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Trial over 2016 Tokyo murder of Chinese student becomes China media sensation

Media members from Hong Kong report live from outside the Tokyo District Court in the capital's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 20, 2017. (Mainichi)

The lay judge trial over the November 2016 murder of a Chinese student in Tokyo has become a news media sensation in China.

    When the Tokyo District Court presented its verdict on Dec. 20, the hearing attracted 294 Chinese media representatives and students, who had to vie for tickets for the 35 courtroom seats available. Chinese news outlets sent out breaking news flashes as the verdict was read out, while Chinese TV news reporters did live reports and analysis from outside the district court building.

    The reason: the murdered woman was an only child, and her fate has sparked a wave of sympathy for her mother across the internet among fellow young people from the "single child generation," born in the era of China's one-child policy. Looking at the content of the internet outpouring, however, and one also finds some emotional arguments regarding Japan's justice system, stemming from its differences from that in China such as the independence of the judiciary.

    At the Dec. 20 hearing, the court found 26-year-old Chen Shifeng, a Chinese national, guilty of the murder of Jiang Ge, who was 24 at the time of her death. Presiding Judge Kazunori Karei sentenced Chen to 20 years in prison. Chen was the ex-boyfriend of Jiang's roommate.

    According to Zhou Wenjing, chief editor of Chinese streaming site PearVideo's Japanese editorial department, about 15 million people watched the service's life feed from in front of the courthouse during the trial's opening hearing.

    Jiang's mother wanted Chen to be put to death, and a petition calling for a capital sentence collected some 4.5 million signatures on the internet and on Tokyo's streets. One 23-year-old student from Shanghai who took part in the signature drive told the Mainichi Shimbun, "In China, which had the one-child policy for such a long time, there are a lot of families that only have a single child. Thinking about my own parents, I just felt very sorry (for Jiang's mother)."

    According to Hitotsubashi University criminal law professor Wang Yuhai, most Chinese media outlets repeatedly wondered, "Why is the court ignoring the Chinese people's calls for the death sentence?" In China, Wang continued, Chief Justice and President of the Supreme People's Court Zhou Qiang has labeled an independent judiciary a "mistaken concept of the West." Furthermore, Chinese courts cannot ignore the intentions of the Chinese Communist Party, which attaches particular importance to public order, in cases that attract a lot of public attention.

    "It's not uncommon to impose harsh sentences based on 'the will of the people,'" Wang said.

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