An icon for the underdog in an unfair society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 June, 2009, 12:00am

Wu Gan is better known on the internet as Tu Fu (The Butcher), and is one of the mainland's most high-profile netizens. Mr Wu played a key role in shaping opinion in the case of Deng Yujiao, a 21-year-old hotel worker from Hubei who killed an official who demanded sex. Following a powerful online campaign, Deng has become a national icon for underdogs in an unfair society. The 36-year-old explains why he cares about Deng.

Tell me when you first took notice of the Deng Yujiao case?

I was on a business trip in Hebei on May 13 when I first learned about the case. It gave me an odd feeling, as it involved a powerless young woman and three government officials. I was telling myself there must be something behind the slaying of Deng Guida, the township official in Badong county. So I hit the road.

When did you arrive in the county, and what have you done since?

I arrived in Badong on May 16, but it took me two days to win the trust of Zhang Shumei , Deng Yujiao's mother, for her to accept my assistance. I helped her to assemble a team of defence lawyers, with the help of other netizens. I also broadcast all of my moves in Badong live on, a popular mainland-based online community, in part to win trust.

How did you manage to visit Deng Yujiao in the psychiatric hospital in the city of Enshi, which must have been almost impossible for someone outside of her family?

Yes, there was no way someone outside her family or lawyers could visit while she was in the psychiatric hospital. But the hospital was under enormous pressure and actually received threatening calls after the footage was shown of Deng tied to a bed and crying out for help from her dead father. I told the hospital that reaching out to an independent party like me would help them. And indeed, my posts on the visit gave the public a credible, independent insight into her life in the hospital.

What was your impression of Deng Yujiao when you first saw her in the psychiatric hospital?

I was heartbroken after seeing Deng, because she still looked very weak and was apparently reeling from the shock of the incident. I was barred from talking to her, but I managed to tell her not to fear, as we were behind her - and she smiled back.

Do you understand the fallout from the Deng Yujiao case, and the widespread distrust of Badong police?

The public did not trust the authorities, because Badong police did not follow the rule of law in dealing with the case. It appears they tried to cover up the case, but when they discovered that that is almost impossible in the internet age, they used one lie to cover up another.

What kind of role do you think netizens like you can play in China?

Netizens and other grass-roots forces in cases like Deng Yujiao's are particularly effective in reaching the masses when the government suffers a credibility crisis. The government is supposed to do what the public expects them to do, and we only hope that they do better. The problem is that there never used to be a proper channel or platform for communication, and now the internet can serve that purpose.

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I am self-employed and travel a lot. I've made investments in the property market. At the moment my businesses are suffering cash-flow problems. I couldn't do much without my fellow netizens, and actually they provided me with several air tickets to go to Badong and donated some money to cover my expenses.

How would you respond to doubts from the public over your role in the Deng Yujiao case and your motive?

There were comments on the internet accusing me of being a government agent or hungry for publicity. I never try to delete such unfavourable comments. On top of that, I hardly commented on the legal and medical aspects of the Deng Yujiao case, but I have my stance - I care about the welfare of the underprivileged.

Why did you want to get involved in the Deng Yujiao case, anyway?

To be frank, I've actually done myself a favour. When I first heard of the case, I thought of my own daughter and she is 14. I was only hoping that she can live in a safe community that is ruled by law.

What outcome do you hope for?

I am hoping we get a true picture of what happened and that the case is dealt with according to the law. I am OK with any verdict, so long as justice and openness are assured.