Beijing - Li Meijin, 53, is one of China's most prestigious crime psychologists but found herself at the center of controversy recently when she said people should try to understand the minds of killers and treat them with mercy.
Li Meijin is one of China's top criminal psychologists and a controversial figure thanks to her comments about understanding the minds of killers. [Provided to China Daily]
"Although criminal offenders are seen as demons in the eyes of most people, I just tried to make more understand that the bad guys had gone through pain and desolation before they turned bad," Li said.
Yao Jiaxin, a college student in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, went on trial on March 26 charged with stabbing a cyclist to death after knocking her off her bike with his car last October.
In a recent TV interview, Li said Yao's behavior could have been related to miserable experiences during his childhood. Her comments were attacked by many netizens.
Li said during the TV program: "Yao had been forced to practice the piano against his will and he used to smash at the keys to vent his anger.
"His behavior of stabbing the victim eight times could have been a mechanical repetition of him hitting the piano keys."
When the interview was shown on China Central Television, it drew the ire of netizens who criticized Li for her "protection" of Yao.
Online commentators said Li was finding stupid excuses for his alleged crime, which showed disrespect to the victim and seemed to suggest Li saw the killing as art.
She said her critics were getting it all wrong.
"I did not, and I cannot, find excuses for anyone to avoid punishment under the law," she said. "It is up to the judges to issue a sentence. My charge is to find out why a college student would unhesitatingly kill someone he had never met before in such a cruel way."
"Psychologically, the point is, why would he stab her as many as eight times?" Li said.
"He must have been letting off his anger toward something that had influenced his life in the past."
According to reports, Yao's father had been very strict with his only son and had forced him to practice the piano incessantly.
Yao's confession claimed he had been locked in the basement when his piano playing had not met his father's expectations.
Yao eventually passed the Grade 10 Piano Test (the highest in China) and enrolled into a music college in Xi'an.
"Playing the piano requires good technique. Some people may enjoy the wonderful feeling of art in the practice, but some hide their anger," Li said. "As a result, I believe that knocking someone down was the blasting fuse that lit the bomb of his anger and led to the killing."
Li, who is a professor of criminal psychology at the Chinese People's Public Security University, has studied the criminal mind for almost three decades and has spoken to suspects.
"The majority of them had some problem with their early education that created a certain vulnerability in their minds," she said.
Li studied philosophy in the early 1980s but was more interested in crimes committed by young people when she graduated from university. The phenomenon was a growing problem at the time.
"Under the family planning policy that allows most families to have one child, many parents pinned all of their hopes on that sole child," she said. "They turned arbitrary toward their children to force them to realize their dreams but neglected the most important thing -- to give love and care to their children."
On Nov 27, 2009, suspect Li Lei allegedly killed six family members in Daxing, Beijing, including his 2-year-old son before running away.
Li was arrested on Nov 28 and told police he killed his family because his parents were "too tough" and his wife "too domineering".
"Based on Li's words, I guessed Li had been spoiled by someone other than his parents when he was a child and returned to live with his parents after he went through puberty," Li said. "Otherwise, a child would not feel his parents had been too tough."
Media reports said Li Lei lived with his grandparents until he was 10 and returned to his parents when his grandparents could no longer control him.
Criminal psychology is widely used to crack criminal cases by narrowing the field of suspects but psychological evaluation is not used as evidence in court.
Li said her insights help her understand that there are usually victims other than the main one in criminal cases.
"I feel bad for the victims but I also feel sorry for the killers because they ruin their own lives to let out their pain," she said.