- BEIJING (AP) -- Each story
is ghastlier than the last. A shop owner poisons the snacks at a rival's
store, and 38 people die. A widow spikes the lunch at her husband's funeral,
killing 10. A man seeks vengeance against his married lover by targeting
- Across China, aggrieved parties are increasingly turning
to an outlawed but easily available weapon: a particularly lethal form
of rat poison called "Dushuqiang."
- With case after lurid case being described in the state-controlled
media, the Chinese government has had enough.
- Authorities are executing perpetrators and seizing hundreds
of tons of Dushuqiang, which translates as "strong rat poison."
Police are warning that those caught supplying poison used in fatal attacks
could face the death penalty, too.
- Last month, Deputy Agriculture Minister Fan Xiaojian
told an anti-Dushuqiang task force that while most illegal poison producers
had been forced underground, the fight was not over.
- "Local governments at various levels should wage
large-scale and effective activities to investigate this poison, especially
in the countryside," said Fan, quoted by the Communist Party newspaper
People's Daily. "We should do this household to household and confiscate
Dushuqiang from the hands of the masses."
- Dushuqiang (pronounced doo-shoo-CHIANG') is said to be
100 times deadlier than cyanide. Just 5 milligrams -- a dusting -- can
kill a human being, and it remains widely available despite a ban dating
to the mid-1990s.
- On Thursday, in the south-central province of Hunan,
a man upset because his affair with a married woman was ending tried to
poison her children, state media reported.
- One died, but not before he shared rat poison-laced popcorn
and oranges with his young classmates, killing a second child and sickening
25 others. The man, Wei Entan, 26, tried to kill himself with poison but
police stopped him, the Beijing Morning Post reported.
- In central China's Hubei province, a woman motivated
by a long-standing family dispute was accused of poisoning the lunch at
her husband's funeral last month. Chen Xiaomei had invited much of her
village, and her alleged actions killed 10 people, including the local
Communist Party secretary, and sickened 23.
- "Chen was said to often quarrel bitterly with the
eldest daughter-in-law," the official Xinhua News Agency said, adding
that the families of Chen's two sons "had long feuded over issues
such as division of property and support of their parents."
- Other poisonings have involved business rivalries. In
September 2002, at least 38 people died in the eastern city of Nanjing
when shop owner Chen Zhengping sprinkled Dushuqiang on food from another
shop out of what China Central Television said was "resentment."
He was executed the following month.
- Wang Shizhou, a Peking University law professor, attributes
part of the problem to the way rural China operates. It's rife with toxins
such as rat poison, pesticides and herbicides, and villagers get little
training in their use.
- "In the countryside, people do not know what kinds
of things will poison somebody," Wang said, and an assailant may simply
want to sicken one person but end up killing a dozen.
- "What they need is something to poison somebody,"
he said, and "Dushuqiang is so easy to get."
- Law enforcement in China can be spotty, but penalties
are swift and harsh. The aim is make examples to scare the population --
"beat the child to save the class," said Michael Dutton, a professor
at the University of Melbourne in Australia who has written about policing
- "To execute the killers and threaten suppliers with
the same treatment becomes a way of quickly getting the message across,"
- After initial reticence in emphasizing the mass poisonings,
China's state-controlled media has gone into overdrive to highlight the
- In January, China executed Huang Hu, 29, a kindergarten
owner in Guangdong province who sickened 70 children by mixing Dushuqiang
into salt at a rival school's kitchen. The students and two teachers suffered
spasms and vomiting. Reports said Huang blamed the rival school for the
failure of his own kindergarten.
- People have been feeding lethal substances to each other
since long before Socrates, of course, and China's stepped-up efforts against
Dushuqiang -- even if effective -- may simply push the offended and the
angry to other methods of exacting revenge.
- "Poisoning is a very ancient crime, not only in
China," Wang said. "Think of Shakespeare."
- Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press