CCTV on Lan Chengzhang

(CCTV)  Lan Chengzhang: The Accidental Death of a "Reporter."  By Wang Lihua.  January 20, 2007.

[in translation]

With respect to this person, it is hard to decide how to treat him now.  But certain questions persist.  For example, which is important?  His life or his identity?  Combating evil forces or combating the alleged fakery?

For the late Lan Chengzhang, perhaps nothing matters anymore.  This decent looking middle-aged man could not imagine an hour before his life ended that he would be beaten to death in Datong (Shanxi) where he was born and lived for almost 35 years.  Even more, Lan Chengzhang could not have imagined that on the week when he died, he became a news figure that the whole nation was concerned about.

<Southern Metropolis Daily> reporter Tan Renwei: "There are many stories about reporters being beaten.  But it is very extreme to have a reporter beaten to death at an illegal coal mine.  This case has the power to capture certain types of problems."

<Southern Metropolis Daily> reporter Tan Renwei was the first media reporter to participate in the investigation of the death of Lan Chengzhang.  By pure coincidence on this Monday, Tan Renwei went to a website and read a post by netizen "Love China, Travel Everywhere" titled "Hunyuan, Shanxi: Reporter Beaten To Death By Evil Mine Owner."  The essay described how on January 9, 2007, China Trade News Shanxi bureau reporter Lan Chengzhang went with a colleague to an unregistered illegal coal mine in Hunyuan county (Shanxi) and was beaten to death by unidentified thugs.

<Southern Metropolis Daily> reporter Tan Renwei: "A villager who witnessed the fatal blow told us that the prime murderer was Hou Si.  He swung a pickaxe at the cranium, and blood splashed out to cover the ground.  His body was drenched in blood."

"Reporter," "coal mine," "beaten to death," each of these keywords is sufficient to arouse a high degree of attention.  Outside one of the illegal coal mines in which there have been numerous deaths from mining accidents, a reporter who was performing his duty as public opinion monitor was beaten to death.  This sort of incident has obviously challenged the angry nerves of the people once again.  Yet during this week, the series of media reports made people feel that the truth of the matter is much more complicated than what people know so far.

Copy of Southern Weekend, January 18, 2007, Society page with title "The investigation of the case in which a Datong coal mine owner killed a 'reporter.'"

At the start of this news report, <Southern Weekend> reporter Dai Dunfeng gave the following clues: "He left no will, just two children less than 10 years old and a lot of controversy."  The careful readers will also note that word 'reporter' was placed between quotation marks in the title.  The initial motive for this investigative report was a forum post that came after the one by "Love China, Travel Everywhere."

This other netizen "QingYangAngela" wrote the post as a person who has certain information, and this quickly became the focus of the media investigation.  Was Lan Chengzhang a real reporter or a fake reporter?  Was it news gathering or malevolent extortion?  This series of unexpected doubts turned people's original concern about the death of Lan Chengzhang himself to elsewhere.

This week, Lan Chengzhang's family showed the two most important pieces of possession on Lan Chengzhang's body to the media.  On the News Worker Card, the job position of Lan Chengzhang was as Special Topics Center director and the date of issuance was December 27, 2006.  On the date of the incident, Lan Chengzhang carried a letter of introduction with the official seal of China Trade News.  Concerning Lan Chengzhang's identity and the nature of his work, China Trade News publisher Yang Xiaodong spoke to the television media for the first time.

<China Trade News> publisher Yang Xiaodong: "Lan Chengzhang was indeed a worker for our newspaper.  As we stated on the Internet, he was a worker that was just hired by our newspaper on a trial basis on January 3.  Here, we have to make an explanation.  Since Lan Chengzhang does not have the qualification and identity as a reporter, he does not have the right to interview anyone.  Our rules require that those employees without press cards can assist the reporters to obtain certain news leads."

As a newspaper worker, what was the purpose of Lan Chengzhang when he went to the illegal coal mine in Hunyuan county?  Why did the vicious attack occur?  Since the prime suspect is currently on the loose, this is a mystery at present.  Yet on the next day after Lan Chengzhang's death, the official website of the Datong city government released a document about <the special project to combat fake newspapers, fake periodicals and fake reporters."  This caused more talk by people concerning the cause of the death of Lan Chengzhang.

<Southern Weekend> reporter Dai Dunfeng: "This person was assaulted on January 10 and he died on the morning of January 11.  But the date of release of the document was January 10.  The document was approved on the morning of that day.  Furthermore, the police was not notified when the person was brought to the hospital.  The family only called the police after he died.  On a timing basis, we can basically agree that the document was not aimed at this particular reporter.

Actually, Datong city has been planning to move against fake reporters six months ago.  There have been many local cases in which people went to extort mine owners under the guise of reporters.  This has become a very common social phenomenon.  According to a reporter who checked with the local people, there were already eight groups of people claiming to be reporters at the coal mine before Lan Chengzhang arrived.  Previously, most illegal small coal mine owners chose the appeasement approach.

<Southern Metropolis Daily> reporter Tan Renwei: "Imagine a coal mine.  If he stops production for one day ... if something happens and he stops production for one day, the loss is several hundred RMB, a million RMB, ten million RMB.  That's possible.  So if you were me and I have to stop production for one day, I will lose 300,000 RMB in pure profit.  I spend 100,000 RMB to pay off the reporter.  I spend 100,000 RMB to pay off ten groups of reporters, with each group getting 10,000 RMB.  You tell me whether the expenditure was worthwhile.  This is a very simple piece of accounting."

But this type of approach underwent a change this year.  During the news gathering, the reporter learned that after the May 18 mining disaster in Zuoyun (Datong), the local government shut down all non-state-owned coal mines.  The coal mines were not re-opened until the end of the year, so many private mine owners were not making money.  The small coal mine that Lan Chengzhang went to had poor quality coal and it had been ordered shut because it had not completed all the procedures.  But the greedy mine owner continued to produce secretly in order to make money.  It is under this backdrop that Lan Chengzhang was beaten violently to death.  Relative to the web of interests in illegal coal mining, the young life of Lan Chengzhang was extremely fragile.

<Southern Weekend> reporter Dai Dunfeng: "Why did such an incident occur in such a place?  The first problem arose from the coal mines.  Why does this place have these coal mines, or illegal coal mines, or improperly operating coal mines?  When such coal mines exist, it is possible for the local fake reporters can wave the flags and banners of reporters to extort and defraud.  In the end, we believe that it is because these two conflicts have intensified -- the inept administration of local coal mines and the extortions from fake reporters -- these two problems have intensified and concentrated into an explosion at one point, which produced this tragedy."

This week, when the reporter went to the home of Lan Chengzhang, his innocent daughter is still calling for daddy to come back.  For this unfortunate family, they have forever lost Lan Chengzhang, their son, husband, brother and father.  For this family, there is nothing left but sorrow.  The brothers and sisters of the family do not seem to know about the latest developments in the case.  They asked the reporter about what was happening, and they hoped the media can offer an explanation for Lan Chengzhang.  The reporters present can only tell them: Two of the suspects have been arrested, but the prime suspect is still on the loose.

Program host: "Was this a reporter?  Was this news gathering?  Was this extortion?  Was this an attempt to make nice to a big boss?  There will not be clear and explicit answers in the short term.  At the same time, this incident that occurred around the coal mines of Datong showed us more clearly the various complicated factors concerning the interests surrounding these coal minds.  That should make it even more worrisome.  Is there anyway that we can make these mines a bit cleaner?"

Related Link: The Death of a Shanxi Journalist