A Chinese university student in the US has been sentenced to a year in jail for assaulting another Chinese student at a karaoke bar last year.

Li Menglong, a graduate of Michigan State University (MSU), was found guilty in June of an assault felony and assault and battery. He was sentenced at Ingham County Circuit Court on Wednesday, July 15.

Prosecutors said Li was involved with a gang on MSU campus that called itself the “chengguan.” They took their name from a police-like agency found throughout mainland cities tasked with the enforcement of urban management bylaws.

Since the force was established in 1997, it has earned a fearsome reputation for arbitrary, thuggish and sometimes deadly violence against rural pushcart vendors and others at the margins of urban life. A 2014 survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences concluded that chengguan were the most maligned arm of the Chinese government.

Prosecutors have described the chengguan students in Michigan as “a gang that intimidates other Chinese students for various purposes.”

MSU Sign at the Bogue Street Entrance on a August Summer day. Photo: Wikicommons.

Prosecution lawyers alleged that Li beat a student over the head with a plastic pitcher and pushed the man’s girlfriend to the floor at a bar during Chinese New Year.

Li denied any involvement with the gang and said that he was not involved in the attack. A lawyer representing Li dismissed suggestions that he was part of the gang, telling the court: “He’s chengguan? Don’t believe it… It was a group of kids with silly stickers on their cars.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, Li holds undergraduate degrees in computer science and actuarial science. The Lansing State Journal reported that Li was due to start a graduate program at Columbia University, but the state’s assistant prosecutor Kimberly Hesse said the university cancelled their offer to Li in light of his conviction.

The incident took place at a karaoke bar in Meridian Township, Michigan on January 31 last year. The victim told the court that Li was among a group of people at the bar that night, adding that he was also attacked by Li two months earlier at a different local karaoke bar, and that one of his friends had been severely beaten in the earlier confrontation.

The victim said Li recognised him and chased him as he fled into one of the private rooms in the bar. The victim told the court his girlfriend was pushed onto the floor and Li kicked and beat him repeatedly with a plastic water pitcher around 20 times. The pitcher’s handle broke off and the victim needed 11 stitches in his head.

Through an interpreter, the victim said the only sound he could hear “was the pitcher banging on my head.”

Vicky Wong

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.