The government has confirmed that as many as 30,000 people rioted in a town in southwestern China this past weekend after the death of a 17-year-old girl, Li Shufen, whose body was found in a local river. Police ruled the death a suicide by drowning, but residents of Weng’an County in Guizhou Province believe the teenager was raped and murdered — and that police covered up the crime to protect three young suspects who are relatives of senior officials in the local Communist Party apparatus.
Hundreds of Li’s high school classmates staged a protest outside the local police station, and when police used force to disperse them, an angry mob formed and responded by attacking and torching the station as well as a local government building. Twenty police cruisers and other vehicles were also set ablaze.
The riot is reminder of how even rumors of wrongdoing can bring people out in the streets in China because of simmering public anger over party corruption and deep mistrust of the government and its media outlets. As described in Out of Mao’s Shadow, the party has been struggling to contain these “mass incidents” — in 2004, police reported 74,000 of them, or more than 200 every day. This one in Guizhou stands out because it seems more destructive than most — and because it has resulted in an outpouring of outrage across the country on the Internet. Residents posted their suspicions about the girl’s death, along with photos and video clips of the riots, and the censors were slow to delete them. It’s just the latest example of the power of the Web to quickly spread news the party would rather keep under wraps. You can actually see people holding up their cellphones to snap photos and record videos in many of the amateur clips, including this one below.
Read coverage of the riot in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Guardian. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has an article about how people are getting around the Internet censors to spread the word about what happened in Weng’an. Xinhua, the state news agency, issued a unusually detailed report in English here, though state media is taking a much tougher line in Chinese. Still, you can also catch a good glimpse of the rioting in this official news report broadcast on provincial television. China Digital Times has also linked to several amateur videos of the rioting here. If you subscribe to the South China Morning Post, you can read day-to-day coverage of the aftermath, including efforts by the authorities to pressure the girl’s parents into accepting a “compensation” payment of about $1300 from the suspects and drop the matter.