If Ji Zhongxing had set off a hand-made explosive in an airport in most other countries, he would be labeled a terrorist. But Ji, who was protesting a beating by local government officers in 2005 that left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair, is being hailed as a hero by many Chinese social media users. What’s more, officials in Guangdong, where Ji previously ran an unlicensed motorcycle taxi service, have been ordered to reopen his case.
The unusual reaction highlights the fact that many Chinese are becoming increasingly outraged at cases of official misconduct, especially thuggish behavior by municipal urban management officers known as chengguan, who are known for heavy-handed crackdowns against street vendors and other independent businesses. There have been been several high-profile violent incidents involving chengguan in recent weeks, including a watermelon vendor in Hunan province who was beaten to death.
The bomb that Ji set off on Saturday was filled with a small amount of black powder—the same explosive used by the Boston Marathon bombers, but in a much smaller quantity. Ji was the only person injured in the incident, and he showed no intent to harm others, warning bystanders to stand back before triggering the bomb.
Not all of China’s frustrated citizens have been so considerate: In May a Xiamen man named Chen Shuizong, angry that officials refused to correct an error in his identity documents and give him social security benefits, killed 47 people including himself by setting a public bus on fire. By comparison Ji was described as a “good person” by social media users, and discussion of his action was not censored by Chinese internet authorities.
China has an ancient tradition of petitioners who travel to the capital to seek redress for grievances. The modern version involves petitioning the influential users of microblogs like Sina Weibo. But the next frustrated bomber—perhaps emboldened by the fact that Ji got sympathy from the internet and results from the government—may not be such a nice guy.