Public horrified by violent death of woman beggar
Vicious schoolboys and cruel officials personify erosion of traditional values
When Li Wenlan approached a group of teenagers to beg for food, she could not imagine the level of cruelty her fellow countrymen were capable of.
Instead of taking pity on the 45-year-old mother, the three secondary school students, aged 15 and 16, kicked, beat and sexually abused her.
Penniless, bleeding and badly bruised, she asked for treatment at a local hospital but was refused by the doctor on duty because she had no money. Similarly, she was refused help by police officers and by the secretary of the Erli village branch of the Communist Party.
Two days later, a driver from the police station picked up the wounded woman from outside the cadre's house - where she was begging for help - and dumped her in the countryside.
She died from severe wounds in a hospital two days later, after being found by villagers.
The news sent shockwaves across the country - not only was the public stunned by the vicious nature of the schoolboys, they were outraged by the callous attitude shown to the victim by cadres, police and the doctor.
On Thursday, the Xian-based Huashang newspaper reported that the driver and the three students had been charged by the prosecutor's office of Hanzhong city. But other officials - including the deputy head of the Chenggu county Public Security Bureau and the secretary of the village branch of the Communist Party who refused to help the woman - were only given warnings by the local Communist Party disciplinary committee, it said. The doctor who refused the woman treatment was sacked by the hospital.
A local journalist who first broke the tragic story said officials initially attempted to cover up the events and were still trying to persuade him to stop writing about it.
The journalist said he thought the treatment of the officials involved was too lenient and unlikely to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
'The lack of sympathy and compassion is simply horrific,' he said.
Li Qiang, a social scientist at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the tragedy was symptomatic of the breakdown of traditional Chinese values in the new market-led society, as well as the collapse of the communist social structure. He said this was not an isolated incident.
Many who once enjoyed social benefits guaranteed by their work units or villages now found themselves vulnerable outside the system and there was little government provision for taking care of the poor and needy outside the old system, said Professor Li.
Many Chinese had grown cynical about the bygone communist spirit of self-sacrifice and simply did not feel they were responsible for people who did not belong to their work unit or community, he said.
'They also look down on people who have no money,' he added.
Yesterday, a worker at the hospital where Li was refused treatment hung up the phone when the South China Morning Post attempted to ask about the incident. An official at the local party's disciplinary committee confirmed the incident and the punishment given to officials, but refused to elaborate.