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China's 'Condolence Fees' - Paying Off Survivors For Their Silence

A funeral in Guangzhou
A funeral in Guangzhou
Wen Jing

-Commentary-

In the southern province of Guangxi, a pregnant woman was recently shot dead by a drunken policeman. After the incident, the local government proposed to compensate the victim’s family with 700,000 RMB ($115,000), which included damages for the deceased and child support for the victim’s two children. This was done on the grounds that judicial proceedings would take too long. The local authority will advance the money first to allow the victim’s family to be compensated as quickly as possible, and the criminal suspect will later repay the government.

On Oct. 30, three children from the Hunan Province were kidnapped and killed on their way to school. In a semi-coercive manner, the local government quickly reached agreement, giving each child’s family a pension of 100,000 RMB ($16,000), of which 60,000 came from the murderer’s family while the rest was cobbled together by various departments of the local authority. Civil and criminal charges will be brought against the murderer, and the possible negligence of school bus management will be taken into account. But the victims’ families were asked not to make any trouble for government departments or officials in the future.

As a matter of fact, in similar cases this kind of practice has become customary. The local authority becomes the main body of compensation when such an incident occurs, and resolves problems by handing out money.

As Bai Zhili, professor of the School of Government at Beijing University, says, spending money so as to maintain social stability is not conducive to solving problems. And neither will it help the relevant parties to reflect on the cause of incidents or prevent similar incidents from occurring again.

From the perspective of government administrations, such compensation is to be questioned, says Bai Zhili. First, those responsible persons for these two vicious incidents are, respectively, the drunken policeman, the child kidnapper and the school bus personnel. Such criminal cases should first enter a judicial process. Compensation should be defined at the trial before any legal enforcement.

He is appalled at the serious mistakes the government commits in “safeguarding stability” with public finance because none of the involved parties will be able to reflect on what has happened. Before the intervention of justice, the government has already compensated the victims directly with money. One can’t help suspect that the government is evading its responsibility.

“Unfortunately, in recent years this kind of practice has become a custom for the authorities,” Bai says. Whether it was the assault by an urban management agent earlier this year that resulted in the death of an ordinary citizen or the high-speed rail signal incident that resulted in serious casualties near Shanghai two years ago, the authorities involved resolved the issues by throwing money at them.

Such logic is probably related to the government’s performance evaluation of local officials, which takes into account their stability maintenance indicator, says Bai. To avoid having any troublemakers, officials use money to suppress problems. But as taxpayers, citizens are entitled to know where these condolence fees come from and what logic the expense is based on.

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