Qi was entitled to [pay] of 120,000 yuan. He refused to draw it WHEN QI SONG was general manager of the biggest state firm in Huanggang, a rundown city in the central province of Hubei, he used to call his wife every 30 minutes, wherever he was, to check that she was all right and tell her not to open the door to strangers. He feared an attack by the criminal gangs active in the city or by a former vice-general manager whom he had dismissed and who had issued several death threats against him. He did not suspect Yi Luo, the 19-year-old son of a worker, whose family used to live next door and whose father had worked in his firm. On July 14, Qi let Yi and a friend into the house and the young man demanded money. When he offered 6,500 yuan (about HK$6,091), Yi said it was not enough and, with his accomplice, hacked him 22 times with a knife, wounding him in the heart, kidney, liver and stomach. He died at once. On September 24, the two men were found guilty of murder and executed at a city sports stadium, in front of 3,000 people. Last week, the national press gave the first detailed reports of the murder of Qi and of two other heads of state factories in Hubei, lifting the veil on life in those parts of China that have not enjoyed the prosperity of Beijing, Shanghai and other cities in the east. The common thread in the three murders was dissatisfaction over the terms of redundancy given to workers, such as Yi's father, laid off from the plants, and resentment at the wealth and good living enjoyed by the managers among people living on the breadline and with little hope of improving their lot. Last Friday, Minister of the State Economic and Trade Commission Li Rongrong said China's state sector had laid off 25.5 million workers since 1998 and the country needed to create eight million new jobs this year to keep unemployment at a tolerable level. In its report on Qi's murder, the Sanlian Shenghuo magazine last week painted a disturbing picture of life in Huanggang city. Qi, 50, a former officer in the People's Liberation Army, ran Bai Lian Aluminium Group, a refiner of non-ferrous metals with 2,000 workers. He was a model worker, vice-chairman of the Hubei Businessmen's Association, a member of the city's people's congress and a likely candidate to become deputy mayor. Because his firm made a profit, Qi was entitled to wages and bonus in 2000 of 120,000 yuan. But he refused to draw it, taking only the monthly salary of 2,000 yuan given to a state factory manager of his rank. Behind his reluctance to accept more was fear of arousing resentment among his workers, who earn an average of 600 yuan a month and find it hard to accept a gap in income that would have been unthinkable in the Maoist era. One of Qi's managers said that, in backward areas such as Huanggang, the habit of egalitarianism endured in state companies, along with the idea that the firm belonged not to one individual but to 'the whole people', so that a factory boss was not entitled to an income substantially higher than his workers'. 'The government departments above us are pressing us for better economic results and our workers, on the job and laid off, demand more money. 'We are caught in the middle,' he said. Qi and other managers lived in fear of attacks by workers they had laid off, many of whom believe that they were 'masters of the factory' as they were taught during the Maoist era. But managers were not allowed by state regulation to hire personal bodyguards. Qi and his 20 senior staff had all bought life insurance, giving their families 40,000 yuan in the case of death. Qi also lived in fear of attacks by the criminal gangs that prey on rich companies and individuals. His company was moved to a mountainous area during the 1950s as part of Mao Zedong's plan to transfer key plants away from possible Soviet or United States attacks. In the 1980s, it moved to Huanggang, bringing with it many rural workers unsuited for modern industrial production. Some of them drifted into the gangs, which targeted Qi as a rich man running a big business. Until 2000, Qi and his family lived on the fourth floor of a grey factory apartment building, while the Yi family lived on the third. Workers constantly came to Qi's house with requests and complaints, prompting the family to buy an apartment in an upmarket residential area. To Yi, his move was proof that he had become very rich and was a good target for a robbery. People in the city remain uncertain about the circumstances of the murder. Were Yi and his accomplice acting on their own, on behalf of a gang or someone else? Was it revenge for his father's being laid off? Beyond the murder of Qi and the other two senior managers lie the issues of personal security of the thousands of state factory bosses and how to manage a reduction in the workforce that everyone agrees is necessary.