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The desperate performance art of Ji Zhongxing

The Beijing airport bombing that shocked the nation on 20 June not only raised questions about the fairness of China’s legal system but also highlighted the lack of effective channels for migrant workers seeking redress for injustice.

Eight years ago, Ji Zhongxing, a strong, confident and handsome young man from Juancheng county in Shandong was living his Chinese Dream working as motorcycle taxi driver in the southern boomtown of Dongguan. He had been working for six years and knew the risks of operating a motorcycle taxi in violation of local rules but his monthly income of 3,000 yuan was just too attractive to let go of.

However, he could never have imagined what happened in the early morning of 28 June 2005. While he was “illegally” carrying a passenger on his motorbike, Ji claims he was severely beaten by local chengguan (城管), low-level officials employed by the city to enforce traffic regulations etc. He was left paralyzed from the waist down and filed a lawsuit against the chengguan. The chengguan denied the beating and despite eyewitness testimony from Ji’s passenger, the court still ruled that his paralysis was the result of a traffic accident and not a beating imposed by the chengguan.

Ji soon lost faith in ability of the judicial system to address his grievances and returned home to Shandong where he embarked on the time-honoured practice of petitioning. He was intercepted several times during his petitioning trips to Dongguan. But one letter to the political and legal affairs committee in Beijing was eventually forwarded to the Dongguan authorities. In 2010, five years after the accident, the Dongguan authorities gave Ji 100,000 yuan in “humanitarian assistance.”

It was made clear to Ji at the time that this was definitely not compensation for a beating at the hands of city officials. Ji’s brother pointed out on his weibo that when the Dongguan police handed over the 100,000 yuan, Ji had to sign a “no more petitioning” agreement.

Ji was only in his mid-20s when he was paralyzed. The 100,000 yuan, improved his living standard for a short time but it was far from enough to get his old life back. His girlfriend left him shortly after he was hospitalized and he no longer has the ability to work.

Desperate to get attention for his plight, Ji travelled to Beijing on 20 June, in order to detonate the homemade bomb he had carried all the way from his hometown. His failure to get justice through legal means or by petitioning is probably what led to this extreme act of “performance art.” There is a popular saying among the nation’s petitioners that “If you want to have your complaint resolved, you have to go big.”

Yet unlike the earlier “terrorist” cases such as Chen Shuizong, who set alight a bus in Xiamen killing 47 people last month, or Qian Mingqi, the mastermind behind three explosions in Jiangxi that killed four in 2011, Ji had no intention of harming others because of the injustice he had suffered. Ji reportedly spent about ten minutes persuading onlookers to stay as far away from him as possible, so that he hurt no one but himself.

Officials from Ji’s hometown of Juancheng supported his claims about the beating and told reporters that if Dongguan had handled the dispute in a timely manner, the bombing could have been avoided. The Dongguan municipal intermediate court has now reportedly reopened the investigation.

Ji has been detained and is likely to face criminal charges of jeopardizing public safety but the famous rights lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, said on his weibo that he’s willing to provide legal assistance if necessary.