The Hyping Of "My Dad Is Li Gang"

[Note: The following news report is very much reviled by some Chinese netizens.  Even a renowned media scholar said: "The Chinese netizens can't be completely wrong.  If they said all these things, some of it must be true.  There has to be some kind of conflict of interest for these two reporters to make a report in this manner."  Go ahead and read it yourself.]

(Hebei Legal Systems News)  How "My Dad Is Li Gang" Was Hyped Up.  By Ma Jing and Cao Tianjian.  March 29, 2011.

The drunk driving case on October 16, 2010 on the Hebei University campus drew a lot of public attention.  The Hebei province Wangdu county People's Court ruled that Li Qiming was guilty of drunk driving which led to one death and one injury.  Furthermore, Li fled the scene afterwards.

According to our information, the family of Li Qiming sought actively to pay compensation to the families of the victims.  The family of the deceased victim Chen Xiaofeng received 460,000 yuan and the family of the injured victim Zhang Jingjing received 91,000 yuan.  Both families indicated willingness to forgive.  The court decision was influenced by the good attitude of Li Qiming in pleading guilty and the active effort to compensate the families of the victims.  On January 30, the Wangdu county People's Court sentenced Li Qiming to six years in prison.

On March 24, our reporters learned from the court that since Li Qiming did not appeal, the sentence is now final.

Although the dust around the traffic incident case has settled, the associated "Li Gang Gate" incident has not.  The phrase "My dad is Li Gang" has become a symbol for "overbearing arrogance" which has continued to draw media and social attention.  "My Dad Is Li Gang" has been voted by the media as one of the top ten most popular Internet sayings of 2010.  The "inside exposÚs" such as "Li Gang owns five apartments", "Li Gang's father-in-law is a provincial deputy governor" etc continued to be the foci of the Internet.

Several months have elapsed and people are still talking about this.  So what is "Li Gang Gate" all about?

On early morning October 18, 2010, the Baoding city public security bureau released this information: At around 9pm on October 16, there was a traffic incident on the new campus of Hebei University during which two students were injured and the driver fled the scene.  After receiving calls, the Baoding traffic police second division officers rushed quickly to the scene to investigate.  The two injured persons were sent to the Baoding city emergency treatment center.  According to information, at 9:40pm, the driver named Li drove into the new campus of Hebei University in a state of alcoholic intoxication and caused injuries to two female students (named Chen and Zhang).  At around 5pm on October 17, the injured female named Chen was pronounced dead in spite of efforts to save her.  The injured female named Zhang is not in life-threatening circumstances.  The driver named Li has been criminally detained in accordance with the law.

According to information, the police tested the blood of Li Qiming 50 minutes after the accident, and found an alcohol content of 151 milligrams per milliliter.  This qualified as "drunk driving" under the law.

On October 25, the Baoding city public security bureau spokesperson announced that the Hebei University campus traffic incident was being handled handled by the Wangdu county public security bureau.  The Wangdu county public security bureau has gathered the evidence and forwarded the information to the Wangdu county procuratorate.  On October 24, the Wangdu county procuratorate gave approval for formal arrest of Li Qiming for his role in the traffic incident.

Our reporters determined that at 11:36 on October 17, someone made a post at the local Baoding forum "Lotus Forum" about "Two female students sent flying by collision at Hebei University, driver boasts of not being afraid to get charged."  This post quickly drew plenty of attention.  At 16:00 that day, a netizen made at post at the Tianya Forum about "Shocking!!!  Hebei University son of rich parents sent two female Hebei University students flying while drunk driving, 'Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang'".  This caused the page view count to soar.  Netizens ran a "human flesh search" on Li Qiming and published their findings.  Since the father of Li Qiming is the deputy director of the Northern City District police station, many netizens naturally connected the case with the arrogance of "the children of government/party officials."

