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HELL ON EARTH

Censorship here has reached absurd limits. A hit-and-run accident has now become the subject of a media ban. But thanks to the internet, everyone knows about it. In Hangzhou, a city known for its natural beauty, a young man crossing the road in a residential area was killed by a speeding Mitsubishi Evo sports car — a common enough incident in China. Then why has this one become the focus of such a storm?

There are many reasons for this — the conduct of the Mitsubishi driver, for one. He didn’t rush the victim to hospital; instead, he called up his friends. A photograph on the internet shows them lounging near the car, laughing as if nothing had happened. The accident took place while the driver was racing two other sports cars on the street. All three were modified cars. In fact, the Mitsubishi had two websites inscribed on its body. One of them read, “Here gather the country’s best drifting race car drivers.”

Second, the driver told the police that he was driving at 70 kilometres per hour. The speed limit there is 50 kmph. However, eye-witnesses state that he must have been driving at more than 100 kmph given the impact on the victim: his head hit the windshield, and then he was thrown very high up. His body somersaulted in the air before landing on the road, blood oozing from the nose and mouth.

Finally, the profile of the victim. A 25-year-old resident of another province known for its backwardness, he had studied in Hangzhou’s prestigious Zhejiang University. In China, as in India, this meant that he had worked very hard to make the grade against tremendous competition, and then succeeded in finding a job in the same city where he had studied. He was to get married soon.

Pointed questions

Within 48 hours of the incident, the university internet bulletin board was flashing the news, and “human flesh search engines’’ (netizens who hunt out personal details of people in the news) had begun unearthing details about the driver. An undergraduate with an indifferent academic record, son of a garment-factory owner, his pictures were posted on the net. There he was seen go-karting on the Great Wall. The pictures of his father, posing next to his Chrysler, were similar. The Mitsubishi was registered in the mother’s name. But the most significant revelation was two earlier traffic offences against him, in one of which, as recently as in December 2008, he had been caught driving at 210 kmph on the Hangzhou-Shanghai expressway, where the speed limit is 120 kmph. The law states that if one drives at double the speed limit, the licence is confiscated. Obviously that hadn’t happened here. Had the law been applied to this rich kid, the victim may have been alive.

With university students taking the initiative, Hangzhou’s citizens started gathering at the accident site, holding candle-light vigils, writing to the mayor for a thorough investigation. The police had declared that according to witnesses, the car was going at 70 kmph, and they weren’t sure that the victim was on the zebra crossing.

Pointed questions by the media revealed that the only two witnesses they’d spoken to were the two drivers racing their cars with the culprit. Immediately, a media ban was imposed; but who needs the print media today? Even newspaper reporters have started writing on the internet now. One netizen offered a way out for the police: “In the moment of hitting, the earth immediately lost gravity; so the culprit is the earth.’’ Another cautioned about protesting too much: “Should the country become chaotic, US imperialism will rush in and massacre us Chinese people!!!’’ But it was the well-known blogger, Hecaitou, who put it best: “Hangzhou has always been known as paradise. So the citizens should know whose paradise is this and whose hell is this.’’

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