A Female Vegetable Vendor Went To Prison

(Xinwenhua Bao from Southern People Weekly)  Xiao Guiqiu: The Prison Story of a Female Vegetable Vendor.  February 10, 2007.

[in translation]

At this time, the Beijing case of Cui Yingjie "murdering the municipal administrator" is awaiting a verdict.  Meanwhile in Chengdu, Xiao Guiqiu who "splashed urine on the municipal administrator" has just finished serving her time and left prison.  Xiao Guiqiu was originally placed under administrative detention but that was later elevated to criminal detention.  Her case was covered extensively by the media.  Yet in some of those reports, Xiao Guiqiu was treated as an "also-ran" instead of the "principal story."  How she lived, her position in the incident and her rights and complaints all went missing in action.  After she got out of prison, this reporter interviewed her and her family and obtained a story of tragic drama.

The "Chengdu urine-splashing-on-municipal-administrator" incident was formally named the "2006 May 30 violent anti-law incident."  It was disclosed to the public on June 6, 2006.  On the first day, the Chengdu city Qingyang district government held an "informational meeting" to "exhibit the entire video of the 'urine-splashing' incident' with a detailed explanation by the Qingyang district information spokesperson."  The various Chengdu media made noteworthy reports based upon the "informational press release," the video material as well as the information spokesperson's description.  The following content came from the Chengdu media reports on that day:

On May 30, the law enforcement personnel of the Qingyang district Xinhua west road municipal administration and enforcement office began an inspection and clean-up.  At around 2:30pm, seven law enforcement officers went to Wangjiatang street Number 13 and inspect a shop for compliance with the law.  They discovered that the store had take over public street space to sell vegetables and meat.  Therefore, the law enforcement proceeded to demand the shop correct its illegal activity.

Half an hour later, the law enforcement officers returned and found that the shop had continued to occupy the space and engage in sales activity.  Therefore, they issued an <Notice for Chengdu municipal administration for temporary custody> to take away the merchandise.  The female show operator Xiao Guiqiu refused to complied and warned: "You can do whatever you want.  I will splash urine on anyone who dares to take away my stuff."  The municipal administrator at the Xinhua west street office Li Peng and others patiently read out the relevant laws of municipal administration to her.

After about 5 minutes, it was apparent that the persuasion had no effect.  Several law enforcement officers began to take custody of the produce.  An old man (later found to be Yang Yushu, who is the father of Xiao Guiqiu) picked up a basin of dirty water and emptied it in the direction of the law enforcement officers.  Next, Xiao Guiqiu picked up a bucket of urine and dumped it on Li Peng, who was unable to dodge and was thoroughly drenched in urine (see photograph).

After that, Xiao Guiqiu declared: "Get me a knife.  I'm going to chop anyone who dares to make a move!"  A young man (later found to be Yuang Daoquan, who is the husband of Xiao Guiqiu) in the shop took out a kitchen knife and threatened the unarmed law enforcement officers.

Yuan was subsequently subdued by the municipal administrators, who took away the knife.  The 110 patrol police officers and the militia police from the local police station arrived quickly at the scene and took the principals down to the police station for interrogation  The injured law enforcement officers were taken to the hospital.

Presently, the public security has placed Xiao Guiqiu under criminal detention on suspicion of interference with official business, while Yuan Daoquan and Yang Yushu were issued warnings about their interference with law enforcement.

On the same day of the informational meeting, Chengdu deputy mayor represented the city party secretary, the deputy party secretary and the mayor to visit municipal administrator Li Peng who had been splashed with the urine.  Many media opened up discussion hotlines for the "urine-splashing incident."  On the next day, many readers came in to condemn the appalling behavior of the female vegetable vendor and express their sympathy and support for the municipal administrators.