On October 18, a certain news agency website published a report based upon the Tianya post under the title <Hebei son of government/party official sent to students flying inside Hebei University while picking his girlfriend up>.  This report referred to the term "son of government/party official" and described the driver as boasting: "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang!"  The major news portals immediately featured this report prominently.

Hereafter, "My dad is Li Gang" became one of the most popular Internet phrases of 2010.

In this Internet age, information is transmitted very quickly.  Within a few days, various other information related to "My dad is Li Gang" began to show up at various Internet forums.

At 2am on October 22, the "Shantou forum" at "Baidu Post Bar" reported: "According to information, Li Qiming owns five real estate properties in Baoding."

On October 24, there came the "insider news" that "in Baoding city, Li Gang has two real estate properties under his name and his son Li Qiming has three real estate properties."  Furthermore, the details of these five real estate properties were listed very clearly:

These five units are worth about 7 to 8 million yuan in total.

At 21:58 on October 25, someone at "Baidu Knows" revealed that "the father-in-law of Li Gang is a deputy governor of Hebei province."  This allegation was accepted by many netizens.

At the same time, there were other "insider scoops" such as "Li Qiming owns two cars", "Li Qiming runs an underground casino," etc.

Within several days, there were more than 300,000 phrases related to "My dad is Li Gang."  In addition, there were songs and videos based upon "My dad is Li Gang" on the Internet.  The media began to call this affair "Li Gang gate."

By this stage, people are no longer merely interested in a certain traffic incident that took place on a certain university campus. The "boast" that "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang" has shifted the attention to the driver Li Qiming and his father Li Gang.

But did Li Qiming really utter that phrase?  If so, then at what time and under what circumstances did he say that "My dad is Li Gang"?

Our reporters traveled to Hebei University and interviewed the security guards at the scene as well as a number of students.

According to the security guard Peng Fumin, he received a call about a traffic incident and he immediately closed the campus gates.  He stopped the car involved in the incident at the gate.  At the time, many students were already gathered there.  Peng did not hear the driver say "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang."

The security guard Fang Bo was rendering assistance to the two stricken students.  He said that he did not hear anyone utter that phrase.

The security guard Hua Zhenguang got there immediately.  He quickly removed the ignition key for the car.  Likewise, he did not hear anyone say: "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang."

Several security guards said that they only learned from the Internet that the driver boasted: "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang."

Liu Lu and Bao Qiong were fellow students who live in the same dormitory as the victims.  They told our reporters that they learned about the phrase a long time afterwards indirectly from fellow students.

Duan Yu and Guo Yuqi were classmates of the victims.  They both said that they heard about the phrase the next day, and that was the reason why they were especially outraged.

According to what our reporters found out, on October 24 (seven days after the incident), the Baoding City Public Security Bureau submitted a report to the Hebei Provincial Public Security Bureau about the traffic incident on Hebei University campus.  With respect to the Internet story about "My dad is Li Gang," the Baoding City Public Security Bureau had conducted an investigation and found the answer in the clear statements by the Baiding city public security bureau Bailou police station officer Li Zhiwei and director Zhao Xiaobing.

According to Liu Zhiwei, he and Zhao Xiaobing went over to the guardroom at the Hebei University campus after getting the call: "When I entered, I saw a young man coming out of the guardroom.  He was crying and he said that he has made a serious mistake.  His name was Li Qiming and his dad was Li Gang.  He reeked of alcohol and he was also incoherent."

According to Zhao Xiaobing, "I opened the door to the guardroom and I saw a young man in his 20's.  He reeked of alcohol as he spoke.  I identified myself.  I asked me if he was the driver involved in the incident.  He said yes.  At the same time, he told me that his dad was Li Gang who was the deputy director of the Northern City district police station."

Zhao Xiaobing said that Li Qiming said it as he came out of the guardroom.  "There were several security guards present but no students.  Li Qiming was also crying as he spoke.  He appeared to be very frightened.  He said that he was willing to bear responsibility for the incident.  He told us not to tell his dad.  He seemed somewhat scared.  He was neither arrogant nor overbearing."

