The recent news of a group of men brutally attacking several women in Hebei province’s Tangshan city has shocked China.
While all nine suspects have been arrested and the Tangshan authorities have promised to mete out harsh and swift punishment, the public remains unappeased. At its peak, almost half of the 50 top searches on Weibo were related to this incident.
Perpetrators with repeat offences
The violent assault drew such outrage because it impinges on everyone’s sense of safety, not just that of Chinese women. People are fearful that the same fate might befall them — they could be harassed by hooligans while dining or get beaten up in a public place for standing up to roguish behaviour.
If not for the surveillance footage of the incident being widely shared online, the offenders may not have been caught so quickly and justice may not have been served.
People are asking: "How did these criminals escape China’s years of high-profile national crackdown on gang crimes?"
Some of the assailants are repeat offenders with a bad track record. The main culprit Chen Jizhi was involved in a false imprisonment case in December 2015 and a hit-and-run case in 2017. He was also listed as a defaulter in 2018 and 2020, and was involved in an unjust enrichment case in 2019.
Another suspect with the surname Liu was also accused of beating and locking up a victim in a car boot for ten hours; the victim suffered a depressed frontal bone fracture and brain contusion. Another suspect with the surname Chen, who was convicted of running an illegal gambling house, completed his sentence on 14 January 2021 at Liyang prison in Jiangsu province.
Organised crimes and gang activity
Based on the motivation and modus operandi of the group of perpetrators, it is clear that these are hardened aggressive bullies acting with the distinct traits of a criminal gang. All of them fled the scene of the crime and none turned themselves in. People are asking: "How did these criminals escape China’s years of high-profile national crackdown on gang crimes?"
Between 2018 and 2020, China implemented a three-year campaign against organised crime. Statistics from the Ministry of Public Security showed that during these three years, various public security bureaus eliminated 3,644 mafia-type organisations, busted 11,675 other criminal gangs and cracked down on 246,000 cases. Since 2021, authorities have normalised the crackdown on organised crimes and pledged to maintain a tough stance against such illegal activities.
In fact, on 8 June, Tangshan city held a meeting on the crackdown on organised crimes, where Lai Guangpu, member of the Standing Committee of the Tangshan Municipal Committee and secretary of the Political and Legal Committee, urged various departments to further enhance their political positions, strengthen the verification of criminal leads, the handling of criminal cases and black money, and stringently eradicate the forces behind gangs and corruption.
There is still a long way to go before China meets its aim of normalising anti-crime measures and the rule of law.
He emphasised the need for the authorities to possess a strong sense of responsibility and to properly carry out their duties in cracking down organised crimes and gangs on a regular basis so as to ensure better security in Tangshan, construct a good “political moat” of the capital, and usher in a successful 20th Party Congress with excellent performance.
But two days later, this incident of suspected gang members attacking women occurred, highlighting the rampant vice in Tangshan. Furthermore, soon after the incident, a netizen with a verified identity shared the experience of being beaten up and falsely imprisoned for 16 hours with colleagues by the owner of a bar in Tangshan. The news quickly caught the public’s attention.
Obviously, such crimes are not exclusive to Tangshan. There is still a long way to go before China meets its aim of normalising anti-crime measures and the rule of law.
The authorities have stepped up on anti-crime measures over the years, and coupled with the widespread use of public surveillance cameras, the incidence of criminal cases in China has dropped significantly compared with the 1980s and 1990s, and even with the first decade of this century. The public's sense of security has greatly improved.
However, the assaults in Tangshan have ignited people’s anxiety, as they fear that anybody could become a victim. Hence, the assault has remained a trending topic online.
Tarnished image of safety
The incident has also hurt China’s services sector, which has suffered since the pandemic broke out in 2020. Since March this year, Shanghai, Jilin, Beijing and Inner Mongolia have once again been hit by outbreaks of the virus, exacerbating the slump in the food and beverage industry. Some netizens feel that the assault case in Tangshan will affect the evening economy that is just beginning to recover, as people fear for their safety at night.
A netizen with the handle “Alpha Military” (阿尔法军事) wrote a post on 12 June saying that safety was China’s calling card, but the Tangshan incident has damaged China’s international image. He/she wrote, “Look at the excitement of the US and Western media in reporting this, and how the Indian media has made this news a hot topic, and it is clear how they are interested in China’s calling card.”
The public will want to know how the perpetrators will be punished and if they are indeed “protected”.
Now, with the nine assault suspects arrested, the Hebei public security department has assigned the case to Langfang city’s police bureau to avoid possible interference by powerful factions or individuals from Tangshan. The public will want to know how the perpetrators will be punished and if they are indeed “protected”.
The suspects have been charged with disorderly conduct and causing intentional bodily harm. Offenders charged with disorderly conduct could face a maximum sentence of ten years of imprisonment, while those charged with intentional bodily harm leading to death, severe injury or disability would face at least ten years imprisonment, life imprisonment or the death penalty.
The two victims are currently in stable condition in the hospital, so a heavy penalty for the assailants is unlikely. However, if the perpetrators are found to be gang members and their previous serious offences are re-examined, they may be heavily sentenced.
Considering the severity of the assault case and the public’s outrage, the relevant agencies may come down swiftly and heavily in punishing the assailants, to remove public concerns over personal security and safety.
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