A photo essay of Jiang Qiulian's 5-year fight to get justice for her murdered daughter

Jiang Qiulian, a single mother who lost her daughter in a tragic murder in Japan, took five years to seek the justice she needed.

Jan 10, 2022, Jiang Qiulian, Jiang Ge's mother, walks out of the court with the verdict in hand.

Jan 10, 2022, Jiang Qiulian, Jiang Ge's mother, walks out of the court with the verdict in hand.

Photos by XIA Tian


In 2016, Chinese student JIANG Ge was stabbed to death in Tokyo by CHEN Shifeng, the ex-boyfriend of her roommate LIU Xin (she later changed her name to Liu Nuanxin). Chen was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the case didn’t rest there. On January 10, 2022, Liu was ordered to pay a total of 698,000 yuan (US$110,000) in damages to Jiang Qiulian, the victim’s mother.

The court said Liu made "obvious mistakes" as she failed to inform Jiang Ge of the threats she got from Chen when she reached out for help. According to state broadcast CCTV, the judge said instead of "try to comfort the relatives of the victim," Liu "used inappropriate words to increase other people’s sorrow".

The court said Liu's behavior was "against social norms and human feelings" and should be condemned.  

Freelance photographer XIA Tian has been following Jiang Ge’s mother for more than four years. This is his account of her struggle.

Dec 8, 2017 – JIANG Ge’s mother, JIANG Qiulian waits outside a Tokyo metro station for the volunteers who will accompany her to the prosecutor’s office for a meeting. Her daughter’s case will come to court in three days’ time.

​​​​​In 2016, Chinese student Jiang Ge was enrolled at Tokyo’s Hosei University. On November 3, she was killed in the hallway outside her rented apartment by CHEN Shifeng, the ex-boyfriend of her friend and roommate LIU Nuanxi. Four days later, Chen was arrested. His case was scheduled for the following December. Exactly a year and a day after the killing, Jiang Qiulian arrived in Tokyo, where she stayed with a friend to prepare for the trial.
Dec 9, 2017 – A year on, the apartment where Jiang Ge was killed is occupied by new tenants.
Dec 11, 2017 – On the day of the trial, Tokyo Shimbun publishes its account of the events.

Chen consistently denied any intent to kill Jiang. He pleaded not guilty to the charge of homicide, claiming that the knife that killed Jiang was handed to her from inside the house by Liu. He also argued that the wounds to Jiang’s neck were an accidental result of their scuffling for the knife. Forensic evidence contradicted Chen’s testimony.
Dec 20, 2017 – A reporter waits outside Tokyo District Court on the day of the verdict.

Liu testified via video link on Dec 13, when she denied locking the door, a key event in the defense, and claimed that the police record was inaccurate. Asked to describe in detail the scene, Liu said she couldn’t remember it clearly.
Dec 20, 2017 – Reporters live stream from outside Tokyo District Court as they gather to wait for the verdict.

Chen was sentenced to 20 years in prison, in line with the prosecutor’s request. Jiang had campaigned for the death penalty. An online petition gathered over 4 million signatures supporting Jiang's appeal. At a press conference that evening, Jiang said she found the verdict unacceptable.
Jiang had hoped to learn who was present at the scene, and what exactly had happened that night, but Liu had said nothing material. She refused to believe Liu’s account and considered her inextricably liable for her daughter’s death. Jiang stated she would file a lawsuit against Liu after returning to China.
Jiang contacted Liu’s mother via WeChat but was blocked, kicking off the ever-escalating conflict between the two families that has drawn extensive media exposure ever since.
Aug 10, 2019 – Jiang Qiulian stands in her late daughter’s room, she places Jiang Ge's clothes and toys on the bed,  the decoration of the room remains the same when Jiang Ge lived here.

On returning from Tokyo, Jiang did not let up in the fight for justice for her daughter, though faced with great difficulties. Everything provided by the Japanese Justice Ministry had to be translated and notarized in both countries. The expensive process took nine months.
Sept 2, 2019 – In a Shanghai hotel Jiang and her attorney prepare materials for the trial of TAN Bin, accused of defamation.

