CROWDFUNDING HAS BECOME A HELPFUL BUT CONTROVERSIAL CHARITY CHANNEL
After killing four people in a car accident on July 8 in Deyang, Sichuan province, motorist Yang Long faced not only lengthy jailtime, but also a hefty compensation claim. His solution? Crowdfunding.
Yang raised 23,935 RMB from 1,215 contributors on the crowdfunding platform Qingsongchou (“easy funds”) before online outrage ensued. Qingsongchou removed Yang’s page and refunded the contributors, but caught serious heat for failing to properly review what critics called an “absurd initiative.”
The incident has shed light on a growing practice among those suddenly saddled with enormous bills in a country with few social safety nets. Beijing-based Qingsongchou is one of the 22 online fundraising platforms approved by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. By 2018, 1.6 million families had used the platform to raise more than 20 billion RMB.
Yu Liang, the platform’s founder and vice-president, told the 21st Century Business Herald that the success of the company’s “star product,” Dabing Jiuzhu (“critical illness assistance”), was due to their use of social media platforms like Wechat. Speaking to People’s Daily, Yu attributed the app’s popularity to the urgent need for financial support
within an expensive healthcare system.
Research published by the National Cancer Center in 2016 found that, 77.6 percent of the families of cancer patients between 2012 and 2014 suffered “unmanageable financial burden.” Some patients have even refused treatment due to the high costs, preferring death over bankruptcy.
Online crowdfunding has become a critical lifeline for many in the smartphone era. However, some fundraisers, such as the errant driver Yang, have been accused of taking advantage of the system and manipulating the public’s goodwill. Stories of exaggerated illnesses, frivolous expenses, and phony sob stories have also stretched donors’ patience thin.
In the 2016 case of Luo Yixiao, a Shenzhen couple raised over 2 million RMB for their 6-year-old daughter’s leukemia treatment, before it was revealed they had three apartments and medical insurance. In a similar case that year, another crowdfunding couple, who owned a Mercedes and a diamond ring, defended their actions as that “a sick child shouldn’t mean [they] had to wear 10 RMB clothing.” Such incidents have dented public confidence in online philanthropy, as donors felt exploited into maintaining someone else’s high quality of life.
Lawyer Yue Shenshan told China National Radio that China’s 2016 Charity Law makes no provisions for private online initiatives. “Fundraising platforms are not required to, and may not be able to verify [proof].” According to Yu, Qingsongchou is still improving its identity verification procedures, but hospitals and civil affairs bureaus are reluctant to cooperate. As an editorial in Beijing Evening News commented, the common belief that only people in dire straits beg from strangers may not apply to the digital era. But if public sympathy is exhausted, those who truly need help will be the biggest losers.
A “road rage” incident involving a muscled thug in a BMW and a 41-year-old cyclist was always going to end badly. Many in China are surprised, though, that it was the aggressor, Liu Hailong, who ended up dead—and that prosecutors freed the cyclist from legal censure, since he had acted in self-defense.
The incident, captured on surveillance footage, began when Liu’s sedan hit Yu Haiming’s bicycle in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, on August 29. Brandishing a machete, an enraged (and drunk) Liu attacked Yu, but the cyclist managed to seize the knife and hacked Liu several times before police arrived; Liu later died at the hospital.
No prosecutor would relish trying to convince a jury that Yu should face jail for manslaughter, particularly after revelations of Liu’s long criminal record for assault and theft. Along with images of his heavily tattooed torso, this strongly suggested the “victim” was a violent career gangster.
But China doesn’t have juries, or even a presumption of innocence. Instead, cases like Yu’s are decided by procurators who keep one eye on the law—and the other on public opinion
Yu, a restaurant manager with a seemingly spotless past, was hailed as a hero whose only crime was trying to escape death. “Let’s reward him for removing bad guys
from society!” Yu’s supporters wrote on Weibo.
Legal opinion was divided. Lawyer Bao Hu told China Daily that Yu’s counterattack, after Liu had already lost the weapon, had crossed the line from self-defense to excessive force.
Last year, the same newspaper commented on the controversial case of a 21-year-old in Shandong province, also called Yu, who fought off four men who’d sexually assaulted his mother while collecting debt, killing one. The paper warned that China’s self-defense should not “become a ‘zombie code’ that is not applicable in practice.” It noted that prosecutors in the Shandong case “responded to public opinion” by ordering a retrial, adding that “it is necessary for the judiciary to take into account the entirety of a case, including the human element.”
China’s self-defense laws have a mixed record, with cases often relying on public outcry to provoke judicial inquiry. In one common case type—a wife killing a violent husband after years of abuse—courts have shown little consistency, with sentences ranging from death to suspended jail time, according to Guo Jianmei of the Legal Aid Center of Peking University.
In 2009, 21-year-old waitress Deng Yujiao was first arrested, then committed to a psychiatric institution, then released, retried, and eventually allowed to walk free for killing a local official who had tried to rape her at a KTV. As with the Kunshan case, public sympathy for Deng prompted authorities to seek a legal resolution: Deng had turned herself in, and killed her assailant in self-defense. In the Kunshan case, experts determined that it was Yu’s first “defensive” blow that severed Liu’s artery and caused the blood loss that killed him.
However, in 2016, kebab seller Xia Junfeng was executed for killing two municipal management officials ( chengguan) alleged to have attacked him. The execution angered many, partly because chengguan are widely loathed for their violent behavior and have been implicated in dozens of deaths and assaults over the years. China’s self-defence laws may not be “zombie,” but don’t always work as they should.
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The people’s court in Badong county, Hunan province, ruled that Deng Yujiao acted in selfdefense in 2009