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How China’s New Anti-Crime Policy Made a Hunt for Two Jailbreak Fugitives Go Viral

The CPC actively involves and rewards citizens in their new policy on combatting crimes.

Gabi Verberg

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In early October of 2018, a major manhunt on two jailbreak fugitives from a Liaoning prison dominated the news for days and caused a sensation on the Chinese internet. With the 100,000 yuan (US$14,500) reward notice going viral, it marked the first grand online exposure of the Chinese government’s policy to involve its citizens in combatting crime actively, but many netizens question how safe it is for citizens to meddle in criminal affairs.

News about a prison escape of two convicted criminals captured the attention of netizens for days in the first week of October, with the fugitives’ background information, the thrilling chase, and the 100,000 yuan (US$14,500) reward notice all turning out to be the perfect ingredients to keep people hooked on the story, that also happened to occur during the National Day holiday.

The incident was extra special because it was the first major case in which the Chinese government’s ‘new’ method on battling crime by actively involving the public, received massive attention.

 

Timeline of the Chase

 

* Thursday, October 4th, morning:

News comes out that two prisoners have managed to escape from Lingyuan Third Prison in Liaoning province. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, the two criminals stole prison guards’ uniforms and used the attached security cards to get out of the building.

The fugitives, two men by the names of Zhang Guilin (33, 张贵林) and Wang Lei (39, 王磊), were both sentenced to life imprisonment for, respectively, armed robbery and the involvement in kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old child. Zhang, also nicknamed “Flying Zhang,” gained a reputation for previous prison escapes in 2011 and 2012; the October jailbreak marks his third successful prison escape.

Fugitives Wang (l) and Zhang (r).

*October 4th, morning:

Soon after the criminals escaped from prison, the Lingyuan Municipal Public Security Bureau issues a notice sharing the identity of the fugitives, asking the public to provide clues about their whereabouts. They also announce the clue leading to their arrest will be rewarded with a staggering US$14,500.

The news quickly spreads on Chinese social media, and within no time, the hashtag “Two heavy criminals escaped from prison” #两名重刑犯逃脱# goes viral and receives 170 million views.

*October 4th, 11 am:

The first tip-off: Beijing News publishes crucial surveillance camera footage that was given to police by a small shop in Songzhangzi, only 20 kilometers away from Lingyuan Third prison. It shows the two fugitives buying some food, beverages, and cigarettes, just hours after their escape from prison.

*October 4th, 5 pm:

Wang is spotted at another shop in a village in Pingquan County, in neighboring Hebei province, where he stays for about 10 minutes to buy liquor, beer, mineral water, and sausages.

Police rush to the kiosk shortly after. According to China Daily, about 800 police quickly arrive and nearly 1,000 villagers assist in the manhunt, searching the area from north to south.

*Friday, October 5th:

On the second day of the nationwide manhunt, a fatal crash occurs with a police car involved in the chase for the fugitives. The police car, with four police officers from the Hebei Police Department, was on its way to catch the breakers when it crashed into a tree. Two police officers did not survive the crash.

On Friday night, 430 officers are dispatched to Pingquan, along with 100 prison guards.

*Saturday afternoon, October 6th:

Within 50 hours of their escape, Wang and Zhang are captured. Police in the Hebei city of Chengde dispatch drones to scour the area and spot the convicts in the village of Taitoushan.

According to news reports, Zhang is arrested when he stops to ask a villager for directions. His fellow escapee is caught 20 minutes later.

The hashtags “Two escaped criminals from Liaoning are caught” #逃犯落网视频曝光# and “Video showing arrested fugitives” 逃犯落网视频曝光 are viewed millions of times.

Authorities in Liaoning launch an investigation, and the warden of Lingyuan Prison is dismissed from his position.

 

“Public Reporting on Crime”

 

The Lingyuan jailbreak fugitive case is the first example of a reward notice going viral since the PRC government launched a new trial policy in combatting corruption and other illegal practices earlier in 2018.

The ‘new’ policy is called “Public Reporting on Crime” (群众举报黑恶势力违法犯罪), and aims at actively involving and rewarding citizens in providing information about the whereabouts of criminals.

A state media illustration that propagates public reporting on criminal affairs.

The policy was featured in various media reports in summer of 2018, as a method introduced by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, the Supreme’s People’s Court, Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Justice.