The other question is whether Li Gang owns five real estate properties.

According to information, the netizen who made the post about the "five real estate properties" came from Shantou city (Guangdong province) and is presently living in Yuncheng city (Shanxi province).

The investigation showed that "Li Gang has two real estate properties and Li Qiming has three real estate properties" is sheer fabrication.

The Internet also said that "Li Gang's father-in-law is a provincial deputy governor."  Our reporters learned that Li Gang's father-in-law is 86-year-old Liu Chenheng.  In the 1990's, he retired from the former Baobing Area Local Produce Company before that company was consolidated when Baoding City was re-zoned.  "Li Gang's father-in-law is a provincial deputy governor" is sheer fabrication.

According to information, the tipster first made the post "Li Gang's father-in-law is the deputy provincial governor named Zhang."  When the "human flesh search" revealed that Li Gang's wife had the family name of Liu, this tipster amended his post to "Li Gang's father-in-law is the deputy provincial governor named Liu."  It should be noted that this tipster lives in Changsha city, Hunan province and he is not a Hebei province resident.

The other "insider tips" such as "Li Qiming has two cars" and "Li Qiming operates an underground casino" were investigated by the relevant departments and found to be fabrications.

Because of the Internet hearsay about "My dad of Li Gang," Li Gang (the father of Li Qiming) became the target of Internet overnight, drawing all manners of condemnations and insults.

50-year-old Li Gang was transferred from the city traffic department to the Northern City district police station as deputy director.  He is in charge of crime investigations.

Colleagues said: "Li Gang is easy-going and low-keyed.  He gets along with others.  He has a way with handling cases."

The Baoding city public security bureau party secretary gave the following written appraisal of Li Gang: "He loves police work.  He has a strong urge to investigate crimes and the ability to take charge.  Since becoming deputy director of the Northern City district police station, that precinct has always led the city in performance measures with respect to handling crimes.  He has personally received many awards.  There has not been a single complaint against him about corrupt behavior since he became deputy director."

Li Gang was interviewed by CCTV and he apologized to the victims.  Immediately netizens concluded that he was so powerful that even CCTV had to put on a show on his behalf.  According to the information received by our reporters, Li Gang was forced to make that CCTV appearance because of pressure from everywhere.

According to Baoding city Northern City police station director Bai Chaohui, Li Gang is holding up well and continuing to work hard.  He had previously asked himself to resign from his job as a result of the pressure.  But Bao Chaohui told him: "It was your son who was involved in a traffic incident.  You didn't do anything wrong.  Why would you resign?"

According to information, Li Gang retains the right to sue the rumor mongers.

Actually, in reviewing the development of the "My dad is Li Gang" affair, anyone can see that the process went basically like this: Unfounded hearsay -> Ambiguous reporting -> Media criticisms -> More hearsay -> More ambiguous reporting -> More media criticisms ...

Right after the traffic incident took place on the Hebei University campus, many descriptions and photos appeared at the Internet forums.  The Internet post <Two female students sent flying by collision at Hebei University, driver boasts of not being afraid to get charged> was the first to bring up the phrase "My dad is Li Gang."

On October 18, the website for a certain news agency posted the report <Hebei son of government/party official sent to students flying inside Hebei University while picking his girlfriend up>.  This report accepted the allegation in the Internet post that Li Qiming said "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang!" as fact and also connected it with "the children of government/party officials" issue.  This report immediately became the focus of the various websites and stirred up passions and emotions.  According to the Baoding police, the writer of this report never contacted them to confirm the contents of that report.

The security guards and students interviewed by our reporters also said that they have never been interviewed by the reporter from that news agency.

After October 18, many media websites began to report the Hebei University traffic incident using the unverified "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang" saying.

