Crime and Punishment

The criminal cases of Li Qiming and Yao Jiaxin.

I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure the Chinese legal system works like a lottery. The judges, if they haven’t been bribed or given a decision by higher officials, spin a comically oversized wheel a la Wheel of Fortune or Price is Right and go with whatever it says.

Yesterday morning, the Intermediate People’s Court of Xi’an sentenced Yao Jiaxin, the 21-year-old student at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music who ran over and subsequently stabbed to death cafeteria assistant Zhang Miao, because, as we all know, a “peasant woman would be hard to deal with.”

The verdict comes not three months after the famous “Li Gang Incident” where Li Qiming, driving drunk, ran over two female students before fleeing the scene. One of the students, Chen Xiaofeng, later died in the hospital. Though these two crimes are tragically similar, their outcomes are not. While Li was convicted of driving while intoxicated and vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 6 years in prison, Yao was found guilty of murder and will receive the death penalty if his case is not appealed. Let’s take a look at the evidence to see if we can’t divine some kind of logic out of these two incidents.

Name Li Qiming Yao Jiaxin
People killed 1 1
People injured 1 2
Drunk? Yes No
Teary-eyed television apology? Yes Yes
Famous dad? Yes No
Compensation to victim (RMB) 460,000 to deceased; 91,000 to injured 45,498.50 to deceased
Sentence 6 years in prison Death

Here’s what I get from all this: if you’re going to kill someone in China, do it right.

First, make sure you have some guanxi, the more the better, and preferably a Party member. Seriously, write this down, you’ll thank me next time you’re driving drunk.

Second, make sure you have enough money to weather the storm. Life is precious, but that doesn’t mean it’s priceless. Don’t let the Visa commercials fool you: the value of a life can be calculated and, if the medieval Catholic church has taught us anything, forgiveness can be bought with cold hard cash. Here’s the math: all together, Li paid 12 times more than Yao for killing someone and received 6 years in jail. So Yao should receive 72 years in jail (6 times 12 is 72!). Right now Yao is 21, and after 72 years in jail he’d be 93, which is pretty much death anyway so why not cut to the chase? See, the system works! Poor Yao Jiaxin, if only his family had scrounged up some more money, maybe things would be different. This is a note for all Chinese parents: when you get the phone call that your child has killed someone, refinance your mortgage, liquidate his college fund, do whatever it takes to get that money into the hands of the deceased, you won’t regret it.

Ultimately the most important determinant for getting away with murder is not attracting public attention. Li Qiming might never have set foot in a musty jail cell if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their damn camera phones. (As a side note, you shouldn’t name drop your father and simultaneously coin a catch phrase that encapsulates everything wrong with modern Chinese society.) Look at how public opinion ruined Li. If netizens hadn’t pushed so hard for a verdict maybe his case would have stayed under the radar. What makes some people on the Internet dangerous is that they still believe in and actively pursue justice in a country that has largely abandoned principles like fairness and equality. So lesson learned: you need public opinion on your side. Props to both of these guys for having the guts to go on television and cry but honestly, some acting lessons and glycerine would have done wonders.

Okay, perhaps some of you are thinking I’m being unfair because these two crimes are so different. Yao Jiaxin brutally murdered a peasant while Li Qiming merely ran two people over while under the influence of alcohol, then attempted to flee the scene, leaving a female college student to die in the street like a wounded animal. Point taken. Li didn’t actually murder Chen Xiaofeng, he just created very favorable conditions for her to die. It’s not murder, it’s euthanasia! Foolish Yao, why did he murder Zhang Miao when he could have just hit her harder?

To really get a sense of how fair these verdicts are, let’s compare them with some other famous cases in the last few years.

Name Crime / Official Offense Sentence
Ma Yaohai Organizing group sex / Group licentiousness 3.5 years in prison
Liu Xiaobo Charter ’08 / Inciting subversion of state power 11 years in prison
Tan Zuoren Investigating deaths in Sichuan earthquake / Inciting subversion of state power 5 years in prison
Huang Qi Investigating Sichuan school collapses / Suspicion of illegally possessing state secrets 11 years in prison

Activists take note! Stop with the signs and the petitions, they won’t do any good. A better choice is to choose someone who you disagree with and run them over. Don’t kill them outright, but injure them severely enough so that they die in the hospital. (This might take some practice.) Hopefully, just like Li Qiming, you will get charged with manslaughter and go to jail for about the same time. However, this might jeopardize your chance at a Nobel Peace Prize.

I hope you’ve all learned something today. I don’t want to sound cynical but nobody likes an amateur. If you are going to do something, do it right. Next time some girl on a bicycle is in your way and you don’t think you can stop in time, don’t brake—take another shot of Chivas and step on the gas like you mean it.