The policy defines 11 categories in which citizens can report illegal practices, including the misuse of (political) power, illegal gambling practices, fraud in various industry sectors, and extortion.

“Reporting is Awarded” (image via sohu.com).

The official document in which the role of the public in the combat of illegal activities was especially stressed, was already issued by authorities in February of 2018 (“关于依法严厉打击黑恶势力违法犯罪的通告”, see Pkulaw.cn).

Amongst the first provinces to experiment with the police are, among others, Henan province, Hainan, and Liaoning province, where the method seems fruitful. In August, the Hainan Police department issued a notice asking for the public’s help in finding 17 fugitives. Attached to the notice where their names, addresses, and photographs. Within two days, 11 of these 17 fugitives were caught by the police.

Award ceremony in Henan for people providing clues to police (https://www.henan100.com/news/2018/805020.shtml).

In Liaoning province, the police started a campaign providing digital and non-digital information about the new policy and the criminals they were looking for. According to local media, they soon received 300 clues and 158 fugitives who turned themselves in.

Possibly as a result of the first successes of the trial policy, the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, wrote an extension on the policy concerning drugs. On the official website of the Ministry, they published a list of rewards for providing information about ‘drugs practices’. On the list, it says precisely what people can earn for providing clues about several kinds of drugs, where clues relating to soft drugs such as marihuana will receive a lower reward than those relating to hard drugs such as heroin.

Award ceremony (http://sc.people.com.cn/n2/2018/0706/c345167-31785050.html).

State media have been actively propagating the measure in 2018, also reporting on occasions where people are rewarded for giving clues to the police. To protect their identity, these people will commonly wear masks – sometimes even cute panda ones.

 

Scepticism on Safety

 

Wearing panda masks or not, there is ample skepticism online on whether or not providing information to the police is a dangerous move for those involved.

In the case of the Liaoning fugitives, many worried about the identity of the shopkeepers who provided the police with clues and security footage after the fugitives had visited their shops.

After the first sighting of the two criminals in the small store in Songzhangzi, Chinese media reported details on the shop and its owner, which led to much criticism on Weibo. Some commenters wrote: “You brain-dead media, how can you bring out information like this, and who is going to take responsibility when people retaliate against this man?”

Many others expressed their worries, saying: “Isn’t is dangerous to expose the boss [of the shop] like this?”, and “Please do protect this shop owner, thank you!”

Other netizens wrote: “After seeing this news, I know for sure, I will never report on crimes. It’s too dangerous, I don’t want to die.”

The public reporting policy states that the personal safety and confidentiality of ‘whistleblowers’ is guaranteed and that those who turn against these people will be punished severely. According to a post on Weibo by Beijing News, the small shopkeeper in question also received 24-hour police protection in front of his shop.

Concerning the case of the two escaped prisoners, so far, it is not yet clear if the main reward has been given out to citizens for giving the main clue that led to their recapture.

What does seem evident in this case, is that people, despite some worries about their safety, are more than willing to report illegal practices to the police when they know there might be a big reward waiting for them.

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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China Insight

‘Divorce Day’: Queuing Up to Get Divorced after Chinese Spring Festival Holiday

The first day after the Spring Festival holiday is a busy one at the Bureau of Civil Affairs as couples are lining up to register a divorce.

Manya Koetse

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On the first day after the Chinese Spring Festival holiday (Jan. 21-27), there are long lines at the Civil Affairs Bureau in several places across China.

In Jiangxi, one resident shared how couples were queuing up to file for divorce on the first day the local Bureau of Civil Affairs reopened its doors. The lines were allegedly so long that people had to wait outside. Another video showed similar scenes at a local bureau in Anhui province. A third video showed crowded scenes of people lining up to register a divorce in Henan.

Chinese media accounts such as Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Vista (@Vista看天下), and Phoenix News (@凤凰周刊) all posted about the long divorce lines on Jan. 29, with one post about the topic receiving 70,000 likes.

“I thought they were lining up to get married, then I watched the news and saw they were actually lining up to get divorced..,” one commenter wrote. Others wondered if the busy lines for the divorce registration office might have something to do with the Covid outbreak over the past weeks, with some couples finding out that their partner actually is not very sympathetic when they are sick (also read this article).

