Murder of Wu Shuoyan

The murder of Wu Shuoyan, sometimes called the Zhaoyuan McDonald's cult murder, occurred on May 28, 2014, in a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, China. Footage of the murder was widely distributed and the crime generated considerable attention in China.

The attackers were arrested, and the authorities claimed they were members of a sect called Eastern Lightning also known as "Church of Almighty God". In the wake of the murder, authorities engaged in widespread arrests of the group's members. Covering the trial and the confessions of the accused assassins, reporters for the Chinese daily The Beijing News wrote that the perpetrators were in fact not members of Eastern Lightning at the time of the murder,[1][2] a position also maintained by some Western scholars who wrote about Eastern Lightning.[3][4]

MurderEdit

External video
  Smartphone footage of the murder of Wu Shuoyan

Wu Shuoyan (1977–2014), a 37-year-old woman who worked as a salesperson in a nearby clothing store, was waiting after work to meet her husband and seven-year-old son in the mall McDonald's.[5]

While Wu was there, a group of six persons (including a 12-year-old), entered the restaurant.[6] They announced that they were "missionaries." After presenting their religious message, they demanded that customers supply their cell phone numbers for future contacts. Wu was twice asked to provide her phone number. She refused.[7]

Wu was then beaten by two of the "missionaries", who used mops the group had brought with them.[7] A chair was thrown at Wu, and her head and face were stomped.[7] One attacker screamed "Go die! Evil spirit!" while another shouted at customers: “Whoever interferes will die!".[8] The attack was captured on camera, with footage widely shared online.

Wu died from her injuries.[7]

Arrest, interview, and trialEdit

Police arrived and arrested the assailants. One witness told media: "The little boy who was with [the assailants] was so calm. Even when the police arrived, he kicked the victim in the head, yelling 'evil goes to hell'".[9]

The perpetrators consisted of the Zhang extended family: the former owner of a small textile business, unemployed at the time of the murder,[2] named Zhang Lidong (1959–2015), his lover Zhang Qiaolian, and three children from a previous marriage, i.e. Zhang Fan (1984–2015), Zhang Hang, and Zhang Duo, plus Lü Yingchun, a young woman who lived with the Zhang family.[10]

On May 31, Zhang Lidong's jailhouse interview was broadcast in which he showed no remorse for Wu's murder, saying "I beat her with all my might and stamped on her too. She was a demon. We had to destroy her."[11] Zhang reported having been a member of a group worshipping "Almighty God",[1] that Chinese authorities identified with Eastern Lightning.[8] Police reported finding Eastern Lightning literature in the Zhang home.[12][better source needed]

 
Zhang Lidong at trial.

The boy (b. 2001), was too young to stand trial, but the other five perpetrators were committed to trial and appeared on August 21, 2014, before the Intermediate People's Court of Yantai, in the Shandong province.[1]

At trial, Lü Yingchun explained that it was indispensable to kill the saleswoman, as she was a particularly dangerous "evil spirit": "Zhang Hang asked that lady for her phone number, but she refused to give it to her. When I became conscious of it, I found out that we had been attacked and sucked by an 'evil spirit,' which caused us to be weak and helpless. The two of us identified her as that 'evil spirit' and cursed her with words. Not only did she not listen, her attack got even stronger. […] During the 'demon's' attack on us, Zhang Fan and I became gradually aware that the woman must die, otherwise it would devour everybody. […] The clash between the woman and us was a battle between two spirits. The others could not see it and neither could they understand it. The police could not understand it as well."[1]

Two of the defendants, Zhang Lidong and his daughter Zhang Fan, were sentenced to death and executed on February 2, 2015.[13] As for the other three defendants, Lü Yingchun (b. 1975), was sentenced to life in prison, Zhang Hang (b. 1996) was sentenced to ten years of jail and Zhang Qiaolian (b. 1990) to seven years.[14]

ReactionsEdit

Chinese authorities claimed that the perpetrators belonged to the Church of Almighty God, and this version was widely reported in the immediate aftermath of the murder and beyond by mainstream Western media.[15] Even prior to the attack, the sect had been banned in China, and in the wake of the murder, authorities engaged in widespread arrests of Church of Almighty God members.[16] Representatives from the Church of Almighty God publicly condemned the murder, claiming it had been committed by “psychopaths” who had nothing to do with them.[3]

Covering the trial in 2014, The Beijing News, a daily newspaper owned by the Beijing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party,[17] but with a reputation of independent reporting,[18] published on August 22, 2014 (one day after the trial), two articles casting doubts on the official version. Reporter Yang Feng published the confessions of the main defendants during the trial, including passages where both Lü Yingchun and Zhang Fan claimed that theirs was a different “Almighty God” church from the one also known as Eastern Lightning and whose leader is Zhao Weishan. While Eastern Lightning worships as Almighty God a woman called Yang Xiangbin,[3] the group responsible for the murder believed that God had simultaneously incarnated as a single soul shared by the two female bodies of Lü Yingchun and Zhang Fan. As reported by Yang Feng, Zhang Fan stated at trial that, “I am God in his substance. Lü Yingchun is also God in his substance. The relationship between Lü Yingchun and me is, we are two bodies in the flesh but we share a same soul.” She went on to say that, “the 'Almighty God Church’ I believe in is not a cult, while Zhao Weishan's ‘Church of Almighty God’ is a cult.”[1]

Yang Feng also reported that Lü Yingchun stated, “The state has defined Zhao Weishan’s fake ‘Church of Almighty God as a cult organization. We also call them ‘evil spirits.’ Only Zhang Fan and I, the eldest sons, represent the true ‘Almighty God Church.’ Zhang Fan and I are the only true spokespersons for the ‘Almighty God.’ The state crackdown deals with Zhao Weishan's ‘Almighty God,’ not our ‘Almighty God.’ They are fake ‘Almighty Gods.’ We are the real ones.”[1]

