Wang Binyu’s “wasted life” and the tragedy of China’s migrant workers

New Year’s Eve, and I wasn’t going to blog at all tonight, but a couple of stories are too important to ignore.

Is there a time to kill? That question kept ringing in my mind as I read this painful article in today’s Times, the only paper that seems to have China’s corrupt and ineffective legal system firmly in its line of fire.

From the prison cell where he contemplated an executioner’s bullet, a migrant worker named Wang Binyu gave an anguished account of his wasted life. Unexpectedly, it rippled across China like a primal scream.

For three weeks, the brutal murders Mr. Wang committed after failing to collect unpaid wages were weighed on the Internet and in Chinese newspapers against the brutal treatment he had endured as a migrant worker. Public opinion shouted for mercy; lawyers debated the fairness of his death sentence. Others saw the case as a bloody symptom of the harsh inequities of Chinese life.

But then, in late September, the furor disappeared as suddenly as it had begun. Online discussion was censored and news media coverage was almost completely banned. Mr. Wang’s final appeal was rushed to court. His father, never notified, learned about the hearing only by accident. His chosen defense lawyer was forbidden from participating.

“All of you are on the same side,” Mr. Wang, 28, shouted during the hearing, his father said in an interview here in the family’s home village in northern Gansu Province. “If you want to kill me, just kill me.”

On Oct. 19, they did. Mr. Wang was executed so quickly, and quietly, that it took weeks for the word to fully trickle out that he was dead.

There’s not a word here that won’t infuriate you. The deck is so stacked against the defendant, especially when he’s a poor migrant worker, that I wonder why China even has a court system. The system is in many ways literally a joke, a kind of creepy parody of itself.

Wang was forced to fight against those who exploit and tread on the poor,” one person wrote at a Chinese Web site. “Why is the law always tough on the poor?”

Mr. Wang’s case also illustrates how a system built for convictions has few safeguards or protections for a defendant facing death. Officials in the High Court of Ningxia Autonomous Region, the area in western China where the case was heard, refused several requests for interviews. But Wu Shaozhi, the Beijing lawyer who tried to represent Mr. Wang, said the Ningxia courts obviously wanted fast results.

Before the appeal, the Wang family signed power of attorney to Mr. Wu. But Mr. Wu said court officials had initially lied, telling him the appeal was over. Then they refused to let him enter the case. Instead, Mr. Wang was represented by a lawyer approved by the court.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wu noted, the same judges who heard the appeal also concurrently handled a mandatory final review of the case. It meant that judges were reviewing their own ruling – a practice that legal experts said is not uncommon and provided little real check and balance on the use of the death penalty.

Wang followed all the rules, and tried to fight for his money using the legal system. The article details the Kafkaesque run-arounds and obstacles he faced, and how a good man seeking justice was turned into a killer. You have to read it.

Sometime when I post a story ike this, a commenter will ask, rather snidely, “So why don’t you do something constructive to help make the situation better?” Believe me, if I could do something to change China’s judiciary, I would. For now, writing about it is the only way I know how to make a difference. Knowledge is power, ignorance is impotence and silence is death.

I’ve been striving for balance and looking for something, anything at all, to praise about China’s leaders. So far, I’ve failed abysmally, and stories like this confirm my belief that it’s not a bad thing to point the spotlight on the CCP’s sins and crimes against humanities. In fact, it’s absolutely essential.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

There will be no necessary changes to the legal system in China IMP until the people raise up and demand it. Why I think that is so, is (1)because the officials are so corrupted or compromised that they dare not make the changes that help make the procurators and the judiciary independent and (2) the party won’t voluntarily give up its contol over that part of the system of governance.

December 31, 2005 @ 8:38 am | Comment

Is there any group in China that does pro-bono legal work for migrant laborers who are denied their just compensation?

If anyone knows of such a group, please let me and other readers know about it. I would donate money to that group and would encourage others to do so as well.

This is a tragic story. But it is sadly all too common. The injustive of denying the justly earned salary to hard working and desperately poor migrant workers is one that hits me very deeply.

December 31, 2005 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

“group in China that does pro bono legal work”…..?

Have you ever seen a flying pig?

