Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰) was a street vendor from Tieling county, Liaoning province (辽宁铁岭县). On May 16, 2009, while selling chicken strips, roasted sausages and other snacks with his wife Zhang Jing near a crossroads in Chenhe District, in the city of Shenyang (沈阳沉河区), Xia Junfeng was seized by urban enforcers known as Chengguan (城管) and taken to their office where he was beaten. During the course of the beating, Xia Junfeng fought back with a small knife he carried in his pocket, stabbing two Chengguans to death and injuring one. He was convicted of intentional homicide and sentenced to death during the first trial, and the second trial, held in July, 2010, upheld the verdict of the first trial. The case has garnered wide online attention in China since its onset. It is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court in Beijing. Dr. Teng Biao was Xia’s defense lawyer in the second trial, and the following is an excerpt of his closing argument. Several volunteer translators, Yaxue included, have collaborated on a complete translation of Dr. Teng’s defense in the hope to shed light on, and call for attention to, the Xia Junfeng case and the ill system at its root. The Chinese original is here.
Since the Chengguan system was established in 1997, its drawbacks have been clear. The crimes it has committed have been many and have bred bitter resentment among the population. To date, there is no national “Urban Administration Law” or administrative statutes to govern it, and Chengguan “enforcement” has never had any legal basis. Nor has there been any consistency or standards in its enforcement approach as well as its leadership structure. It has had no legal oversight but still acts as law enforcement. Its members have no clear legal definition. Their personal qualities are as varied as to have thugs and hooligans in their midst. In many cases, they rob, and work for personal gain by harassing and harming citizens at will under the name of enforcement.
In this system of vague legal status and inadequate oversight, Chengguan’s violent habit becomes a necessity, and a part of the system. Extralegal violence, thus employed to compensate for inadequate regulation and an absence of authority and legal deterrence, is no longer individual behavior. Such violence exists everywhere with the permission of the authorities. It is needed because of an overriding concern for “city image” and “urban management.” Finally, when extralegal violence is not monitored by the people and the media, and not punished by the law, it is only natural for Chengguan members to feel justified. Using violence with impunity enables the Chengguans to see violence psychologically as their “privilege,” a sign of status and pride. Since the legal and political status of Chengguan is unclear, it is only natural for its members to seek personal gain, vent their anger, and prey on the citizens they were intended to protect. Once violence starts, it has its own momentum, and, with a specific system enabling it and Groupthink encouraging it, it eventually becomes a habit and an addiction.
I believe Zhang Xudong and Shen Kan would have never displayed their cruelty and gratuitous violence toward their wives and children, because in a family environment they adhered to the principles of love and decency. But in the milieu of the Chengguan’s collective enforcement, they were overtaken by the desire and passion to inflict violence. Although, for Xia Junfeng’s interest and for the sake of the case reaching a just decision, I as the defense lawyer must point out that Shen Kai and Zhang Xudong’s actions at the time broke the law. Still, I don’t just blame them. They were my countrymen, living in the same imperfect world as the rest of us. They were no doubt victims of the Chenguan system as well. I hold deep empathy toward them, and can feel their family’s loss and pain, which are also the misfortune of all society.
In this case, the Chenguan system has already destroyed two families; do we have to destroy a third one? We have lost Shen Kai and Zhang Xudong. Several dozen citizens have been beaten to death by Chengguans. We have already paid a heavy price for the brutal Chengguan system, and now, do we have to sacrifice justice in order to endorse an ill-conceived system and the brutality committed by its members? Must we make the judiciary an avenging hand that puts Xia Junfeng, a husband and father of a nine-year-old, to death?
Chief judge and judges,
In the worldwide trend against the death penalty, most countries have abolished it by law or in practice, and in the countries where it is still in use, it is reserved for the most egregiously violent crimes. It’s bad enough that we have been applying the death penalty in economic or non-violent criminal cases, are we now going to apply it in cases of excessive self-defense or justifiable self-defense as well? Cao Haixin was executed for self-defense, and the tragedy is a shame in the judicial history in Henan. Today, in the 21st century, are we going to repeat the same tragedy in Liaoning?
The death of two citizens is a tragedy for our society, but if Xia Junfeng were to be sentenced to death, it would be an obvious and gargantuan mistake, a tragedy unbearable and unacceptable to society that will cast a shadow on the Chinese judiciary for a long time to come. If Xia Junfeng were to be sentenced to death, many more innocent, helpless vendors will die at the hands of Chengguans. If one were to be sentenced to death for self-defense, he or she would be inclined to kill excessively and kill many more without qualms, because one can only die once. If one were to be sentenced to death for self-defense, there would be no boundaries between guilt and innocence, good and bad, life and death; and the power of the rule of law, already pathetically weak in our society, would be destroyed altogether by evil, chaos and brutality.
Without exaggeration, sentencing to death a citizen who was only defending himself will have disastrous repercussions for the whole society since it would embolden the attackers and intimidate those who resist unlawful violence. While evil-doers are encouraged, victims will be harmed the second time by the court after sustaining harm first from violent crimes. The act of self-defense in the face of unlawful harm is not only a virtue but an instinct. But instead of being protected and praised, if such an act is condemned with a sentence of death, then today’s verdict will hurt not only Xia Junfeng’s legal rights, but also the dignity of the law itself, social ethics, and the citizens’ sense of right and wrong.
It is my hope that the court’s decision today will indicate that our judiciary system is still able to uphold the basic sense of right and wrong and a modicum of independence. It is our hope that the judiciary process of Xia Junfeng’s case will show the world that the long-suffering Chinese people can draw lessons from their miseries and stand firm on the side of the rule of law and humanitarianism.