Chalk Up Another Win for China’s Mob Justice

0 Comment

Kudos to ChinaGeek Charlie Custer for not jumping on the celebratory bandwagon after Wang Zhonggui was arrested in the now infamous Guizhou “no rape if there’s a condom” case. As you may recall, a school teacher in a town in Guizhou was raped by a government official in May of this year, but the police incredibly concluded that it was no harm, no foul since the alleged perpetrator was sheathed at the time of the penetration.

And then the case went viral on the Net and the usual pattern ensued, one with which we are unfortunately now too familiar. The alleged rapist was arrested last week, and of course there was much rejoicing from the chatterati on Tianya, Weibo, and the rest of China’s Net platforms.

After reviewing the timeline, this is what Charlie had to say:

To me, that just confirms that this case really is as bad as it seemed at first; the police decision to arrest or not arrest Wang obviously had nothing to do with the evidence discovered at the scene.

[ . . . ]

What changed between May 18 and July 13? The evidence was the same. The witnesses were all there from the get-go. The only thing that changed was the cost-benefit analysis for the government.

Of course. This is what happens when government bows to public pressure on these cases. The authorities are simply plugging in different numbers into their political calculations. I often wonder what the phone calls these local guys get from the provincial, or even national, authorities, sound like after they blow up. I’m pretty sure they start off with “You stupid fuck . . .” and get worse from there.

I actually wasn’t planning on posting on this case, because my usual response, which is to warn the joyous public that they’re playing with fire, is getting a little old here on China Hearsay. I usually come off as the grumpy old man, or perhaps the boy crying wolf, cautioning everyone that next time, they may not like the result that the mob delivers to them.

At least this time I have some ChinaGeek company:

His belated arrest proves that local governments and the police department can respond to pressure from society and from the media, but what good is that? The media cannot be China’s police, and neither can the masses on Weibo. They may have won a “victory” here, but how many defeats evade their eyes?

Two important points here. First, government can be pressured by the public. This of course is not very well understood outside of China, but the government here is actually much more responsive to the populace than it appears from the outside, particularly if all one sees is the “China government as monolithic beast” characterization that is popular in the press.

But public responsiveness can be good or bad. It all depends on who is doing the pushing and, of course, what they want. In the U.S. at the moment, a vocal minority of “Tea Party” nutjobs who don’t want higher taxes on rich people is pushing one of America’s political parties to manufacture a political crisis that could lead to a government shutdown or even a bond default. Republicans are being responsive to the American public, or at least part of it. For some reason, that doesn’t make me feel like celebrating.

The Chinese netizens who pushed for this arrest were calling for justice, and maybe they got it in this case. Good for them, but you know that China’s Tea Party minority is out there somewhere waiting for their pet political cause, and I’m not sure we want to see how that’s going to play out.

Second, ad hoc justice is imperfect. Not only, as Charlie points out, is it flawed because the mob cannot be there to right every wrong, but also because the mob is not a substitute for professional law enforcement. The Net mob is always making judgments based on imperfect information, and this is why I’ve always been uncomfortable with these cases. One of these days, the police somewhere will be hounded into making an arrest of an innocent person who will then die in custody or something. Oh, the soul searching and self criticism that will follow!

Let’s just admit that these cases shouldn’t be celebrated. Far from it, they should be a reminder that more reform of local law enforcement is sorely needed.

2 responses on “Chalk Up Another Win for China’s Mob Justice

  1. Anon

    Couldn’t agree more. Great point. It always seems to get lost in the more common narrative of “fed up netizen” fighting back against “abusive officialdom.”

  2. Tim

    It’s about time someone said it: I suspect many China watchers saw the growing phenomenon of human flesh search engines and how they have been deployed as a quasi-watchdog as a force of positive change. The flip-side of this is how online justice perversely encourages the flaws within the legal system and ultimately undermines its development.