Outrage after China Executes Street Vendor

The Chinese government is under attack on the Internet from those outraged at the government’s execution last Wednesday of a street vendor who fatally stabbed two security officials who allegedly brutalized him.

Xia Junfeng, a street vendor who was confronted by two members of the Chengguan, the quasi-police city management officials, had pleaded self-defense, saying the officials, notorious for their savagery, had attacked him and other street vendors in 2009 for barbecuing food in the street.

Human Rights Watch said last year that the Chengguan, “have earned a reputation for brutality and impunity… They are now synonymous for many Chinese citizens with physical violence, illegal detention, and theft.” In 2011, there was a mass riot of hundred of people in southwest China after chengguan allegedly beat a disabled street vendor to death; this past July there was an alleged murder of a street vendor in southern China.

On Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the outcry was fierce. commentator Wei Zhuang wrote, “This was a normal act of self-defence, how can you give the death penalty?” Author Li Chengpeng echoed, “This is a father who killed to retain his dignity… at the time (of the murders) shouldn’t it be the street, the city and the country who feel guilty?”

Others compared Xia’s execution to the leniency shown Gu Kailai, the wife of former top-ranked politician Bo Xilai. She received a suspended death sentence last year despite her murder of a British businessman. The usual outcome of such an event would be a death sentence commuted to life in prison.

One commenter on Sina Weibo wrote, “Gu Kailai didn’t get death sentence for killing. Why did Xia Junfeng get the death sentence for self defence?”

Chen Youxi, an attorney for Xia, wrote on Sina Weibo that the Chinese Supreme Court allowed Xia’s wife to meet her before he was killed. He added, “After two and a half years of struggle, we are finally powerless.” In addition to the execution, which is one of 4,000 every year in China, the court ordered Xia’s wife to pay the victims’ families $106,000. Xia’s son is trying to sell paintings to raise funds.