In the television news, the aggrieved municipal administrators shed tears.  One week later, the Chengdu municipal administration director announced that all municipal administrative enforcement activities will be "standardized according to military methods."  An award for "grievance incurred during enforcement" was established and Li Peng became the first winner.  Li Peng and his law enforcement team at the Xinhua west road municipal administrative office received praise.  Such was the first round of reports about the "May 30 violent anti-law incident."  This incident became known all over China because a peasant woman used an extraordinary method to fight back.

On June 22, CCTV <The Views of Everybody> showed the program about the "female vendor who violently resisted the law incident" and used the lead: "Municipal administration department director enforced the law, but was splashed with urine.  How could a female vendor be so audacious?"  "Please pay attention."

But Yuan Daoquan and Xiao Guiqiu had different opinions about the "May 30 violent anti-law incident."  Yuan Daoquan said that the video camera of the municipal administrators was always aimed at someone else and not themselves.  Furthermore, the released video was inappropriately edited.  He said the municipal administrators used foul language (some neighbors witnessed it, but "they were unwilling to testify in court) and the municipal administrators broke the law first.  Xiao Guiqiu broke down and cried when she heard that she got eight months of jail time and she said that she was sorry for what she did.  But she insisted that the municipal administrators violated the law first and she referred to them as "hooligans."

On August 16, the Chengdu city Qingyang district procuratorate indicted Xiao Qingyang for interfering with public business.  On September 12, the Qingyang district court went into a session to hear the case.  After the "May 30 violent anti-law incident," Xiao Guiqiu had not been able to return to her temporary home in this city.  She was initially placed under administrative detention for five days, and then later placed under criminal detention.  She did not understand what that means.  According to the law, there should not be two different penalties for the same crime in the absence of any new evidentiary foundation.  So Xiao Guiqiu was a special case.  Yuan Daoquan believed that their family "was being set up as an example."

But Yuan Daoquan did not know that there were other investigators besides the judiciary.  These included People's Congress representatives and members of the Political Consultative Committee.  They investigated the scene, they interviewed the witnesses and they analyzed the law.  They posted the photographs, illustrations and reports on the Internet.  Outside of the People's Court, an "Internet trial" was beginning.  Without exception, these materials showed that Xiao Guiqiu was innocent.  At the very least, the photographs proved that the Xiao shop "did not occupy public street space" because there was no street way there.

This is a point that Yuan Daoquan and Xiao Guiqiu never accepted: if you claim that this is a street, then you ought to try to take a walk over there -- you can't get there because this is the store front.  The next shop is an Internet cafe, which has sealed up its storefront and turned it into a business area.  Thus, the store front of Xiao Guiqiu was a dead space.

Under this configuration, if the Xiao family did not place the vegetables in the store front, it would be hard for anyone to see that they were selling vegetables.  If they were alleged to be occupying street space, then the Internet cafe had taken up even more street space.  However, the municipal administrator never enforced the law on that Internet bar.  The "Internet trial" concluded that "the municipal administration abused its authority through selective enforcement of the law."  Afterwards, a lawyer volunteered to provide legal aid to the family.

The volunteer lawyer pointed out there were several "obvious mistakes" in the indictment document.  On behalf of Xiao Guiqiu, the lawyer said that Xiao had a legal business permit, a regular place of business, proper proof of tax payments and is therefore "a member of a powerless group in the city as well as a honored taxpayer."  They did not take over public street space, they did not interfere with the traffic and they ran a legal business.  Therefore, the <Notice for Chengdu municipal administration for temporary custody> for the eleven baskets of vegetables was illegal.

Xiao Guiqiu's defense on her own behalf was also directed at the "legality of the law enforcement officers."  She claimed that she "did not know that the people who came to the shop were law enforcement personnel from the municipal administration."  She had splashed urine on Li Peng, who was wearing a black t-shirt instead of a uniform.  She could not accept that some other unidentified persons could confiscate her property and therefore she was not acting out against public servants of the state!

