A bald man repeatedly hit a woman lying on the ground with a steel mop handle amid terrified screams at a McDonald’s in Shandong, China on May 28. This was recorded in an eyewitness video which went viral. The cruelty shocked viewers with terror, and the fact it happened without interference from any people around left others in anger, asking why no one tried to stop the beating. This is just one of the hard questions people face in China after the woman was bashed to death in McDonald’s.
The city police arrived at the scene in four minutes and arrested six people who are now believed to be members of “Quan Neng Shen,” translated to English as “All-Powerful Spirit” or “Almighty God.” It is considered as one of the 14 religious cults in China. This group of six was gathering numbers to recruit new members. The bald man surnamed Zhang was its leader and other members include his three children and two other women. The victim was 37-year-old surnamed Wu who was dining alone and refusing to disclose her number to Zhang’s group.
Details of this case were not officially disclosed. From Tianya Bulletin Board System (BBS), a popular forum in China, discussions on this case have multiple fronts. Alleged witness posted the details stating that one of the two women in Zhang’s group started scolding Wu since she refused to give her phone number. Later the woman lifted a chair to hit Wu. When Wu was about to fight back, Zhang started the brutal beating. All group members participated. Zhang was kicking Wu’s head in addition to bashing her with the stick. No matter what the surrounding people said about “calling the police,” the group continued the cruelty till the police arrived at the scene.
The same post also disclosed that some young guys were about to interfere but were stopped by others who were calling the police, as Zhang’s group was shouting whoever interferes would die. The discussion on Tianya BBS was not criticizing such non-interfering behavior, but more about the realistic concerns which may prevent a very brave person from acting. Does the brave person bear legal responsibilities if he caused the criminal’s injury or death? If he was injured, or disabled, or died during defending the victim, would there be any form of compensation to ensure the bravery is rewarded properly? These are all good and hard questions provoked by Wu’s horrific death in McDonald’s, requiring answers that no one in China knows for sure.
Some discussions on Tianya BBS were about the possible corruption within the police force. It claims Zhang is the owner of a local gold mine and has a close relationship with the head of local police. On the other hand, none of the group is employed from the official news release. The fact that such unverifiable news exists and keeps on circulating on unofficial level reflects the deep distrust in China between the public and the authorities. In the past, criminals with deep pockets and connection to upper powers can go unpunished. President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign still has a very long way to go before the trust can be rebuilt.
There are already multiple news reports covering the history of “All-Powerful Spirit” and damages such religious cults had done. Experts called for stricter crack downs, government agencies showed stronger determination and it is evident that public supports these actions. “All-Powerful Spirit” has a long history of forcefully recruiting members. It claims the Communist Party is the Great Red Dragon and calls members to fight with it. At the end of 2012, it gained popularity quickly as the end of world was supposed to approach. Its members were gathering and spreading flyers about doomsday. The Party arrested thousands of them.
Whether the cruelty of Zhang’s group was emboldened by their connection to the police, as some believed on Tianya BBS, is not yet known. However religious fanatics like Zhang, claiming he was removing evil from the world while beating Wu, can be capable of such horrendous action.
It should be noted that there is a fine line between cracking down evil cults and suppressing freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. Experts believe China’s Communist Party is concerned over any big-scale religious organizations. Educating the public and building a fair and honest social environment are more important tasks for the government, not to mention they are way more effective and efficient in proving the Party’s legitimacy of power. The distrust to authorities and the corruption causing such distrust are among the hardest problems for China, as seen from the public reactions after a woman’s tragic death in McDonald’s.
Opinion by Tina Zhang