Yang Jia, who fatally stabbed six police officers in Shanghai, China, last summer, has become an unlikely Chinese hero in what the Washington Post describes as a bizarre twist that reveals the fissures that run beneath the country’s elaborately constructed social order. Thousands of Chinese have lionized him for standing up to the security forces that are increasingly seen as a blunt instrument of the Communist Party’s chief aim: to ensure its authority by maintaining stability and stifling dissent. At one of Yang’s hearings last month, hundreds of protesters descended on court, carrying signs that read “Long Live the Killer” and shouting “Down with the Communist Party.”
More than 4,000 people have signed an open letter posted online urging that Yang’s life be spared. The letter has been erased from many Web sites by government censors, and coverage of the case in the state-run media has been strictly controlled. As heinous as the July 1 crime reportedly was, and despite Yang’s confession, many Chinese still doubt the government’s findings. Public support for Yang has been bolstered by reports that he had been mistreated by police on at least two occasions and may have been seeking revenge. Yang’s story has generated an uncommon level of public interest, with everything from his personal background to the minute details of the crime becoming fodder for feverish discussion among his backers.