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Hit-and-run backlash rattles China's elite

It is a catchphrase that has become shorthand for state irresponsibility and arrogance all over China: "Sue me if you dare. My dad is Li Gang."

The expression has spread like wildfire on the internet, highlighting growing public outrage at the criminal indifference of some of the children of the country's privileged elite.

After driving his black Volkswagen Magotan into two rollerblading students outside Hebei University in the Beishi district, a drunk Li Qiming did not stop until he was intercepted by security guards and students on campus. Mr Li stepped calmly out of the car and without any sign of remorse uttered the catchphrase: "Who's your daddy?"

His father, Li Gang, is the deputy chief of the Public Security Bureau in Baoding City, which is in Hebei province, northern China, and this position would usually guarantee freedom from broader consequences.

The story broke initially in the local media. But soon the censor, fearful of wider social problems, put the lid on the news. However, Li Qiming's comments have been published widely online and have provoked angry and mocking reactions from millions of Chinese. It is a classic example of how social and political issues make it into the wider social sphere, despite the Great Firewall of China, which seeks to keep a lid on uncomfortable truths.

One of the two women struck by Mr Li's car, Chen Xiaofeng, died after the incident. Her brother, Chen Lin, said in an interview on the Danwei website that Li Qiming said what he did because he was showing off. Mr Chen said: "It's relying on the power of his family; he said it subconsciously. Lots of people are like this now, I think he's using it as a kind of backup.

"I don't think it was because he was afraid, it was just subconscious: this is who my family is, you can't do this to me." Mr Chen wants the death penalty for the man who killed his sister.

The dead student's father, a farmer named Chen Guangqian, said he was sure the perpetrator had lots of connections within Baoding. "I am afraid," the man said.

On the Sina website, there are postings from an outraged public. One commenter wrote: "No need to panic after any crime, as my father is Li Gang." That was part of a broader contest to come up with sentences containing the words, "my father is Li Gang". Another wrote: "I never pay my telephone bills. My father is Li Gang." People have also written poems and songs.

The story has rattled cages even among the Communist Party elite, who realises that they need the support of ordinary people to stay in power. They have had to deal with numerous incidents where public dissatisfaction with Communist Party officials has caused social instability.

Wu Zhongmin, a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party of China, told the Xinhua News Agency: "Like father, like son. If the children of officials think that they are the privileged class, will future generations follow suit? After deviating from the basic tenet of following the Party's mass line, which is serving the people heart and soul, the question is: where will China go from here?"

The state apparatus will come down heavily on the Li family. Li Qiming said in an interview with local media: "I deeply regret what I did. It has brought great misery to the victims and their family. I feel very guilty."

His father has said he would not protect his son over the case: "It's shameful that I have failed to educate him well as a father, and I definitely will not shield him."

The story came on the same day Wu Yuren, an artist who led a march to Tiananmen Square in February, was brought to court over a scuffle with police.