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Why This Murder Case is Still Making Headlines in China after 378 Days

Manya Koetse



A 2016 murder case revolving around Chinese exchange students in Japan has become a media spectacle outside the courtroom. Since the victim’s mother turned to netizens for help earlier this year, the story has become a ‘public drama.’

It was November 3, 2016, when the 24-year-old Chinese student Jiang Ge (江歌) was fatally stabbed outside her apartment in Tokyo.

Five days later, the 25-year-old Chinese graduate student Chen Shifeng (陈世峰) was charged with Jiang’s murder.

Outside Jiang’s former Tokyo apartment, in the Nakano neighborhood.

Chen, who was captured by surveillance cameras at the time of the murder, was the ex-boyfriend of Jiang’s close friend Liu Xin (刘鑫), a fellow exchange student from Qingdao. Liu had become Jiang’s roommate since she broke up with Chen two months before the fatal stabbing.

According to media reports, Chen Shifeng initially headed to Jiang’s apartment to look for his ex-girlfriend Liu Xin that afternoon. After a confrontation, Chen and the two young women left the apartment. When Liu and Jiang arrived back later that night, it was Liu who went inside first.

Exchange students Liu (left) and Jiang (right).

Jiang, who was still outside the apartment, screamed as she was attacked. Liu claimed she heard her friend’s cries and tried to open the door to help her, but found the door blocked. She then called the police.

Demanding the Death Penalty Through an Online Petition

The case is now again making headlines and has become a recurring daily trending topic on Weibo. Updates on the case easily receive 50,000 comments per article, with every day over the past week bringing new insights into the case.

One of the reasons the case is receiving heightened attention is that the murder suspect Chen Shifeng is scheduled to go on trial in Japan on December 11.

The victim’s mother Jiang Qiulian (@江秋莲) is currently collecting signatures on the streets of Tokyo for an online petition that calls for the death penalty for Chen, and she is speaking to media reporters on a daily basis.

The death penalty is legal in Japan, although people are rarely given that sentence. It is applied in practice only for murder, and executions are carried out by hanging. Jiang Qiulian says her only wish is for Chen to be sentenced to death to seek justice for her daughter’s death.

“Because she does not trust the justice system, Jiang’s mother has chosen to seek public support instead,” one person wrote on Weibo.

But it is not just the legal aspect of the case that has gotten netizens clicking, sharing, and commenting to every article. The moral facets underlying the case are triggering heated debates.

Liu Xin on Public Trial

Liu Xin, the friend who was inside the apartment while her friend was being murdered outside in the corridor, is under fire on social media for her behavior and reactions during and after that fatal day.

According to China Daily, mother Jiang Qiulian blames Liu for allegedly purposely locking Jiang out when she was attacked.

She also criticizes Liu for never explaining the details of Jiang’s death to the victim’s family, avoiding any contact with them, and not even sending her condolences after the murder.

The matter transformed into a ‘public drama’ when Jiang’s mother turned to Weibo in May of this year, exposing personal information of Liu and her family, and asking netizens for help in tracing her down.

As a consequence, the media is now for a large part focusing on developments outside the courtroom. The first emotional meeting between Jiang’s mother and Liu Xin, which took place in August, was recorded and widely shared on social media last Friday.

An emotional first meeting between Jiang’s mother and Liu Xin.

During the meeting, Liu Xin said Jiang was protecting her against her former boyfriend, and that she never purposely prevented Jiang from coming back into the apartment.

Liu previously told Chinese news outlet that she could not contact Jiang’s family after the incident because she was under the supervision and protection of the police, and had to protect the confidentiality of the evidence, and said she did not lock the door before Jiang was attacked.

Nevertheless, netizens blame Liu for caring more about her personal matters than the life of her friend. Jiang’s mother also stated to reporters that she will not forgive her daughter’s friend.

“This is not even about whether or not Liu Xin opened the door for her friend, it is about her attitude later on,” many on Weibo say.

“Chen Shifeng deserves to die, but Liu Xin does not deserve a good life,” some commenters stated.

But some people on Weibo criticize the public backlash against Liu Xin, suggesting that social media users are blindly following the reasoning of a traumatized mother. “Jiang’s mother is a crazy dog,” they write: “And Chinese netizens are the sheep.”

By Manya Koetse

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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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  1. Avatar


    November 16, 2017 at 1:46 am

    Not just hiding, Liu’s parents also called Jiang’s mother up after they were tracked down, and insulted the victim verbally, one famous quote being: your daughter’s life is short, which has nothing to do with us.

    • Avatar


      November 19, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      You forget that this was after the family had been bombarded with hate messages, death threats and wishes of rape upon Liu Xin herself. Liu Xin’s parents certainly said unforgivable things, but this does not reflect on Liu Xin herself nor was it unprovoked.

  2. Avatar


    March 16, 2018 at 3:18 am

    Liu’s testimony on how she was unable to open the door appears to be questionable given that she was on the inside of the apartment. She seems to be purposely avoiding the victim’s mother as well.

  3. Avatar

    Margaret Garner

    October 8, 2018 at 8:06 am

    I read of this story and now want to say I am so sorry to the mother of the victim and I wish the best for her. I am American. I hope she can translate this to Chinese. So sorry for the loss of your precious daughter.

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse



On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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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



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

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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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