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

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.

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

Knife-Wielding Woman Goes on Rampage at Guixi Primary School

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground.

Manya Koetse



A woman in Guixi, a county-level city in Jiangxi’s Yingtan, has been taken into custody after stabbing people at a primary school on Monday, May 20, around noon. The incident resulted in at least two fatalities and left ten others injured.

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground, victims of the woman’s stabbing rampage at the Mingde Primary School in Guixi’s Wenfang.

The incident immediately attracted significant attention on Weibo, where netizens not only commented on the tragedy of innocent children being involved in such a horrific crime but also on the unusual fact that the suspect is female; as typically, perpetrators of such crimes are male.

Others also questioned why the school security guards were not present to prevent such an incident and how the woman managed to gain access to the school grounds in the first place.

The 45-year-old female suspect is a native of Guixi. It’s reported that she used a paring knife to carry out the stabbing attack on the school premises.

Shortly after the incident, local authorities called on blood donation centers in Guixi to extend their opening hours, and local residents started queuing up to donate blood to help out the victims who are still being treated for their injuries.

Another question that lingers is why the woman would commit such an atrocious crime. People suggest it is bàofù shèhuì (报复社会), a Chinese term that translates to “retaliate against society” or “taking revenge on society.”

Baofu shehui is often cited as a type of criminal motivation for knife-wielding incidents in China, particularly those occurring at schools, where individuals with personal grievances and/or mental health issues commit these extreme crimes. Such incidents have happened multiple times in the past, notably between 2010 and 2012, during a series of elementary school and kindergarten attacks.

Different from these kinds of attacks in Europe or the US, it often involves older perpetrators who are disillusioned, frustrated, and alienated from their communities amid rapidly changing social and economic conditions in China.

But for many netizens, such a possible motivation does not make sense. Some commenters wrote: “Taking revenge on society should never be done by venting one’s anger against children.”

Others wish the worst upon the perpetrator. One popular comment says, “I hope she gets the death penalty, and that the victims’ families get to execute her.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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China Insight

Red Cross Society of China in Bad Light Due to Online Rumors after Gansu Earthquake

Even though the rumors surrounding the Red Cross might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

Manya Koetse



A handwarmer for 500 yuan ($70), a tent for 2200 yuan ($308), a blanket for 100 yuan ($14)? An online list detailing items supposedly procured by the Gansu Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts has ignited controversy on Chinese social media in recent days. Although the Red Cross has denied all rumors, the incident underscores public skepticism towards the organization.

After the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Jishishan (积石山), a county in China’s Gansu Province’s Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, on December 18, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with news related to the disaster. The overnight earthquake killed at least 148 people and left hundreds injured.

News of the earthquake resonated deeply throughout the country, and the ongoing search and rescue operations and relief efforts, hindered by landslides, ruined infrastructure, and freezing temperatures, have attracted major attention online.

While much of the discourse revolves around the goodness of the people contributing to charities and doing all they can to help victims in the affected areas, there is also public distrust surrounding the motives of some charities or helping organizations that might use the disaster as an opportunity to make a profit.

One hotly debated topic revolves around the Red Cross Society of China, after a list surfaced online of items allegedly purchased by the Gansu Red Cross for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake.

Image published on Weibo via Red Cross Society of China (@中国红十字会总会).

The procurement list raised controversy due to the high prices of the common items listed, and because of a supposed “management fee” (管理费) of 1.6 million yuan ($224k).

In response, the Red Cross refuted these claims, asserting that they had not issued any such list (#甘肃红十字称没发布任何物资清单#). On December 24, the Gansu Red Cross took to Weibo (@甘肃省红十字会) to clarify that the circulating information was “grossly inaccurate.” They assured the public that all donations would directly aid earthquake relief efforts, without incurring management fees.

The Red Cross statement on Weibo.

Even though the procurement list might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

“Why does the Red Cross end up in the top trending lists every time?” one commenter wondered: “Their information should be more transparent and timely.”

Others also suggested that merely denying the rumors was not enough, and that they hoped that the Red Cross would provide more details and information to show netizens, of whom many donated money, how their charity money is being spent to help relief efforts in the affected areas in Gansu and Qinghai.

