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Hangzhou Nanny Sets House on Fire, Killing a Mother and Her Three Children

A high-profile arson case in Hangzhou has become a focus of attention for Chinese netizens. The person suspected of starting the fire, that killed a mother and her three children, is the family nanny. Because of the family’s wealth and the nanny’s poor background, many people connect the crime to class struggle.

Manya Koetse

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A high-profile arson case in Hangzhou has become a focus of attention for Chinese netizens. The person suspected of starting the fire that killed a mother and her three children, is the family nanny. Because of the family’s wealth and the nanny’s poor background, many people connect the crime to tensions over China’s poor-rich divide. The topic was viewed over 51 million 200 million times on Saturday June 26, but later disappeared from Weibo’s ‘trending search’ list.

On June 22, a mother and her three children died in a fire on the 18th floor of a luxurious high-rise building in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

Shanghai Daily reported on Thursday that the fire broke out in the early morning around 5.00. The mother saw the fire and then alerted the nanny, asking her to run and seek for help. The nanny escaped the fire and survived. The husband was away on a business trip.

The children were two boys aged 11 and 6, and one girl of 9 years old.

The three children killed in the fire, photo was shared on Weibo by family members.

On Saturday, police confirmed that the fire was started deliberately. The family’s nanny is the main suspect in the case. She has been detained for suspected arson. A photo of the nanny has been released and is circulating on Weibo. The nanny is the 34-year-old Jing X. from Dongguan, Guangdong.

The woman allegedly confessed to setting some things on fire in the living room with her lighter.

The topic “Hangzhou Nanny Sets Mansion on Fire” (#杭州保姆纵火豪宅#) was viewed over 51 million times on Weibo on June 24, making it one of the most-viewed topics of the day.

Because the affected family is very rich, and the nanny comes from an impoverished background, many netizens link the case to tensions over the gap between the rich and poor in China.

 

“There had been a dispute between the two just before the fire occurred.”

 

A family member named Zhu Qingfeng (朱庆丰), the brother of the deceased mother, told Red Star News on June 24 that the nanny was hired last year through an intermediary.

Although the relationship between his sister and the nanny was generally good, there had been a dispute between the two just before the fire occurred; his sister suspected the nanny of stealing her 300,000 yuan (±43,860$) watch.

An insider told Red Star News that Jing X. often went to Macao to gamble. She frequently lost a lot of money and struggled with gambling debts. Chinese news outlet The Paper (@澎湃新闻) also writes that the nanny had turned to loan sharks because of her gambling debts.

The husband and father of the family told media that his wife previously borrowed the nanny 100,000 yuan (±14600$).

 

“From hating the poor to hating the rich, why has the public debate changed to this?”

 

The ‘Hangzhou Nanny Arson’ debate on the class difference between the affected rich family and the penniless nanny has two sides: some use the nanny as a reason to attack all poor people and their moral standards, others argue that the nanny’s lower class status pushed her over the edge.

“This is not about a person’s position [in society], it is about right and wrong. If you look at news events, first look at who is right and who is at fault. You can’t say that because someone comes from a poor family we should first sympathize with them, or that there is any justification [for their deeds] because of it,” one female netizen responds.

“You can’t blindly sympathize with poor people,” another person writes: “Poor people often have lower morals than richer people.”

Many netizens refer to the story of the farmer and the snake (农夫与蛇), in which a farmer takes pity on a snake that is freezing in the snow, and picks it up to place it in his coat. The snake, revived by the warmth, then bites his rescuer, who dies realizing that it is his own fault. They say the nanny is like the snake.

“The Hangzhou nanny arson case has become a reason for some people to attack the poor. But the income of this nanny was actually quite generous, more than what many white-collar workers receive. So you can hardly say that this has to do with her being “poor”, she just has no humanity. From hating the poor to hating the rich, why has the public debate changed to this?” one author named Yu Xi writes.

The debate on social media grew more intense later on Saturday, with some commenters saying they did not care about the fatal arson because “it concerned rich people.”

 

“Relatives and neighbors all stressed that there were still people trapped inside the house, but the property security seemed indifferent.”

 

Although many people say the nanny should be sentenced to death, there is also a large group of people who call on the apartment building’s property management to come forward on why there were no proper fire safety measures.

“The persons who have died are my aunt and my cousins,” one Weibo netizen says. The person, nicknamed Juying Guowang (@巨婴国王) has been trying to draw attention to this case on Weibo since Thursday.

The scene of the fire. Image via http://www.zxtzx.com/news/a/201706/139592.html.

