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“We Could All Be the Next Lei Yang” – Chinese Netizens on the Lei Yang Case

Some netizens already call it one of the biggest controversies of the year. The death of the 29-year-old environmentalist Lei Yang while in police custody has sparked online outrage, with many connecting this fatality to police brutality. Now Lei’s wife has stepped forward, demanding answers from Beijing authorities on the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death.

Manya Koetse



Some netizens already call it one of the biggest controversies of the year. The death of the 29-year-old environmentalist Lei Yang – while in police custody – has sparked online outrage, with many connecting this fatality to police brutality. Now Lei’s wife has stepped forward, demanding answers from Beijing authorities on the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death.

The death of the 29-year-old Beijing resident and environmentalist Lei Yang (雷洋) has sparked national outrage, with many Chinese suspecting that police violence led to his death.

According to police statements, Lei Yang was arrested for visiting a brothel (featured image) and died while resisting his arrest. Camera recordings of his arrest were reportedly unavailable after the police phone device that was used for filming the arrest broke down. But Lei’s family is not satisfied with police reports on the circumstances that led to Lei’s death. Lei just had a baby two weeks earlier and was on the way to the airport to pick up relatives.

581338665853369164CCTV interviewing Lei’s family.

The wife of Lei Yang headed to Beijing’s prosecutor’s office with her lawyer on Tuesday, May 17, demanding further investigation into her husband’s death. She also filed a complaint for abuse of power, forgery of evidence, and physical assault. According to the complaint report that circulated on Chinese social media, she alleges that the prostitution story was a setup and that her husband was beaten to death.

Lei Yang Incident

At around 9.00 pm on Saturday night, May 7 2016, Lei Yang left home to pick up some relatives from Beijing airport who came to visit from Hunan to see Lei’s newborn baby girl. On the way to the airport, somewhere between 21:04 and 21:16, Lei arrived near the location of a foot massage parlor, coming from Longjin 3rd Street (these two places and exact times were confirmed through monitoring data according to a Chinese newsblog).


It was within this time frame that Lei was arrested by 5-6 plainclothes officers, allegedly for purchasing sexual services. Shanghai Daily reports that several witnesses saw Lei running from the undercover policemen and screaming for help immediately before his arrest.

According to one officer, Lei had “stopped resisting and was very quiet” in the car on the way to the police station. About 50 minutes after Lei was taken to the Changping district police station, he was rushed to a nearby hospital. Within two hours after his arrest, at 22:55, Lei was pronounced dead.

Family members were notified of Lei’s death at 1:00 am. According to family members who could see Lei’s body under police supervision, he was bruised on his head and arms, and also had other injuries. According to SCMP, they were not allowed to take pictures of the body.

Police state that no excessive force was used during Lei’s arrest, and that DNA evidence from a condom suggests that Lei indeed visited the brothel.

“Sudden death of suspect”

The Changping police station has responded to the incident through its official Weibo account, where they released an offical statement on May 9 and May 11 on the “sudden death of a suspect for prostitution”.

According to the police statement, undercover officers went to the massage parlor after getting a tip about prostitution activities and caught five men visiting prostitutes at the scene. The statement then says that one of suspects, Lei Yang, violently resisted his arrest and bit one of the policemen. During the course of this struggle, the camera equipment of the officer fell and broke. In the car on the way to the police station, Lei allegedly tried to kick the driver and attempted to escape, and had to be controlled and restrained with handcuffs. When the police later discovered his body was lifeless, Lei was taken to the hospital.

This police statement shows much resemblance to a similar case that took place in the Netherlands in 2015 when an Arubian man died during a violent police arrest. Although local police initially stated the man lost consciousness in the car on the way to the station, bystander footage later showed the man already was unconscious during his arrest (story and video).

The Changping police statements on Weibo received over 32.800 comments, with many netizens pleading for evidence.

Social media reactions

The Lei Yang incident has drawn much controversy on Chinese social media for the past week, with many netizens arguing for a thorough investigation of the case. Some Weibo users complained that their posts about the issue were being deleted by censors.

One netizen called Mr. Lu says: “I don’t care if this gets censored, but since Lei Yang’s wife and her lawyer have taken action, you hear all kinds of things coming from the police about visiting prostitutes so and so, but the fact remains that he died. No matter what crime he committed, this family has the right to call his death into question, and we support this right!”

Some netizens stress the importance of this case: “The Lei Yang Case is already the most important incident of 2016. For the people, for the government, for the police, for the media, and for lawmakers.”

