Heiliangjiang is a little hamlet of eight families high up in the mountains of Shaanxi province in China. Five bear the family name He. Only one is Qiu. The Qius moved in after the land reforms of the 1950s, presumably because they had lost their land. Qiu Xinghua was born there. His father died when he was nine. His mother had a hard time; no wonder she was irritable and talked to herself. Xinghua inherited her temper. He also had a brother, Qiu Xingfu. In the villagers’ opinion, Xingfu was honest and kind, and Xinghua was superficial and empty.
While he was growing up in this village, Qiu Xinghua fell in love eleven times. Once at least he got into trouble for it. One of the girls he jilted came with her brother, who started beating Xinghua. He took the beating for a while, for he admired General Han Xin who allowed himself to be humiliated. But then he charged at the brother, and would have killed him if Xingfu had not held him back.
Xinghua was often arrested — taken into administrative detention, to use Chinese terminology — because he was seldom employed and often got into trouble. He was arrested for smuggling gold, trafficking in women, and stealing railway equipment. These crimes were later not proved, and he was let off. But one day, the cable of the village loudspeaker announcement system fell down. Qiu Xinghua took it home, and was discovered. He was jailed for 15 days.
Qiu Xinghua’s eyes then fell on Ranfeng, one of the He girls. Her family was upset since he had no job, and opposed the liaison. So he ran away with Ranfeng. The He family pursued him, caught him and delivered him to the police for a good beating. The station house officer was also a He, but he was not related to the Hes of Heiliangjiang.
The He family locked up Ranfeng. But Qiu Xinghua got someone to write a complaint, slipped it to Ranfeng through a window and got her palm print on it. With this he filed a case of wrongful confinement against Ranfeng’s father. The local court charged the He family with interference in the freedom of marriage. After nine days’ confinement, Ranfeng was released, and married Xinghua. The Hes disowned their daughter. Although the Hes and the Qis lived in the same courtyard, they never again spoke to each other.
Xinghua and Rangfeg had two daughters. Xinghua wanted a son. So they continued to act naturally. Finally they had a son. They had exceeded the family quota of two children, so he was fined 5,000 RMB (almost Rs 40,000). Xinghua had no money; the fine remained unpaid.
The Qius left Heiliangjiang and wandered from place to place. They moved six times. He did eleven jobs; none lasted. The only job that paid enough was fishing in Hanjiang. But in 2002, there was a flood, and it became impossible to cast a net into the river.
Last year, Qiu Xinghua got a building contract. One of the workers he employed was injured, and Qiu had to pay him 4,000 RMB — almost a year’s income. Xinghua became irritable. He would smoke by himself all night. He quarrelled with Rangfe. He said the two daughters were not his. He accused Rangfe of infidelity. Then he left home.
After two months’ absence, Xinghua came home on 24 April, and asked Rangfe to accompany him; he said the job he had got of digging ditches along an expressway was too much for him to handle alone. Rangfe did not want to go with him and leave the children alone, but finally she went.
Then she discovered that he wanted her with him because he was jealous and did not trust her to live by herself. He had to know whether the daughters were his. He did not have the money for a DNA test. So on 18 June, he went with Rangfe to the Iron Tile Temple, a Taoist temple on a 2000-meter high mountain, to consult its priest. He wanted the priest to read the son’s future, and to tell him whether the girls were his.
He had taken incense sticks and candles worth about 30 RMB, but on getting to the temple he found that he had to pay. The government had plans to develop the temple as a tourist spot, and to dress up its priest in a Taoist robe. But it had not yet taken a decision, so the priest was wearing a suit. He read the son’s future. Instead of saying whether the daughters were Qiu’s, he just told Qiu and He to make up and stop quarrelling. Xinghua could not pay him, and suspected the priest was annoyed.
They came down from the mountain. One day he rang up Ranfeng and told her he had met a silver-haired fortune-teller, who told him that there were two stones at the Iron Tile Temple in the memory of Qiu’s ancestors. He should move them from the open and place them under the cover of the eaves; then his luck would turn.
So on 25 June they went up again. They found two tablets with the name Qiu, and moved them. The priest said they could not do that, and made Qiu move the stones back to the courtyard.
Xinghua made Ranfeng swear in front of the Taoist grand priest’s statue in the temple that the daughters were his and that if they were not, she would go blind and her heart would stop. She did. But that was not enough. He wanted an answer from Xiong Wancheng, the head priest, who was then away. So he chopped wood, and Ranfeng cooked for the priests. Xiong Wancheng returned from his travels, and met Ranfeng. He asked her to eat with other Temple helpers. She looked for Qiu, but could not find him. When he saw that Ranfeng had got to know the head priest, he was pissed off.
Couples are not allowed to sleep together in the temple, so Xinghua slept with the temple workers and Ranfeng slept alone in a nearby room. One night he asked her to go and sleep with another old woman and to give him her room. Then he went to Ranfeng’s room to make sure she was not sleeping with the head priest. The old woman shooed him away.
Next morning he no longer wanted to consult the head priest. Xinghua and Ranfeng went down the mountain. She went home to the children. Xinghua said he had to go and collect money from his last job. But instead of doing that, he went back to the temple, and killed nine men and a woman sleeping there at night; he bludgeoned their heads with an axe. The police declared a prize of 100,000 Renminbi on his head. Three weeks later, he went home where he found the police waiting for him. He is talking a lot in jail — a perfect subject for journalists. His and He’s story has riveted the whole of China.