The operative word there is “group”.
Any group which even FAINLY appears to challenge the status quo in China, is demolished by the Communists.

Some Chinese lawyers try to work in the public interest as individuals. But forming any kind of “group” which is uncontrolled by the Communist Party, is impossible at this point.

There is one and only one permitted “group” in China: The Communist Party.

I’m going to throw up now.

December 31, 2005 @ 4:30 pm | Comment

Ah, of course, as the Communist Party pretends to work in the public interest, you could always send some money to the Communist Party.
They’ll spend it on their prostitutes and say it’s in the “public interest” for them to be content, like the pigs on Orwell’s Animal Farm.

December 31, 2005 @ 4:34 pm | Comment

Richard said: “Knowledge is power, ignorance is impotence and silence is death.” I would add that witnessing and naming, however futile, is one act that keeps us human. All around me (in western culture) I see people covering their ears, covering their eyes, “no, it’s too depressing; no, it’s too complicated; no, I’d rather buy shoes” and bit by bit they become the zombie drones who add nothing to the world.

Pete said: “There will be no necessary changes to the legal system in China IMP until the people raise up and demand it.” Which is true, in a way, but in a world where they’re already trying to, and getting murdered and incarcerated and punished at each turn, one has to wonder how many hundreds of thousands of lives it will take before the tide even begins to make a small difference to the vast ocean of oppression and control. It really should be up to “us” in the so called free world to demand this, but as I said above, most of us are too occupied buying shoes or stuffing our bovine faces with plastic food.

Maybe we’ll need to wait until China becomes the superpower it is destined to be. And then it will be too late. And then we will reap what we have allowed to be sown through our negligence.

December 31, 2005 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

“Maybe we’ll need to wait until China becomes the superpower it is destined to be. ”
Ever heard of power corrupting? The US is far more powerful than at any other time and yet it feel;s the ned for patriot acts and torture, The USSR didn’t become more democratic the more powerful it became. It’s like what they say about religious organisations. They’re allmeek and mild until they have enough power to revenge themselve against the truly powerless.

January 1, 2006 @ 2:18 am | Comment

Yes. Unfortunately that’s what I was saying also.

January 1, 2006 @ 5:39 am | Comment

After reading the post, I still don’t know what Wang had done. Because nothing was said about the alleged crime, I cannot say anthing about his punishment. Maybe it was deserved, maybe it was not. But without any detail nobody can make any informed decision about the execution.

I also want to point out that China has an automatic suspension of death sentence for 2 years. The sentence is to be carried out only if the convicted prisoner did not show any reform during the 2 year period. Please refer to the following link for the automatic suspension of death sentence at the following link:

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/01/01/2003286887

Frankly I’ve got the feeling the post is more propaganda than anything else. It is long on emotions and very short on facts. This is not the kind of reasoned and informative posts I like to see and the forumites here deserve.

January 2, 2006 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

China_Hand, I’ve heard of the suspension of the death penalty for two years, but is this really applied universally? So many people are executed quickly in China without a lot of legal review. And isn’t it true that China has one of the highest execution rates in the world?

To be clear, I am against the death penalty under any circumstances and hate that it was restored in the United States. I don’t believe that state sanctioned killing prevents murders, and I don’t believe that the state killing people leads to a more moral, just or upright society.

And if you make mistakes, they can’t ever be corrected.

January 2, 2006 @ 2:55 pm | Comment

Lisa wrote:
“I’ve heard of the suspension of the death penalty for two years, but is this really applied universally?”

Probably not as I’ve heard of many executions that took place almost immediately. Maybe this is just another loophole for giving the well connected corrupt officials or their felon children a chance to escape death. The 2-year suspension should either be automatically applied without exception or be repealed. It should not be used to protect those with connections and be another route for corrupt officials to make more money by either falsely accusing innocent people to extort money or to get bribes to allow truly guilty to escape justice.

January 2, 2006 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

thanks, Liang1a, that’s pretty much what I thought.

January 2, 2006 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

China_hand, irrespective of the actual details of the case, how fair can a court system be if the court benefits from selling the organs of the executed. Some really screwed up incentive structure here.

January 3, 2006 @ 11:33 am | Comment

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