By: Our Correspondent

Despite
their position as one of the crucial foundations of the Chinese
communist state, the country's citizens are growing
increasingly fed up with widespread corruption and lack of
accountability, perhaps no better exemplified by the police chief of
Shaoguan, in Guangdong province.

Ye
Shuyang, a former butcher, required officers at district stations to
prepare sharp knives and live pigs for him, according to media
reports. Ye Shuyang didn't kill them at once, but slowly,
enjoying the pain he inflicted on the animals.

Nor was
inflicting pain on helpless animals was his only vice. Late last year
Ye was arrested for having embezzled 30 million yuan in illegal
income, much of it spent on luxury villas for himself and fellow
senior police officers.Ye was one of five top Guangdong officers
arrested for a variety of offenses, including corruption, selling
visas to Hong Kong, taking money from owners of brothels and gambling
public money in Macau.

The news
of the arrests aroused interest but no surprise among the Chinese
public, accustomed to the malfeasance and illegality of their police
and powerless to do much about it. Just last week, Wu Xianghu, the
editor of a newspaper in Taizhou, died of complications from being
attacked by 50 policemen last October after his paper accused them of
charging illegal bicycle fees. China's
media have reported a string of such torture and coercion cases by
police, largely to no avail.

As in the
former Soviet Union and other Communist countries, the police are one
of the pillars of the state, an indispensable ally on which, along
with the army, the party relies to remain in power. As a reward, the
police and army enjoy privileges given to no other groups in society.
They are subject to no external scrutiny. The media may only publish
stories about them which the police provide: reporters and editors
who independently criticize them run a serious risk for their careers
and their publications – not to mention physical danger or
death.

The story
of an unemployed man who murdered six police officers in Shanghai
last year provides an extraordinary insight in how the public sees
the institution. Born in August 1980 in Beijing and educated up to
secondary school, Yang Jia was unemployed. On the evening of October
5, 2007, he was cycling on a street in Shanghai and stopped by police
who asked to see his bicycle license. Since he refused to cooperate,
Yang was taken to the local police station and questioned about where
he had obtained the bicycle. He was beaten, with bruises to his arms
and back.

After his
release, he was angry about the ill treatment he had received and
sent complaints by e-mail and telephone to the station. After further
meetings with the police, he demanded 10,000 yuan in compensation. He
did not receive it and vowed to take revenge.

On June
26, he returned to Shanghai and purchased a single-bladed knife,
anti-drug face mask and tear gas spray equipment. Later he made
several petrol bombs. On July 1, the birthday of the Communist Party,
he returned to the station where he had been interrogated, let off
eight petrol bombs and ran inside: he went on a rampage, stabbing
nine officers, of whom six died of their injuries.
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In most
countries in the world, such a massacre — against officers who may
have had no connection with his interrogation — would have provoked
outrage. But not in China — the internet was flooded with messages
of sympathy, as if the writers shared his anger against the police
but had no means to express it.

As the
legal process took its course, this sympathy intensified. On July 3,
Yang's mother was detained in a mental hospital in Beijing run
by the police. On August 27 — after the Olympics — Yang was tried
behind closed doors at a one-hour trial, at which no police officer
gave evidence. He was sentenced to death for premeditated murder.
The sentence was confirmed at an appeal trial, also behind closed
doors, on October 20, which concluded that Yang was of sound mind. A
group of supporters demonstrated outside the court, with T shirts
carrying his portrait and the slogan: "you do not give us an
explanation, we give you one!" On November 21, the Supreme
People's Court confirmed the verdict.

On
November 24, his mother was taken from the mental hospital to
Shanghai to see him in prison for 20 minutes. She went to see the
trial judge and said she wanted to write material in his defense. He
did not answer and she was taken to her home in Beijing.

On the
evening of November 25, two judges from Shanghai went to her home and
read her the decision of the Supreme People's Court — the first time
she knew that her son's fate was sealed.

Less than
15 hours later, after a breakfast of congee, Yang was executed in
Shanghai by lethal injection. Amazingly, within an hour of the news
being announced by Xinhua, 90,000 messages of sympathy had been
posted on the Internet, with just 70 supporting the execution. The
messages were wiped out by the censor. Other sites carried a photo of
Yang as a hero in an American action movie, with bulging muscles and
holding a supergun.

The
messages spoke little about the details of the murders, of which he
was evidently guilty, but his motives, the lack of proper legal
process and the treatment of his mother. He was deemed a 'hero' in
the sense that he had dared to stand up and challenge the police.

The case
of Ye Shuyang and his associates was less newsworthy. He had used 100
million yuan in public money to build a luxury office building as the
police headquarters in Shaoguan.

"All
over China, high officials build luxury villas for themselves,"
commented the Southern Metropolitan Daily of Guangzhou. "This
case (of Ye Shuyang) is the tip of the iceberg. It is a case of
collective corruption by high officials and also of low officials who
share the spoils. Ye was the most corrupt of them.

"Where
did the 30 million yuan come from? Some was from the sale of official
posts, some from stealing public money, some from diverting funds
allocated for big projects. It needs skill to go from being 'thin' to
becoming 'fat'."

It asked
how Ye could have stolen money for so long, during a career in
government that began in April 1976.

"All
the investigators had to do was stand in front of his villa. That was
evidence enough. Either he was able to block an investigation or they
turned a deaf ear," it said.