Soon afterwards, the Baoding police announced that the perpetrator Li Qiming has been criminally arrested and passions cooled somewhat.  But on October 21, the Dayang Net reported that <Hebei University eyewitnesses have been 'collectively silenced> and this raised the heat level again.  Li Gang was interviewed on CCTV's <Rule of Law Online> during which he apologized to the victims and their families.  Netizens accused him of putting on a show and immediately ran a "human flesh search" on him to find that "Li Gang owns five real estate properties," "Li Gang's father-in-law is the Hebei province deputy governor" etc.  This led to another round of attention and condemnations.  This in turn led to more hyping and "opinion leadership" by the media in the form of more condemnations and accusations.

On October 19, a magazine published the commentary entitled <The arrogance of power behind "My dad is Li Gang"> and affirmed "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang> as fact.

On October 27, another magazine published the essay <How to impose taxes on the five real estate properties of Li Gang and son?> and also supported the ownership of the real estate properties as fact.

In the absence of the failure of the relevant departments to come out and clarify the facts immediately, "Sue me if you can -- my dad is Li Gang" became fact in the wave of media condemnations.

So this was how an ordinary traffic incident became the rousing "Li Gang gate."

Without doubt, Li Qiming deserves to be held legally responsible as an adult who caused one death and one injury while driving under the influence of alcohol on a university campus.  It should be up to the courts to decide what punishment he should get.  It should not be up to Internet or media opinion to make that judgment.

Hebei University student Duan Yu is a classmate of the two victims in the campus traffic incident.  He said to our reporters that he no longer trusts the media.  He said that Zhang Jingjina was about to undergo surgery and a Beijing reporter insisted on an interview because "Duan was helping Zhang."  Duan said that he was busy.  But the reporter behaved poorly and threatened to mobilize public opinion against him.  "On the Internet, they say that Li Qiming has reached a private settlement with the victims. They said that the Li Qiming case will fade away.  We don't believe that.  This case must have an outcome and there must be a judicial process.  We await that final outcome."

Li Lu resides in the same dormitory as victim Zhang Jingjing.  "We went to visit Jingjing on our own.  But on the Internet, they said that we were sent by the university to spy on her."  A female reporter came to the hospital to interview Jingjing.  Jingjing was too worn out and asked us to go out and tell her no.  On that evening, the Internet reported that 'the family of the victims knelt down to beg to see Jingjing but her fellow dormitory students sternly refused.'  This has created a chill in our hearts.  We are frightened."

Hebei University security guards Hua Chenguang said, "I was interviewed by certain reporters but I found discrepancies between what I said and what they published.  They were excerpting or distorting what I said.  Now we resent these media interviews."

One expert said that when a rumor is posted, many people do not ask whether it came from an authoritative source or whether there was concrete evidence.  They will believe it unconditionally and use it as the basis for their judgment and criticisms.  It is one thing to say that netizens are careless, but many media reporters and commentators also gave up any effort to confirm or discriminate and immediately regard it as truth for the purpose or reporting or commentary.

In this case, many media have treated the characters and events of this case as tools to express their own ideas or emotions at will.

So this was how the truth was hijacked and distorted.

Actually, the Baoding city public security bureau had responded rapidly as soon as the incident took place.

According to what our reporters learned, the Baoding city public security bureau held four press conferences about the developments in the case.  But their voices were drowned out by the doubts and condemnations in the various types of media.

On the night of the incident, the Baoding city public security bureau immediately convened a press conference.  Within 48 hours, the Xinhua agency published the news about the traffic incident on the Hebei University campus.  Afterwards, police investigators followed up on the Internet rumors.  They found that "Li Gang owns five real estate properties," "Li Gang's father-in-law is a deputy provincial governor" etc were fabrications.  But they did not publicly reveal their results to the media or society.

According to our information, the Baoding city public security bureau Political Department officers in charge of news updates found themselves being abused and insulted by name.  When CCTV interviewed Li Gang, the lawyer for the victims immediately asked "whether it was judicially proper for CCTV to interview the suspect and his family" and that drew more rumors and hearsays.  In the view of rumors that were running amok, the Baoding city government decided that the any clarification would only draw more vicious sarcasms and insults and therefore "no response" would be the only way to calm things down.

