Jun 30

The Weng’An Riots – Online

Written by Buxi on Monday, June 30th, 2008 at 10:00 pm
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The Chinese internet is up in arms over the story of riots in Guizhou province over the weekend.  For the most comprehensive news we know so far, I refer you to ESWN’s very detailed coverage.  There’s nothing I have to add.

Roland at ESWN mentions that an article at Xinhua forum (连接) has been left open to netizen discussion, in contrast to much tighter standards at Tianya and MaoYan.   It’s also interesting to note that the Strong Country forum (连接) run by the People’s Daily has also been running very loose standards, if any.  See attached snapshot showing the most frequent discussions on Strong Country, many of which refer to Weng’An by name.  (If you click into a post, a side-bar showing the most current posts are almost entirely all about Weng’An.)

Popular threads on Strong Country right now include:

  • Guizhou Province Weng’An Prefecture Has Hitting/Smashing/Burning Incident (连接)
  • I support the people of Guizhou – Weng’An (连接)

These threads are being kept open, even though the vast majority of the opinions in these articles are highly critical of the government in Guizhou.  Many also criticize the Xinhua release, and its very opinionated language on “masses who don’t know the truth”.   Roland at ESWN commented on this as being surprising, and I agree.  Is this a new trend, or just an accident?

President Hu Jintao made a very public visit to sit-in on an internet discussion Strong Country a few weeks ago, in which he also talked about reading the Internet regularly; it was head-line news on numerous sites for days.  Is it possible that this is his administration’s attempt to bring netizens “closer”?  That the best way for “harmony” and to show a commitment for reform, is to make the party’s propaganda arm the most popular place for online dissent?

Let me also quote from one such post (愿贴) on Strong Country, which bypasses the specific incident (which we know so little of so far), and poses a question about the system at large:

I am not clear on the causes for the incident, but this post isn’t about the “incident” itself, but more about the handling of what follows the “incident”:  Guizhou Weng-an incident —- it’s not just a “public security incident”, but touches upon questions of fairness in the legal system, as well as judicial jurisdiction.

Since this incident involves the public security ministry, then it should be the institutions responsible for supervising the public security system (for example: the Congress, Procuratorate (prosecutors), Lawyer Association) sending people to investigate the system.  It shouldn’t be the provincial Communist Party standing committee, the politburo’s secretary, and the public security division head stepping out to resolve the issue.  I don’t mean to cast doubt that the public security division head will “hide shortcomings”, but objectively speaking, shouldn’t we give average people confidence in the system — handle this issue by bringing in a third party.

Build a legal system that treats “the people as the base”, and respect citizen rights; and not a legal system in which “officials manage people”.  The problem of who Guizhou’s provincial party committee and government sends to handle this problem also legally requires thinking about recusal for those with a conflict of interest.

The waves being raised by the deaths of a female high school student or university incident, these are not isolated incidents in our country.  And they all involve government officials or others with government links are the “strong forces”.  On the other side, average citizens and the families of the victims are the “weak forces”, trying to press a legal claim against a government official.  At the very least, from a system point of view, shouldn’t there be a third-party handling this – just like when neighbors have a dispute, they can look for someone with wisdom and insight to render a judgment.

Most Chinese simply have very little confidence in China’s modern legal system, and this has built up over years and years of disappointing history.  Until there’s a series of open trials in which the legal system can prove itself an independent force capable of limiting the government’s power, popular dissatisfaction and discontent will continue to build.

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23 Responses to “The Weng’An Riots – Online”

  1. DJ Says:

    I did a quick Google News search for 瓮安 (Weng’An), and found a small number of web sites in China that contain active discussions of this incident, in addition to Xinhua. They include:

    焦点网地产网 (Real Estate Focus Discussion Net)
    财经网 (Financial Network)

    The EastSouthWestNorth blog also just introduced an interesting take on the management of release channels for popular anger and frustration. It is well worth a read.

  2. DJ Says:

    This is a followup to my comment #1:

    The particular post in 财经网 (Financial Network), which I linked, was written more than 20 hours ago. I am amazed that it has been left in place as it contains some rather hard pounding and well written comments and questions. The following is the translation of a selected section:

    [The official news report classified the Weng’An incident as a] “mass riot involving acts of beating, destroying and burning.” Such a classification deserves our special attention. Are the people of GuiZhou all wicked populace (刁民)? Is it possible that this is a case of local government taking advantage of the national policy on propaganda? That is: as soon as this incident is escalated into a “mass riot involving acts of beating, destroying and burning,” the department of propaganda would become involved, which in turn would result in a news media blackout, to achieve a goal of killing off awareness and discussion [by the rest of the country].

    Throughout history, most of such incidents are of the nature 官逼民反 “popular rebellion instigated by the acts of the officials.” The so called wicked populace (刁民), has always been and still remains a concept from the government’s point of view only.

  3. FOARP Says:

    Wow – seems like just a little while ago a lot of people were saying that this kind of thing could only be the result of a conspiracy by ‘anti-China forces’.

