I've written a couple times about the life and death of Qian Yunhui, a local village leader who was crushed to death under the tire of a truck on Christmas morning. Qian was a remarkably persistent man when it came to protesting the construction of a power plant on his village's land -- he kept organizing protests and writing letters despite prison sentences and what locals described as an intimidation campaign by police.
It was rare behavior, especially in rural China, a place with a reputation for officials with little patience for those who make trouble.
After Qian's death, there were protests and investigations and loud suspicion that he'd been murdered. Earlier this week, the state newspaper Global Times reported that a Chinese journalist had located a witness who said he saw men beat Qian and then hold him down as the wheel climbed over his chest and splattered the ground with his blood. I noted the piece in a blog entry, saying that it looked as though the story wasn't going away.
But Xinhua and Shanghai Daily, both state news sources, have now confirmed that Qian's family was paid a remarkable amount of money -- 1.05 million yuan, which is worth more than $159,000. By way of comparison, the per capita GDP in China is less than $5,000.
Xinhua reported that in return for the cash, reportedly paid by the truck driver and a couple businesses, the Qian family agreed to end their dispute with the government.
I've tried several times to get in touch with people in Qian's village, Zhaiqiao, but so far haven't had any luck.
After asking the news assistant to try calling once more this afternoon, my mind drifted to the image above --Qian's father, Qian Shunnan, standing near the spot where his son was killed. Blood was still visible on the muddy ground. The old man muttered at the time, "Everybody is scared to say the truth."
When a group of local officials showed up to politely invite me to leave the village, the grieving 81-year-old father followed us for a few steps and then yelled: "These government officials are not telling the truth." None of my self-appointed guides acknowledged the outburst, instead smiling and telling me we should visit some government offices more than seven miles away.
So I went, and a day later returned to Beijing to write my piece and wait to see what would happen next. Now I have my answer.
Several Chinese media reports have said that Qian's wife was asked by a reporter whether the compensation agreement included a clause declaring her husband's death an accident. The widow responded that whether she agreed that her husband had died of a simple mishap or brutal murder didn't matter.
This is China, after all, and a story like Qian's can go only so far.