China's suicide bomber: Hero or
heroine? By Kent Ewing
HONG KONG - For 24 hours last week, it
appeared China had witnessed its first female
suicide bomb attack, but the perpetrator wasn't a
Uyghur protester or a Tibetan separatist; rather,
she appeared to have been one of the millions of
angry victims of government land grabs - this one
taking place in a remote township in southwestern
Almost immediately, the
story went viral, attracting a legion of followers
and underscoring both the breadth and depth of the
outrage and frustration generated across the
nation by illegal government land seizures.
With alarming ease, microbloggers
dismissed the carnage the bomb had wrought - four
people died in the blast, including the bomber,
and 16 others were injured, four seriously - and
hailed the bomber as a modern-day "heroine" and
"pioneer" for the land
rights of common people.
"When laws can no longer extend justice,"
wrote one, "this behavior is most righteous."
Until last Thursday's explosion, female
suicide bombers were unheard of in China, and
commentators were quick to note the potential
significance of the gender of the attacker, with
some analysts suggesting that this gruesome act of
desperation and defiance could become a landmark
event in the battle against illicit land seizures
by corrupt local officials.
Amid the shock
and horror, there was hope that the long-standing
problem of the rampant expropriation of land would
finally be addressed.
A day later,
however, the official version of the story carried
by state media had changed completely. Now the
suicide bomber was not a woman - and, according to
some previous reports, a woman carrying a baby -
but a 26-year-old man named Zhao Dengyong who had
only recently moved to the township, Baihetan,
where the attack took place and was not involved
in a land dispute.
Local police speculated
that Zhao's motive for the attack may have been
"revenge on society", and Chinese Communist Party
secretary for Qiaojia county, in which Baihetan is
located, described Zhao as a dangerous sociopath
with a criminal record, although no evidence of
this has been presented to the public.
Readers would be right to wonder how the
substance of the story could change so
confusion, at the same time that the official
Xinhua News Agency was naming Zhao, a day laborer
and motorcycle taxi driver, as the culprit, a
local newspaper, the Chuncheng Evening News, ran a
full-page report on the bombing that included a
detailed description of the female bomber, whom it
identified as a woman from Pingzi village in
Baihetan who was carrying a 15-month-old child
when the blast occurred.
Evening News article said the woman concealed the
bomb in the baby's clothes.
both reports, the bomb exploded in the demolition
bureau of Baihetan's community office as residents
lined up for compensation for farmland that had
been seized for the construction of a
hydroelectric power station. It is not known how
many people were in the building at the time.
On Thursday, Xinhua had quoted a newspaper
in Kunming, provincial capital of Yunnan, as
saying a woman detonated the bomb at 9 am after
being told to sign a relocation agreement that
would have allowed the demolition of her property.
On Friday evening, however, the agency
reported that Qiaojia public security officials
had shown its reporters closed-circuit television
footage identifying Zhao as the bomber. According
to the Xinhua report, the footage showed a man
dressed in multiple layers of clothing and
carrying a backpack enter the demolition bureau
and explode the bomb at 9:04 am.
authorities say that man was Zhao and also claim
to have found traces of Zhao's DNA at the scene.
So far, however, no witnesses spoken to by
independent news outlets can remember seeing Zhao
at the bureau that morning.
landlord described him to a reporter from Hong
Kong's South China Morning Post as a "nice, honest
man" who doesn't drink, smoke or gamble, and a
neighbor accused government officials of falsely
blaming Zhao for the blast.
Qiaojia government does not immediately rectify
its way of handling relocation, more tragedies are
sure to occur," said the neighbor, Wang Yongqiang.
Bu Qiaojia security chief Yang Chaobang
remains adamant that Zhao was the bomber.
"I can guarantee in the name of my office
and my own prospects that Zhao is the suspect in
the case," Yang reportedly told a press conference
on Monday. "As to whether there were other people
involved, police are still investigating."
Since demolitions began eight years ago in
Qiaojia, residents have complained that the
payouts offered by the local government are far
less than the sales price later collected for
their land. But their complaints to
authorities-like so many others in villages all
over China-have fallen on deaf ears.
weeks ago, a resident of Laodian, another Qiaojia
village, wound up dead after protesting against
the expropriation of his land, with other
villagers claiming he was beaten to death at the
This past year has seen a
string of such protests - big and small, peaceful
and violent - across the nation.
Wednesday, a woman in southern Guangdong
province's capital, Guangzhou, jumped to her death
as a protest against the forced demolition of her
Nearly a year ago, the city of
Fuzhou, in eastern Jiangxi province, was rocked by
three explosions outside government office
buildings that left two people dead and six
injured. Before turning violent, the bomber-Qian
Mingqi, 52, who died in the blast, had waged a
10-year campaign over the forced demolition of his
home to make way for an expressway.
December, in a story that made international
headlines and raised hope about political reform
in China, the people of the Guangdong village of
Wukan managed to oust their corrupt village
committee, which for years had been ripping off
their land and employing thugs to beat up anyone
who protested against this injustice.
February, Wukan held its first free election,
replacing those corrupt officials and, optimists
hoped, marking a step toward a more democratic
China and the beginning of the end of illegal land
The Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, an official think-tank, estimates that
6.7 million hectares of land have been arrogated
over the past 20 years; moreover, according to the
academy, total compensation paid out for that land
fell one trillion yuan (US$158.4 billion) below
the market price.
The academy also
estimates that, since China's economic boom
started in 1978, at least 50 million farmers have
lost their land and that land disputes account for
65% of the country's "mass incidents" - the
government euphemism for the kinds of protests in
which angry people who are at wit's end and see no
other form of recourse but to blow up themselves
It really doesn't matter
whether the Yunnan bomber last week was a man or a
woman - or even whether he or she was involved in
a land dispute.
No matter what the facts
are in the Yunnan incident, it underlines two
disturbing truths about China: First, despite the
promise of Wukan, corruption and land seizures are
alive and well in the country.
no one believes reports by state media.
Kent Ewing is a Hong Kong-based
teacher and writer. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter:
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