The Shenyang Fire Bombs

I am going to begin with the coverage in Taiwan's Apple Daily:

[Translation]  In China, there have been numerous conflicts due to land evictions.  In Shenyang, a resident named Li refused to be moved.  On July 15, he confronted the police.  Li used more than 40 homemade firebombs to throw at the police, causing multiple explosions and flames at the scene.  The police retreated in the face of these attacks.  The confrontation lasted 10-1/2 hours, during which a reporter was burnt in the head by one of the fire bombs.

So there you have it -- a short description of the violent action and a connection to a general social problem.

Of course, if you are sufficiently interested, you may find out a lot more about the action from the mainland Chinese media and forums.  This confrontation lasted 11 hours and was witnessed by who knows how many people, including reporters and photographers.  Here is one translated local report.

[Business Times

Yesterday, at 9am, the reporters accompanied the Huanggu District Administrative Enforcement Bureau team members to the scene of the eviction at Xinanjiang Street.  Already, many spectators were gathered there and vehicular traffic was impassable.  The police set up a cordon and the atmosphere was grave.  Why did a simple eviction attracted so many spectators?

As the reporter went through the crowd, he saw that there was a man pacing back and forth on the roof of a small building at the end of Xinanjiang Street.  He was also exhorting the crowd with a megaphone in his hand.  At this time, a bulldozer approached the building slowly.  Suddenly, the man became very agitated and he shouted a warning.  Then he grabbed a bottle that he set on fire with a lighter and threw at the bulldozer.  The bottle became a fireball when it landed and the flame shot up more than one meter high.  The crowd cried in horror as they realized that the man was throwing Molotov cocktails.  He also had several more bottles at his feet.

The man then shouted at the spectators: "You had all better stay further away if you don't want to get burned."  The law enforcement authorities called in the fire brigade to the scene.  When the man saw them, he threw two more fire bombs in their direction.

At past 10am, the authorities decided to use two bulldozers at the same time, one from the north and one from the south.  They wanted to demolish one corner of the building and make the man cease and desist.  To protect the driver, a law enforcement officer sat next to him.  When the northern bulldozer got to within six or seven meters of the building, the man threw a fire bomb at it.  Immediately, the bulldozer was ablaze.  The two men inside had to bail out of the bulldozer with their clothes on fire, and the firemen put out the flames quickly.

This action caused the spectators to condemn the man.  "This is deliberate murder!"  But the man only put in even more effort as he tossed more firebombs.  At one point, he tossed one fire bomb at the corner of the building on the west side.  There were many spectators there, and they fled when they saw the fire bomb coming.  Still, one citizen's pants caught fire.  By the reporter's crude estimate, the man threw more than 30 fire bobs from 9am to 1130am.  The reporter also saw a girl dressed in pink clothes bring more rags to the man and another man brought him two canisters of gasoline.

Around noon, more spectators gathered around.  To prevent any more accidents, the law enforcement personnel and the fire brigade withdrew from the scene.  At 1pm, the reporter returned to the scene.  Although the police lines were gone, the citizens still did not dare to approach too close.  The man looked tired after a morning of excitement.  He was on the roof, drinking wine and making barbeque meat.

After his meal, the man paced back and forth on the roof, smoking cigarettes, drinking water and yelling at the citizens through the megaphone.  At around 5pm, the man apeared to calm down.  At around 7pm, it began to rain.  The man got agitated and threw another fire bomb at the crowd.  Then he dumped the two canisters of gasoline down on the street and set the gasoline on fire.  Then he tossed a canister of liquefied gas into the fire.  At the sight, the crowd was terrified and fled.  When the crowd looked back, the man had disappeared from the roof.  He has not been seen since.

Yes, but so what?  Maybe you think that you don't care to know about such details.  But if you had paid close attention, you must have sensed that something is askew here.  In fact, something is rotten in this story.  It just stinks to the high heavens.  Who told the reporters to go out there with the law enforcement personnel?  Why were so many people out there already before the law enforcement people and the reporters even showed up?  Commonsense would say that if this man had robbed a bank and then stood on a roof to toss firebombs, the police would have sent a sniper to shoot to kill (see today's Los Angeles Times story: LAPD Bullet Killed Girl in Clash with the photo of Suzie Marie Peņa who died by police fire). 

So there was something about the Shenyang case that even the police and the fire brigade did not want to deal with, and actually withdrew from the scene even after the man had set fire to public property and injured several people.  Somebody in authority issued an explicit order to withdraw.  Why, oh why?

At the reporters' corner at, a commentator wrote:

The truth is this: The Huanggu District Administrative Enforcement Bureau wanted to demolish this resident's "illegal" building.  The resident went to the Huanggu District People's Court.  The initital verdict went in favor of the resident, and the court squashed the eviction order.  The Huanggu District Administrative Enforcement Bureau appealed the decision, but the Shenyang City Intermediate People's Court (court docket '2005 Shen letter Shiang number 235') rejected the appeal and let the original verdict stand.

In spite of the final decision by the Shenyang City Intermediate People's Court, the Huanggu District Administrative Enforcement Bureau went ahead anyway.  They used two bulldozers and wanted to demolish the building while the man Li Dong (note: and possibly other people) were still inside.  Under these circumstances, the man used fire bombs to protect himself.  Li Dong's father has said: "The Administrative Enforcement Bureau broke the law first and Li Dong broke the law afterwards.  Li Dong knew well that what he did was illegal and he will accept all the legal responsibility, but he had no choice."

What did all those reporters at the scene do when they accompanied the Huanggu District Administrative Enforcement Bureau personnel out there?  Which reporter investigated the background history about this building?  Which reporter bothered to look up the final verdict document by the Shenyang Intermediate People's Court?  Which reporter wrote about why a single individual faced up to numerous law enforcement personnel?  Which reporter wrote about why the police put up with eleven hours of violent resistance without any forceful response?

Why, oh why?

Oh, wait, but there's even more stuff to confuse you ...  According to Business Times, the first lawsuit was ruled in favor of Li Dong under the premise that even though the building was illegally built without permission, it had no material impact on the city plan and therefore there was no urgency to demolish it.  This year, the government of Huanggu District has designated Xinanjiang Street for restoration and now this building stood in the way of progress.  Thus, a new eviction notice was sent to Li Dong in June, followed by a notice of forced demolition in July.  Li Dong had the option of appealing to the court, but he did not.  Instead, Li opted for violence.

This translation may not have fully communicated the hostile tone adopted by the reporter towards citizen Li Dong.  I would have imagined that due diligence would have required a response from Li Dong or his family members.  At the least, there is the distinct possibility that a brand new city plan had been developed specifically to make sure that this building was in the way and had to be demolished.  As I said, this case stinks because everything smells rotten.

Why, oh why?