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Chinese police arrest a man for complaining about hospital food – but netizens say it’s police abuse

By Oiwan Lam

A man in Hubei province was arrested and detained for “disturbing public order” after he posted a negative comment about hospital food in She Xian of Handan City.

According to local media reports, the She Xian police received a complaint saying that someone was making negative remarks online about the price, amount and quality of food in a hospital cafeteria, bringing the hospital bad publicity. Upon investigation, the police concluded that the man, named Zhang, was fabricating information and disturbing public order.

shexian hospital food police

A netizen complained about hospital food and used food scraps to write the words “tastes bad” in his comment. He was arrested on charges of fabricating facts and disturbing public order. Photo: China Daily/Weibo.

The police arrested Zhang on August 16 and held him in administrative detention at the police station.

The news soon went viral and triggered outrage online. Even state-affiliated media outlets are criticizing police actions. Under public pressure, She Xian police released Zhang and admitted that they misinterpreted the law. The head of the police station had been transferred to another position.

The incident has since been coined “Food Pickygate” (挑食門) by Chinese netizens, to highlight the absurd nature of the arrest and abuse of power by police.

Zhang wrote his post on She Xian’s forum:

The new hospital has moved. The location is far and it is very inconvenient for people. But the facility has improved, so the distance can be excused. There aren’t any street vendors by the new site, so the hospital cafeteria is the only choice. It looks classy but the prices are shockingly high. A bowl of noodles costs RMB 14 yuan!

My god, I am a local peasant, not a tourist. Unwillingly I paid RMB 10 yuan for a set lunch. When I opened the box, just a few piece of melon and leeks. They did give a good amount of potatoes, but where’s the meat?

Where’s the meat? The set said one kind of vegetable and two kinds of meat. There were just three mouthfuls of rice. I asked at the food counter, they said: this is normal as the vegetable and meat are cooked in a big pot. Can’t you see the meat strips? If you want more rice, you can pay more. Though I am a peasant, I have city experience — can you call that tiny bit meat?

The relocation of the hospital has pushed everything to a new level. The quality of care may have improved but the consumption level of She Xian has also risen. In the past, a full meal cost RMB 7-8, now RMB 20 cannot fill up your stomach. Where have the RMB 0.5 yuan congee and RMB 1 yuan bun gone? How about the RMB 4 yuan noodle and the RMB 5 yuan big noodle and the RMB 6 yuan set meal with four side dishes? All disappeared? How about conscience???

新医院搬迁后,老百姓看病极为不便,路途遥远,但条件好了远就远吧,新址周围没有小吃摊点,吃饭只能去餐厅,进去一看,富丽堂皇,再问价格,胆战心惊,一碗面要14元!
我晕,我是涉县本土农民,不是来旅游的好吧,忍痛掏钱买吧,10元一份米饭套餐,交钱买卡拿饭,打开再看,更晕,几片北瓜,蒜薹葱头,土豆块倒是不小,但是说好的肉呢?
去哪了?不是两荤一素吗?米饭也少的可怜,口大点三口能干光,去找卖饭的,人家说:大锅炒的菜不均匀,这样很正常,鱼香肉丝里不是有肉吗?米饭不够一块钱再加一份。你们这样忽悠我这个见过市面的农民好吗,那也叫有肉,还没星爷捡的那块大。
医院搬迁搬出新高度,医疗水平不知道提高了多少,倒是把涉县老百姓的消费水平提高不少,原来住院一天7、8块吃不了,现在20块吃不饱,5毛的小米汤呢?1块的大包子呢?4块的卤面呢?5块钱一个人吃不了的饸洛面呢?6块钱四个菜的米饭套餐呢?都搬没了?那良心呢??????

The public would not have been aware of the local story if police had not made Zhang’s detention a showcase of their campaign to crack down on rumors, via She Xian’s television’s official Weibo account:

100 days of campaign will make She Xian become more harmonious. She Xian’s police have implemented the spirit of the county’s 13th party committee second meeting in its daily operation. With a unified thought, well-planned and swift action, it has successfully cracked down on two cases on fabrication of facts online and disturbing public order.
大干100天,让涉县更加和谐平安。涉县公安局将县十三届二次全委(扩大)会议精神落实到具体工作中,统一思想,精心组织,迅速行动,于近日成功破获两起虚构事实、网络传播、扰乱公共秩序案。…

The 100-day campaign was written in the county’s party committee meeting report released on 16 of August, the date police took action on the two online rumor cases. The first case concerned the spread of misinformation online about the death of a taxi driver. The second case was that of Zhang.

See more: ‘This time appears different’: China’s web users fear losing tools to bypass censorship

According to an independent netizen’s investigation, Zhang wrote and posted his comments in June. The hospital had given response and local media had followed up on the news. The story should have ended there. But following the spirit of the party meeting, the She Xian police turned the case into a criminal act of spreading rumors.

This did not stop netizens from expressing alarm on social media. Here is a selection of comments on one of the news threads on Weibo:

[Conversation in a detention cell] Ask: Brother, what brings you here? Answer: Criticising the food in the hospital cafe. Ask back: Brother, what brings you here? Answer: Attempted rape on elevator. Ask: Wow, the sentence is pretty long, right? Answer: Same as you, 15 days in detention.
问:哥们,你犯什么事进来的。 答:挑食
反问:哥们你呢,你为啥进来的啊?答:电梯强奸未遂。问:哇那你这个厉害了,要判好久吧!答:哦,跟你一样,15天。
What has happened on our society? Just arrest all the negative comments in Taobao shop, they affect my business.
这个社会到底是怎么了?以后淘宝差评直接抓起来,影响我的销量。
So scary, I have deleted all my food comments on social media.
吓得我赶紧把美团、大众点评、糯米的评论全删了
The incident involves a hospital and a man. The police have no role in it. If the hospital believes that the man is spreading rumors and has harmed the hospital, it should take legal action and sue him for libel. Which law empowers the police to arrest the man? The law enforcers have no legal knowledge and have violated the law. This is definitely a civil case — how can it be a public security and criminal case?
这个事件的发生主题一个是医院,一个是当事人,关派出所什么事?如果医院认为是造谣,不是事实给医院带来了损失,那么医院应该去民事诉讼,告当事人造谣诽谤,赔偿损失!派出所把当事人抓起来是什么法律?执法者不知法,还违法!这明明就是一个民事诉讼案子,怎么就成了一个治安和刑事案件?

In fact, “food pickygate” is not a single incident. The rumor regulation, which was implemented in 2013, has given Chinese police excessive power to arrest netizens who are critical of state-run institutions, the government and party authorities.

internet mobile china

Photo: Pixabay/HKFP remix.

Recently, there have been a number of incidents reflecting police abuse of power, as pointed out by Twitter user Zhao Shilong:

“The arrest of the food critic of She Xian hospital canteen, the netizen who revealed the casualties in a fatal landslide in Heshun county [of Shanxi], the teacher in Shaanxi who questioned forced donation — all these cases point to the same problem: the excessive and abusive use of police power which is used to protect the interest of government officials. If the public were unaware of the first two incidents, the results would not be reversed. The Shaanxi teacher’s case hasn’t been vindicated… The distortion of law, the infringement of citizen’s right to speech and expression, the lack of mechanism to punish the power abuser are the issues at stake.”

This article originally appeared on Global Voices.

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Chinese police arrest a man for complaining about hospital food - but netizens say it's police abuse