After the killing of loan shark gang member Du Zhihao became a hot topic nationwide, media investigations found that Du was previously involved in another killing for which he was not held responsible.
A baby carriage sits in Tong's home in Donggucheng town, Liaocheng, Shandong Province. Photo: Li Qian/GT
One and a half years since her 14-year-old daughter was killed in a tragic car accident, Tong is still struggling to move on.
She resented the hit-and-run driver responsible, her neighbor Du Zhihao, who was never jailed for what he did or even apologized in person for not stopping to help the girl he hit.
But events since then have convinced her that justice is always done, one way or another. Only half a year after the accident that took her daughter from her, Du was carrying out a task for a mafia-like gang and was fatally stabbed. A young man named Yu Huan, whose mother was in debt to Du's loan shark boss, stabbed Du after he abused Yu's mother. This case has entered the public consciousness in China over the past month, as people debate who was in the wrong.
As the Global Times investigated the high-profile case and interviewed people in Liaocheng, Shandong Province, it became apparent that rather than a simple crime, Du's death was a part of an interlinked web of tragedies that changed the lives of three families forever.
Tong's daughter, surnamed Lang, was a middle school student when she was hit and killed only a few hundred meters from their home in Donggucheng, a small town in Guanxian county, Liaocheng.
It was just after dawn, around 5 am, and Lang was bicycling to school with her two friends to attend an early-morning class. The country road they took is flanked by trees on both sides and cuts through serene farmland.
Lang's friends suddenly heard a big bang and she disappeared from their sight. They saw a car accelerating away from the scene immediately.
It was a terrible accident. After the two girls told her what had happened, Tong rushed to the scene. She first saw her daughter's bicycle lying on the roadside, folded in half from the force of the collision, and then "a whole leg from the thigh down," Tong said.
Tong could barely move or speak when she saw what had happened. She said she will never forget finding the body of her daughter in the roadside bushes 20 or 30 meters away from her bike, already lifeless.
Tong called for an ambulance and the police, and her daughter's body was taken away by the traffic accident department of the Guanxian traffic police for an autopsy.
News spread quickly in the small community. Before sunset that day, she had learned that it was her neighbor Du Zhihao who had run over her daughter. Traffic police called up Tong's husband and said they too suspected Du was the killer. One of the headlights of Du's Honda was smashed, and the vehicle was seized by the traffic police for inspection.
The two families, though they are not friends, live only a couple hundred meters apart. The night after her daughter's death, Du's apologetic parents Du Hongzhang and Xu Xiling came to Tong's home and asked Tong to hit and curse them to vent her anger. "But will that do anything to bring my daughter back? It's useless," Tong said. Du's parents told her that their son who works at the county procuratorate had called them earlier to say Du Zhihao, the youngest of their three sons, had run someone over. Du Zhihao didn't show up, in fact he never showed up for any of the proceedings related to what he did.
The hit-and-run took place on September 30, 2015, just before the week-long National Day holiday. When people finally went back to work on October 8, the traffic police officers who were in charge of investigating the case suggested Tong settle the case out of court instead of seeking a criminal conviction. The police said since the girl was already dead, they could do nothing to bring her back, and filing a criminal case would bring them nothing but trouble, Tong told the Global Times. She agreed with their proposition, and asked for 1 million yuan ($144,800) in compensation.
Twenty days after the accident, the traffic police issued an investigative report to officially end the case.
After police mediation, the two sides agreed on compensation of 285,000 yuan. A middleman came to Tong's home with three copies of the agreement. The agreement says that by signing, Tong "renounces her right to call to account Du Zhihao's responsibility" for the death of Lang.
Committing a hit-and-run is a crime punishable by China's Criminal Law. If a court found Du guilty of fleeing the scene and causing Lang's death, he would have faced several years behind bars.
Tong said she sometimes regrets her decision not to pursue a criminal case.
"I was a fool at that time. It all happened so suddenly," Tong told the Global Times. She said that at that moment she only wished to bury her daughter and lay her to rest.
"After all what can we do since the powerful authorities asked for it? We don't know any law."
Tong is a farmer and her husband is a stevedore for farm produce transportation firm.
But if Du Zhihao had been brought to justice for the killing and been sentenced to a few years in prison, he wouldn't have been killed by Yu Huan half a year later, Tong said.
A view of a village in Xiaogan, Hubei Province. Photo: IC
'She feels the same way'
Now Du Zhihao is infamous across China.
On April 14, 2016, Du was sent along with 10 other men to collect money from Yu Huan's mother Su Yinxia, and was stabbed and killed by Yu after Du used lewd and abusive means to threaten the woman.
The verdict of the first trial in Liaocheng says Du took off his pants and waved his penis in Su's face, and took off Yu's shoe to cover Su's mouth, before Yu could take no more and grabbed a knife.
Despite killing Du and injuring another three of the men, 23-year-old Yu has won overwhelming praise from the Chinese public, who sympathize with Yu's filial piety, which a lot of people say legitimizes his violence against the gang.
Yu Huan was very close to his mother, said his aunt Yu Xiurong. After graduating from high school, the young man began working in his mother's factory, and was always hanging around Su. "How could he bear it when he saw those thugs abusing his mother in front of his face?"
The incident was disastrous to both the Du and Yu families. Yu Huan was sentenced to life in jail in the first trial. He has since appealed this case to the Shandong provincial court, which has agreed to hear his case.
Du's death has left his four children with an incomplete family, and was a blow to his parents.
Du's mother Xu Xiling suffers from heart problems, and talking about her lost son worsens her health. One year after Du's death, it's still agonizing for the 53-year-old to talk about her son. She refuses all interview requests, and said she has to take seven pills a day when she is approached by the media.
Du Zhihao had two pairs of twins. His two daughters, aged 7, now live with his wife in downtown Guanxian county. His boy-girl set of twins, aged 5, are being taken care of by his parents.
As Tong sat with the Global Times reporter, she wiped her tears and patted her 8-month-old son sitting on her lap. Tong had two children before her daughter died, a boy and a girl. She did not plan to have another child before her daughter's death.
Months after she lost her daughter, she decided to have another child and move on. "I didn't want my son to be alone in the future without a sister or brother," she said.
It wasn't an easy decision to make. Tong has high blood pressure and hyperplasia of the mammary glands, and could only give birth via caesarian.
She wanted to have a girl, as sons are a heavy burden for the family when they reach marriageable age. A wedding costs the parents of the groom at least 200,000 yuan in the village, she said.
Tong said that one day during her pregnancy, she was alone at home and a construction worker popped in to tell her about Du's death. "He said 'now you should celebrate his end,' but what's the point of doing that?" Tong said. "Du's mother must be the one who's the most heartbroken over his death, no matter what Du did. I was heartbroken before. I guess she [Du's mother] feels the same way."
Tong sometimes encounters the Du family as they live so close. It is awkward and they only exchange one or two simple greetings, as they can't have a conversation. "Their son killed my daughter by accident, but he didn't even stop and try to rescue her."
Tong said she has no hatred for Du's parents. But their son killed her girl, which she will never forget.