Shrewd but ruthless, the hitman is typically an anti-hero in the cinematic world, spawning movies such as 1994’s Léon: The Professional and 2007’s No Country for Old Men.
But hired killers in the real world don’t always conform to Hollywood stereotypes – and certainly not in Guangxi, where a stranger-than-fiction tale has come to light.
In 2013, a businessman surnamed Wei sued his partner Tan over a commercial dispute. Tan was afraid that the lawsuit would damage his investments and so he hired an assassin called Xi to kill Wei for Rmb2 million ($280,000).
But Xi did not want to do the job himself and he outsourced the role to another killer called Mok for Rmb1 million.
Similar to his predecessor, Mok tapped another assassin called Yang for Rmb270,000 and promised to pay an extra Rmb500,000 after the ‘hit’ was done.
It turned out that Yang didn’t fancy doing the job himself either and he sub-contracted the kill out yet again, this time to Yang no.2 for Rmb200,000, with a promise of another Rmb500,000 once it was done.
Then Yang no.2 shifted the contract killing onto someone else called Ling, pledging Rmb100,000.
This lowly rate proved unattractive to Ling, however, who came up with an alternate scheme. In April 2014, he arranged to meet his supposed target Wei and revealed everything. He then offered a deal in which he took pictures of Wei with his hands tied behind his back so that Ling would be able to provide his client with evidence that he had been captured.
Wei cooperated initially, but then had a change of heart and turned the case over to the police. Unsurprisingly they took a while to piece together the chain of events. However, on October 17 Tan and all five of the hitmen in the convoluted case were jailed for up to five years (the length of their sentences corresponded to how much they were paid to complete the contract killing).
The story caused a sensation on social media, reminding some netizens of a Hong Kong movie farce from the 1980s.
But at a more serious level it sparked discussion of the widespread practice of sub-contracting in China, where almost everything from writing essays at school to running public relations campaigns and even cleaning toilets can be farmed out to partners willing to charge a little less than the principal initially got paid.
The case in Guangxi – an autonmous region in southern China bordering Vietnam – also stirred memories of the “tofu dregs projects”, a term coined by Zhu Rongji. The then Chinese premier used it in the late 1990s to refer to shoddily-built dykes on the Yangtze River, comparing them to wobbly tofu – a term indicating they were prone to collapse (see WiC23). It turned out that sub-contracting was a major contributor to the poor quality of construction of many of these dykes, where much of the original budget was swallowed up by a cascade of deals between the different players, leaving less for the actual work itself.
Similar practices still go on. In July it emerged that monies earmarked for an eye-catching project to show a movie on the backdrop of a waterfall in the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei had been heavily sub-contracted too. The original Rmb40 million allotted for the project had passed through so many parties that the final operating budget was 30 times smaller. That was only enough to buy a few computers and hire a tiny technical team – a situation that so infuriated the movie’s director that he chose to report the fiddle to the graftbusters.
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