  4. MutantJedi Says:

    … never thought about it before… but China could be the answer to the question of what would happen if the world was run by engineers (and as with any project, your initial conditions are a mess). 🙂

    The whole “50-cent gang” vs “Internet special agent” issue also reflects the degree of distrust. I had thought that dealing with corruption and dealing with legal reforms would lead trust but the social stability that needs to exist to cradle such reforms is at risk when trust collapses.

    The commentator quoted above is right. A third party must be brought in. If the provincial government is involved, then the investigation needs to pull resources from outside of the province and outside of the chain of command. I hope that the government can formalize the public inquiry process so that the people’s trust can be healed and, rather than burning property, people can call for such a public inquiry.

  5. Buxi Says:


    Darn you, you translated part of the article that’s part of my next blog entry… 🙂 Caijing is a leading, private financial publication (similar to the Economist) with close links in Beijing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that article has been left up.


    I don’t remember anyone saying riots could happen only as a conspiracy by anti-China forces. If your insinuation is that this is similar to Tibet… well, the cynics aren’t talking about 3/14 alone, but the much larger scale of the protests (in 4 different provinces). It’s not hard at all to imagine how riots like this erupt, world (and Chinese) history gives us a number of previous examples.

  6. BMY Says:

    Come on, FOARP

    You know this kind of thins are also very unique case by case. Different ethnic got attacked this time? Shops,schools got burn down? and you can draw many.

    similar incidents like this one happen all the time in China(this one might be on a bigger scale). Where are the “rights groups” in the street now. Where are the some of the media’s China-bashing this time?

    Guizhou are very multi ethnic mixed. there are big miao(hmong) population.

    Will “Free Hmong” be yelled at China ?. Some people do need take a break

    Certainly anyone who break the law on this case (rapists,murders,corrupted officers and some rioters) should be send to justice.

  7. Ang Says:

    China had introduced a law to prevent protests or riots,
    “In order to hold any public gathering, parade or protest the organizer must apply with the local police authorities. No such activity can be held unless a permit is given. … Any illegal gatherings, parades and protests and refusal to comply are subject to administrative punishments or criminal prosecution.”

    So why did the riots happened anyway?
    Maybe there was not enough police on patrol.

    Sufficient police presence may have prevented the girl from being victimized in the first place.

  8. JD Says:

    Buxi, there’s no such thing as private media in China. Illegal. Caijing is an interesting source of information, but not “private” and not really comparable to the Economist. China would benefit greatly from media liberalization, but the overall current direction is towards increasing media control.

  9. JD Says:

    Ang, read the reports of the riots. People are rioting against the police because the police are crooks. Going to the crooks to seek justice results in death, like the poor girl’s uncle. More police would mean more crime and death in Wengan it seems. Heinous.

  10. chorasmian Says:


    If the protesters in March call for “freedom in Tibet” instead of “free Tibet”, there will be a lot more Han sympathizer. You can count me one at the least.

  11. JD Says:

    Chorasmian, in that case you must count yourself amongst the supporters of the Dalai Lama. He’s calling for autonomy as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution. Though vilified by Beijing, he represents a moderate course compared to militant, violent separatists and Beijing’s current hardline. Unfortunately, it’s the hard-liners in the party who control the messaging and seem to be limiting prospects for a more thoughtful, approach.

  12. Buxi Says:


    You’re wasting your time, here. We’re well aware what the Dalai Lama claims to be calling for, but we remain concerned by what he really means. The fact that he’s the moderate to “militant, violent” separatists is political theater.

    Refer to:

  13. Tom Says:

    I think the problem the Chinese government having with DL is the fact that while he is calling for autonomy but the organizations that are under/associated with him are calling for independence.

    Though , this Weng’an incident is a tragedy, but it is a good lesson for Chinese public and government to figure out a way to prevent future event like this. It seems like the government is trying to deal with this incident more openly now than pass cases. maybe it is because of the upcoming olympic though. 🙂

  14. EugeneZ Says:

    I need to spend more time studying this new incident. But it does seem that political reform that aims to take some steam out of the pressure cooker that is the Chinese soceity today is quite an urgent task.

    Democracy is a safety valve, it allows people to vent with their vote. If democracy can not be implemented over night in China, what are the alternative safety valves to let some steam out ?

    I know that village level election has been implemented, my brother-in-law ran for the village head and failed, I learned quite a bit from him about the process.

  15. chorasmian Says:


    Personally, I am not against Dalai Lama and have attended to his speech last year. Actually I am a fan for Tibetan culture since about 10 years ago, not the religion part though. What frustrate me is the significant difference between the claims of Dalai Lama himself and TGIE, even sometimes his own envoy. Are they incompetent messengers or just good guy/bad guy strategy? What he did is more convincing than what he said. We had came through the propaganda in Mao era, only nice speeches won’t work to us, though they work perfectly well to westerns (I don’t mean to offend westerns, but the truth is we are vaccinated). The information about Chinese education in exile schools provided by The Trapped! is new for me. If that’s true, I will start to swing to the side believing middle way is really what he wants. Dalai Lama and, most importantly, his envoys should make this information well known for Chinese all around the world. Moreover, if Dalai Lama can publicly declare TYC or any other NGOs seeking independent Tibet are against his will (actually, they are) and should be condemned, I will definitely be a Han supporter to his middle way. If he can’t persuade a potential supporter like me, what can he expect from Beijing government as both parties have been playing tricks on each other for decades?