They explain:

“In order to wipe out the traces of theft, the nanny set some things on fire, resulting in a fire that got out of control. There was supposed to be an alarm, but it did not go off. Around 5.30, mind you, 5.30 (!!), family members rushed to the scene downstairs. At that time, the property security had not only not taken any rescue measures, but they also barred family members from getting closer to the scene. When the firemen arrived at the scene, they didn’t have enough water because the water pressure on the 18th floor was not high enough. Eventually, they had to pump up water from the first floor. Relatives and neighbors all stressed that there were people trapped inside the house, but the property security seemed indifferent. It took them until after 7.00 to get them out. 7.30! In these 2 hours, we couldn’t save them, and they had this and that delay before they could come to the rescue?! We had to wait how our relatives choked in the thick smog and couldn’t do anything.”

Many others blame the property management for the fatal ending to this fire. The fact that the apartment building is known as an expensive and luxurious one only adds to the anger. As one worried netizen says:

“The management is definitely to blame. These people pay a lot of money for their mansion, are they not buying a comfortable and safe home? With land and property so expensive, why is there no fire alarm and sprinkler system? The more you think of it the more frightening it gets. What about all the people living there now, aren’t they facing the same safety hazards?”

 

“We just want the truth! Why must you control the public debate?”

 

Many commenters on Weibo simply express their sympathies for the family. “Such a tragedy, my heart just sinks looking at this news,” a typical comment said.

One person writes: “I hope the victims rest in peace. Whoever is responsible for this must carry their burden. At a minimum, the departed and their families deserve to have justice.”

Perhaps because of the staggering amount of comments and shares of this news story, the online censorship and control on this story grew stronger on Saturday night. The topic also suddenly disappeared from the top trending lists, much to the dismay of many Weibo netizens.

Husband and family members of the deceased ask for justice, holding up pictures of the children.

“We just want the truth!”, an angry Hangzhou resident writes: “Why must you control the public debate? Why are people spreading rumors everywhere? Why is this no longer on the trending search list? This is a very horrible event, and any attempt to cover it up is very ugly.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    China Insight

    Shandong Woman Dies after Suffering Abuse by In-Laws over Infertility

    Anger over Shandong abuse case: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

    Manya Koetse

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    The only photo of the victim on social media is a childhood photo.

    Just a month after the tragic story of a Chinese vlogger being killed by her husband triggered outrage on social media, another extreme domestic abuse case has gone trending on Weibo.

    This time, it concerns the story of the 22-year-old woman named Fang Yangyang (方洋洋) who lived in Fangzhuang village in Dezhou, Shandong Province. The woman passed away in 2019 after suffering prolonged abuse by her husband and in-laws. Chinese media report that the abuse was related to Fang’s infertility issues.

    Fang married her husband Zhang Bing (张丙) in November of 2016. It was an arranged marriage, with Zhang’s parents paying a bride price of 130,000 yuan (almost $20,000).

    When Fang did not get pregnant after marrying her husband, she started suffering severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws, beginning in July of 2018. Zhang and his parents reportedly beat Fang with wooden rods, refused to let her eat, locked her up, and let her freeze outside in the cold.

    The in-law’s house on November 17, photo by Beijing News / Qiao Chi

    Fang, who weighed 180 pounds (80 kilograms) when she got married, only weighed 60 pounds (30 kilograms) in early 2019. Beijing News reports that Fang, malnourished and weak, died on January 31st 2019 after suffering another beating by her in-laws.

    The case received more attention on social media this week as the local Yucheng People’s Court (山东禹城法院) reviewed the case after an earlier verdict in January. The retrial is set to take place on November 27.

    In January 2020, the court sentenced Fang’s husband and his parents for the crime of abuse. The victim’s father-in-law, Zhang Jilin (张吉林), received three years in prison, her mother-in-law, Liu Lanying (刘兰英), got 26 months in prison, and her husband’s sentence was suspended with a three-year probation time, as reported by Sixth Tone and China Daily.

    The relatively light punishments triggered anger on Weibo, where the hashtag “Woman Suffers Abuse by In-Laws for Being Infertile and Dies” (#山东一女子因不孕遭婆家虐待致死#) has been trending for days, along with other similar hashtags (#女子因不孕被夫家虐待致死案重审#, #山东女子因不孕被虐待致死#).

    A statement issued by Yucheng People’s Court said the court gave the defendants lighter punishment because they were truthful about their crimes and, in advance, paid a voluntary compensation of 50,000 yuan ($7630). The verdict will now be withdrawn.

    In an interview with Southcn.com, Fang’s cousin stated the family had contacted police before when Fang’s in-laws would not allow the family to see her. The second time they contacted the police was after Fang had died.

    Sources close to the family state that Fang’s mother had been diagnosed with a mental condition, with Fang allegedly also showing signs of mental disability, although this has not been verified by official sources. There are also sources claiming that the father-in-law, Zhang Jilin, was a heavy drinker who would get aggressive when drunk.

    On social media, many people are outraged. “I just don’t understand it!”, one person writes: “It’s just because of societal pressure that this case is now going on retrial. But this is not justice!”

    Public anger about the case grew louder due to another case trending at the same time, in which a Shenzhen mother who beat her 12-year-old daughter to death received a ten-year prison sentence (#母亲失手打死12岁女儿获刑十年#).

    “This is unimaginable,” one Weibo user wrote: “Isn’t the idea of sentencing someone to actually punish them?!”

    “This pains me so much, is this the actual society we’re living in?”

    Besides the anger over China’s criminal justice system when it comes to domestic violence, there are also those who express disgust over the fact that the Zhang family apparently arranged a marriage for the sole purpose of producing offspring. “Are we still living in the Qing Dynasty?”

    Many of the comments online are similar to those that flooded social media after the death of Lamu: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

    We will report more on this story after November 27.

    By Manya Koetse

    Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

    ©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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    China Insight

    Trump Versus Biden –The Sentiments on Chinese Social Media

    Is Biden the preferred candidate for most Chinese, as is often claimed? An overview of discussions on Trump vs Biden on Weibo.

    Manya Koetse

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    With nearly three billion views on the hashtag page, the ‘American elections’ are top trending on Weibo (#美国大选#). What are the current Chinese online sentiments towards Trump versus Biden?

     
    This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
     

    “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”, many social media users in China joked when Donald Trump was elected in November of 2016.

    At the time, What’s on Weibo was closely following how Chinese web users were responding to the news of Trump’s election, and found that many were quite positive.

    It was Trump’s “war on political correctness” and his new, pragmatic way of approaching politics that many said they appreciated. “A new broom sweeps clean,” was a recurring comment at the time. There was a sense of excitement about this new American president, this “funny businessman,” stirring up turmoil on the world’s political stage.

    There were also those saying that Trump was not the ideal candidate, but just that Hillary Clinton was much worse. With her focus on human rights, the feminist movement, and internet freedom, many thought of her as the most ‘anti-China’ candidate, and for that reason alone, were happy that Trump was elected instead of her.

    But in 2020, Chinese sentiments towards Trump – and the US in general – have shifted. As people all over the world are watching the developments surrounding the American elections with great interest, let’s go over some of the main views that surface in China’s social media sphere regarding ‘Trump versus Biden.’

     

    Shifting Views on Trump

     

    Although it seemed that people on Chinese social media, and even official media, showed a somewhat favorable stance towards Trump in the early days after the 2016 election, this generally positive view shifted to a more negative one after the president’s controversial phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and the 2016 Fox interview in which Trump challenged the One China Policy. Many Weibo users called Trump an “idiot” and said he had “zero understanding of how diplomacy works.”

    In 2017, Trump’s then 5-year-old granddaughter Arabella, who had been learning to speak Mandarin, seemed to be part of America’s diplomatic ‘charm offensive’ in China. The little girl, daughter of Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, featured in a short video that was shown to President Xi Jinping and ‘Chinese First Lady’ Peng Liyuan during an informal tea with Trump at the Forbidden City. Arabella, dressed in a Chinese-style dress, sung songs in Mandarin and recited some poetry.

    The video received millions of views on Chinese social media and was widely shared by netizens and Chinese official media outlets such as Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV. Many viewed the video and Arabella’s efforts to learn Chinese as a sign of better China-US friendship in the future, calling it “the best present” Trump could bring during his Beijing visit.

    But over the past two years, views on Trump have soured along with the deteriorating US-China (trade) relations.

    When the U.S. Justice Department officially filed charges against Chinese smartphone maker Huawei in 2019 for allegedly stealing trade secrets, seeking the extradition of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (the daughter of the company’s founder), the online narrative – reiterated by Chinese state media – was that the United States was using the judicial system for a battle that was actually politically motivated; it was not about Huawei, but all about China’s rise as a competing technological power.

    That same idea was spread by officials, media, and netizens, when Trump issued an American ban on Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat earlier this year. Many deemed that it was not about national security at all, but rather a fight over technological leadership.

    What also made Donald Trump more unpopular among Chinese was the fact that he pointed the finger at China after the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, repeatedly calling it the “Chinese virus.”

    When news came out in October this year that President Trump and his wife Melania tested positive for COVID-19, it immediately became top trending all over Chinese social media.

    The news came right after China’s National Day, during the Golden Week holiday, and some jokingly said that the positive COVID-19 test was “Trump’s way of congratulating China during the national holiday.” Because the American president previously downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and continuously shifted the blame on China, the popular view on Trump getting infected was a simple ‘what goes around, comes around.’

    Donald Trump is often nicknamed Chuān Jiànguó (川建国) on Chinese social media, which basically means “Build the Country Trump.” The name is just one among many existing memes and jokes about the U.S. president on the Chinese internet. A reason to call him Chuān Jiànguó is to make fun of Trump’s words and actions, suggesting that his leadership only brings America down and in doing so, also further accelerates the rise of China. In doing so, Trump is sarcastically called “America’s gift to China.”

     

    ‘Pupu’ versus ‘Dengdeng’

     

    As the second and final presidential debate of the election campaign has finished and Election Day is nearing, the ‘Trump versus Biden’ topic is much discussed on Weibo, WeChat, and also on other Chinese social media platforms, such as the Chinese question-and-answer website Zhihu. In these online discussions, the two men are sometimes also jokingly referred to as ‘Pupu’ (普普) and ‘Dengdeng’ (登登), cute abbreviations for their Chinese names ‘Chuanpu’ (川普) and ‘Baideng’ (拜登).

    Although it has been reported by various international media that Beijing allegedly would prefer Democratic candidate Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, this supposed official stance is not necessarily reflected in social media discussions in mainland China.

    Western critics are also divided over whether or not Biden is the preferred candidate for the Chinese leadership. Some argue that Trump, who has weakened America’s traditional international alliances and has seemingly not been too concerned with human rights issues, is actually favored over Biden for basically strengthening China’s position in international society.

    Despite the fact that views on Trump have shifted throughout the years, the discussions on Weibo and other platforms are still multifaceted when it comes to the American president. Many are not impressed by Biden’s performances either. The Democratic presidential nominee is praised by some for being “mild,” “scholarly” and “refined”, but others criticize him for using a lot of “empty words” and “talking in cliches.”

    Some netizens support Biden merely for being “the enemy of an enemy.”

    “Trump’s pragmatic and business-like style is very convincing,” one blogger from Beijing wrote about the second presidential debate: “I think he did better than Joe Biden, who is all about talk and no action (..) I hope Trump wins.”

    In a recent lengthy WeChat blog about the US elections posted by state tabloid account Global Times, the author claims that when it comes to China, it actually does not really matter who wins the elections: “Regardless if it’s the Democrats or the Republicans, both hold a negative stance when it comes to the China issue. (..) No matter who comes to power in the future, there is a high probability that they will continue to suppress China.”

    The author further suggests that there might be “a difference in style” between Trump and Biden regarding China policies: “If Trump wins, we’ll see more of what we have already been seeing now, without much international support. If Biden wins, he will be more likely to seek international consensus to target China and make use of international organizations to put pressure on Beijing. Also, Biden is probably more concerned about human rights and democratic values than Trump is.”

    There are many Chinese web users who, for this reason alone, would rather see Trump win than Biden – it’s the ‘Build the Country Trump’ kind of reasoning. As one Weibo blogger from Dalian writes: “I hope Trump gets re-elected. It would just be better for China.”

    An online poll that was held by a popular Weibo blogger earlier this year asked people if they would like to see Trump be reelected. Of the 8736 people participating, 74% said they hoped Donald Trump gets elected again. Only 5% said they hoped he would not be reelected. Another 21% said they felt indifferent about the American elections, as it would not make much difference for China anyway.

    Although many people do care about the American elections, mostly because of how the outcome would affect China, others just enjoy watching the spectacle of U.S. politics. “I love how confident and unruly Trump is,” one commenter writes: “He is legendary. If Biden comes to power, the coming four years are going to be much more boring.”

    Image of Trump shared on Weibo (@香港文匯網)

    “Without Trump, the world’s just gonna be a lot less fun,” another person agrees.

    But there are also those who do not care for any more Trump memes, jokes, and spectacle. “Everyday I check my phone, it’s all about Trump,” popular U.S.-based Weibo blogger Zheng Jun writes: “I really hope that once the elections are over, I don’t need to look at any more Trump news.”

    By Manya Koetse
    Follow @whatsonweibo

     
    This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
     

    Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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