But the truth was that Xiao Guiqiu's family knew that Li Peng was "Municipal Administrator Li" because the municipal administration team was located right across their shop.  How can a vegetable vendor "not recognize" the municipal administrators who work just meters away from them?  Yuan Dao Quan said that they usually refer to municipal administrators with honorifics such as "Brother X" and so on.  For example, Li Peng was "Brother Li."  Previously, they had even rented a municipal administration site for a vegetable shop.  Yuan Daoquan said that on the day before the "May 30 violent anti-law incident," "Brother X" notified them to "move the vegetables" inside the store the next day.  Later on, another "Brother" said that they can put the vegetables at the entrance.  Then they said not to do it.  Right now, it is hard for anyone to verify the dispute and processes between the sides.  For whatever reasons, the Xiao family refused to cooperate and move the vegetables inside the shop while the municipal administrators persisted in wanting to put into "temporary custody" the vegetables that cannot possibly be put into "temporary custody" because they would spoil.  Since there were eleven baskets of vegetables, the owner was ready to use the unique method of resistance used by peasant women to fight back at all cost. 

Certainly, the conflict escalated suddenly.  It is difficult to imagine how the splashed filthy water had been "prepared beforehand" as alleged in the indictment document.  The defense lawyer's opinion was that the Xiao family was impoverished and they did not have a restroom in the shop.  The public restroom charges 20 cents per use, and so "the family had to prepare a bucket for emergency."  "This bucket was kept inside the shop" and the bucket also contained some other dirty water.  On September 30, the first trial at the Chengdu city Qingyang district court ended with a 8 month prison term for interfering with official business.  Xiao Guiqiu broke down in tears.  She told the court that she was not satisfied and she would appeal to the Intermediate Court.

On January 29, 2007, Xiao Guiqiu finished serving her jail time and was released.  On that day, Yuang Daoquan went early in the morning to pick up his wife.  That night, he thanked those supporters by treating them to the dinner.  As for the reporters who paid attention to the "May 30 violent anti-law incident," he did not invite any of them; in fact, he turned down their requests to participate.  They do not trust the reporters and they do not believe in journalism.  They had met many reporters before and no matter what they say about the "violent anti-law incident," the reports all came out with the same content -- the position of the municipal administration.  They do not claim to be well-educated -- the wife had elementary school education and the husband had been in junior middle school.  They do not usually read newspapers, but they learned about the power of the media this time.

Yuan Daoquan explained why he refused to meet with the reporters: we came from rural villages and we only have temporary residency.  We have to continue to live here.  We do not seek "vindication."  You may not live in the same city, but we all live under the leadership of the same government ...

Yuan Daoquan is so short and small, he is so inarticulate, he is so "unimpressive" and he is so "undistinguished."  Xiao Guiqiu is also short and small.  But she has turned into a giant after those eight months.  Xiao Guiqiu wanted to say that she failed her son.  When his classmates bring up the incident, he could not raise his head.  The child is learning to read and she really does not want him to read about the incident.  He used to do well at school and got more than 95 points in language and mathematics.  But this incident occurred just when he was ready to go into junior middle school and his exam results suffered.  She said that she "sometimes does not eat because of the child" and she "could not have lived on" if not for the child.  Yuan Daoquan said that he had spoken with his son and told him, "We have our rights too!"  They had come to this city to sell vegetables for more than a decade already.  The shop had the "law enforced" against it by the municipal administration had been in operation for three years.  Their income (after subtracting rent and other expenses) is enough to get by.  They do not hope for any progress, but they hope that their present situation can be sustained.

From the start to our farewell, Yuan Daoquan did not exhibit any hint of a smile.  He spoke like a judge when he retold the history, the dispute and the issue of rights.  Upon the advice of a television reporter, he had gone to apologize to the municipal administrators.  Today, he thinks that "he should not have apologized."  He believes that the apology should have been mutual.  But he said that none of this matter now.  His final conclusion is just like that of his wife: if you live on, everything shall pass; if you live on, "you eat from your own bowl of rice and that's all."