A Tale of Shanghai Justice/Injustice

The following post will contain full story spoilers for a side quest in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Trigger warning for domestic violence and misogynistic language.

Lee Hong from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. He is sitting in a bench at The Hive club, wearing a charcoal shirt and a gold patterned vest.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game full of small stories. Between the main quest, side quests, and tiny tales told by reading emails on hacked computers the player learns a lot about the this game’s Detroit and Hengsha.  One of these stories is that of Evelyn Carmichael and her boyfriend Lee Hong. Their tale is one of domestic violence, corruption, and what the game calls justice.

When the main character of the game, Adam Jensen, arrives in Hengsha he is attempting to locate a hacker. When Jensen finds this hacker’s location he is stopped by his pilot, Faridah Malik, who gives Adam an optional side quest entitled Shanghai Justice. She explains that she has learned about the death of her friend Evelyn Carmichael. The official report states that Evelyn died from a drunken fall down a flight of stairs but Malik believes that this is a lie and that Evelyn’s boyfriend, Lee Hong, had something to do with the death.

When Jensen agrees to investigate Evelyn’s death the player first receives an autopsy report that contradicts the official police report. Next, Jensen arrives at Lee Hong’s apartment where he finds emails from Lee’s family, the murder weapon (an antique clock), and an answering machine message that lets him know Lee’s current location. From the evidence it becomes clear that Evelyn was not drunk the night of her death, that she was not killed from a fall down the stairs but from being hit repeatedly on the head, and that she was pregnant at the time of her murder. After the murder these facts were hidden because of the substantial amounts of money Lee’s father had invested in various industries in Hengsha. His family’s influence meant that the autopsy was buried and Lee’s version of the incident became the official facts of the case. The player can then go and confront Lee and get him to confess to the murder of his girlfriend.

When Lee is confronted with the evidence he confesses to Jensen, while Malik secretly records the audio of the entire conversation. When you exit the building Jensen says “Lee’s confession is solid. With that and the evidence from the autopsy, there’s no way he can avoid prosecution. Justice will be served.” Malik replies “Oh, justice will be served alright… You might want to stick around for a second. I’ve got one last little surprise for our friend Lee.” At this point the exterior of The Hive bar, which is made up of giant video screens, shows an image of Lee Hong’s ID tag with a red stamp of Murderer over it. There is also an audio clip of his confession that is played on loop.

Lee’s confession:
“I… I don’t — I don’t know! Evelyn… That stupid bitch! She was going to ruin me! I- I didn’t mean to kill her! Okay? Evelyn wouldn’t shut up, about us, about the the baby. So I hit her. I just wanted to make her shut her stupid mouth… but that dumb bitch started freaking out. So I hit her again, until I, until she finally stopped screaming. When I realized what I’d done, I , I panicked. She was barely breathing, so I carried her to the stairs near my apartment and… and dropped her. I had to make it look like an accident… I had no choice! She trapped me! She just wanted my money! I would have been ruined!”

Lee’s confession has a lot of the lines spoken by domestic violence perpetrators. He fully blames the other person for all the violence he inflected on them. If she had only been quiet. If she had only not been pregnant. It was all her fault. He didn’t mean it, the violence was all the other person’s fault. This man is not remorseful, he is justifying his actions. This death was all Evelyn’s fault in his mind.

I had Jensen stand at The Hive at the end of the quest. The first time I heard the confession it felt like sweet revenge on Lee Hong. His confession was out for all of Hengsha to hear. Then, I let Jensen continue to stand there. As the confession repeats I quickly became uncomfortable. What Malik did by airing this man’s confession on loop was give voice to the murderer. His justification was there for all to hear. His hatred and disdain of Evelyn was heard by all, over and over and over again. This was not giving a voice to Evelyn, but instead allowing her killer to speak his mind. She is not honored when he calls her a bitch on the loudspeakers. Her memory is not honored when he gets to yell about how she was trapping him. Lee views the pregnancy as though it was some manipulative plan by Evelyn in which he played no role. Yes, it is the confession of a murderer but it is also the rant of an abusive man that is now on audio loop. While many would see his words as despicable, there could be others that agree with his justifications. It should be Evelyn that is given a voice at the end of this quest, not Lee Hong.

I would argue that the only true justice at the end of the quest would be to give Lee’s confession and pile of evidence to the police. Some public shame of Lee could have been achieved by giving that same  information to a newspaper. But when Malik broadcast a loop of the confession on The Hive’s exterior it gave voice to a killer, and that voice drowned out her friend. Since there was no platform for Evelyn to speak, why instead give a platform for her killer? That is not justice. Silencing Evelyn one final time to give Lee a voice is an additional injustice.

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9 Responses to A Tale of Shanghai Justice/Injustice

  1. Trodamus says:

    The looping thing was one of those videogames☺ moments where something that should have had an impact ended up being slightly macabre and weird because, well, it’s a video game.

    Which is to say that focusing on something more than the momentary impact of finishing this sidequest is beyond its scope (or so they believe).

    Personally, the robot citizens’ dull reaction and general non-event of the unveiling of this well-known scumbag as being a bigger scumbag than you thought was disappointing. Would that you were leading him out of the club and into the arms of some abusive officers, the looped recording countering his pathetic attempts to talk his way out of it.

    But instead, quest done, looped sound (honestly, should have been Malik accusing him of murder, looping instead), no results.

  2. Korva says:

    You hit on exactly what often bothers me about the media handling of such crimes in RL, as well. The criminal gets a voice and all the attention, which can take on a disturbingly “understanding” tone because his hatred and justifications are rarely challenged. To me, that is not “objective journalism” (a claim I’ve heard uses to justify this sort of reporting) because as you say, it IS entirely one-sided.