The fact that the Red Cross Weibo post did not allow any commenting did not help: “Why are you afraid to let us openly discuss this?”

Red Cross Society of China: Tainted by Suspicion

The Red Cross of China, the nation’s largest charitable organization, continues to grapple with a tarnished reputation that partly stems from the 2011 “Guo Meimei Incident.”

Guo Meimei (郭美美), whose real name is Guo Meiling, became an infamous internet celebrity in the summer of 2011 after flaunting her excessive wealth online whilst claiming to work as a “commercial general manager” for the Red Cross Society of China.

The issue severely eroded the society’s credibility, which has been designated by the government as the central public donation organization during times of disasters (Cheng 2016). From luxury handbags to sports cars, the 19-year-old Guo showed off her money on Weibo, and quickly went viral on various message boards as people were angered over corruption and potential misuse of charity money.

Guo Meimei

Despite efforts by the Red Cross Society to debunk these rumors and distance itself from Guo, speculations persisted. Many speculated about Guo’s potential ties to the organization, even if she did not officially work there. As highlighted by Cheng (2016), the public’s negative sentiment toward the Red Cross triggered “a chain of credibility crises” and even spread to other charitable groups in China.

During the 2020 Wuhan Covid outbreak, the Red Cross faced scrutiny for allegedly stockpiling public donations of medical supplies in warehouses rather than promptly distributing them to frontline medical personnel facing shortages.

The current allegations against the Red Cross of China in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake also echo other past controversies, such as the one they dealt with after the 2008 Sichuan quake. Red Cross officials were then also accused of misusing donations by purchasing needlessly expensive tents and vehicles.

Donations for the ‘Underdog’: The Han Hong Foundation

The growing public distrust towards the Red Cross has arguably paved the way for other Chinese charities to gain prominence. A prime example is the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation (韩红爱心慈善基金会), established in 2012 by renowned Chinese folk singer Han Hong (韩红, 1971).

Although Han Hong has been engaged in charity for many years, during which she invested a lot of her own money, the charity she established became more known after the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation was committed to aid efforts during the Wuhan Covid outbreak in 2020 and the Henan floods in 2021.

Han Hong (center), picture via Xiaohongshu fan of Han Hong.

After the earthquake in Gansu on December 18th, Han Hong’s organization immediately organized rescue teams and provided people in the affected areas with clothes and (medical) supplies. Hang Hong was able to rake in millions thanks to her reputation of being compassionate and altruistic, as well as through her strong network in China’s entertainment industry, leading numerous Chinese celebrities to support her relief efforts.

But Han Hong’s organization is also affected by the public distrust surrounding charity in China. On December 23, it was rumored that her Charity Foundation was officially asked to leave the disaster area as well as to hand over a portion of their donations.

The foundation refuted these claims by issuing a statement on December 25 (#韩红基金会辟谣#).

Statement by Han Hong Love Charity Foundation refuting rumors that their charity work was hindered by officials.

In the public view, there seems to be a big difference between perceptions of large entities like the Red Cross and other ‘official’ charitable organizations versus smaller, more independent initiatives like the Han Hong foundation, which operates as a private charitable entity.

Reflecting on the rumors surrounding both the Red Cross and Han Hong’s foundation, one Weibo commenter noted: “These rumors come into existence because so many of these so-called charitable foundations actually treat charity as their business. And so, they become ‘competitors.’”

Meanwhile, Han Hong’s organization stresses that it operates under the guidance and oversight of the party and government, and only provide emergency support through their support.

In online discussions on the power of the Red Cross versus Han Hong’s organization, some commenters suggest that it is time for the government and authorities to reflect on why a private organization would be more trusted than the Red Cross, a government organized NGO.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “What Han Hong does is true charity instead of business.” Another person replied: “The biggest disaster here is actually the erosion of public trust.”

By Manya Koetse


Cheng, Yang. 2016. “Social Media Keep Buzzing! A Test of Contingency Theory in China’s Red Cross Credibility Crisis.” International Journal of Communication, June 2016: pp. 3241+.

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