Attempt to cover up student's death sparks fury in Chinese cyberspace

One night in late October, a student named Chen Xiaofeng was in-line skating with a friend on the grounds of Hebei University, in Baoding, central China. They were gliding past the campus shop when a Volkswagen car raced down a narrow lane and struck them head on.

The impact sent Ms Chen flying and broke the other woman's leg. The 22-year-old driver, who was intoxicated, tried to speed away. Security guards intercepted him, but he was undeterred. He warned them: "My father is Li Gang!"

"The two girls were motionless," one passer-by that night, a student who identified himself only by his surname, Duan, said this week. "There was a small pool of blood." The next day, Ms Chen was dead.

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Chen Xiaofeng was a poor farm girl. The man accused of killing her, Li Qiming, is the son of Li Gang, the deputy police chief in the Beishi district of Baoding. The tale of her death is of precisely the sort - a commoner grievously wronged; a privileged transgressor pulling strings to escape punishment - that sets off alarm bells in the offices of Communist Party censors. And in fact, party propaganda officials moved swiftly after the accident to ensure that the story never gained traction.

Curiously, however, the opposite happened. A month after the accident - and thanks to the internet - much of China knows the story, and "My father is Li Gang" has become a bitter inside joke, a catchphrase for shirking any responsibility with impunity.

According to the sarcastically-titled Ministry of Truth blog, China's Central Propaganda Department issued a directive on 28 October, ten days after the accident, "ensuring there is no more hype regarding the disturbance over traffic at Hebei University".

But the Li Gang case was hard to suppress, partly because it personified an enduring grievance: the belief that the powerful can flout the rules to which ordinary folk are forced to submit. Increasingly, that grievance focuses on what Chinese mockingly call the "guan er dai" and "fu er dai" - the "second generation", meaning children of privileged government officials and the super-rich.

On 20 October, a female blogger in northern China nicknamed Piggy Feet Beta announced a contest to incorporate the phrase "Li Gang is my father" into classical Chinese poetry. Some 6,000 people replied, one modifying a famous poem by Mao to read: "It's all in the past, talk about heroes, my father is Li Gang."

On 9 November, internet chatter on the case abruptly withered. But some have continued to dodge web censors: starting in early November, the Beijing artist and activist Ai Weiwei posted on his website an interview with Ms Chen's father and brother, who said he had rejected appeals to negotiate a settlement."In society they say everyone is equal, but in every corner there is inequality," Chen Lin said.

"How can you live in this country and this society without any worry?"

Yesterday however, Ms Chen's father told his lawyer he had accepted compensation of $70,000 from the policeman, Mr Gang.

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In Baoding, Hebei students questioned the handling of the Chen case.

"I'd see the case to the end," said one man. "Go through the legal process and seek justice."

A second student, Zhao, was unsparing. "This is the kind of society we live in," he said angrily. "People who have power, they can cover up the sky. We want this settled according to the law."