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Date Posted: 10:34 24/11/2003



Murderers rampage through China shock

The Chinese government is apparently on the rocks after a spate of serial killings


DOES THE recent arrest of two serial killers in the provinces of Henan and Hebei have anything to say about the corruption, the decay, the decadence of the Chinese Communist Party? Apparently it does, if you believe what you read in the press. The fact that there are murderers in this massive country shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but when you write about China, everything - of course - has to be about something else, must somehow be referenced to the era of Chairman Mao, and should ideally provide some tenuous indication that the nation is about to disintegrate into chaos.

In this case, it is about the government being able to keep the people safe. Running Dog is trying to recall if the case of Fred and Rose West was treated so portentously, or whether the nefarious activities of Dr. Harold Shipman were ever connected to the frailties or failures of the ancien regime of Jim Callaghan.

The Chinese government's authoritarian rule means that everything that happens within China is then attributed to them, and the choice for most hacks is whether it is a sin of omission or commission. Thus, an uneducated drifter named Yang who embarked on a long killing spree across Anhui, Henan and Shandong, killing 65, seriously injuring 5, and raping 23 before finally being arrested earlier this month, somehow becomes exemplary. He reflects the lack of morality in Chinese society, or at least a decline in the moral and correctional reach of Beijing. Traditional fears about the ability of the government to protect its citizens are on the rise, say experts.

In any case, many foreign reports, including one in The Guardian, suggested that these killings reflected badly on the Communist government, and so were downplayed in the local press. Matthew Forney, in Time Asia, focuses on a gruesome serial killing in Shenzhen, and after giving due attention to the ease with which 'predatory transients' can now travel through the country, also suggests that the lack of transparency has put more people at risk.

The local press, however, have still been accused of sensationalism. Reminiscent of the debates in the west about media violence, a psychologist quoted last week in Youth Daily criticized journalists for the part they have played in the recent spate of violent crimes. Apart from Yang, the psychologist was also taking particular note of the man who lured more than 20 boys from net bars and then tortured them to death in the city of Zhumadian, in Henan Province, and also the 10 young women killed in Guangdong after being recruited into a bogus employment agency.

The psychologist said that competition among the media had become more intense. 'Competitive reporting' was unfair to the victims. 'This bloody reporting could easily influence readers, especially the youth, and could lead to unthinkable social consequences,' he said.

He said that recent social changes – including growing economic divisions, more single-parent households, and greater pressure – have created a number of psychological problems. If the media isn't careful, and just 'wantonly' reports on these 'deviant' cases, it could lead to copycat behaviour. If the media keeps on sensationalizing cases involving sex and violence, Chinese youth might start imitating.

Particular attention should be given to the sexual education of children, said the psychologist, nothing that most crazed killers were 'sexual deviants'. The media, the family, and the school were all crucial in this regard. This is the information age, he said, and kids now pick up their knowledge from a diverse range of sources.

The growing sensationalism of the Chinese media is obvious. The redoubtable Xinhua news agency today regaled its readers with the lurid details of how a menage a trois became an intricate Elmore Leonard-style crime passionelle in Hubei Province. It seems that as media groups become more of a business, and are driven more and more by market forces, they are – like their Western counterparts – sinking into a downward spiral of sex and drugs and celebrity scandal. They are filling more and more space with 'lifestyle' features and glossy advertorials, and are abandoning the grainy shots of PLA generals and political conferences for the images of models on catwalks and an endless procession of Cantopop divas. Old-style political propaganda is giving way to PR puffery. The only space left for development is low-level crime – the gloomy, denuded pages of Shanghai Daily still manage to find room for the failed scams involving migrants from Anhui Province, the prostitution and pickpocketing, the incidents of road rage and the petty acts of hooliganism throughout this great city. It's either that, or yet more crap from the Shanghai International U-Bend Conference being held at the Shangrila Hotel in Pudong.

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