  16. JD Says:

    Chorasmian, it’s very true that propaganda is often soaked up and repeated without so much as a critical note. It’s surprising that the massive efforts devoted to misinformation and information control in China have not been more popularly discussed. Still, I think there has been a better understanding of the truth and foreign news agencies/publications and observers are starting to take a more critical look at news and info out of China (rightfully so).

    I wouldn’t put so many conditions on the DL for now. He’s gone much farther than Beijing. Unfortunately, the signs indicate that a radical message will prevail from the CCP and there’s little indication of a good-faith search for an interim solution. A quiet accommodation would suit both sides but I don’t think the leadership in Beijing is strong enough to deliver, particularly with its hands full with some many other challenges.

  17. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – A lot of people were saying that the fact there were riots at all showed that there was a conspiracy to exploit the olympics on the part of the ‘ Dalai Clique’. It is no great surprise that people in Tibetan-majority communities outside of Lhasa seized on the opportunity to demonstrate after the events in Lhasa. Here we have an example of what people in one county in one province think of their local government – nobody beyond Weng An will join in because they do not share their particular grievances.

  18. Buxi Says:


    How about you write an article and tell us more about your brother’s experience? I’d love to learn a lot too! 🙂

    Democracy is a safety valve, it allows people to vent with their vote. If democracy can not be implemented over night in China, what are the alternative safety valves to let some steam out ?

    You’re asking the right question, definitely.

    I really don’t think we need a “safety value” for letting steam out, to be honest. I don’t know if people are really such animals that we need an opportunity to scream once in a while. I believe we just need to know that there’s justice in the world, that there is fairness in the world.

    For decades, the Communist Party convinced the Chinese that it was justice, that they’d take care of you. That’s obviously no longer the case, not in this age when ideology has long ago melted away. While I believe there are many good Party members, there are also many evil Party members… and the Chinese people interacting with them on a daily basis are only too aware of that.

    In my opinion, what we need is *legal reform*. We absolutely need rule of law to deal with these problems. The Chinese should know that no matter how much money they have, no matter who their relatives are, they can and will have their conflicts considered by a professional, objective person on the basis of what the law of the land is.

    I don’t hear too many people complaining about the national policy coming out of Zhongnanhai. But we hear constant complaining about implementation of this policy. If we don’t have elections tomorrow, we still need rule of law, today.

    Any legal scholars out there? Dan from China Law Blog? What’s the story with reform of the jury system? What keeps China from adopting an American style jury system, with a jury of “peers”? Instead of the existing system, which from what I understand uses “jury-judges” (I have no idea what the proper term is)… amateur people appointed to a part-time judge position sitting beside professional judges?

  19. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – I believe the term is ‘lay judges’. Few legal systems operate a jury-trial system, most of the ones that do are common law countries – the origin of the jury system is in the Saxon tradition of having the twelve leading men in each hundred (an administrative unit) sit in judgement over the crimes of the people in that hundred. In the common law system the judge is there to instruct the jury as to what the law is, but it is for the jury to decide whether or not the the prosecution has proved its case to required level. Political influences over the judge may thus be balanced out by the jury.

    The origin of PRC law is in the German high law, and so comes from the civil law tradition. The civil law system comes mainly from the Roman tradition, in which a judge applies the law to the facts of the case. In the northern mainland-European tradition this is balanced out by the use of lay judges, with each judge having a vote in deciding the trial – fairly obviously there is a tendency for the lay judges to follow the lead of the professional judge and this is why an independent judiciary is so important. Since 2002, to become a professional judge in China you have to pass the State Judicial Exam, but it may be that many who became judges before 2002 are still sitting and have not had to take the exam.

  20. Buxi Says:


    Appreciate the very detailed and insightful explanation.

    In a country in which a truly independent legal system doesn’t exist, it certainly seems to me a jury system would be really far more appropriate than a judge-led sysetm. It still gives the Communist Party some control over the process (by deciding jurisdiction, and by deciding what cases to accept/reject/appeal), but it still puts the ultimate scale of justice within the hands of “the people”.

  21. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – The jury system has definite limits – the spectacle found in the US where 12 laymen might have to decide a complicated DNA-related patent infringement case being an extreme example. Jury trial also allows not guilty verdicts to be returned even where the accused has confessed in open court. Many countries have moved away from having jury trials due to the perception that they were unjust, were easily swayed by the media, that the average person may be insufficiently educated to understand the judge’s instructions etc. I cannot think of any countries that have moved the other way.

    On the other hand, it does link the law to the people in a way that no other system really does.

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