frequent.

In central Hunan province, for example, watermelon vendor Deng Zhengjia, 56, recently died after he and his wife were beaten up by six officers of "chengguan," the Urban Management Law Enforcement forces, prompting online uproar and detention of the officers.

Such abusive behavior has put the spotlight on the problem of the "chengguan," the para-police agency tasked with enforcing non-criminal city regulations.

Although it has no legal authority to detain suspects, critics say, they frequently do so and sometimes even resort to "enhanced interrogation." They confiscate merchandise and impose arbitrary fines, leading critics to suspect corruption.

They are also known to collude with property developers to evict people.

Growing discontent

Human rights groups have called on the Chinese government to clip the chengguan's powers and investigate its violent acts.

"The chengguan are not protecting the safety of Chinese citizens, they're actively undermining it," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "The Chinese government can signal that it's serious about meaningful rule of law by ending chengguan abuses and impunity."

The chengguan are not protecting the safety of Chinese citizens, they're actively undermining it.
Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese leadership recognizes the risks posed by growing social discontent, but seems unable to find fundamental solutions.

It fears that political liberalization might lead to massive "dongluan" (chaos).

Such fear drives the Chinese leaders to seemingly contradictory policies and behavior.

Instead of addressing legitimate complaints, officials tend to resort to force and intimidation. Many cities have set up elite police squads to deal with riots and "terrorism."

They say they encourage "whistleblowers" to expose abuses, but when they aim at abusive officials, they get muzzled.

Li Chengpeng, one of China's most influential bloggers, recently had his Weibo account suspended after he posted a pointed essay about Ji Zhongxing's case. Ji, 34, had long been silenced by a system that tolerates little dissent, he said.

'Festering away'

The Shandong native has been paralyzed since 2005, when he was allegedly beaten up by several "chengguan" officers while working as an unlicensed motorcycle driver in southern Guangdong province. He was suing for damages, asking for over 334,000 yuan (about US$53,000) but to no avail.

"I am now festering away, paralyzed and over 100,000 yuan in debt," he posted on his blog that has since been deleted. "The only thing that is keeping me going is the thought of seeking justice."

In desperation, Ji brought his struggle for justice to Beijing, adding his voice to the chorus of discontent.

Chinese political scientist Li Fan says Chinese leaders can ignore this rising chorus at their own peril.

"The airport bombing shows that when people are hopeless they will resort to more violence," he explained. "It's dangerous because next time someone will think, if no one listens, take even more radical steps, then your voice can reach the top and your case can be solved."

Li, author of the book "The Rise of Civil Rights Movement in Contemporary China," believes the old petition system has very limited role.

"The Chinese government should give people more space, to be able to speak out and participate in local affairs. It's a good way to defuse the anger of the people," said the Beijing-based political scientist. "Otherwise there will just be more and more protests."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 0812 GMT (1612 HKT)
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT