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

The Hangzhou nanny arson case sparks online discussions: “The more you think of it the more frightening it gets.”

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

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    huazai

    June 29, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    I feel so sad for the death and chinease government.

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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