The Chinese media outlets posting about the divorce registration lines mentioned how the ones who suffer the most in a divorce are the children, but many commenters did not agree with this statement, arguing that children suffer the most when parents stay together for the sake of the children and then continue fighting.

The divorce trend after the Chinese Lunar New Year has also been discussed in Chinese media and on social media in previous years (“春节后离婚潮”).

In Western countries, it is a known fact that divorce rates increase after Christmas time; the Monday after Christmas break is also dubbed “Divorce Day.” Some sources claim this is often due to quarrels that occur during Christmas and the financial pressures that come with the festive season.

It is arguably not much different for the Chinese New Year, when incidents taking place during family gatherings could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“The Spring Festival is like a big marriage minefield,” one commenter wrote: “When you return to your family home, it doesn’t just mean reuniting with your close relatives, there are also various tests of human relations and etiquette. A careless moment can cause conflicts between a married couple, leading to quarrels or even divorce. Is your marriage good or not? You will know during the Chinese New Year. After the New Year, there will be a wave of divorces.”

But the pandemic situation of the past years, in including the lockdowns, mental stress and financial difficulties, inescapably also play a role in the recent divorce wave.

In December of 2022, this Chinese blog article already predicted that more people would file for divorce after the Chinese New Year since the end of the holiday would coincide with the end of the Covid peak. In times of lockdown, and especially in times of sickness, couples easily get annoyed with each other and their love is put to the test.

Earlier this month, some Chinese media also reported that three years after the pandemic began, cities were already seeing a “divorce wave” (#疫情后一线城市离婚预约爆满#).

Some netizens comment that the ‘cool-off’ period that was introduced to allow couples a month’s time to think and revoke their divorce does not seem to have much effect.

Some people sympathize with those standing in line: “Celebrating the New Year can bring about a war in some families. The divorce season has started.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China Insight

Less Education, More Babies? Discussions Surrounding China’s Falling Birth Rate

Another year, another drop in birth rates: according to the latest statistics, China’s 2022 saw more deaths than births.

Manya Koetse

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China’s falling birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. With the latest statistics marking another record low in birth rates, Chinese experts look for ways to motivate couples to have (more) children at an earlier age.

Official yearbook data, released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (国家统计局) on Jan. 17, 2023, shows that the total Chinese mainland population was 1.4118 billion by late 2022. Last year, 9.56 million people were born, while 10.41 million people died. The population in 2022 fell by 850,000 from 2021.

As reported by The New York Times, according to the latest data, 2022 was not just the first time deaths outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward in 1960s, it was also one of the worst performance years for the Chinese economy since 1976.

China’s dropping birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. The annual statistics that were published three years ago, in January 2020, showed that China’s birth rate in 2019 had fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In that year, the birth rate was 10.48 per thousand, and 14.65 million babies were born in mainland China.

The data from later years showed that just 12 million babies were born in 2020 (8.5 births per thousand) and that only 10.6 million babies were born in 2021 – a rate of 7.52 births per thousand. The latest number is another record low.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates. The rising costs of living and the fact that Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy combined with a traditional preference for baby boys.

For years, China’s ‘leftover women’ were also mentioned as a reason for the country’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, including facing an associated social stigma, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, three children since 2021, and it was later widely reported that parents with more than three children would also no longer receive fines according to a draft law amendment.

Celebrating the ‘three child policy’ (image via Weibo.com).

But the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or being unable to afford it. The pandemic and zero Covid policy also haven’t exactly helped to boost China’s birth rates.

On social media, official media put out the two hashtags “9.56 Million People born in China in 2022” and “In 2022, China’s Population Decreased by 850,000 people” (#2022中国全年出生人口956万人#, #2022年中国人口减少85万人#). Among commenters, the latest data have led to various discussions.

Some are about the costs of living:

  • There’s so much to consider if you want to have a child, the costs are just too high, and I wouldn’t be able to support it.”

Others are about increasing social pressure:

  • These days there’s too much pressure on men to get married, they’re not confident and at ease anymore.”

And then there are those who see no problem in a population drop:

  • It’s only natural for the population to decline, how can you expect it to be like the old days when people would have five or six kids; the people like my grandma in my hometown all come from families with at least four kids.”
  • This country of 1,5 billion people is constantly worried about going extinct, people are crazy!
  • The Information Age doesn’t need so many people anyway.”

