BEIJING – While China’s leaders convened in Beijing for its most important government meeting of the year, the rest of the country was transfixed by a car theft gone tragically awry in the northeast.
The strangulation of a 2-month-old baby left in the backseat of the stolen vehicle has unleashed an outpouring of anguish and soul-searching online over the state of morality in China’s quickly changing society at a time when leaders are trying to assure its citizens of their nation’s progress.
The incident took place on Monday when a father in the city of Changchun left his baby sleeping in his silver SUV as he ran inside his family’s supermarket to turn on the stove. He returned to find the car gone along with the baby, named Xu Haobo, according to local authorities. The father later explained to local media that he left the baby in the SUV because he was worried the store would be too cold.
The baby’s disappearance set off a massive search throughout Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province. Hundreds of local taxi drivers and private car owners joined in the hunt. Local media even reported some instances of husbands driving around with their nursing wives in case they discovered the baby hungry.
Those hopes ended Tuesday night when the thief, identified as Zhou Xijun, 48, turned himself into police, and according to authorities, confessed to strangling the baby after discovering it in the backseat and dumping the body in the snow.
As thousands turned out for a candlelight vigil in Chang- chun, sorrow online turned to hand-wringing and even anger over the money-crazed values of China’s new society. “How did the social security become this bad? How did man lose all his humanity?” posted a mother named Che Xiaoyan.
Others blamed the father for leaving the baby alone. Many, however, recalled an eerily similar case one month ago in New York with a vastly different outcome. After stealing a jeep containing an 8-month-old girl in the Bronx, the thief not only left the baby and vehicle unharmed, but called police twice to give them the location of the SUV.
One Chinese blogger under the handle “Sishi Bowen” noted the heated competition between the United States and China these days, and said: “The same car thieves, different ethical bottom lines. A country [like China] with several thousand years of history can’t even match the culture of a country with just a 200-year history.”