Jul 22, 2013 07:41 PM

Why a Reporter Feels Sympathy for an Airport Bomber


Ji Zhongxing's home in Shandong Province

These past few years as a reporter, I have met some people with nothing left to live for and now another person can be added to the list. Ji Zhongxing, the disabled man who set off a bomb in a Beijing airport on July 20, is that person.

Ji and I are the same age. We were both born in 1979. Last night, when I read his story, I was grabbed by a strange feeling.

In 2005, we were both 26 years old. He was in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, on his motorcycle in the middle of the night illegally looking for passengers. He was working hard to earn a living, hoping one day to marry and have children. I was also in Guangdong, but I had already found a relationship. I fought with my parents about it and was too stubborn to give in, so I eloped to Beijing to be with my boyfriend.

In 2005, Ji's life was destroyed. He was disabled, he says, when security guards in Dongguan beat him savagely. He could no longer marry or have children. For him, tragedy was a way of life; for me, tragedy was what I wrote about for work.

On July 21, around 1 a.m., I left Beijing Jishuitan Hospital and took a taxi home. This was several hours after Ji detonated his bomb. Before that, he shouted and asked people in the airport to stay away from.  The explosion injured just one person: Ji.

I had just seen Ji lying on a gurney, being taken into the operating room. I expected Ji to leave surgery screaming, but he did not. He was lying there very calmly. I saw the thick eyebrows on his gaunt face.

Doctors had just finished amputating his left hand at the wrist. "His left palm was blown to bits," the surgeon said.

Ji once told his story on a blog. He says that on June 28, 2005, before dawn, he was giving people rides in Dongguan when a security guard beat him. Ji was left paralyzed. He tried to get justice through courts and petitions to the government, but this did not work. He went back to his hometown in Shandong Province, and his elderly father took care of him.

After the explosion at the airport, a picture of Ji from 2005 circulated online. In it, he is naked, his lower body covered with infected wounds.

How strange, after an explosion, to feel sympathy for the bomber. I think what he did was terrifying. My first reaction was that he did not mean to hurt anyone; he meant to take revenge.

Sitting in a taxi, under the wide Beijing night sky, I thought back to two other people I have interviewed who had nothing left to live for.

The Miner

His name was Li Aiping. I remember clearly. Every time I think about him, I ask myself: Is he still alive?

In 2009, I went to Wuhan Steel to investigate a lead pollution problem in the central province of Hubei. A man over 70 years old followed me the whole time. He could not speak Mandarin, so we communicated little.

After I finished my investigation, he led me into a villager's house. The room was impossibly dilapidated, with nothing in it. In one corner, a man was lying on a filthy blanket.

Later, I wrote his story in a blog post. "I saw a miner who had been injured ten years ago. I didn't know there would be a man lying in that empty room. I walked in and suddenly saw a man with long hair lying under a quilt … He told me to come in and after he found out I was a reporter, he told me about his life, a life he had long dreamed of ending. He struggled painfully to get up, so he could show me his spine and his legs, which had already lost all sensation.

I didn't have time to close my eyes, so I had to take in the whole terrifying scene.

Afterward, this stranger started sobbing. Half lying on his bed, he lifted himself up to bow. I jumped up to stop him, thinking that if he bent his back, he would be in even more pain. This man was trying to bow even though two steel rods were supporting his spine!

I don't know if it was to comfort him or myself, but I took a picture of the yellow, wrinkled verdict document he received from the court. I didn't know, aside from taking that picture, what I could do for him."

This man was paralyzed in a mining accident, but the mine owner refused to give him any compensation. The miner won his lawsuit, but the court was unable to enforce its verdict. He had no way of getting compensation. So he asked his wife to carry him to the court and the mine owner's house, to let his pitiful body speak for itself. As in many other tragic cases in China, the miner's attempt to defend his rights failed.      

In order to survive, the man sacrificed his dignity and let his wife marry another man who could provide for him. Adding to the tragedy, his wife's second husband died a few years later in another mining accident.

When I arrived, he had already been paralyzed for ten years. He still hadn't given in to despair, though, and he still thought the media could help him. After I left Hunan, he often sent me text messages. His language was extremely polite. You could tell he was educated.

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