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Hostage-taking wave has roots in poverty
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-21 09:05

The wave of kidnapping and hostage taking incidents has sent shockwaves around the nation. The frequency of the cases is unprecedented and they are fast turning into one of the biggest public threats in peacetime, said Professor Gao Feng of Beijing Police Academy.

In the past, such cases were mostly gang-related, the result of organized crime. But today they are mainly the product of desperate individuals who are out for a quick buck.

Some of those who used to steal and mug have got so impatient that they have now resorted to taking hostages, claimed Zhao Enbo, professor of Jilin Justice and Police Academy. "It has something to do with the get-rich-quick mentality of our society."

Each anti-corruption story seems to involve a more astronomical figure of bribery or embezzled fund. Businessmen dabble in forgery to make their first pot of gold. In this atmosphere, even pickpocketing has lost its recklessness. Kidnappers are now asking for millions or tens of millions in ransom money. Sometimes they are armed just with a penknife.

Many kidnappers are rural labourers who try to overcome poverty by seeking jobs in the city. Instead they become victimized by exploitation, cheating or are spurred by a heavy dose of jealousy. Their targets tend to be urban residents with cars, businesses or those who frequent luxury hangouts.

Sun Zhe definitely belongs to the wealthy class. Besides receiving the salary of a senior executive in a profitable line of work as the president of Changchun Diabetes Hospital in North China's Jilin Province, also earns upward of 1 million yuan a year from royalties from a drug he invented.

When he got out of his Audi and strode into the city's five-star Noble Hotel on a summer day in 2000, he was carrying 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) in cash, a sum he prepared for dining out with a friend from Beijing.

In the elevator, he was taken hostage by 21-year-old Wang Taosheng. "Give me your money!" Wang threatened, wielding a dagger.

After handing over the stash of cash, Sun said: "My friend, I can see that you're not the kind of person who does this. You must have encountered some difficulty and you have no other options. If you don't harm me, maybe I can help you."

Wang dropped his dagger. Sun took him to the hotel cafe and ordered two cups of tea, thus starting a long conversation.

Wang came from the countryside. His mother was suffering from a heart ailment and needed to pay a big medical bill, and his father had a chronic disease. Early that year, Wang came to Changchun and got a job at a construction site. After six months and 10 days of back-breaking work, he was told that the boss had disappeared without leaving him a single penny in pay.

He got another job. Come pay day, the boss said his wife's cellphone was stolen and he suspected the workers did it. So he subtracted 300 yuan (US$36) from everyone's paycheck. That left Wang with only 200 yuan (US$24) for the month, hardly enough to feed himself.

"I was burned twice, so I felt all the world was against me," he said.

With both parents desperate for medical treatment and memories of all the injustices he had encountered, he decided to turn to crime and try his luck at the posh hotel. "I've never done anything illegal in my life, but where on earth can I get the money my parents need?"

After hearing Wang's story, Sun decided not to press charges. Instead he gave the youth 6,000 yuan (US$725) in aid and became his friend.

Wang paid his parents' medical bill and used the remaining fund to open a tofu mill. Sun helped him with his sales by tapping his connections. Now every morning before 8 am Wang delivers tofu to six factories and two hospitals.

"Hostage holdups are not only a crime issue, it is a broader social issue. Therefore, not only should the police think about it, but the whole society needs to reflect on it," said Sun.

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