Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

More Chinese Justice

Posted by w_thames_the_d on June 22, 2010

Lottery officials in Shaanxi province rejected a winning ticket, calling it a fake and denying its bearer, a 17-year-old security guard named Liu Liang (this man was poor, probably made less than 50U$ per month), the grand prize of a $58,000 BMW and 120,000 yuan ($14,510) in cash.

Liu became so angry about being accused of fraud and denied the car that he climbed atop a high advertising billboard and threatened to jump as a show of innocence. But the story didn’t end when police officers managed to talk him down. News broadcasts covered his continued insistence that he did not forge his ticket, along with the lottery center’s claims that their rejection of the ticket was legitimate.

The police finally stepped in and, after a careful investigation, announced that they had found the true criminal: Yang Yongming, a private businessman whom the local lottery administration had contracted to organize ticket sales. Yang had conspired with the government officials directing the lottery, who were arrested for malfeasance, to fraudulently obtain the top prizes. In June Liu Liang finally got what he deserved – a BMW-325i sedan and a sincere apology from the lottery center.

If the first scandal was a tragedy, the second was more like a farce. But both offer keys to understanding contemporary Chinese psychology. The outcry after the first BMW case was not really about the light sentence given to a rich woman, but about the lack of confidence ordinary people have in China’s judicial system. In China, power, money, and connections trump the law. Even as they are becoming ever more litigious, many Chinese believe that they have no hope of securing justice against the powerful. The apathetic response of the dead peasant woman’s husband to the $10,000 in compensation he received was telling. “I don’t care about the verdict and whether it is justice or not,” he said.

The most harmful consequence is the public’s loss of trust in the system. Social trust is not something you can buy with money. If an entire society believes that you cannot depend on legal rights for protection – that one must instead rely on a web of relationships with those who have power and influence – questions about whether such a society is livable or desirable will remain.

from http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/hu1/English

by Hu Wong

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