Killer pianist

Stabbings arouse debate over China’s dysfunctional society

Killer pianist

Why piano is murder: criminologist cites Lang Lang’s example

There is much about the pace and scale of change in China to admire. But WiC has written too about the social consequences of three decades of hyper-growth, including some awful crimes that have been blamed on the sense of social dislocation created by such rapid economic change (see WiC59 and 61).

Two further incidents made headlines last week, as the Chinese again began to ponder whether monetary concerns are trumping moral values.

On trial this month is Yao Jiaxin, a piano student at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. Last October, he knocked down a woman with his car. When he noticed she was noting down his license plate, he grew worried about the compensation she might demand. So he stabbed her eight times, and she died.

The cold-blooded nature of the crime has been the talk of the internet. Adding fuel to the debate: one of Yao’s classmates at the Xi’an Conservatory was quoted as saying that, had she been in the same position, she’d have stabbed the woman too.

The second case drawing attention also involves a knife. This week a lady surnamed Gu was stabbed repeatedly by her own son in an incident at Pudong airport in Shanghai. He had been studying for six years in Japan, funded by his mother. He flew back from Japan and demanding more money. His mother told him to get a job and uttered the Chinese expression: “Want money? I don’t have any. Want a life? I have one [to give].” He then knifed her repeatedly and the woman’s life was only saved by first aid assistance from a Western tourist, who kept her alive until ambulances arrived.

The son was arrested.

As for the pianist Yao, controversy surrounding his case continues courtesy of a criminologist who appeared on CCTV to offer her own view of his behaviour.

In a curious twist that will have some Tiger Moms (see WiC92) questioning the benefits of piano practice for their offspring, Li Meijin told viewers that being forced to play the instrument from boyhood had made Yao emotionally “numb and cold-blooded”.

Professor Li, from the Chinese People’s Public Security University, then cited the example of Lang Lang, the internationally-acclaimed Chinese pianist, who has recalled how his own father pushed him to practice piano every day, even threatening to throw him out of their apartment window if he did not improve his performance.

Li added that the mechanical nature of the piano could lead to “compulsive behaviour” which explains why Yao stabbed his victim 8 times, like a staccato striking of the piano keys.

Unsurprisingly, Li’s assessment has prompted some pretty scornful responses. In WiC’s favourite rebuttal, a rival professor at Peking University accused her of “Expert Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”.

Meanwhile fans of Lang Lang, as well as those keen on female piano prodigy Wang Yuja (see WiC34), have been keen to point out that that their heros aren’t psychotic, ergo the theory hardly holds water.

But one theme is clearer: similar incidents are leading the Chinese (largely through internet discussion) to ruminate much more about some of the shortcomings of their society.

As WiC has said before, this is part of an ongoing debate about economic development, and whether it means that some of China’s social anchors have slipped in the rapacious pursuit of material wealth.

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