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The People's Will

Authors: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies, and Oliver Zhong, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University
February 3, 2010
South China Morning Post


Interaction among courts, the media and public opinion is complex in every free country. The internet magnifies the complexity. Even mainland China, despite strict government controls, cannot escape it, as last summer's famous Deng Yujiao case demonstrated. Months after she fatally stabbed a government official, and a trial that roiled the nation, this young cause celebre now lives an anonymous life far from home. Once seen by a wildly supportive public as a hapless folk heroine who resisted outrageous abuse, Deng now hopes to be forgotten.

Yet, for the mainland's legal reform, it is too soon to turn the page. Recently revealed details of the case illuminate how justice was meted out.

On the night of May 10, in a hotel massage parlour in Badong county, Hubei province, two officials scuffled with Deng, who worked there. She stabbed both men with a fruit knife, killing one.

The case initially seemed to be an ordinary local tragedy. Within days, however, it turned into a nationwide phenomenon, once internet reports suggested that the men had demanded "special services" from Deng, hit her face with wads of cash and pinned her down on a sofa. An area TV station broadcast incendiary video footage of Deng claiming to have been beaten. By the time Deng's publicity minded Beijing lawyer made teary-eyed public appeals for justice, most Chinese internet users seemed convinced she had acted in self-defence and should not be prosecuted.

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