Silencing the voices of Dongzhou’s victims

Howard French has the whole dreary story. It’s not surprising, and I feel numb when I read about it.

Residents of Dongzhou, a small town now cordoned off by heavy police roadblocks and patrols, said in scores of interviews on the telephone and with visitors that they had endured beatings, bribes and threats at the hands of security forces in the week and a half after their protest against the construction of a power plant was violently put down. Others said that the corpses of the dead had been withheld, apparently because they were so riddled with bullets that they would contradict the government’s version of events. And residents have been warned that if they must explain the deaths of loved ones – many of whom were shot dead during a tense standoff with the police in which fireworks, blasting caps and crude gasoline bombs were thrown by the villagers – they should simply say their relatives were blown up by their own explosives.

“Local officials are talking to families that had relatives killed in the incident, telling them that if they tell higher officials and outsiders that they died by accident, by explosives, while confronting the police, they must make it sound convincing,” said one resident of the besieged town in an interview. “If the family members speak this way they are being promised 50,000 yuan ($6,193), and if not, they will be beaten and get nothing out of it.”

Another villager, who, like other residents, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear or reprisals, said families of the dead who agreed to invoke accidental explosion as the cause of death had been offered $15,000 each.

“The story is being spread around the village that people were not killed by bullets, but by bombs,” said one man interviewed Friday by telephone. “That’s rubbish. Everybody knows they were killed by gunfire.”

The bomb story was also being spread at a hospital in the nearby city of Shanwei, where villagers injured in the protest are being treated. Plainclothes police surrounded a Chinese man who entered the hospital seeking to see the wounded, denying him access to a tightly guarded ward even when he said his relative was among the injured. Later, hospital staff members told the man that the injured had all been warned to stick to the same story, of being injured by their own explosives.

The attempt to enforce a concocted story may help explain why residents have reported difficulty in recovering the bodies of their loved ones.

The official New China News Agency has said that only three people were killed and eight others injured when security forces shot at protesters, so the existence of more bodies riddled with bullets could destroy the official version of events and provide proof of tremendous force against a lightly armed, if restive, crowd.

“The relatives went in tears to the county offices to search for the dead and missing, and they were beaten by electric truncheon, wounded and dispersed,” one resident said.

“They offered 50,000 yuan, and told us we could only get back the body at night and bury it on the mountain immediately, without any mourning ceremony or fireworks, without anyone knowing about this,” a relative of Wei Jin, a man killed during the demonstration, said in an account of an attempted bribe involving his relative’s corpse.

I am still working and won’t be available to write the usual boring commentary until later on Sunday. Meanwhile, this story speaks for itself and doesn’t require any additional punditry.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

I think “numb” is an excellent word to describe how I feel about this as well. I expect nothing less than these vile tactics from the CCP. When I first got into “the business” of keeping up with Chinese current events, such tragedies would fill me with anger and sadness.

Now after reading about things like this over and over and over and over again, my feelings have been worn down and, like Richard, I just feel “numb.”

But if we’ve lost our passion, then the CCP has by all measures won. What if we live in a world where we just “accept” and resign ourselves to the fact that China will keep 1.3 billion people under their thumb indefinitely, that it will ruthlessly censor its media with ever-greater precision (thanks to US companies), that it will have hordes of Chinese come to show “support” when the Chinese leaders go abroad (and the french government will happily ban protests against him) that its embassies abroad will hound foreign dissidents on our soil, and coverups on human tragedies like this will continue, and its growing economy and military will enable it to project this horrible state of affairs on other countries around the world?

We must fight off the encroaching feelings of numbness. Only then can we fight the good fight.

December 17, 2005 @ 8:44 am | Comment

Whenever CCTV gets around to reporting this, they’ll say Dongzhou was “peacefully liberated.”

December 17, 2005 @ 9:35 am | Comment

I have a great story to post that might encourage some hope – have to run to class now, so maybe richard will post it – Philip Pan does a lengthy story on how much cyber-discussion there has been on Dongzhou – and on how the efforts to censor on the web might not be working as well as previously reported.

December 17, 2005 @ 9:51 am | Comment

China’s Suppression of Riot News Picked Up by NYT?

Mark down this day. The New York Times actually picked up a story that isn’t flattering to the Chinese Communists. The Chinese government is busy burying the details surrounding the riots that broke out over the government seeking to build a power st…

December 17, 2005 @ 10:38 am | Comment

There was a short, 5-sentence report of this on yesterday, saying that trials have begun for the “criminals” who shot the villagers in Dong Zhou. The piece said that 6 people were killed there. But interestingly, the “comments” link for that particular story were removed.

Another interesting thing is that, China’s media these days are focusing on a hospital fire in Jilin that killed 39 people due to negligence. Why is the government focusing so much on this disaster? Well number one, it takes focus away from the Dongzhou disaster. Number two, this disaster is a “benign” disaster, a “natural” disaster, and it’s hard for people to infer too much from it. And the media is hypocritically saying things like “government must be responsible for the people” over this fire, “officials must be punished”, etc etc. As if there’s not a better incident these days to say those things over.

December 17, 2005 @ 11:08 am | Comment

Dongzhou: The Truth Will Out

The powers that be in the PRC are paying people in Dongzhou to change their stories about the killings. They are inducing villagers to say that people were killed by the homemade fire bombs wielded by the crowd, instead

December 17, 2005 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

I wouldn’t get my hopes up about net discussion of Dongzhou making much impact. 1) The discussion by its nature has to be cloaked and veiled so as not to spark the nanny’s interest. That is fine for the initiated, but hardly the same as banner headlines on every internet portal available to Chinese telling the truth. 2) Internet users are a particularly unrepresentative slice of China. The rich, the successful, the male, the winners in the main. Those who have most to be satisfied about from the Party and few reasons to really rock the boat beyond snide remarks.

December 17, 2005 @ 5:23 pm | Comment

At least some are speaking out on the Net, Dylan. See my latest post.

December 17, 2005 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

Lisa, I posted the story a little while ago, before I saw your comment. Thanks.

December 17, 2005 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

IT’s a great story, as you put it, “epic.”

December 17, 2005 @ 10:19 pm | Comment

i wouldn’t say it is a ‘great’ story. it is just a sad story.

while i am optimistic in the bird flu and songhua cases. i am not in this one.
this one is the envelope that CCP is unwilling (and not confident) to push.

did you guys notice a few days ago some local officials in Henan (i think) were punished for almost the same thing. We hear about dongzhou just because it is close to HK.
Apparently similar conflicts had been going on elsewhere (even though they are less severe), and CCP was also trying to hold the bad officials responsible — but CCP has not been very successful, for obvious reasons.

December 18, 2005 @ 12:09 am | Comment

Sun Bin, sorry for my less than precise use of language here – I meant that the article itself is really well-done.

December 18, 2005 @ 1:22 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.