Pressures drove farmer to kill
By Raymond Zhou and Wang Shanshan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-09-04 05:28

Time: July 15, 2006.

Place: a Taoist temple in an isolated mountaintop in Shaanxi Province.

It was a gruesome scene. Ten people were hacked to death, including a 12-year-old. Six of them were temple employees, and the rest were pilgrims.

The way the abbot was killed was especially macabre: His eyes were gouged, his stomach cut open and his internal organs cooked.

It was not hard for the police to zero in on the suspect, a 47-year-old farmer named Qiu Xinghua. But they could not fathom his motive for the killing spree.

After an intensive and much-publicized manhunt, they caught Qiu while he tried to sneak back home on the night of August 19.

What Qiu revealed in his confession to police has been sending shivers down the spine of the nation because what prompted him to kill is, in ordinary people's eyes, trivial.

He believed his wife had a fling with the abbot. He did not have any evidence; it was just a hunch (his wife admitted that she "took one look and nothing more" at the younger man).

"Qiu did something really crazy," Liu Banghui, a criminal psychologist, told China Daily. "But we cannot simply say that he was suffering from a mental disorder. We have to wait for forensic evidence for such a conclusion."

Qiu had long suspected that his wife cheated on him. He said in an interview to Southern Weekly that he intended to kill her, too, but changed his mind when the thought of his son crossed his mind.

There were other people on his hit list, including his brothers-in-law, who he said had treated him badly.

According to press reports, Qiu was not a loner. He claims to have dated 11 girls before his courtship of his wife.

But he suffered from chronic financial difficulties. He worked in construction and many other back-breaking jobs but did not make much money. He moved six times, often to avoid facing his debtors.

"So far we can safely say that he was a victim of serious psychological pressure for a long time before he took extreme action," analyzed Liu, deputy dean of the School of Sociology, China University of Political Science and Law, and former director of the Criminal Psychology Research Centre at the university.

"This pressure came from his critical financial situation and also from his unhappy family life."

Qiu also suspected that his two daughters were not his own blood. He often had to work away from home for months in a row and believed his wife had been unfaithful.

"Sadly he had no effective release for his feelings, and when the idea that his wife may be having an affair with the Taoist priest got into his head, it sparked a disastrous fire in his psychological world," Liu observed.

Qiu is not an isolated case, Liu said. "No one can avoid psychological pressures, especially in China, where society is going through a speedy transformation. If these pressures fail to find an outlet, they will accumulate and reach a breaking point, often in a terrible way."

By temperament, Qiu is quite sociable, but he admits that he does not have a "real friend." The only person who had been nice to him, "treating me like my mother did," was a primary school teacher. But after borrowing 300 yuan (US$37.5) from her to pay for his children's school fees and being unable to pay it back, Qiu drifted away from her.

"Generally speaking, the better educated one is, the better he is at controlling his feelings and getting access to help from professionals like psychologists," Liu said.

"But Qiu received only a modest education, lived a hard life in an impoverished rural area. He would have had little idea of seeking psychiatric counselling. We have a lot of people who are like him in our country."

One of these people was Ma Jiajue, who killed four of his college classmates because he believed they had insulted him when they accused him of cheating during a card game. The case triggered a widespread debate when it happened in 2004, and Ma, unlike Qiu, received much sympathy from the public. They said it was poverty that was the ultimate culprit.

Li Meijin, professor of psychology at Chinese People's Public Security University, said: "The most crucial cause is not the lack of money, but the lack of warmth from family or friends."

Li said that Qiu is no poorer than many in his environment, and he is smart, as well. But when he borrowed money and did not pay it back, he lost his "social resources" and made himself vulnerable to the whims of his own mind. When he finally lost trust in his wife, he felt the whole world was closing in on him.

"These people have to depend primarily on themselves to make psychological adjustments," said Liu. "Some share their sorrows with others; some vent it through sports or heavy labour; some have a big cry, and others smoke or use alcohol, which we do not encourage."

But for Qiu, these methods were either not available or did not work out. He did not have a safety net of friends or confidants, let alone experts who could have helped him divert his jealousy or frustration.

"Fortunately, we are improving by building a social network of psychological assistance," Liu said. "Hotlines set up by government agencies and non-governmental organizations are springing up, as are private psychological clinics."

Qiu was overcome by a surge of guilt as he was running away from the law. That was the time he thought about his teacher, whose kindness and understanding had warmed him.

If only he had had a network around him of people like that teacher, noted Liu, he might not have sunk to the abyss of his own warped mind.

(China Daily 09/04/2006 page1)


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