China: Yihuang self-immolation incident and the power of microblogging
By Oiwon Lam
Chinese online public opinion has once again changed the course of an event, this time regarding a forced demolition and consequent self-immolation protest in Yihuang county, Jiangxi.
On September 10, the Zhong family were confronted by 40 local police officers and urban administrators seeking to carry out the forced demolition of their home to make room for new construction. To protest against the demolition, three family members set themselves aflame and jumped off the roof of their house. They were sent to a hospital in Nanchang city all in critical condition and one of them pronounced dead on September 18.
Southern Metropolis Daily was the first mainstream newspaper to report the incident on September 12.EastSouthWestNorth website has translated the full report. The incident was quickly “harmonized” (suppressed) in mainstream media and major web portals by the propaganda department and web-censors.
However, a critical turn happened on September 16 when two female members of the Zhong family, Zhong Rucui and Zhong Rujiu, decided to travel to Beijing for a petition visit (a process whereby citizens can have their grievances heard by government). On their way to Nanchang airport, they were chased by police and government officials. In the end, the two girls reportedly locked themselves in the airport lavatory and sent out mobile text messages to local reporters seeking help.
A number of blogging journalists started to live cast the event on Sina and Tencent micro-blogs. Among some of those reporting were Deng Fei and Miss Cha. Although most of the original text messages on the micro-blogs have been deleted, a number of messages and photos have managed to spread throughout the internet.
For example, the photo which accompanies this post showing the helpless expression of two sisters has been reposted on Sina’s microblog 2479 times and has so far received 842 comments in one single thread:
This article originally appeared in Global Voices. Reprinted with their kind permission.