By Sophie Site Jia
On the evening of October 16, 2010, a black Volkswagen Magotan was stopped for interrogation after the driver hit two female students who were rollerskating at Hebei University. The driver, with his girlfriend in the car, did not stop when he first hit the victims, but continued to drive as if nothing had happened. He was later stopped on his way back by students and school security guards. With immense haughtiness, he shouted, ¡°Go ahead and sue me if you dare, my dad is Li Gang!¡± The incident caused the death of one of the girls and let the other severely injured. He was later convicted on charges of drunk driving and speeding.
This scene immediately sparked intense debate from enraged netizens on China¡¯s major online forums. The ultimate question remained: who exactly is Li Gang? Li Gang, the perpetrator Li Qiming¡¯s father, is the deputy director of the Baoding public security bureau. According to the human flesh search engines (a Chinese internet phenomenon of massive online research), Li Gang had five property holdings in total, among which three were under Li Qiming¡¯s name. These holdings clearly exceeded the financial ability of a deputy director. In other words, Li Gang must have been involved in illegal practices, already common among power holders in China. Since the incident, Chinese netizens created a major internet meme using the words ¡°my dad is Li Gang¡± to ridicule the ¡°rich-second-generation¡± phenomenon (it mainly refers to young people whose parents hold lucrative and powerful positions in China), even calling the whole incident the ¡°Li Gang Gate¡±.
As the mystery of Li Gang unfolded, other suspicions came to light. Strangely enough, none of the eyewitnesses from that night was willing to talk about the incident the next day. One of the students from the university said in private: ¡°the school does not allow us to tell the truth, so it will be difficult to find eyewitnesses. If the school catches any words from the media, the students involved will be given infractions, and everyone is afraid of that. The eyewitnesses can only remain silent.¡± (Guangzhou Daily, 2010 October 21). In other words, Hebei University issued a ¡°gag order¡± to almost everyone in its community immediately after the Li Gang Gate. What exactly is Hebei University trying to hide?
Some online sources claimed that severely injured Zhang Jingjing had agreed to secret terms and accepted a victim-offender reconciliation plan: abandon the appeal in return for substantial monetary compensation and graduate admission to Heibei University (even Ph.D. study) in the major of her choice. In addition, other roommates in Zhang Jingjing¡¯s dorm room would all be secured graduate admissions. If true, the secret agreement distorts justice and contaminates the social conscience. Heibei University did not respond to these allegations, nor to the ¡°gag order¡± it issued. For a higher institution of learning such as Heibei University, such behaviors are deeply troubling and disappointing.
Within a week, Li Gang appeared on CCTV news for a private interview, where he apologized with tears in his eyes and promised to compensate the surviving girl. ¡°Law will determine justice. I won¡¯t shield my own son from punishment¡±, he said. Li Qiming, for the first time, wept in the interview, but many netizens called this a scripted show to divert public attention. They were suspicious that Li Qiming was only trying to get away from public condemnation.
The contrast was striking: the prestigious position Li Gang held collapsed in the blink of an eye as he ¡°sincerely¡± apologized for his son¡¯s wrongdoing using one of China¡¯s most powerful state-run media outlets ¨CCCTV. Crying in front of the public, Li Gang seemed to be the ¡°victim¡± himself. However, many netizens asked, were the victims¡¯ parents able to appear on CCTV like Li Gang to talk about their experience? Unsurprisingly, they were not. Whether Li Gang was putting on a show does not ultimately matter. What is important in this case is the legal system¡¯s response to Li Qiming himself, the best indicator of China¡¯s bureaucratic transparency and justice. It might well be that Li Qiming will be punished after his conviction of drunk driving that caused death; if he behaves himself during probation, when the peak of the debate loses its momentum, he may well go free unnoticed. That is definitely an ideal outcome for Li Gang following his CCTV interview. If this is the case, it will illustrate that the whole state-run media has become a tool for public relations, without justice and media conscience. Citizens are left to wonder how long those with authority will continue to abuse their ties, and how many more tactics those manipulators will use to profit from systematic governmental loopholes. As soon as the media diverts public attention and alleviates outrage, Li Gang gate will quietly fade into history and the victims will never have their justice.
The greatest criticism should not, in fact, be placed on Li Gang, but on his son Li Qiming, who took as a given that his father¡¯s privileged status should lend him special protections from the law. Let¡¯s rewind a little bit ¨C if Li Qiming did not shout out that sentence, Li Gang would have likely concealed his crime and his son might have gone free. With most of the country¡¯s wealth held by a small percentage of elites in China, the ¡°rich-second-generation¡± lacks a certain awareness of law and justice. In their minds, their parents can manipulate and even establish laws if they want. With such a mentality implanted from childhood, no wonder they take for granted social favoritism as an ultimate means to achieve goals. This incident and its repercussions not only exposed Li Gang and Li Qiming in particular, but all people who exploit the flaws within the system of authority to their advantage. Li Gang Gate is only one indicator of a widespread disease. If not cured in time, the problems of the central authority will eventually be too heavy to bear, and eventually this corrupted system of governance will haunt us all.