For eight years, Ji Zhongxing, 34, has had unfinished business with his government. In 2005, he was allegedly beaten by local officials of the city of Dongguan, in the Guangdong province of Southern China, to the point of paralysis. Ji had been operating an unlicensed motorcycle taxi business and tried to evade a random spot-check.
Following the assault, Ji was confined to a wheelchair and began to petition for justice in his case—namely, an investigation into the government misconduct at its center. As Quartz reported:
[M]any Chinese are becoming increasingly outraged at cases of official misconduct, especially thuggish behavior by municipal urban management officers known as chengguan, who are known for heavy-handed crackdowns against street vendors and other independent businesses. There have been been several high-profile violent incidents involving chengguan in recent weeks, including a watermelon vendor in Hunan province who was beaten to death.
That sort of national mood goes a long way toward explaining why many Chinese are supporting Ji even in light of his most recent protest: Blowing his own left hand off in Beijing Capital International Airport on Saturday evening.
In a dramatic video, Ji can be seen speaking to police, and finally warning bystanders to disperse before he detonates his homemade bomb, causing panic.
Because of his warnings, only Ji was injured in the blast—he used black powder, like the Boston Marathon bombers, but significantly less of it—and he’s certainly succeeded in drawing attention to his cause, as the South China Morning Post related:
The Public Security Bureau in Guangdong asked the Dongguan branch to carry out a thorough investigation into mistreatment claimed by Ji Zhongxing, the bomber, and his ensuing petitions, the national broadcaster CCTV reported yesterday, adding that the probe was already under way.
Ji turned to the use of explosives after he was stopped from distributing leaflets at the airport. His blog, which has since the incident been blocked or removed, but is still available in mirror form, detailed his fateful 2005 experience (translation by Lisa Wang for Shanghaiist):
I came from my hometown in Shandong to Guangdong to work, to earn a bit more since money is tight at home, and used all the money I earned to buy a motorbike to transport passengers.
[On 28th June 2005, I was taking a chef called Gong Tao to his home, and driving down a section of road without traffic lights, I heard the siren of a police car and saw the car coming towards me.]
At the time I didn't think I was doing anything wrong, and the road was quite narrow so I did not stop and continued driving. When I passed by the Xin Tang Public Security Office, I saw there were seven or eight chengguan blocking the road, holding steel rods and pipes. Just as I was about to brake, a chengguan threw one of the steel pipes across my face, throwing both myself and my passenger on the floor.
When I came to, it was already noon the next day. I was in pain all over, and when I opened my eyes I saw that I was lying on the hospital bed, the passenger I took was also hurt and in hospital. I searched around my pockets and wasn't missing any money, the only thing that was missing my ID card. When Gong Tao saw that I was conscious, he told me that policemen from Xin Tang Public Security […] refused to let me go and started hitting my legs, feet, waist, striking me furiously with the steel bars. They hit me until I was unconscious, and only took me to hospital when they'd seen the police car that was following me had also arrived onto the scene, and that I was practically dead. After that, they disappeared without a trace.
Apparently Ji had demanded compensation to the tune of “334,782 yuan, including the medical fees he has already incurred (14,300 yuan), plus 20 years' salary.” He and his older brother, Ji Zhongji, accepted a payment of 100,000 yuan in 2010 on condition that they drop all claims, but due to limited literacy did not fully understand what they were signing.
Although Ji’s blog has disappeared, China is not censoring much of the discussion about his story and positive reactions to his radical form of protest, especially across various Weibos—Chinese microblogs—giving vent to a popular outrage that might otherwise boil over. Human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan has already offered Ji his services on Twitter.
The Chinese media gained access to Ji’s home as police seized his desktop computer and several other items, creating a heartbreaking slideshow that documents his desperate isolation. Here, for example, are his notes on how to make a gunpowder bomb.
Ji’s legal fate remains very much in doubt, but he’s already emerged, for better or worse, as the symbol of a populace at the mercy of the police and systemic government cover-ups. By turning to extreme action while trying to protect innocents—including those blithely recording the event on their phones as it unfolded—he’s walked the line between terrorism and civil disobedience in a way that’s all but inconceivable to, say, a US citizen.
So far, it seems, the tide is turning with him.
Photo via James Griffiths/YouTube