A university student who allegedly stabbed to death a young mother he had injured in a car accident has sparked a new public furor over moral standards among the children of China's privileged classes.
April 17, 2010, Xi'an - Yao Jiaxin, a 21-year-old student at the Xi'an Conservatory of Music in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, knocked down cyclist Zhang Miao while driving his Chevrolet Cruze at around 11 pm on October 20.
In a hurry to flee the scene, Yao injured two other passersby, a man and a woman, according to police.
Yao was captured by police on October 22 and was detained on suspicion of murder the following day. He allegedly admitted to killing the victim simply because he feared the "peasant woman would be hard to deal with."
Zhang, 26, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, was indeed a peasant woman. On the night of her death she was going home from her temporary job as an assistant at a canteen at Northwest University's Chang'an Branch.
Police said she suffered only slight injuries from the traffic accident, including a fracture of her left leg.
In an interview with Xinhua Tuesday in the couple's home on the outskirts of Xi'an, Zhang's husband Wang Hui said he would do all he could to ensure justice for the killer.
Zhang's son often cried in his sleep and demanded to see his mother, he said.
Wang feared Yao would be let off lightly. "I heard his parents are rich -- how else could a student afford a car?"
Zhang's family had expected Yao's family to visit or, at least, to send a message of apology.
"I know they feel miserable too, knowing their only son could face death," said Zhang's father, Zhang Pingxuan. "But I was hurt badly when a policeman said the other day his parents 'didn't want to see us'".
Xu Tao, a Xi'an lawyer, has offered free legal counseling for the family.
Xu said Yao could face the death penalty if convicted of murder. The most lenient penalty, however, could be a 10-year jail term, if a murder charge was rejected.
Neither of Yao's parents was available for an interview Tuesday. A neighbor said they had not be seen near their central Xi'an apartment since the incident.
The neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Yao's parents were both college educated. His father served in the army and worked at a state company in Xi'an before starting his own business.
The neighbor described Yao as a "talented young man."
"He plays the piano well and teaches children in his spare time -- that's why his parents spent more than 100,000 yuan to buy him a car this year."
Yao's teacher and classmates said he was a good student, but never talked much. "He never stayed at the school dorm, so I know very little of him," said one classmate.
The case has sparked online outrage after police gave details of the accident at a press conference Monday, four days after the local procuratorate issued an arrest warrant.
Chinese netizens almost unanimously demanded the death penalty for Yao.
"It's obviously a case of murder. Mr Judge, please keep your eyes wide open," read a posting on Sina.com.cn, a leading Chinese portal website whose coverage of the case was followed by more than 60,000 postings Tuesday.
Many people speculated that Yao's parents might use their connections to bribe the authorities into letting him off with a lighter offence.
"It could be just the same old story of the rich and powerful doing whatever they want and never feeling guilty about it," said a netizen from the northern Hebei Province, where another outrage occurred the same month.
On that occasion a drunk 22-year-old driver gained nationwide notoriety by shouting "Sue me if you dare, my father is Li Gang," after hitting two students, killing one and injuring the other, on the campus of Hebei University in mid October.
Li Gang was deputy chief of the public security bureau in Baoding city's Beishi district, where the university is located.
"My father is Li Gang" became infamous as a catch phrase, which netizens worked into classical poetry, jokes and doggerel to vent their fury over the vicious words and behavior of the privileged and the children of power and wealth.
The driver, Li Qiming, has been charged with fleeing the scene of an accident, but the case has yet to go to court.
The widespread attention to the two cases reflected a public demand for justice and fairness, as well as worries over a "retreat of morality" amid China's economic boom, said a noted sociologist in Xi'an.
"Yao's extreme selfishness and apathy should be taken as an alarm for Chinese society, particularly for those that enjoy material abundance," said Shi Ying, deputy president of Shaanxi Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.
Shi warned that parents, teachers and the whole of society should reconsider the value systems they were helping the younger generation to cultivate. "Nowadays many youngsters believe fame and money are the major criteria for success, without learning to cherish life and respect others."