Thursday, Apr 17, 2014, 6:40 PM CST – China

Editorial

China must prevent a “hard landing” of public frustration

Many liken Chinese society to a pressure cooker with no release valve.

In recent years, China has witnessed a series of bombings and murders in public places, killing and injuring innocent people. Many have warned that China is seeing a wave of what has been called “new-style terrorism” – criminology professor Wu Boqin, for example, has said that these incidents are “individual crimes of suicidal terrorism.”

Conducted in public and intended to injure both the perpetrator and innocent bystanders, these crimes aim to cause chaos, and should, in theory, be condemned by the public.

However, these incidents are often been met with understanding, and even support, from the public. For example, when 60-year-old petitioner Chen Shuizong killed 47 people (including himself) by setting fire to a crowded bus in Xiamen, capital of Fujian Province on June 7, he received messages of sympathy online. According to some commenters, Chen’s only fault was killing ordinary people – they believed he should have targeted government personnel.

In a more recent case, Ji Zhongxing, a disabled 33-year-old petitioner, detonated a home-made bomb at Beijing airport on July 20, injuring himself and a security guard. Since Ji caused far fewer casualties than previous attackers, he received an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy. This sets a very dangerous precedent – no violent act directed at the public should be tolerated or encouraged.

But for its part, the government must acknowledge that, given the rampant injustice embedded in the current legal and political system, they themselves are responsible for the growing public hatred towards China’s authorities. To a large extent, sympathy for these crimes reflects public frustration with the existing legal system – it is relatively easy for Chinese people to understand the rationale of those who have been pushed over the edge.

According to Professor Wu Boqin, these crimes, often conducted by petitioners who have failed to have their grievances addressed by the authorities, can be seen as the release of an accumulation of psychological tension. Many people feel this same tension, albeit to a lesser degree. When the level of tension exceeds a person’s limit, it may erupt in a criminal act – some have warned that everyone wronged is a ticking time-bomb.

Many liken Chinese society to a pressure cooker with no release valve. With the recent spate of suicidal violence, there is concern that societal tension may soon exceed its limit, and trigger widespread unrest. A “hard landing” of public frustration would be more damaging than a hard landing for China’s economy.

To deal with the issue, China should take drastic measures to reform its legal system to achieve genuine rule of law. Not only should the courts be granted meaningful independence from political intervention, the legal rights of the people must be respected. This is the only way to maintain stability in the long run.

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