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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

Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang

Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.

Manya Koetse

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Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.

The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.

People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.

The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.

Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.

Mobile phone sidewalk in Chonqgqing. Source https://tech.qq.com

As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.

In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.

“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”

“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”

For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”

Also read: The ‘Bowed Head Clan’ (低头族): Mother Watches Phone While Son Drowns in Pool

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Jialing Xie.

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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