China brings back public shaming and parades alleged human traffickers through the streets for breaking COVID-19 rules

Armed riot police in southern China have paraded four alleged violators of the COVID-19 rules through the streets, leading to criticism of the government’s harsh approach and the reintroduction of the controversial use of public shaming.

Public shaming had been banned in China, but practice has been seen again in recent months as local governments struggle to enforce national zero-COVID policies.

Four masked suspects in hazmat suits – with posters with their photos and names – were paraded in front of a large crowd in the Jingxi city of the Guangxi region this week, state-run Guangxi News reported.

Photos of the event showed each suspect being held by two police officers – wearing face masks, masks and hazmat suits – and surrounded by a circle of police in riots, some with weapons.

The four were accused of transporting illegal migrants while China’s borders remain largely closed due to the pandemic, Guangxi News said.

Jingxi is located close to the Chinese border with Vietnam.

China Public Shaming Zhengguan Video
The four suspects are the latest alleged human traffickers who have been paraded through the streets in recent months. (Delivered by: Zhengguan News )

‘It’s surreal’

Chinese authorities were ordered to stop a long history of shame parades in 1988, but they have reappeared amid the government’s repression of prostitution.

In 2010, an official ban was introduced during an outcry over the public humiliation of a sex worker.

This year, public shaming was one of the disciplinary measures the local government announced in August to punish those who break health rules.

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Guangxi News said the parade gave a “real warning” to the public and “deterred border-related crimes”.

But it also led to a setback in which official businesses and social media users criticized the move.

Although Jingxi is “under enormous pressure” to prevent imported COVID-19 cases, “the measure seriously violates the spirit of the rule of law and can not be allowed to happen again,” said Beijing News, which is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.

“[To watch this] feels like an old memory that came from another world and people are terrified, “said Zhang Xianwei, a lawyer from Henan province, in a video posted on social media.

Other suspects accused of illegal smuggling and human trafficking have also been paraded in recent months, according to reports on the Jingxi government’s website.

Videos of a similar parade in November showed a crowd of people watching two prisoners be detained while a local official read out their crimes on a microphone.

They were then seen marching through the streets in their hazmat suits, flanked by police in riots.

And in August, dozens of armed police were seen marching a suspect through the streets to a playground.

“It’s surreal,” a member of the public wrote on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Another called the actions “a decline in social civilization.”

A worker wearing a protective suit collects a throat swab at a COVID-19 test site in Xi'an.
Despite the city being under a strict blockade, COVID-19 cases doubled last week in Xi’an, the country’s latest hotspot. (AP: Xinhua / Li Yibo)

However, some welcome the strong stance as regions across the country are facing their biggest increases in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

“I do not understand why so many comments show sympathy for these [alleged] criminal, aid to smuggling is to help coronavirus enter China, “wrote a Weibo user.

According to the local public prosecutor’s office, a person was allegedly smuggled into Jingxi tested positive for COVID-19 in October, forcing more than 50,000 people in the region into isolation.

A long history of embarrassing criminals

The use of public shaming for criminals goes back thousands of years in China.

In some cases, the prisoners were put in chains and taken on a “shaming parade” before execution.

Similar practices continued in modern China.

During the Cultural Revolution, public shaming was notoriously extended to be used on thieves and scalpers, and often before suspects were found guilty.

In the 1980s, public shaming was approved as part of the execution process during a period in which China claimed to crack down on criminal acts.

Convicted prisoners were tied up and paraded on police trucks with their personal details and crimes displayed on wooden boards hanging around their necks.

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Chinese debtors were ashamed during the Avengers Endgame premiere.

In recent years, Chinese authorities have taken public shaming to the big screen.

In what has been referred to as the “wheel of shame,” images and names of people who owe money to the state are projected on movie screens ahead of popular movies.

In one case in China’s eastern Zhejiang province in 2019, the premiere of Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame was preceded by blown-up headlines of people owing money to the state as a preview of the main feature.

ABC / AFP

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