XIA JUNFENG WAS a laid-off factory worker who sold grilled meat kebabs with his wife, Zhang Jing 张晶, in the city of Shenyang. On 16 May 2009, around ten chengguan, urban law enforcement officers, confronted the couple.
Chengguan, who have a reputation for brutality, have the thankless task of clearing city streets of stalls operating without a business licence, and are deeply unpopular with the public. Xia claimed it was in self-defence that he killed two and injured one with a fruit knife. But, on 11 November 2009, the Shenyang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Xia to death for manslaughter.
A two-year-long appeal by his wife and a volunteer legal team earned the family nationwide sympathy, but the final verdict by the Liaoning Provincial People’s High Court, on 9 May 2011, upheld the death sentence. The authorities informed his family only hours before giving Xia a lethal injection, on 25 September 2013, and only allowing them to see him for half an hour first. They refused Xia’s last request to take a photograph for his then thirteen-year-old son. His execution, and the fact that the authorities apparently told the press about it before informing his family, sparked widespread outrage; for a day after the news broke, Xia’s name was the most-searched-for term on Weibo.