There are also netizens who do not find Lei’s death suspicious: “Why is his sudden death so unlikely?” one netizen wonders: “There are people suddenly dying every day, why could this not be the case now?”

Although it is unsure what exactly happened on May 7, most netizens just want to know the truth: “Without investigation, there is no truth. Without the truth, we could be the next Lei Yang.”

“We are angry and scared because we all could be the next Lei Yang,” another Weibo user says: “We follow this case because of our sense of justice, but also because we’re afraid and angry. In a society without respect for life and no dignity and human rights, we could all be led to our death by police – whether we’re visiting a prostitute or not.”

A Shaanxi public security bureau also responded to the case through their Weibo account, saying: “There are many people online who call the voice of the police into question. As colleagues of the Changping police, we analyze this case from a legal and objective point of view, and we will fight back rumors.”

In the meantime, China Daily reports that an autopsy on Lei’s body has been carried out, and that results are expected to be released within 20 days.

– By Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China Local News

“Brainless” Local Policy to Boost Birthrates: Bonus Points for Kids from Bigger Families

Having a second or third baby? Zhezhou County will give you bonus points for that.

Zilan Qian



As Chinese experts and local authorities across the country are thinking of new ways to encourage couples to have more children in light of China’s dropping birth rates, this latest measure announced by Shanxi’s Zhezhou County has sparked controversy.

Dropping birth rates have been a major concern for Chinese authorities for years now, and in light of the recent Two Sessions and its aftermath, it has become a bigger topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

To encourage young people to marry and have more children, various initiatives have been suggested or implemented, with a particular focus on the role education plays in this matter.

One recent proposal from an expert has been to shorten the education period as a means to promote China’s birth rates. This includes the idea of eliminating the middle school entrance exam to reduce two years of elementary and middle school education to allow young people to start their post-graduate life at an earlier age.

Earlier this month, another measure that also focuses on education in the context of boosting birth rates sparked heated debates on Weibo.

The measure was introduced by the local government of Zezhou County, a county in the southeast of Shanxi province. The idea entails that families of two children or more will receive benefits in education; their second or third child would get ten additional points in their senior high school exams (zhongkao 中考).

The related hashtag, titled “Second or Third Children from Shanxi’s Zezhou County Will Receive an Additional 10 points in the Senior High School Entrance Exam” (#山西泽州二三孩中考将加10分#) received over 120 million views in less than two days.

On Chinese social media, most netizens responded to this proposed measure with indignation, arguing that it violates the basic principle of exam equality.

In response, one popular legal blogger on Weibo called ‘Lawyer Zhuang Zhiming’ (@庄志明律师) published an article titled: “Shanxi’s Zezhou County Giving Families with Two/Three Kids Extra Zhongkao Points – How Did Such a Brainless Policy Come About?” (“山西泽州二、三孩家庭中考加分,如此弱智政策是怎么出台的?”)

In the article, the author vehemently criticized the policy, stating that it goes against the basic spirit of education equality and describing it as a “devilish measure against the times” (“逆时代的魔鬼之操作”).

In addition to being unfair to one-child families, the author argues that the policy also treats the first child of two or three children families unequally since they cannot receive the extra bonus points while their younger siblings can.

Many users on Weibo also agree with this argument, stating that the policy creates a situation where the first-born child is “inherently placed at a disadvantage,” “starting one step behind the others.”

The cover of the official notice from the Zezhou county government regarding their measurements for promoting the balanced development of population. Image from Sina Weibo’s post.

Other netizens also criticized this policy, viewing it as an extreme family planning policy. One Weibo post under the hashtag suggests that this policy is similar to measures taken during the one-child policy era and creates inequality to compel people to realize the state’s birth rate goals.

Another Weibo user stated: “When we were young, our parents were fined for having multiple children, while we watched families with one child or two daughters receive bonus points. Now that we’ve grown up and can’t afford to have more children, we’re watching those with two or three children receive bonus points.”

Some also expressed anger and frustration in the comments sections, saying these kinds of policies make them feel pressured to have children and actually makes them feel like not having kids altogether.

“Just don’t have babies at all,” one person wrote, while another comment said: “If we would treat humans as actual humans, we could avoid strange occurrences like this.”

In mid-March, Sina News reported that the local government responded that the policy is not active yet and is being implemented in “one or two years.”

In addition to the extra points for the senior high school entrance exam, the local authorities have come up with other measures that benefit families with two or three children, including exemption from outpatient registration fees in the county’s public hospitals, an additional sixty days of maternity leave for the third child, 50% off (second child) or no fees (third child) for county public kindergartens, and free after-school childcare services.

