Sisters Zhong Rucui and Zhong Rujiu
Last month in Jiangxi, three people (mother, daughter, and family friend) set themselves on fire to protest the demolition of their home to make way for a public transportation project. The family friend, an elderly man, died of his wounds and the mother and daughter, both members of the Zhong family, were seriously injured. Now two party officials have been sacked for the widely publicized debacle.
The firings are the conclusion of an investigation started on September 17. Today, local party secretary Qiu Jiangguo and county chief Su Jiangguo have both been removed from their posts for their responsibility in the incident.
The controversy surrounding the affair stems from the hotly contentious behavior of officials in the aftermath of the injuries. When two other daughters of the Zhong family traveled to Beijing to petition their case, they were stopped by officials in the Nanchang airport and forced to hide in the airport bathrooms to avoid arrest. Using their mobile phones, they petitioned journalists for help and subsequently sparked an enormous online campaign for their cause. Pictures of the girls circulated widely despite several attempts to censor the story, and the Zhong family started their own micro-blog to report on developments.
The family was further harassed when officials confiscated the body of the family friend, Ye Zhongcheng, who had died in the protest. Family members were chased as they left their homes and at one point five were detained and put on a bus when they attempted to visit their mother and sister in the hospital. A photo was taken of Zhong Rujiu pounding on the windows for help and was quickly circulated on micro-blogs
Controversy over planned demolition and forced eviction is widespread throughout China, no doubt contributing to the story’s popularity online. Self-immolation has become a last resort for desperate families who find that petitioning the government gets them nowhere (or worse, lands them in illegal detention centers)
The Zhong’s story is one of relative success, but only after thousands of online micro-bloggers offered their support. They are continuing their fight, and have allegedly received 400,000RMB in compensation.