Why China Should Consign Its Bounty Hunters to History

A commentary by Bao Tong
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Woman to Sue Over Killing of Her Son in China's Heilongjiang Lawyer visits mother of shooting victim Xu Chunhe in hospital, May 11, 2015.
Photo courtesy of lawyer Xie Yang

Everyone is talking about the shooting death of Xu Chunhe in Heilongjiang province's Qing'an county, and everyone is saying something different. There are several versions going around.

The version I heard goes like this: Both Xu Chunhe and his wife are pretty sick. He has kidney disease and a congenital heart defect, while his wife suffers from schizophrenia. They are a poor family with an elderly mother to take care of, and they have asked to have their three young sons, aged three, five and six be taken into the care of an orphanage, but this was refused.

With no other option in sight, they bought train tickets to go to Dalian [in Liaoning province], where relatives would be able to take care of the elderly mother and three children. At the station, he was intercepted by police, who thought he was going to complain or petition to higher authorities, and who refused to allow him to board the train. Xu was beaten, wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, and eventually shot dead by one of the police officers involved in the struggle.

There are other versions. But I can only speak on the basis of my own version. Some people think that this man who died was the dregs of society, that his death was natural and inevitable, and they exhibit generally good feelings about it.

I think it was a tragedy; not just for Xu Chunhe, but for the rule of law and for the whole nation.

There are a lot of key points in this case that are worth outlining and discussing.


One is the cause of his death; the fact that police are obliged to take on the political task of intercepting those who petition or complain.

I don't know if they are ordered to do this by the central government, and I shouldn't make presumptions. But I am sure that this job of intercepting petitioners is common in many regions, and a lot of major public transportation routes have police officers specially tasked with doing this.

I also heard that intercepting petitioners is linked to vested economic interests, because local governments that need interceptors will likely be criticized and even fined for it by their superiors in the government.

Interceptors who do a good job are often well rewarded by local leaders. I also heard that this work is regarded as a key task linked to national stability and the personal prestige of local leaders, and that those involved in it must protect their turf and do it properly; no empty boasts are allowed.

If the above is incorrect, I hope that the relevant departments in the central government will clarify the situation and refute these scandalous rumors, so that petitioners across the country will no longer have to be subject to the terror of illegal detention.

If these rules do indeed exist, written or unwritten, I hope that the relevant departments in central government will immediately revoke them, and protect the right of our citizens to appeal to higher authorities, thereby implementing the rule of law.

'An important lesson'

We should mourn the man who died. His death has taught us an important lesson; that the truth will come out, and that we must be conscientious in the aftermath.

The most important thing is that we as a nation should progress. I think it might well count as progress of some sort, if we were to consign these written or unwritten rules on intercepting petitioners to the showcases of the Museum of Revolutionary History.

Back in 2003, I recall there was a citizen by the name of Sun Zhigang who was beaten to death in a temporary shelter for the homeless. The reason for his death lay with the homeless shelter system, and our country's leaders learned a painful lesson from this, and speedily abolished the homeless shelter system.

I seem to remember that the person in charge of the Central Politics and Law Commission at the time was Zhou Yongkang, who is now himself the subject of a criminal case, presumably for numerous misdeeds.

Fifteen years have gone by. Let's hope that the powers that be today won't behave even worse than Zhou Yongkang did back then.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

Translator's note: Former head of China's ruling Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Zhou Yongkang was charged with bribery, abuse of power and the intentional disclosure of state secrets on April 3, 2015.


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