Since 2018, for no clear reason, a man named Tan Bin had waged an online campaign of slander against Jiang. In March 2020, Tan was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation. He immediately appealed, writing an apology and offering Jiang 140 thousand yuan in exchange for forgiveness and reconciliation. Jiang refused his offer and in October the verdict against Tan was upheld, the first of her many legal actions against online abusers.
Nov 7, 2019 – Jiang Ge’s pictures are still plastered on the walls of her mother’s room. On the wall among the photos written: "Ge, thank you for being my daughter."

In Jiang’s eyes, justice amounts to the revelation of all facts behind her daughter’s murder and the punishment of everyone involved. Many have tried to persuade her to stop her quest, but she believes that starting over could never soothe the pain of her loss. Her only comfort comes from the punishment those who hurt her daughter get. She knows it looks bigoted that people won’t understand it, but she refuses to change course.
Nov 7, 2019 – Jiang Qiulian visits her daughter's grave.

On Oct 28, 2019, the case of Jiang Qiulian versus Liu Nuanxi for the latter’s violation of Jiang Ge’s right to life was registered by Chengyang District People’s court. A summons sent to Liu’s home address was ignored. 
In early 2018, a woman named ZHANG Dongning began posting cartoons with slandering content online that featured Jiang Qiulian and her daughter. Jiang decided to pursue court action and in January 2021, the case was adjourned without judgment. At the trial, Jiang had the chance to see Zhang in person for the first time and ask her why she had such anger against a total stranger. Zhang said she was upset and depressed for having to stick to a college major she didn’t like and went online to vent by abusing strangers.
The frustration and powerlessness of the marathon of legal proceedings almost made Jiang give up. Jiang thinks by sticking to her course, she does something for her daughter, but also other victims of cyberviolence. To date, Jiang has sued seven people for online abuse.
Nov 16, 2020 – Jiang can't hold back tears of regret when she recalls how a woman scammed her and took her money away. 

In March 2017, Jiang initiated an online crowdfunding campaign to pay for her legal team in Tokyo and published her bank details on Weibo and WeChat. In November that year, Jiang asked netizens to stop wiring money to her. There are widespread rumors that Jiang has amassed tens of millions of yuan, rumors she strongly denies.
A Qingdao woman surnamed Chen approached Jiang on the pretext of writing a book and won her trust to such an extent that Jiang lent her a large amount of money that was never returned. Jiang could not pay her attorney and had to ask friends for help. In January 2020, Jiang sued, but the money haven’t been returned.
Nov 19, 2020 – Jiang kisses a picture of her daughter the night before the second hearing.

In a second attempt to extract what Jiang believes she is due, she again sued Liu, this time for just over 2.03 million yuan, an amount she claimed consisted of funeral expenses, death indemnity, compensation for emotional distress, lost wages, and expenses in relation to transportation, accommodation, visas, attorneys, etc. Neither did Liu nor her attorneys show up in the first hearing.
Nov 20, 2020 – Lawyer HUANG Leping is interviewed by media in front of Chengyang District People’s Court.

Jiang’s lawyer Huang Leping asked Jiang to not attend the pretrial meeting for he worried Jiang might lose control of her emotion. Jiang unwillingly agreed. Two days earlier, Huang had published Jiang’s complaint calling for indemnification (blame-fixing) rather than compensation. She would donate whatever the court awarded to charity, but demanded Liu be held responsible.
Nov 20, 2020 – Jiang fixes the light bolt in her apartment. 

Jiang used to be a tidy woman, but now she sees no point in keeping the house clean. In fact, she feels nothing matters anymore without her daughter beside her, except for the justice she seeks.
A friend went to visit Jiang, while cooking for the friend, Jiang broke down and cried. She was again struck by the thought that she would never feel the simple blessing of cooking a meal for her family anymore. 
Dec 11, 2020 – Jiang Qiulian puts a coil of Jiang Ge's hair in a bag.

Jiang kept the bag under her pillow. On Mother's Day 2019, Jiang went to the cinema for the first time in many years. She watched the Indian movie Mom. She remembered a line from the movie: "God is not everywhere, so he created mothers, for where justice is out of reach is where the mother comes in."
On Dec 4, 2020 – Jiang goes to the hospital.

