The Mianzhu Highway Robbery

( 飞鸟的天空)  Stop!  These Are Life-Savers From Us!  May 17, 2008.

From the frontlines of disaster relief:

Yesterday, I beheld a most beautiful sight on the road to Mianzhu where the most patriotic action in China was taking place.  There were 10 cars on the road, including five which were volunteers.  I was touched.  I thought that our people are invincible.  I was filled with respect for this type of action!  On the way, we thought that the sooner the material arrives, the greater hope there is!  I felt very elated and excited!

But when our fleet arrived at Toumen town according to instructions, I saw the ugliest scene in the world (frankly, I did not want to use that word, but I had to use it after thinking about it for the whole night).  The materials in our fleet were looted.  I saw those people smiling while they moved the material out!  They moved boxes and boxes of the material into their undamaged homes!

Don't they know that the people further ahead need the materials even more?  How many lives are at stake but for for these relief materials?

The materials in our fleet are very expensive.  They include clothes, food, tents ... each package contains thirty items worth almost 10,000 RMB.  These people look to be in fine shape.  Why do they want to take more?

I hope that this sort of thing does not happen anymore.  Something like this is truly heart-breaking!  Yesterday one of the cars in our fleet was looted.  If our workers had not stopped them on time, the remaining ten or so vehicles would have ended up with the same fate!!

Their houses were intact, their bodies were healthy.  I am very perplexed, I am very angry, I am very sorrowful, I feel very bad ... if there were more of us, we would have beat those people up ...

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  The Tent Robbers Were Also Disaster Victims.  May 31, 2008.

The netizen 仁爱兔斯基 posted an essay titled "Looters on motorcycle, I saw the ugliest scene in Mianzhu" in which he condemned Mianzhu villagers for looting tents.  A netizen who calls himself Gu Anmin and who says that he is a policeman with the Deyang Criminal Police Squad posted a defense to explain that the villagers were disaster victims as well.  So this case has become more perplexing than ever.

Their houses had collapsed during the earthquake.  Those houses that did not collapse are dangerous to live in.  A fleet of relief materials organized by a media outlet passed through their village.  Without permission, they took the tents.  They said that they were sleeping in the streets at the time, and therefore they were very happy to see the tents.  Photographs of the looting were taken and posted on the Internet.  The villagers were labelled 'thugs' and the scene was described as the "ugliest scene ever."  The netizens wanted to find these 'thugs.

'Later on, they learned that people elsewhere suffered even greater losses and that many good-willed people were hurt, they felt very ashamed and returned the tents.  In front of their ruined homes, they told our reporter that they want to apologize to everyone who has ever donated money for disaster relief. 

The first netizen who posted:

Looters on motorcycles steal material, I saw the ugliest scene in Mianzhu!  Let me emphasize that these looters were not disaster victims!  They are thugs, they were not disaster victims!

The policeman who investigated the case:

Do you have the heart to deal severely with a group of disaster victims who took extreme actions to get a tent to stay away from the elements?

After a disaster, we have to care about the dead and the living.  Although more people died in other villages, these are disaster victims all the same.  They don't have any place to stay either.

The villagers who participated in the looting:

At the time we thought that if we have tents, we'll have some place to stay tonight.

We are very rueful!  These materials should have been sent to places that need them more than we do.  But the information was not flowing and we did not know that other places had suffered even more than we did.  We must apologize to the people of the nation through your newspaper!

At about 5 kilometers outside of Mianzhu city proper at the border between Baiyi village (Banqiao town) and Longqing village (Xinan town).  On May 15, 2008, which was the fourth day after the earthquake occurred, a fleet of relief vehicles organized by a Chengdu media outlet passed by that spot.  Certain local villagers stopped the fleet to ask for help.  Without the consent of the fleet workers, a small number of villagers climbed onto a small truck and unloaded the material.  Several dozen villagers then looted the material.

