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Feb 15, 2017

Repeated unsuccessful attempts to have a child apparently caused a Beijing husband to turn to serial arson.

A Wednesday report in the Beijing Morning Post described how the fire-starter, surnamed Zhang, became depressed by fruitless attempts to bear children during his long-term marriage and decided to vent his anger on more than 20 vehicles in China’s capital over the span of more than a year.

Police found that Zhang had been setting fire to vehicles in several Beijing neighborhoods, including the eastern neighboring districts of Chaoyang and Tongzhou, since 2015. The last case happened in September 2016. Zhang was detained after the victim, a man surnamed Wang, called the police.

According to the report, Wang discovered smoke and flames issuing from his minibus while stopping by to pick up items he had left in the vehicle. He told police that a stranger with a bicycle suggested he park his second vehicle, a truck, far away from the burning minibus to protect it, as the fire was spreading rapidly. Several minutes later, local firemen arrived and put out the flames, but by then the minibus was a ruined shell.

Surveillance tapes later revealed that the kind stranger present at the scene was in fact Zhang, the perpetrator. He was arrested by police on an order from the Chaoyang District procuratorate.

Ji Longmei, chief psychologist at the Soulgarden Psychology Consulting Center in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that in China, the issue of infertility is highly symbolic, and added that when couples feel stressed by their failure to have children, it can lead to broken marriages. “They [the husband and wife] become impatient and unhappy with each other,” Ji said. “But failing to have children is not a reason to resort to such extreme behavior.”

Ji speculated that Zhang may have mental health problems, and that infertility and social pressure were likely not solely responsible for his actions. “Infertility could have been just the excuse he needed,” she said.

The Chaoyang police and procuratorate could not immediately be reached for comment.

The number of people with fertility problems has reached 40 million in China, according to a 2012 report by state news agency Xinhua. The study also estimated that the country’s infertility rate has quadrupled to 12.5 percent in the last two decades.

(Header image: VCG)