BEIJING – With public sympathy mounting for a disabled man who allegedly set off a homemade explosive at Beijing's international airport, Chinese authorities say they will reexamine his complaints about being inadequately compensated after low-level municipal code enforcers allegedly beat him to the point of paralysis.
Ji Zhongxing, 33, has been identified by authorities as the man who detonated a gunpowder-like substance Saturday evening at the arrival hall of the airport’s Terminal 3, which handles international flights. The blast sent a powerful bang and bright flash of light through the hall but wounded only Ji and a policeman.
In recent years, China’s press has been full of stories not unlike Ji’s – ordinary people complaining of problems like illegal land seizures or unfair treatment by police or courts. Some have burned themselves, others have leapt off buildings. Last month, a man upset over his lack of a job and bureaucratic hassles applying for social security benefits set fire to a bus, killing himself and 47 others in Xiamen, in China’s southeast.
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But Ji’s choice of such a high-profile venue, his poignant personal details and reports that he warned bystanders away from his wheelchair before reportedly setting off the blast seem to have struck a deep chord with many Chinese.
“He warned those passing by.... What a good member of the public. Who in this country can stand up and say they are more righteous than he is?” Zhao Xiao, a Beijing Institute of Technology professor wrote in one of the many sympathetic comments on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.
Luo Jieqi, a reporter for the well-respected Caixin magazine, penned a first-person story wrestling with her feelings of empathy toward Ji and sense of helplessness about cases such as his.
“How strange, after an explosion, to feel sympathy for the bomber. I think what he did was terrifying,” she wrote. But “siding with a man who commits a terrifying act is normal when you hear so many stories of people so wronged they lack the will to live.”
State-run media reported that Ji was taken to a hospital and his left hand was amputated. His whereabouts Monday were unclear and his brother, Ji Zhongji, complained that he has been unable to contact him by phone and that his father had been taken away for questioning by police in the eastern province of Shandong.
“I want to know where he is,” Ji Zhongji, 34, said in a phone interview from Inner Mongolia, where he works selling window screens. “Before they arrest him or sentence him, they need to give him proper medical attention.”
Authorities in the city of Dongguan in the southern province of Guangdong said Sunday they would review Ji Zhongxing’s treatment after a 2005 incident there that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Ji’s family says the then-25-year-old was beaten by the code enforcers while ferrying a passenger on his motorcycle taxi; officials say his injury happened when he accidentally collided with officers.
Ji Zhongji said he was unaware that his brother was planning the blast at the airport, and learned of it from reporters after it happened.
“I was totally crushed,” he said. “I couldn’t believe my brother would do that. He has always been a kind person, a mild person. He didn’t have a temper.”
At the same time, he described his family as rural and impoverished, a situation made only more desperate by his brother’s medical condition. Photos of Ji Zhongxing’s home that circulated on Chinese websites Monday revealed a bleak one-room structure with a bare concrete floor, a bed, a wheelchair and a small table with a computer.
“I didn’t go to school a lot, I only finished 1st grade,” Ji Zhongji said. “My brother only finished 4th or 5th grade. We couldn’t afford to go to school. Kids like us must go out and work. We all left hometown by age 16 to find work.”
By 2005, Ji Zhongxing was in Dongguan. One night, Ji Zhongji said he received a phone call that his brother was severely injured and was in a hospital. It took him more than 24 hours to travel to Guangdong, he said, and only after he arrived and paid the hospital some money did doctors perform surgery on his brother.
“The doctor said if they had operated earlier, they might have been able to help him,” Ji Zhongji said.
After a month in Dongguan, the two returned to their hometown in Shandong. Ji Zhongxing began to pursue a legal case, seeking about $50,000 in compensation, but he lost. In 2009, however, Ji Zhongji said the family was visited by some officials from Guangdong.
“They said, ‘We are here to visit you, to see how you are doing. We have 80,000 renminbi [about $12,000] for you.’ We initially rejected this, then they raised it to 100,000 and all we had to do was sign the paper. We got the money. We thanked them.”
But then, Ji Zhongji said, “The person told us that this paper says you cannot petition anymore. ... We felt we were cheated. That’s why my brother felt so mistreated. He needs a lot of care, continuing medical support, money to buy him products to maintain himself. My father is old and his own legs are not well, it’s hard for him to take care of my brother himself.”
The family used the funds to pay off some debts, Ji Zhongji said, but it wasn’t enough. About a year ago, he said, his brother began to receive $5 monthly disability payments from the government.