    The victims can’t speak nor defend themselves, so someone else needs to do it.

  3. Bolegium says:

    Yes, exactly this. When I finished this quest the momentary feeling of justice being served quickly dissipated. I’ve also been thinking about Orson Scott Card recently, and I think this “giving voice to the murderer” has parallels with the “Speaker for the Dead” concept he has in his Ender series books.

    Definition from Urban Dictionary (more concise than Wikipedia’s explanation):
    [quote]Someone who retells the life of a deceased person. A Speaker for the Dead tells the story in all truth, holding back neither good nor bad, so that the deceased may be better understood. [/quote]

    I admit at the time I first read ‘Speaker of the Dead’ 5 or so years ago, I thought this concept had a sort of ethical purity. Instead it turns out that in Card’s books, Speakers seem to only provide a service for giving voice to genocidal leaders, abusive parents, criminals and so forth. Victims remain silenced. As a former student of historiography, so-called ‘objective’ accounts of a person’s life are even more suspect to scepticism from me. If the very act of ‘explaining’ the motivations of a person is a form of apologeticism, i’d prefer it to be biased to victims who no longer have a voice of their own, instead of further empowering abusers.

    • Mild clarification: Ender is referenced Speaking for multiple people who are not shown in any way as morally dubious (one soon-to-be-sainted religious figure, and the piggy Human), so it’s not like it’s only a service for giving voice to criminals. Within the context of the *world* it’s supposed to be for everyone.

      Within the context of the actual represented words on paper, though, it does focus mostly on telling the story of those who are ‘not understood’ because they’ve done something unspeakable, playing into the fascination people have with those who commit terrible acts and want to know how and why anyone could do that. The Ender series in general does seem to be largely about sympathising with people for doing terrible things (I mean, look at Ender himself.)

  4. Laurentius says:

    I agree that it could be handled better and Malik’s loop is far from perfect in „serving justice” but I wouldn’t call it as “giving voice to a murderer”. Lee already has a voice and given his and his family situation it can be very “loud” one so I rather call it as “showing Lee’s true face” a trope a bit overused but one that is actually making sense very often.

  5. Mafia Kirby says:

    What I’m GUESSING they were going with was that he was being publicly shamed. The problem with it, to me, isn’t that they play him on a loop, but the lack of a clear aftermath. We don’t see anything BAD happen to him. We don’t see people rushing to attack him, or turn him in. He should get in trouble, but for one reason or another (I’m guessing time related) they didn’t show anything after that.

  6. Violetta says:

    Interesting, I never thought of it in that way! :) But in regard to handing the offender into law enforcement authorities, I think there’s already a feeling that this society in the game is not one in which the police and establishment cannot be trusted. Especially with regard to the fact that he comes from a wealthy family – evident in the fact that the autopsy report doesn’t match the police report. I personally wanted to kill the guy, but didn’t want to lose pacifist XP.

    Did you also do the side quest where you help the prostitutes in the brothel? You can either kill or frame their pimp, who has been forcing the workers to get augmented and making them drug-dependent so as to force them to work. When the protagonist enquires as to why they don’t just go to the police it’s made clear that they’re not going to be of any help to the victims because of the level of corruption in the local force.

    I think the game made it clear that this is a brutal, venal, highly unequal world, and that the creators were trying to address issues of sexual slavery, domestic violence, economic inequality, etc but didn’t have the budget and time to do it in a more sophisticated way. At least they were trying. For example, I think it was good that the strippers and sex workers aren’t there for visual decoration or fan service; they’re just people doing what they can trying to get by in harsh times. But while I enjoyed the game the whole thing felt as if it needed to be longer – I read somewhere it was going to be bigger but that they ran out of time. There were a lot of issues left unresolved, and an incompleteness to it, made all the more evident in the side missions such as this one.

  7. Caecus says:

    I’m not so positive that this is letting Hong “have a voice,” per se. It’s broadcasting a confession of murder loud and clear in a busy street. The implication is that he can’t cover something this public up. Had Jensen gone to the cops/press, well, Human Revolution’s world is cynical enough that Hong might weasel out of it again. It ties into the game’s theme of information: if enough people hear the truth, it can defeat any amount of money or vested interests (without spoilers, one of the endings features this theme heavily.)

    Will there be someone who agrees with him? Maybe, I guess. But if Evelyn’s confession still would have that same subset of people think “She had it coming,” I suppose.

    Evelyn has no voice. Sadly, many people in her situation have no voice. Hong silenced it in every way possible, and Jensen can’t find it again, no matter how much we’d like him to. However, there is some degree of justice meted out, and seeing how hilariously corrupt the game’s world is, that’s a real victory.

  8. Justin Keverne says:

    The way I saw it was that Hong’s incredibly privileged position not only meant that it would be next to impossible to convict him but that tragically his voice carried more weight than Evelyn’s ever could; in the context of the world as its presented. For Evelyn to have the final word would be for a voice that was easily dismissed in life to be equally dismissed in death, potentially a crueller injustice? Whereas because of his position Hong’s voice carries more weight allowing him to be hoist on his own petard.

    His privilege is what allowed him to think he could abuse and kill with impunity yet it is also the very thing that gives his confession weight. A frustratingly accurate representation of what is often the case in reality, injustices go unheard until they are spoken by a privileged voice.

    I also wonder how much the term Shanghai is being used in its alternate sense, forced or coerced justice seems a more accurate sentiment that actual justice in this instance.

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