Chinese passenger suffers public shaming for ‘crime’ of taking someone else’s seat on a half-empty train

Student bombarded with abuse and has his private details shared by online lynch mob after getting involved in a row with a fellow traveller

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 6:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 7:22pm

A Chinese man, who got into a row with a fellow rail passenger about a seat has been subjected to a high-profile shaming after an online vigilante mob started exposing all aspects of his life to public scrutiny.

Footage of the incident show the cause of the row was trivial enough. The man, a PhD student surnamed Sun, started arguing with a woman who claimed he had taken the seat she had booked on a high-speed train between Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, and Beijing on Tuesday.

Sun had taken a seat at random on a half-empty train and fallen asleep. He started arguing with the woman when she woke him up and asked him to move.

When the woman asked whether he could walk, he replied: “Get a wheelchair. What else can I do?”.

His bolshie attitude – and the perception that he had been pretending to be disabled – was the spark for an online frenzy.

Sun soon found himself facing a storm of criticism from internet users, who started sharing his ID card and full name online and bombarding him with hostile phone calls and social media messages.

Such online frenzies have been reported in China and other countries before, with net users raking over every aspect of their targets’ lives.

Other members of the public who happened to share the man’s name were also exposed to the fury of the online mob.

In one such case the Otis lift company had to issue a formal statement on its Weibo account to ask people to leave one of its employees alone.

Sun told Beijing Youth Daily that he had been forced to lock an online payments app on his phone because people had shared his number online and made repeated attempts to access the account.

Sun also insisted that the train had been half-empty at the time he boarded it and the woman had rejected his suggestion that they swap seats.

However, he admitted that he had showed a “bad attitude” to train staff when they came to resolve the dispute and apologised for his behaviour.

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In an attempt to assuage the online mob he published a video of apology on Wednesday in which he apologised to the “whole country” for “seriously violating social ethics, hurting the woman and being a bad influence on society” and ended with a 90-degree bow, a traditional gesture of contrition.

Sun also fell foul of China’s notorious social credits system, which officially recorded his transgression. He was fined 200 yuan (US$30) and the rail company said his right to buy tickets would be restricted for a certain period of time.

The woman who complained was given a better seat in business class.