A small regional town in Sichuan province in western China has become the latest site for the vast number of protests occurring across the country in response to people’s discontent with rampant corruption and government impunity.
Up to 20,000 people, according to some reports, demonstrated over a number of days outside the four-star Nest Business Hotel following the death of a 16-year-old female hotel worker, who was raped and murdered on the premises. On the night of January 17, the protests reached a climax as people stormed the hotel and set it alight. Others in the crowd stopped attempts by fire crews to put the fire out. After five hours the fire was extinguished, but not before the hotel was extensively damaged (see photo at right).
Official reports in state-controlled media initially stated that Yang Daili died from alcohol poisoning early in the morning of December 30, 2006, after being with hotel guests (unofficial reports suggest these guests were government officials).
However, the circumstances surrounding her death were suspicious and her friends and family refused to believe reports given by the hotel owners and the police. Reports from non-official media stated that Yang Daili had been drugged, sexually assaulted and brutally mutilated before dying.
The hotel is owned by a police station director and local government officials and following Yang Daili’s death, the hotel offered her parents 500,000 RMB (approx. US$65,000) to settle the matter privately. Her family refused the offer and demanded a proper investigation.
Reports suggest that at first the police failed to investigate properly and continued to claim Yang Daili had died from alcohol poisoning. A later claim was made that there were needle marks on her arms and had died from drugs. Her father Yang Wanguo then began to receive conflicting reports: “the county government found a report from who knows where that said my daughter had been raped. But I have yet to see this report… the provincial judicial department came to do two autopsies. They said that the four needle marks were fake. We are totally befuddled” (quoted in Southern Metropolis Daily, 19 January 2007). Police arrested a hotel worker, but friends and family did not believe this was the real culprit.
Stirred by the inadequacies of the government response and suspicious of collusion between the police and government officials, friends and family began to assemble outside the hotel in protest on 15 January.
The protests swelled over the next two days until 17 January when, in effect, a rebellion broke out, which targeted the hotel.
This response by the people of Dazhu can only be understood in the context of the systematic corruption and impunity of government officials in contemporary China. Workers have no protection in their jobs. There are no independent unions which can agitate and organize to defend workers’ interests. The police offer no avenue for justice. Economic inequality grows by leaps and bounds.
At the same time a class made up of government, military and party officials collude with business interests in a drive for the continuous accumulation of personal wealth through exploitation and corruption.
Such circumstances are the breeding grounds for rebellion, and each “incident” such as occurred in Dazhu, cumulatively builds ever greater waves of mass revulsion at the failure of the government in China to develop a society built on justice, equality, and democracy.