On May 16, an essay titled "Looters on motorcycle, I saw the ugliest scene in Mianzhu" appeared in the special Sichuan earthquake topic area at a Chengdu website.  Photos of the looting were included.  The poster was the netizen 仁爱兔斯基.  The post was carried by the various big forums, with some of the portals even placing the post as a recommended item even though the contents had not been verified by traditional media.  All at once, the "ugliest people" and the "ugliest scene" became the hottest words across China.

In "Looters on motorcycle, I saw the ugliest scene in Mianzhu":  "But when our fleet arrived at Tumen town according to instructions, I saw the ugliest scene in the world (frankly, I did not want to use that word, but I had to use it after thinking about it for the whole night).  The materials in our fleet was looted.  I saw those people smiling while they moved the material out!  They moved boxes and boxes of the material into their undamaged homes!  Don't they know that the people further ahead need the materials even more?  They were even selling stuff on the roadside (which means that they don't lack food or water)."  仁爱兔斯基 emphasized that "each tent package contains 30 items worth 10,000 RMB ..."

Later on, a netizen who claimed to be the truck driver wrote: "A small child stood in the middle of the road holding a sign that said 'Help!'  The fleet was forced to stop.  The villagers rushed over.  The looting was completed within 3 minutes!  This was totally pre-planned!"

This post created a stir in China.  A Baidu search for <The ugliest scene from Mianzhu" results in 225,000 pages.  Many netizens were perplexed and hurt, "I have seen the last thing that I want to see about human evil."

In the photos, the faces of many of the looters are clearly visible.  Individual netizens called for the human search engines to locate these people and they made promised to punish them severely.

On May 18, the Deyang Criminal Police Squad received an alert from the Internet monitors.  Police officer Gu Anmin was sent to Mianzhu to investigate.  Gu Anmin claimed that results of the investigation was vastly different from the Internet version.  On May 22, he posted the results of his investigation on the Internet, and this also received broad publicity.

Gu Anmin said that he posted the investigation results on the Internet because this was a matter of public safety that should lead to some reflection about what happened.  Since it was first reported on the Internet, the clarification should also be posted on the Internet so that an explanation is available to all the netizens who were concerned about this matter.  Gu Anmin left his name and telephone number on the Internet, and netizens called him up to ask about what happened.

Gu Anmin said that the material on the small truck was donated by the Explorer Company.  There were more than 30 tents and three cases of wool sweaters (about 20 items per case).  During the process, the villagers did not use extreme language and physical force on the members of the fleet.

He told this reporter that it was unforgivable for someone who was not victimized by the earthquake to loot materials.  When he first took charge of the case, he saw the text and photos in the Internet post and he felt very angry.  He wanted to arrest the perpetrators and make sure that they receive heavy penalties.

But Gu Anmin investigated at the scene of the incident.  He found that the place had been hit hard by the disaster.  Forty to fifty percent of the houses had collapsed, and the remaining ones were heavily damaged with cracked and tilting walls that are likely to fall down any moment.

He said that more than twenty people were involved in the looting.  They were all victims belonging to the sixth brigade of the Longqing village (Xinan town) and fifth brigade of the Baiyi village (Banqiao town).  Fifteen of them have been identified, and all of them were significant victims in the villages.

An Gumin said that he took out a printed copy of the Internet post and told the villagers that this looting incident had a major bad impact across China.  The villagers began to cry.  An old lady cried and said, "We have caused shame for Mianzhu.  If only I knew that there would be such an impact, I would have rather freeze to death outside instead of robbing these tents.  We have let the donors down!"

On the evening of May 22, Gu Anmin called the particular Chengdu media outlet to offer two methods of apology.  One method was to send representatives from among the looters to Chengdu to apologize.  The other method was to let the media outlet send people to the disaster area to inspect and accept the apology from the looters.  But 仁爱兔斯基 said to forget it, and so Fu Anmin apologized over the telephone on behalf of the looters.

An Gumin also made video recordings of some of the apologizing villagers, which were posted on the Internet.

Yesterday noon, with the assistance of Gu Anmin, the reporter located the female looter Jia Yuanyu.  The incident occurred right in front of her small snack store.  She said that she witnessed the entire incident.  When she saw the reporter, this 38-year-old woman felt very abashed and kept saying that the name of Mianzhu has been blackened.

