What Does a Suicide Bombing Say about Unrest in China?

Last Thursday, a Chinese suicide bomber killed three bystanders in a protest over the forced seizure of the bomber’s home by a local government in Qiaojia County, in southwestern Yunnan Province. According to local newspaper reports, the bomber was a woman from Pingzi, a village in the mountainous Baihetan township, who wrapped explosives in the clothes of her 15-month-old baby and detonated them while inside a government office that had demanded she sign over her land. Two of the dead were officials. Sixteen others were injured.

The authorities in Qiaojia initially refused to admit the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber and promised to find and punish the perpetrator. The government also set up a taskforce to investigate.

The official Xinhua News Agency has been more forthcoming. It now acknowledges that the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber but claims the perpetrator was a 26-year-old male, Zhao Dengyong. Authorities say they found Zhao’s DNA at the office and have footage of him arriving at the scene.

This version of the truth, however, is questionable. For one thing, Zhao was not known to have any grievance against the local government. Moreover, no witness has placed him at the scene. For instance, Li Weiyou, whose wife was among those killed, does not recall seeing anyone matching Zhao’s description.

Finally, Zhao was from a different township, which is 100 kilometers away from the bombed government office. Villagers, therefore, have questioned the official account. As one of them told the South China Morning Post, “Why would an outsider choose to come to this remote place to set off a bomb?”

The incident is believed to be the first of its kind in China. “It is common to see people committing suicide in protest over forced evictions, but the suicide bomber in Yunnan represents a shift of public attitudes,” notes Tang Jingling, a human rights lawyer from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. As Tang notes, in the past people just gave up but now they are coming to the view that it is right to take the lives of rapacious officials.

And the Chinese people evidently agree. Netizens have called the bomber, whose name is not known, a “heroine” and a “pioneer defending rights.” As one microblogger wrote, “When laws can no longer extend justice, this behavior is the most righteous.” And as one woman in Qiaojia County told the Post, “I would have done the same thing.”

It was just a matter of time before there was an incident like this. Officials in the area have been seizing land since 2004, and villagers have been upset that the compensation paid by local governments was much less than what those governments received from selling their land. Recently, Ding Fachao, from Laodian village, in Qiaojia, protested a forced demolition and was killed. Residents blame officials. He was taken to a government office on April 17th and died the following day.

Throughout Chinese history, patriotic officials have taken their lives to bring the plight of their country to the attention of the emperor, and one of China’s holidays, Dragon Boat Day, in the spring, commemorates the death of Qu Yuan in the Zhou Dynasty, the most remembered of these gruesome events.

These days, the apparent increase in suicide protests is evidence of the failure of the Communist Party to control its own officials. If party leaders cannot curb rampant abuses at the local level, we will likely see not just suicide bombings but mass uprisings.


Photo Credit: Ariel Steiner

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