According to information, the Baoding city public security bureau invited four legal scholars from China Renmin University and Beijing Normal University to meet and discuss this case on five occasions to hear their advice.  They eliminated the charges of "endangering the public" and "manslaughter" and referred the case as a "traffic incident" to the procuratorate.  This decision drew abuses and insults from the Internet.

During our interviews in Baoding city, we sensed that the local government/party departments have been under tremendous pressure and therefore they maintained a certain distance and wariness from us.

In the "My dad is Li Gang" incident, it can be seen that "children of rich people," "children of government/party officials," "police," "police chief" and "arrogance" are the keywords.  Certain websites and media used unconfirmed and unsupported hearsays as the basis to pound out their condemnations and criticisms from the high moral points.  People's sense for justice were fermented, inflamed, exploited and manipulated.  Internet rumors become infectious and interpreted until the truth becomes totally hidden.

Today, the Internet has become the platform for the people to seek social justice.  At the same time, the Internet has also become the window to release certain emotions.  Our reporters noted one distinguishing characteristic: As soon as the principal has a "powerful" background such as "child of rich family" or "child of government/party official," the Internet opinion also leans towards the other weaker side and use their helplessness to garner sympathy.  Conversely, they will intentionally or unintentionally highlight the "arrogance" of the power-holders."  As soon as any story has a connection with "children of rich families" or "children of government/party officials," it can quickly become an Internet hype or popular saying.  In truth, Internet opinion will intentionally or unintentionally emphasize or highlight these aspects and steer people's judgment away from the facts.

Worse yet, these "public opinion" storms can break outside the virtual world and apply tremendous pressure on justice.

But nobody seems to be held accountable for fabricating rumors on the Internet.  This is very obvious in the "My dad is Li Gang" affair.

Hebei Jihua Law Office lawyer Su Yaolong thinks that the hijacking of public opinion did not begin in the Internet era.  After someone fabricates some fake information either intentionally or unintentionally and if this information satisfies certain psychological needs, it will be disseminated broadly if it is not immediately dispelled.  This is the phenomenon of "spectators gathering around to watch."  Most people don't know (or don't even want to know) what the truth is.  As more spectators show up, they all believe that they are seeing the "truth" and they will passionately forward or comment on this "truth."  Thus hearsays and rumors get propagated.  In the end, the subjects and objects of this spectatorship are all victims, often with deleterious effects.  The process of "Internet spectatorship" has caused countless numbers of netizens to be misled.

So who should be held responsible?  Lawyer Su believes that that the persons or organizers who fabricate or propagate false information (that is, the Internet posters and the websites) are liable under the law.  The Supreme People's Court said so.  Depending on the involvement and damage, there are various administrative and criminal punishments in accordance with the laws.  In practice, it is difficult to identify who made that initial post.  When too many people can be held responsible for forwarding mistruths, it becomes impracticable to pursue all of them.  This is a problem that the relevant authorities and the media ought to solve.

Who should be seeking to attribute responsibility?  Lawyer Su said that if the false information does not involve national security or public safety and that only personal or corporate reputation is involved, then the victims of the false information can sue the fabricators/disseminators.  This may be either a civil or criminal case depending on the degree of damage.  They can even ask the public security organizations for administrative punishments against the perpetrators.

What are the responsibilities of the media?  When it comes to the hijacking of Internet public opinion, the victims are absolutely weak and vulnerable.  In most cases, the judiciary will not accept their petitions and will instead tell the victims to file civil or criminal lawsuits on their own.  The Internet is a platform for citizens to express their opinions.  Neither the government nor the judiciary should "block" public opinion.  Instead, they ought to "lead" public opinion and ask the relevant parties to "clarify" information.  In the Internet age, we need to demand websites and news media to accept greater responsibility in their reporting and to report the truth.  They are not supposed to simply report or hype what others are saying.