China punishes local officials after grisly village killings

Posted at 10:49 AM, Sep 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-17 10:49:40-04

BEIJING (AP) -- China has punished six local officials for failing to take care of a family whose grisly murder-suicide case prompted heated national discussion about the plight of the poor.

The government of Gansu province in northwestern China said late Friday that three officials face possible dismissal and three others have been reprimanded over the case of Yang Gailan, a 28-year-old villager who axed her four young children to death and killed herself because she couldn't feed them. Yang's husband killed himself a week later.

The case drew intense attention in the national press and on social media after details emerged about the family's dire circumstances. The family - including four children below 7 years old - barely managed to survive on subsistence farming for years and fell into extreme hardship after their rural community voted to cancel their low-income welfare payments, according to local reports.

No criminal proceedings will be filed against the punished officials, according to the Gansu government statement. Local government had pledged to severely punish officials if an investigation into the case uncovered any wrongdoing.

Despite the grisly nature of the case and widespread criticism of the local government, China's central authorities have allowed the public to discuss - with a relative degree of freedom by Chinese standards - whether poverty relief has been carried out adequately. State media outlets, including the Communist Party flagship newspaper People's Daily, have also covered Yang's case closely.

The case comes at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping has made rural poverty relief a signature domestic policy issue and is frequently shown on state television touring rural areas to stress correct implementation of his new programs. He faces a massive task, with an estimated 200 million people still living in poverty.

In a column on the web portal, writer Jun Hongqiao questioned whether local county officials had been carrying out poverty relief measures evenly and appropriately or simply hyping their progress in the media.

"If the entire village's roads have been widened, farmers' houses have been fixed beautifully, the tap water's running clear, then why was Yang Gailan still living in dilapidated, dangerous conditions?" Jun wrote.

By Saturday, however, authorities had begun to clamp down on social media discussion. Searches for Yang's name on the microblogging network Weibo showed a message saying that relevant posts had been removed according to government regulations.