In the same issue of The Beijing News, a team of five journalists led by Xiao Hui and Zhang Yongsheng published an investigative piece on the history of the group responsible for the murder, that they nicknamed “the Almighty God family.” They stated that both Lü Yingchun and Zhang Fan had some contacts with Zhao Weishan's Church of Almighty God as young women, but later the main influence on their group were two independent preachers from Baotou, Inner Mongolia, Li Youwang and Fan Bin, although Lü and Zhang broke with them when the preachers refused to acknowledge that the two women were divine incarnations.[2]

One day before the Beijing News articles, in the day the trial was held, the non-government-owned Phoenix Television broadcast in its program Social Watch an interview Zhang Fan was allowed to grant in jail. She said that, in her youth, she was interested in Eastern Lighting but denied that she had direct contacts with that church. “I never managed to contact the Church of Almighty God because they were secretive people, and I was not able to find them,” she said.[19]

In her book on Eastern Lighting, published by Brill in 2015, Australian scholar Emily Dunn quoted Yang Feng's article and noted that, “International media outlets repeated the Chinese assessment of the Church of Almighty God as bizarre and violent. What they overlooked were Lu Yingchun and Zhang Fan’s statements to the court that although they started out as members of Eastern Lightning (in 1998 and 2007 respectively), they had outgrown it.”[3] By 2020, an article on the Church of Almighty God published in The Daily Beast by veteran reporter Donald Kirk found that “today, scholars tend to support the response of church [of Almighty God] members that another group was to blame for the McDonald’s murder.”[4]

In his 2020 book Inside the Church of Almighty God, published by Oxford University Press, Massimo Introvigne, whose organization CESNUR had been called the "highest profile lobbying and information group for controversial religions,"[20] devoted a long chapter to the murder, and insisted, based on his interpretation of the Phoenix Television's interview and the Beijing News articles, that neither Lü Yingchun nor Zhang Fan had ever been members of Eastern Lightning.[21]

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities had announced that both Lü Yingchun and the younger sister of the executed Zhang Fan, Zhang Hang, had been successfully “re-educated” in jail, and that Lü Yingchun was willing to join the official campaign against cults by writing a memoir and lecturing to fellow inmates. Although Lü maintained that hers was a group based on the belief that she and Zhang Fan were the real Almighty God, she also blamed books and Web sites of Eastern Lightning for having “ideologically corrupted” them in their youth.[22]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f The Beijing News (2014). "山东招远血案被告自白:我就是神, The Confession of the Defendant of the Murder Case in Zhaoyuan, Shandong: 'I am God Himself.'" August 23. Compiled by Yang Feng (Accessed 13 February 2020).
  2. ^ a b c Xiao, Hui; Zhang, Yongsheng (22 August 2014). "一个 '全能神教'家庭的发展史 (History of the Family of Almighty God Group)". The Beijing News. Beijing. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Dunn, Emily (2015). Lightning from the East: Heterodoxy and Christianity in Contemporary China. Leiden: Brill, p. 204. ISBN 978-90-04-29724-1.
  4. ^ a b Kirk, Donald (9 February 2020). "These Chinese Christians Were Branded A Criminal 'Cult': Now They Have to Flee". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  5. ^ Euan McKirdy (2 February 2015). "China executes McDonald's cult killers". CNN.
  6. ^ Kaiman, Jonathan (August 18, 2014). "McDonald's murder in China: 'evil cult members' face trial for woman's death" – via www.theguardian.com.
  7. ^ a b c d "China executes two cult killers". BBC News. February 2, 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Deadly attack raises concern about growth of 'evil cults' in China". Los Angeles Times. June 7, 2014.
  9. ^ "Family of victim mourns at Shandong McDonald's outlet a week after killing that shocked the nation". South China Morning Post. June 4, 2014.
  10. ^ Buckley, Chris (August 21, 2014). "China Says 5 in Sect Killed Woman Who Wouldn't Join". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Chinese cult murder trial opens". BBC News. August 21, 2014.
  12. ^ "Sina Visitor System". passport.weibo.com.
  13. ^ "China executes cult members over McDonald's murder". February 2, 2015 – via www.theguardian.com.
  14. ^ "Death penalty for China cult killers". BBC News. October 11, 2014.
  15. ^ See e.g. Gracie, Carrie (2014). "The Chinese Cult That Kills 'Demons.'" BBC, August 13.
  16. ^ "Beijing arrests nearly 1,000 members of Christian sect accused of brainwashing". August 19, 2014 – via www.theguardian.com.
  17. ^ 关于我们 [About us]. The Beijing News (in Chinese (China)). Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  18. ^ Kathrin Hille (27 July 2011). Written at Beijing. "Chinese Media Defy Censors to Attack Government on Crash". Financial Times. London. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  19. ^ "Trial on Almighty God". Social Watch. 21 August 2014. Phoenix Satellite TV. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  20. ^ Kent, Stephen A. (January 2001). "The French and German versus American debate over 'new religions', Scientology and human rights". Marburg Journal of Religion. 6 (1).
  21. ^ Introvigne, Massimo (2020). Inside The Church of Almighty God: The Most Persecuted Religious Movement in China. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 80–101. ISBN 9780190089092.
  22. ^ China Youth Daily Staff Writers (26 May 2017). "招远麦当劳杀人案女犯忏悔记:两年写几万字揭批材料 (Confession by the Main Criminal of the McDonald's Murder in Zhaoyuan: She Has Compiled Writings of Revelation and Criticism Amounting to Tens of Thousands Characters in Two Years)". The Beijing News. Beijing. Retrieved 13 February 2020.