Li Chengpeng, an investigative journalist, writer, and social critic who is nicknamed “Big Eyes”, was punched in the head and threatened with a knife at a book signing in Beijing on Sunday. He was marking the release of his book of essays: “The Whole World Knows”, which covers sensitive topics such as the shoddy quality of school buildings that killed thousands of students during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the alleged cover-up of the causes of the 2011 Wenzhou train crash. Besides the physical altercation in Beijing, Li was also ordered not to give a speech when in Chengdu on the first leg of his book signing tour.
Li first became famous as a football commentator, known for his funny and affable style. At that time, sports was the most envied field of journalism in China because of the lack of political control, according to John Pomfret’s autobiographical “Chinese Lessons.” He has since become famous and controversial for his views on political and social issues.
Shenzhen, where Li has held signings for the past two days, is far away from the political capital and is not known as a hotbed of radical left wing politics. Li is hugely popular here, and as The Daily Sunshine reported yesterday, there was already a long queue by 6:00 on Tuesday when the first signing was scheduled to start. To get a sense of how crowded it was, take a look at this video.
However, translator and author Bruce Humes reported on his blog that there were several minor instances of dissent at the signing. He queued outside for an hour and a half before giving up his place in the queue to see what was going on inside:
I was only inside for 5 minutes, but I did indeed see two fellows suddenly go at it, with a lot of pushing and shoving ending in one of them being whisked away by 3 men who looked very professional. Plainclothes police? Hired bodyguards? Can’t say for sure.
I do regret being unwilling to wait it out to get my own copy. The word spread in the queue that the order has come down from the authorities to “review” the book, i.e., to send it back to the censors for another look. If that happens, you can be pretty sure it won’t be published again in its present form.
In a seperate incident you can see in this video a middle aged man calling Li a “traitor” who aims to undermine China. Somebody behind the camera can then be heard saying “stupid cunt,” before the protestor is taken away.
In its report, The Daily Sunshine also said a man had brought his son who looked four or five years old to protest against Li.
The South China Morning Post reported (via Ethnic China Lit) that there were indeed a number of plain clothed police officers at the event to maintain order.
Meanwhile [while the author signed books inside], dozens of protesters, most in their 40s or 50s and some wearing Mao Zedong badges, gathered outside the building.
One of the protesters said he was outraged by some of Li’s recent comments, such as labelling those who took to the streets in anti-Japanese demonstrations in Shenzhen “brain damaged”.
There were at least three clashes outside the book store between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., leading to some minor injuries, according to the paper.
If Li is fazed by any of the angry people he encounters, he does not show it in his demeanour or on his microblog which has over 6.5 million followers.
The fact that a bunch of men with Mao badges espousing leftist opinions were silenced by the majority is indeed a sign of the times, or maybe just the place.