He was a successful public official. Not only was he Vice-Secretary of the Communist Party Standing Committee of Yongcheng City, a county-level city in Henan Province, but he moonlighted as a teacher in the language and culture department of Yongcheng Vocational College. He had been commended multiple times as an “outstanding Party worker.”
But Li Xingong (李新功) also lived another life. In that life, he lured dozens of girls as young as 11 years old into his black, unmarked Chevrolet, where he would rape them. He promised payments to students at one of the city’s middle schools who could help find him potential victims. Finally, on the evening of May 8, 2012, Li was caught in the act and arrested.
According to a report by the Youth Times (Chinese), a police raid of Li’s personal effects revealed a “large number” of condoms, lubricants and aphrodisiacs. On his personal computer were stored pornographic pictures as well as the the QQ numbers of many young girls. (QQ is a widely used chat service in China.) It is now suspected that Li Xingong may have neared 100 different victims before he was finally caught.
China’s netizens have spared no word in assailing Li Xingong and his crimes. On Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, they have demanded he be sentenced to death as soon as possible, with many calling for him to be subjected to a variety of corporal and capital punishments including castration, drawing and quartering, hanging, and a variety of other brutal measures used in imperial China. They are calling him a “beast” and “human scum.”
In the face of horrific facts, it is unsurprising to see an outpouring of anger and grief. But netizens are doubly perturbed by the reaction of local authorities to their fallen colleague: Silence, and an order for no one to speak or to accept interviews about the affair. The Youth Times reporter, using the pen name “Hot News Orange” (鲜橙热闻), wrote, “Before this reporter finished [his/her] story, [he/she] was advised by others that it would be ‘best not to do interviews first…people will thank you.’”
Making matters worse, local authorities either hid, or completely failed to understand, the extent of Li’s crime. A press release by Yongcheng authorities just two days ago said that “According to investigation, Li Xingong is suspected of raping over ten girls.” But according to the anonymous reporter, “A survey of victims’ families lasting over ten days revealed the number of Li’s victims far surpassed those recorded on his computer, most likely numbering close to 100.” Police have explained that Li himself admitted to over ten.
With estimates differing by an order of magnitude, netizens have made quite clear whom they trust more. In over 389,000 tweets on Weibo, netizens felt systemic problems were to blame for what amounted to a cover-up, or at least reflexive foot-dragging, from authorities predisposed to “shelter” one of their own. @我唔系Du仔 asked, “After this, how are we supposed to trust the official findings when they are released?”
Observers are not simply angered by the crime, and the cover-up. Many are publicly wondering how Li could lead two lives that were so different for so long, not only without detection, but with repeated instance of Party commendation.
To many, an unaccountable and fiercely protective Party organization lies at the root. Not only do netizens think the local Party is trying to protect Li, they feel that officials like him are an inevitable (if occasional) byproduct of the system around him. @见习医生85875239 wrote, “The cells in certain organizations have become diseased, and there are terminal symptoms.”
More tragic than the shattered trust in government is the broken lives of so many children who fell victim to an unchecked Li. Widely-followed microblogger Lian Peng (@连鹏), also enraged by the gag order issued by Yongcheng officials, asked them directly, “Do you have children?”
@郑洪升 reminded users that Children’s Day, when Chinese parents celebrate their (mostly) only children, is June 1, just days away. “Because of Li Xingong’s brutality…a layer of shadow will cover Children’s Day.” Even if the local party does the unexpected and steps forward to take responsibility, it will no doubt take parents in Yongcheng many Junes before they feel at ease handing their precious ones over to local schools again.