Last Friday evening, 47 people died and 30 more injured from an exploded rush-hour bus in China’s coastal city of Xiamen. The arsonist, who also died in the blaze, has been identified as the 59-year-old Chen Shuizong, who has been struggling below poverty line all his life. The act, according to local police, was out of desperation and anger. Deeply in shock, Chinese netizens set out to make sense of what happened, and their opinions vary.
When Chinese netizens first heard about the news of an ablaze bus in Xiamen, many thought it was another case of spontaneous bus combustion. It was tragic, but not unheard of in China. They were in shock after learning that the fire was intentional. Later, when the arsonist’s entire life story was disclosed online, netizens started to take side on where to point their fingers at.
Surveillance video at the bus station showed that Chen wandered around for quite some time before boarding a full bus with some 90 commuters. Further investigation revealed that Chen was one of those who’ve been left behind of China’s economic boom.
He used to go to the countryside along with his family to seek a living. When he made it back to Xiamen in the early 80s with only a middle school education, he was left with no house or the skills to land a good job. He managed to struggle through life by running a few small businesses, but none lasted long or very profitable.
When he was finally old enough (60 years old) to enjoy the country’s social security benefits, it turned out that his government ID registered him as one year younger than his actual age, which means he still had to wait another year to receive whatever there is for him. He had since been petitioning to the government to correct his ID. Constant failure to petition over his social security rights was the last straw. Feeling hopeless and angry, he decided to take his revenge.
It was a tragedy for both the victims on the bus and Chen himself. But for some netizens, the case is more a tragedy for China’s society as it is today, because a society or system that pushes a poor man into a murderer isn’t guilt-free. Like netizen 黒瓷 pointed out: “The lack of humanity, justice, freedom and democracy in our society is why the tragedy happened.” Another netizen 我叫三娃 asked: “Would Chen take such an extreme action if we had a better social security system, or if our government officials had helped and served him better? We need to reflect on the social problems exposed by this case.”
The view that the Chinese government should share the blame is shared by many. Online celebrity 北京厨子 on China’s Twitter-like social media Weibo commented: “We are so used to pointing fingers at a mad murderer because it’s risk free. Sometimes we even act like we are in deeper sorrow than the victims’ families. At the same time, we refuse to think about why such a mad murderer grows out of our society in the first place and how to prevent the same tragedy from happening again.” Netizen 李钛先生 commented: “The government has some reflection to do. Who made Chen’s life miserable? What made him hate the world around him? What made Chen choose to set fire to a bus to vent his anger?” The answer is, of course, the government and its failure to help its people when needed.
Some netizens expressed understanding of Chen’s desire to revenge but thought he picked up the wrong target – he should have taken revenge at the rich and powerful who belong to the class that makes him suffer, not some ordinary people like himself. One netizen 启明1030 suggested: “There are so many government buildings and high-end residential communities. Why picked up a bus? The chance of a corrupt official or a rich businessman taking a bus is lower than seeing a UFO.” Another netizen 紫葡萄__ZZ agreed: “He should have set fire to Xiamen’s government building or whoever ignored his petition.”
Others thought there shouldn’t be any understanding or forgiveness just because of Chen’s miserable life story – a criminal is a criminal. There are thousands of people in China who suffered and are suffering from the same hardship or injustice that Chen has experienced, and they didn’t go out to take innocent people’s lives. Like netizen 风息神泪 commented: “Among all views on the Xiamen bus explosion case, one annoys me the most, that is, living a miserable life justifies his crime….What annoys me even more are those who said ‘it’s the society’s fault’ or ‘we need to reflect.’ The fault is all on the arsonist and reflect my ass.” Another netizen 衣锦夜行的燕公子 shared the same view: “To have experienced injustice isn’t an excuse for committing a crime. If Chen can be forgiven, then it’s hugely unfair to those who have been harmed or wronged but still stay kind. To the innocent people who lost their lives in the fire, whoever expresses understanding of Chen is an accessory to the arsonist.”
But at the end of the day, the bitterest realization out of the case is that it could happen to anyone. Everybody can be a victim of some desperate ones’ revenge, if things keep going like it always do. Like KDnet commented: “How many ‘Chen Shuizong’ are there across China? How many desperate petitioners are there across China? They count on the government to show mercy and solve their problems, but how many can get a response? As such, everyone is in danger. Who can assure us that there will not be another ‘Chen Shuizong’?
A post by Xiamen netizen 厦门户外胡哥 that has been shared some 100,000 times spoke the minds of many:
“In a certain sense, that exploded bus is a profound metaphor. We are all on the same bus. If one man is desperate, none of us is safe. Therefore, never be indifferent to other people’s suffering, because we don’t know whether you or me will be the next.”