|Meng Ge, mother of a teenager who was allegedly involved in a gang-rape case, enters the Beijing Haidian District People's Court in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 26, 2013. The teenage son of Li Shuangjiang, a renowned Chinese tenor, was sentenced to ten years in prison for rape on Thursday, according to the court. Five men were detained on Feb. 21 after a woman surnamed Yang reported to police that she had been taken to a hotel and gang raped after drinking with the men in a bar on Feb. 17. The case soon came to the spotlight as the son of Li, dean of the music department of the People's Liberation Army Academy of Arts, was among the five suspects. (Xinhua/Gong Lei)
BEIJING, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- A Beijing district court sentenced the teenage son of Li Shuangjiang, a famous Chinese tenor, to ten years in prison on Thursday.
The widespread public speculation on whether the case was settled by manipulation from the privileged or pressure from the public may not end so easily.
On Thursday morning, journalists gathered in front of the Beijing Haidian District People's Court, swarming defendants and lawyers and indeed anyone who might offer them an exclusive morsel of news.
By 6 p.m. Thursday, about eight hours after the verdict, the name of the younger Li was the most searched phrase in weibo.com, China's most popular microblogging website, with more than 10 million users posting and reposting opinions or news about him.
Five men were detained on Feb. 21 after a woman reported to police that she had been taken to a hotel and gang raped after drinking with the men in a bar on Feb. 17.
The case has stayed in the limelight since the already-notorious son of the dean of music at the People's Liberation Army Academy of Arts was one of the suspects.
Li senior, 74, built his reputation in past decades with popular patriotic songs and has been widely criticized by internet users for failing to raise his son properly.
During the trial and pretrial in July and August, lawyers squabbled furiously on whether the crime was rape or prostitution. Li junior denied rape: The other four, less celebrated defendants, pled guilty.
The public clamored for a fair investigation and judgement, regardless of Li Shuangjiang's title.
"No matter how wealthy the family, parents should teach their sons to be upright men," said microblogger Xieyijia.
Angry internet users scoured previous media coverage of younger Li's past iniquities and drew the conclusion that Li's real age was above 18. The information spread fast as "proof" that Li's parents enjoyed the privilege of breaking the law.
"The court made thorough investigation of the defendants'age including residence registration information, population census information and his birth certificate before verifying Li as teenager," said presiding judge Qin Shuo to bjgy.chinacourt.org after the verdict was announced.
However, public skepticism has not just rolled over and died.
While many internet users applauded the court for a fair verdict, a few still have concerns that Li might be out of jail soon with his parents' social status and wealth.
No common criminal case would draw such attention without a celebrity. "People have vented their dissatisfaction with the privileged through this case," said Yin Yungong, head of the Institute of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
China's success over the past three decades has spawned a number of rich and powerful businessmen, officials and celebrities. The children of these wealthy families are known as China's "fuerdai", a title rarely used as compliment or mark of respect.
The "rich second generation" are no strangers to public outrage. It is not the first time that Li junior has ignited the public's ire for the "fuerdai".
Li and another teenager attacked a couple who blocked a driveway near the entrance to a residential community in Beijing two years ago and he was sent to a government correctional facility for a year.
In 2010, a drunk 23-year-old hit-and-run driver gained nationwide notoriety by reportedly shouting "sue me if you dare, my father is Li Gang." The Li Gang in question was a district police chief in central China's Hebei Province. Li Qiming was subsequently sentenced to six years in prison for the crime, which left one woman dead and another badly injured.
"My father is Li Gang" became the catch phrase that year and has since become label for all of China's "fuerdai".
PROFESSIONAL ETHICS QUESTIONED
Social scientists and lawyers have blamed the defendants' relatives and lawyers for creating the buzz all along.
"As a sex crime involving juveniles, the case should have been handled with the maximum possible discretion, but the defendants' relatives and lawyers spread these case details on purpose," said Chen Weidong, professor of law at Renmin University of China.
Chen said it was done to draw huge social attention and put pressure on judicial authorities.
Liu Jiahui, lawyer with Beijing-based Derun Law Firm, said Li's lawyer breached professional ethics many times, publicly implying that the victim was a sex worker.
"It was a personal attack and a sign of an impoverished moral character," said Liu.
Chen Weidong said it is inappropriate for lawyers to state their point of view outside the court. Public opinion is easily swayed and courts are put under uncalled for pressures.
Sociologists blamed the media for their excessive coverage of the case, revealing too much information, and carrying out "trial by media" before the verdict was announced.
"In a way, the media prejudiced judicial independence and violated the law on protection of minors by publishing juvenile defendants' names and photos and releasing unverified news to make sensationalist headlines," said Ma Huaide, vice president of China University of Political Science and Law.