Although these local initiatives have drawn a lot of criticism, some people also applaud them.

Phoenix Weekly‘s Weibo account posted about all the measures taken by the local government, and one person replied: “This is the most effective policy I have seen so far. If Shanghai were to implement such measures, the birth rate would increase very quickly.”

Other netizens also suggested that the policy may not be as harmful as some claim it is. In response to concerns about the policy’s impact on education equality, some point out that the extra points are only added if students take the zhongkao for high schools located within the county. They, therefore, suggest the measure could actually decrease competition for urban schools, since there will be no bonus points for those entrance exams.

Another Weibo user trivialized the policy’s impact by suggesting that “there are no good high schools in the county, so [the policy] won’t have much of an influence [on education equality] at all.”

While the policy’s scope is limited to the county level and may not significantly affect the lives of most individuals, most commenters in these online discussions still see it as a challenge to the fundamental values of equality, merit-based education, and individual autonomy over family planning.

Many people doubt the effectiveness of manipulating the education system to boost birth rates and argue that addressing the broader socio-economic context is the only viable solution: “The government’s priority should be to ensure high-quality basic services for children and to maintain these standards. When people feel happy, they may be more willing to have children. Improving the quality of child-rearing and education is more crucial than increasing the quantity of children.”

By Zilan Qian

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China Local News

Netizens Puzzled after Balloon in Shijiazhuang Sky Creates Flight Disruptions

Lots of questions remain after news went trending that the airspace above Shijiazhuang airport was “being occupied.”

Manya Koetse



The ‘unidentified flying object’ that occupied the controlled airspace above Shijiazhuang International Airport turned out to be a “balloon.” Although operations returned to normal, there is a sense of “balloon panic” on Chinese social media.

The city of Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, became a trending topic on Chinese social media on Thursday, February 16, after news came out that there were irregularities in the arrivals and departure schedule at Shijiazhuang Airport due to certain activity in the controlled airspace.

Some flights were delayed, canceled, or rerouted on Thursday when the airspace above the Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport was reportedly “being occupied” (“空域被占用”/”空域用户占领”) from approximately 11:00 to 13:00 by an “unidentified flying object” (“不明飞行物”).

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC North China Regional Administration 民航华北局) stated that the object was confirmed to be a balloon.

Later on Thursday, it was announced that regular flight schedules were reinstated. But on social media, the questions remain.

Flying around Weibo are questions such as: What happened? What is going on? What kind of balloon? Does it have anything to do with the U.S.? What does it mean when “a user is occupying the sky” (“空域用户占领”, the wording used in official media)?

Some netizens just posted question marks in response to the news. “All the hot topics of today are just puzzling,” one person responded.

Some of the trending hashtags related to the Shijiazhuang balloon incident are “Balloon Found over Shijiazhuang” (#石家庄上空发现气球#), “CAAC North China Administration States They Discovered a Balloon”(#民航华北局称发现一个气球#), “Shijiazhuang Airport Confirms There Are Delays and Reroutes” (#石家庄机场确有延误和备降情况#), and “Shijiazhuang Temporary Air Control Resolved” (#石家庄临时空中管制已解除#).

“The balloon panic is leading to a lot of speculation, and the stock index dropped in response to the uncertainties,” one netizen said, referring to news that the domestic stock prices saw a drop on Thursday.

Balloons have been a hot topic on Chinese social media ever since early February, when the Pentagon announced it had detected an alleged “Chinese spy balloon” over Montana. Although Chinese authorities claimed it was a civilian weather balloon that went the wrong way due to strong winds, the balloon was shot from the sky on February 4.

Afterward until February 12, three more “unidentified objects” were shot from the sky by U.S. military.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials claimed the American response was hyped and was purposely meant to create an anti-Chinese narrative. In one interview, China’s ambassador to France said that China previously also found American balloons in their airspace, but that it was dealt with in a low key way (#中国低调处理境内上空发现美国气球#).

The hashtag “Shijiazhuang” received 400 million views on Weibo today. The last time the city received so much nationwide attention was three months ago, when Shijiazhuang was among the first places in the country to drastically loosen its Covid measures.

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin also responded to the Shijiazhuang balloon incident on Thursday, arguing that it is the task of the officials dealing with such incidents to do their best to inform the public in order to avoid raising concerns when there is no follow-up, which also happened earlier this week then authorities claimed to have seen an unidentified object flying above waters near one of its naval bases in Shandong.

For more articles about the balloon incident, check here.

By Manya Koetse 


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