She said that at just past 2pm on May 15, several village children around 10 years old stood on the roadside to ask for help from the passing vehicles.  A small truck stopped and several children and adults went over to the truck.  Without the permission from the people in the truck, they began to move stuff out.  Everybody thought that it was food and so dozens of people rushed up.  When they moved the stuff off the truck, they did not know what it was.  Only after they opened the boxes did they find out that these were tents.  Jia Yuanyu saw other people taking the stuff, and so she took one box too.  Everything on the small truck was gone within minutes.

Previous to that, she, her husband and their child had slept on the roadside for two nights in a row.  Her 80-year-old father-in-law was taken in by someone else.  When they found out that they had a tent, they were very happy.

55-year-old Lai Xiaoyou said that after finding out that these were tents, he was very happy and raced home smiling because he had no place to stay before that.  He said that this was the reason why the people in the photos were smiling.

34-yar-old Lai Youfu was able to seize two boxes containing three tents.  At the time, he was busy at home.  When he heard that there were tents down the road, he was very happy.  He said that he had no place to stay in for the past few days.  When he heard that there were tents, he was very elated.

Gu Anmin said that after obtaining the tents, Lai Youfu gave one of the tents to the family of Xiang Zhaojuan who lives 2 kilometers away.  Xiang is a 75-year-old man living in poverty.

According to the photos, the houses on the roadside look to be in decent shape.  That was why many netizens that this was not part of the disaster zone.  But if you go behind at look, than most of the walls of the buildings have fallen down.  Only those walls near the road appeared to be okay.

The reporter walked around Longqing village and found out that 99% of buildings are dangerous and uninhabitable.  According to the local people, the only buildings that were still standing are no taller than toilet houses.

Jia Yuanyu said that more than 40 people died in Qinglong village during the earthquake.  Some of the more serious victims do not even a ladle left to drink water from.

When Jia Yuanyu got the tent, she set it up by the roadside.  Since she had a small snack shop by the roadside before, she moved everything inside the tent and continued to sell the undamaged merchandise.

Other people do not feel that the situation was severe here, because commerce was still going on.  But in truth, the seven rooms in Jia Yuanyu were all dangerous.  As the reporter left Jia Yuanyu's place, she cautioned the reporter to leave quickly because the brick wall was propped up by a wooden pole.

In the fifth brigade of Baiyi village, all the buildings are dangerous.  When the villagers go past these buildings, they sprint quickly.  There are 64 families in the fifth brigade of Baiyi village, and only one of them has a relief tent.  At the eighth brigade in Fuqing village, more than 100 impoverished homes are living in tents made from canvas.

Jia Yuanyu's husband said, "At first, we did not realize the incident would have such a huge impact.  We are really rueful now.  The material should be sent to the neediest place.  But the information was not flowing and we did not know that other places suffered even more.  We now know what happened and we would not have done it today because we know that the disaster was even severe elsewhere." He said that the fact this hurt the donors and rescuers because "it left them with some bitterness that disaster victims like ourselves were thugs."

The wife of Lai Xiaoyou said that she has lived for more than 50 years and she has never taken anything away from anyone.  They were decent honest people here.  This time, it was wrong for them to take the material.  Almost ten villagers who participated in the looting surrounded this reporter and asked him to clarify to the people of China.  It was wrong for them to take the tents, but they were disaster victims and not thugs.  They have already returned the tents and apologized to the donors.

On the night of the looting, Lai Youfu said that he felt that he had done wrong.  He told his 10-year-old son not to take people's stuff on the road.  As he slept that night, he thought about returning the tent but he did not know who to contact.

Many of the villagers said that they returned the tents after the policeman found them.  At that time, many of them had no place to live.  They did not even have enough canvas to make their own tents.

The wife of Lai Xiaoyou pointed to the canvas shelter and said that it would be good if it could last a month.  If there should be rain, then the shelter is going to leak.  The villagers said that after they returned the tents, they still want tents.