On the evening of May 28, a woman was brutally beaten to death by a family of six in a McDonald’s in the city of Zhaoyuan, Shandong province, after refusing to give her number to them. Later, the woman was found to be a mom of seven. And the family of six are all followers of a doomsday cult Eastern Lightning, or, in its more formal name, the Church of Almighty God. They were on a mission to recruit. The woman, who refused to give her number, was seen as a “demon,” whom the father said he “felt good” to kill in a televised confession behind the bars.
The sheer cruelty of the story stunned Chinese netizens, Many were horrified, considering it even scarier than recent news of Uighur terrorist attacks. After all, terrorist attacks still sound like rare happenings in the ears of most Chinese. Eating at a McDonald’s alone, on the other hand, is an everyday activity. People, especially the country’s millions of single women, need to feel safe about it. More were deeply concerned, about why no one in the McDonald’s at the time came to the woman’s help, and about why a guy would dare to beat a woman to death with an iron club in public.
But besides of the cruelty, the cult and the indifference of the bystanders, the story, on its way of going viral, reveals a more daunting reality in China: the government’s almost complete loss of credibility among the public. It’s not news, but no other case has spoken it out more loudly.
While the story was taking Weibo, China’s leading social media, by storm, local police released only a short notice that it happened and investigations were under way, and nothing else in the next day. It is more than enough time for rumors to prevail.
After it was first revealed that the murderers drove a Porsche Cayenne, people started to speculate that whether they are one of the rich and corrupt. Rumors that the father was owner of a local gold mine and was backed and protected by a local police chief soon went viral. There was even a rumor that he has already been released on bail pending trial.
Censors kicked in at this point, which only further infuriated Chinese netizens, who firmly believe that the government censors only when they have something to hide. “They censor our comments because they are afraid of people knowing the truth!” Many netizens angrily commented.
Calls for justice and investigations into the relationship between the murderers and the local police chief have been copied and pasted by thousands of netizens to the comment sections of almost all related posts. And that’s far from the end. When local police and China’ state media, partly in hope to refute rumors, finally released more details of who the murderers are and how their belief in the cult has led to the murder, not many people believed.
Many netizens thought that local authorities were trying to use the cult storyline to diverge public attention from a potential corruption case. As one netizen commented: “Labeling the murderers part of a cult cuts all their ties with the corrupt officials behind them. As a result, people’s anger will be successfully directed to the cult, instead of the government.”
Many of them even believed that the cult label was a way that local authorities came up with to play down the action of murder. Why? Because according to the widely-accepted rumor, protection from local police was exactly the reason why the family dared to kill in public in the first place. “Very smart for them to use cult membership as an excuse to escape severe punishment.” Many netizens commented.
Anyone who’s heard of Falun Gong knows that the cult label is definitely not a sign of government protection or reducing penalty in China. Many Chinese netizens would rather believe the impossible than to believe their government. And that poses a bigger risk to Beijing than terrorist attacks or murderous cults.
“The Communist Part is the largest cult in this country.” Many netizens bitterly commented.