 

HOW TO BOOST BIRTH RATES?

 

But while netizens’ opinions on the matter vary, experts, politicians, and media outlets focus on the topic of how China’s birth rates can be boosted.

Various places across China have already announced policies to encourage families to raise more than one child, including prolonged maternity leave, increased maternity allowances, and support for home purchases.

One hashtag that was popular on Weibo this week was about a statement made by the billionaire businessman Zong Qinghou (宗庆后), CEO of leading beverage company Wahaha Group (哇哈哈).

Zong is a proponent of offering affordable housing to young people. In a video that has since gone viral – and which was a segment from a CCTV interview, – Zong talks about his low-cost housing project and also called on China’s young people to find a partner, get married earlier and have children sooner to “contribute” to the country’s birth rates (#宗庆后希望年轻人早点结婚生娃#).

The hashtag triggered many replies. Most of them criticized Zong’s remarks, and many commenters expressed that they did not like being told to marry and have kids. Some also remarked how Zong’s own forty-something daughter allegedly is not married herself.

It is not the first time for an opinion leader or expert to frame marriage and childbirth as a “contribution” to the country.  In 2015, the Chinese scholar Yang Zao (杨早) wrote an essay in which he explained China’s falling birth rates as “a clash between individualist and collectivist values.” At the time, he wrote: “For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of personal happiness? After all, isn’t marriage key to solving China’s present-day problems?”

Another hashtag that went viral this week is “Could Shortening Education Time Increase Birth Rates?” (#缩短教育时间能提高生育率吗#).

The topic relates to an article published by Zhejiang News on Jan. 16, 2023, about China’s Education and Population Report (中国教育和人口报告). In this report, James Jianzhang Liang (梁建章, a demographer who is better known as the Ctrip CEO) and other authors suggest that shortening the duration of education might help boost the country’s birth rates. The authors suggest that the middle and elementary education time could be cut down by two years by eliminating the Senior High School Entrance Examination (Zhongkao 中考).

There are two ways in which this idea might benefit China’s birth rates. On the one hand, the authors argue, China’s highly competitive education system puts a lot of pressure on children and financial strain on their parents, who struggle to invest as much time and money into their children’s education as they can. The pressure is real: the exam results during the last year of junior high school are of crucial importance regarding admission to the preferred senior high school, which also profoundly influences education after high school and students’ future careers. So the reasoning is that couples are more likely to have children if the financial burdens on parents are alleviated.

Should we have kids or not? Cartoon posted on Weibo.com.

On the other hand, the authors argue that when people finish school two years earlier, this will give them more time to start their life after graduation, making it more likely for women to have children at an earlier age.

One post about this topic, in which netizens were asked how they felt about the idea, received over 225,000 likes and nearly 13,000 comments.

A typical reply suggested that all these ‘experts’ should have more children themselves, reiterating a widespread criticism of opinion makers and experts who often do not practice what they preach.

Others expressed that they did not think that China’s lower birth rates were related to education, while others felt that a shortened education time would be a step back for China.

Some also criticized Zhejiang News. The media outlet itself indicated that the idea of shortening school years to boost fertility rates was like treating people as “tools.” But some commenters said: “The sad thing is not that people are treated as tools, the sad thing is that it took you this long to realize it.”

There are more Weibo bloggers and commenters suggesting that people paid a heavy price for the One Child policy that was implemented between 1980-2015, and that its effects will have a significant impact on society for a long time to come. After decades of only allowing couples to have one child, the shift to now introducing policies to encourage people to have more children is a strange reality.

One popular blogger (@峰哥亡命天涯) posted a photo that showed an old One Child Policy slogan on a building [少生优生,幸福一生 ‘Have fewer but healthier babies and a happier life‘], and he wrote: “The effects of family planning have contributed to contemporary times and bring benefits for future centuries!”

Another poster said they felt bad for the one-child generation born in the 1980s:

I really feel sorry for those born in the 1980s. They’ve always dealt with problems in attending school from young to old, then when they were all grown up faced problems with the job [market], then the issue of marrying and the bride price, and most importantly the high price of housing and caring for the elderly – the 1980s generation is carrying the burden. Those born in the 1970s can no longer have children, and those born after ’95 or 2000 are not giving birth. So we can only squeeze the post-1980s (..) Let them finally take a breather.”

By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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