The experts who talk with the dead

Updated 2017-04-03 12:30:27 Xinhua

Unlike most Chinese, Qin Ming does not shy away from the subject of death. In fact, “talking with the dead” is part of his daily work.

Qin, 36, is a forensic expert with Anhui provincial public security department in east China. He shot to fame last year after his suspense novels, which he based on real cases, were adapted for TV.

“The concentration needed to examine a crime scene or conduct an autopsy is always rewarded when a suspect is identified. These are the extraordinary charms of the job,” Qin said.

“Although the stress of the job is more than most could stand -- and I often complain -- I still love the work,” he added.

Forensic medicine has a long history in China. “Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified,” released in 1247, is the first ever written book on forensic science.


While he was talking with Xinhua, through WeChat, Qin was climbing a mountain on his way to a crime scene. Despite his usual jovial nature, Qin exuded a serious air.

Born Jan. 10, his friends like to say he was born to be a police officer, as 110 is the number for emergency in China. Incidently, his father was a police officer, and he encouraged his son to follow suit.

The police force was not for him, and he went to study forensic science at Wannan Medical College, Anhui. It was during his time here that he first participated in anatomy. The victim had been involved in a mass brawl.

“I was shocked after seeing the dead who was my classmate. He had been stabbed,” Qin recalled. Police caught several suspects, and the coroners helped them identify the killer.

Many years later he wrote about this experience in his first novel -- “Voice of the Dead.”

For his role with the provincial public security department, Qin is only summoned to attend serious investigations. Each year he examines about 40 or 50 bodies. “In a sense, China is pretty safe,” he said reassuringly.

One of his most difficult cases was a multiple homicide -- an entire family. “We spent 19 days looking for DNA to link us to a suspect,” he said.

Han Ying, a 28-year-old woman, is the only female coroner in Yongqing county, Langfang in north China's Hebei province.

“We work on all kinds of cases -- traffic accidents, suicides and even theft,” said the lively, soft-spoken woman.

Han grew up on crime dramas and dreamed of being a policewoman.

A graduate from the Hebei Medical University, she refused a job as a doctor at a hospital to become a coroner despite the salary for the latter position being much lower.


Han continued to work as a crime-scene coroner well into her pregnancy, despite the conditions being far from luxurious.

“There are no toilets in the wild,” Han said.

Many Chinese believe dead bodies may bring bad luck to people, Han's parents begged their daughter to take a break from work while she was pregnant. She pretended to agree for their peace of mind but continued to work regardless.

“Every time I went to a crime scene, I put the police badge on my tummy and whispered: 'Mom is a policewoman. The police will protect you.'”

All the forensic experts spoke of the challenging work environment.

Qin once worked over 10 hours non-stop on a homicide case that had been elaborately disguised as a traffic accident. Qin suffered a corneal hernia.

Many forensic experts also struggle with the psychological strain of the job.

If the victim was a child or died unnecessarily, Qin confessed that he would feel deeply depressed, and uses sleep to dumb the pain.

“The job offers me a good opportunity to reflect on life,” Qin said.

Han said that having seen so much death, she loves and cherishes her own life more.


“The topic of death still remains taboo to many, who believe that coroners bring bad luck,” Qin said.

Han is no stranger to people who refuse autopsies on their relatives, or refuse to accept the results. “I understand their sorrow, but it still saddens me that I am not being understood. We work hard without rest only to find out truth for them.”

However, both Qin and Han admitted that as TV shows, like Crime Scene Investigation and Bones, have become more popular in China, people's attitudes about the occupation are also changing.

When Qin was in college, there were only nine universities in China that offered forensic science courses, with only 300 graduates each year. Many coroners have a medical science major.

Thanks to technology, forensic science is becoming more and more precise.

“It is much easier to find forensic evidence now, we can often lift cells from thing touched by the suspects,” she said.

Despite all the changes, one of Han's habits remains unchanged: each time at the crime scene, after examination, she wipes off the dust from faces of the dead and arranges their hair.

“No one knows better than us how to respect the dead,” said Qin. “By finding out the truth, we are preserving the dignity for them at their last moment.”

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