The People’s Daily recently reported that an explosion killed one person in a residential complex in Shanxi province on February 18. Where the official account in state media lacked detail, however, online sources were quick to assert that the incident was more than a simple explosion. Li Xudong, an investigative journalist with China Business Media, posted this account of the incident on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter:
“At 9 AM on the 18, there was a big explosion affecting the family of a Shanxi province Xiangfen county tax bureau official. The government official living in the building received a phone call: ‘I’ve sent a gift for you. I set it in front of your door. Go down and get it yourself.’ The government leader sent his 22-year-old daughter (a college student home on vacation) to go pick it up. When she moved the box, it exploded violently. She was totally incinerated, and the building was structurally damaged.”
His post was quickly retweeted over 5,000 times. Other versions of the incident also included screenshots of the local news organization’s initial report from the scene, which confirmed that the girl killed was the daughter of a Chinese Communist Party official, but did not include information about the telephone call.
Reactions to these accounts, in which the bombing was political in nature, were mixed. One Weibo user commented, “Class struggle is complicated.” Another, wrote “Killing the chicken to scare the monkey [a Chinese phrase meaning to make an example of someone]! It makes one so very happy.” Someone even summed up the general sentiment of the responses: “I only get one impression from looking at all these comments. The people are extremely angry.”
Netizen @必须各种坑 responded to those voices:
What a bunch of idiots. A young girl in her twenties was killed in an explosion, and people are actually clapping and saying how great it is. They don’t even say what the government official did to anger people so. Even if he did do something terrible, it’s no excuse for killing his children. The kind of person who could have done this is no ordinary person; this leader probably stepped on the toes of some powerful person. All those truly corrupt officials are living great lives, who would be killed by shitzens [slang for ordinary Chinese people] like you?
Still more netizens questioned the veracity of the information. No one posting the information about the alleged phone call indicated the source of that detail, which presumably only the government official or the perpetrator would know. Some even stated that the explosion was probably not a bomb at all, but an accident that happened to kill the young girl. Such bombings are not unheard of in China, but the targeting of government officials is rare and more prevalent in countries with ongoing military conflicts or insurgencies.
An investigation into the cause of the bombing is underway, according to state-run media, and it may never be clear whether the telephone call is part of the true story or a baseless conspiracy theory. The gleeful responses to the incident, however, may serve as proof that public sympathy with local government officials is extremely low.