Jiang’s health had been going downhill, with discomfort in her lungs. No sign of functional illness was found in the x-ray examination and the doctor told her that depression was the primary cause of her discomfort. She told Jiang to take it easy, Jiang burst into tears.
Dec 30, 2020 – Jiang embraces the new year with a more active lifestyle.

Jiang began exercising and reading every day. While families celebrated the Spring Festival, Jiang wished for the end of the holiday so court proceedings could continue.
Apr 3, 2021 – Jiang burns a copy of the verdict against ZHANG Dongning at her daughter’s grave.

On April 1, 2021, Jiang heard that Zhang Dongning had been sentenced to one year in prison. Jiang saw it as a comfort to her daughter and, at Qingming (tomb-sweeping day), she burned a copy of the verdict as an offering in front of Jiang Ge’s grave.
On Apr 8, 2021 – Jiang is advised that her case will be tried in Chengyang People’s Court on April 15.

Jiang couldn’t sleep for several nights before the trial, she bought some sleeping pills to get rid of the insomnia problem.
April 14, 2021 – Jiang and hotel staff prepare a banner for a press briefing to be held after the verdict is handed down. The hotel staff mistakes her for an attorney that he refers to her as “Lawyer Jiang.”
Apr 15, 2021 – Jiang is surrounded by media outside the court.

In Chengyang People’s Court that day, Huang stated that although Jiang Ge was killed by Chen, it was Liu who put Jiang Ge in danger and was materially at fault in the death of Jiang Ge. Did Liu stop Jiang Ge from calling the police? Had she made Jiang Ge aware of the danger? Did she lock Jiang Ge out or performed immediate first aid when she was stabbed?
​​​​​Liu did not appear in court and her lawyer declared that she accepted no liability whatsoever for Jiang Ge’s death. The court was adjourned without a verdict.
Apr 16, 2021 – On the day after the hearing, Jiang relaxes on a mountain hike.

During the hearing, Jiang broke down several times. She was appalled when Liu’s attorney suggested she had benefited economically from her daughter’s death, calling for a review of the incomes of the plaintiff and defendant. This didn’t make sense to her at all. “Isn’t the biggest benefit being alive? Is money more important than life?” Jiang kept asking.
On her way to the mountain top, Jiang's sister called to check her whereabouts, she ensured her worried sister that she didn't come to the mountains to take her own life. 
Oct 8, 2021 – At a vegetable base in Weifang, Jiang looks for products for her online store.

Jiang used to sell fabric, run a grocery store and drive a taxi but hadn’t worked since her daughter died. With the case at trial, Jiang needed to make a living and got into livestreaming, a controversial move. An online survey of the victim’s transformation to live streamer showed people were not against it, as long as the products were fine.
On her 52nd birthday, Jiang said on Weibo that she wanted to be a normal e-commerce businesswoman. She didn't want people to buy her goods out of sympathy.
Dec 26, 2021 – Jiang tries to sleep in a hotel in Beijing, awaiting further court notice.

After eight months without a ruling, the court cited the involvement of a foreign country amongst other reasons in explaining the elongated proceedings. Frustrated and desperate, Jiang went to Beijing to complain to the Supreme People’s Court leading to a date - December 31, 2021 – is set for the verdict to be handed down.
Dec 31, 2021 – Jiang reads up on the civil procedure.

The pronouncement was canceled due to the hospitalization of the chief judge for a sudden illness. Article 148 of the Civil Procedure Law stipulates that the verdict should have been sealed already and could be delivered to both parties without going through the pronouncing procedure in the event of the judge calling in sick.
Jan 1, 2022 – Jiang stands in front of her daughter's grave.

Jiang felt guilty for another year had passed without a comforting verdict. A court officer called her the night before and told her the court would set another day to announce the verdict as soon as possible. January 10 was the date. 
Jan 10, 2022 – Jiang walks out of the court with the verdict in hand.

Liu was ordered to pay Jiang 496,000 yuan for her financial losses and 200,000 thousand within 10 days and to pay all costs.