Serial Killer Yang Xinhai: The Deadly Consequences of Keeping the Public in the Dark

Have you ever heard of the serial killer Yang Xinhai? I hadn’t either. I discovered his story by chance, as I was researching another case. Yang is China’s most prolific serial killer, yet little is known about him. Why is this? Many believe that China’s strict monitoring of the media, and their desire to have a sparkling crime record, allowed Yang to murder innocent families across 4 different regions of China with little to no public awareness.

Serial Killer Yang Xinhai: The Deadly Consequences of Keeping the Public in the Dark

Xinhai was born on July 29, 1968, in Henan, China. His family was reportedly very poor. However, no specifics have been released regarding his early living conditions and environment.

Xinhai was said to be bright but introverted. Although Xinhai was smart, he dropped out of school at the age of 17 and became a drifter. He worked odd jobs as a general laborer to make ends meet.

Xinhai’s somewhat normal existence would begin to unravel when he committed his first crime in 1988. He was arrested for thievery and was sentenced to work at a labor camp. After Xinhai was released, he was almost immediately arrested again for the same crime in 1991.

After he was released, Xinhai’s crimes progressed from non-violent acts to vicious rapes. In 1996, Xinhai committed his first rape and was sentenced to five years in prison. However, Xinhai did not serve his full sentence and he was released from jail in 1999.

After his release, Xinhai’s tendencies evolved into the ultimate act of violence, murder. Xinhai’s victims were from neighboring provinces in the Central part of China, including Henan, Anhui, Hebei, and Shandong. Xinhai would often target farming families who lived in rural areas. He would pick out his murder victims, then bike to their houses in the middle of the night. Upon entering, Xinhai would kill the entire family, starting with the husband, then the children. He would save the wife for last so that he could rape her before killing her.

Xinhai constantly changed his murder weapon, possibly as a tactic to elude police. He would use commonplace items, including axes, shovels, hammers, and knives. Xinhai also covered his tracks by wearing a different size and style of shoe to each of his crimes. After each attack, he would bury the murder weapon and get rid of his clothes by burning them or throwing them in a nearby river.

While little is known about most of Xinhai’s victims, a few of their stories have surfaced.

In October of 2002, a 6-year-old girl and her family would suffer by Xinhai’s hands. Xinhai snuck into their rural home and beat the father to death with a shovel. After the father was dead, Xinhai proceeded to kill the small child in the same manner. Next, he raped the mother, who was pregnant with her second child. He beat her to the verge of death, but she managed to survive. The woman incurred serious head wounds and has no recollection about that night.

In December of that same year, another family would suffer due to Xinhai’s evil affliction. Liu Zhongyuan, a grandfather, lived with his wife at their adult son’s home in the Liuzhuang Village of Henan. Liu’s son, named Liu Zhanwei, was in his 30’s and had a wife, son, and daughter. The family was excited because they had a new home that they were planning to move into in 3 days’ time. However, that dream would never come to fruition.

That fateful night on the 6th of December, Liu Zhongyuan decided that he was going to stay in the new house, whilst the rest of his family remained in the old house. Little did Zhongyuan know that that was the last time he would see his entire family alive.

Xinhai snuck into the family’s house around midnight. Once inside, he beat the entire family in the head and the face with a hammer. The strikes instantly killed Liu Zhanwei, his wife, and his children.

When Liu Zhongyuan entered the house the next morning, he was shocked by the horror before him. He would later report seeing his granddaughter lying in a pool of blood, a hole in her head. Liu Zhongyuan’s wife was still alive when he entered the house. She was so badly beaten that the only thing she could do was blink her eyelids. Sadly, after a 10-day struggle, she died in her hospital bed.

Xinhai continued on with his murder spree for another year before it came to an abrupt halt. In November of 2003, Xinhai was at a nightclub, when a few police officers entered to do a typical patrol. When Xinhai saw the police, he began to act strangely which led them to investigate him further. They arrested him and got his DNA profile, which connected him to various murders throughout the surrounding providences. When Xinhai was confronted with this evidence, he admitted to committing 65 murders and 23 rapes.

To put it in perspective, Xinhai killed more individuals than some of America’s most prolific serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper, and John Wayne Gacy. Yet people in the four providences where Xinhai was committing his atrocities were unaware that a rampant murderer was in their midst.

Why was the public unaware of this imminent safety threat? It is believed that the Chinese government did not disseminate information about Xinhai because they felt it would reflect poorly on the internal security of the country. Even the police officers from the providences where the murders took place refused to comment on Xinhai’s crimes because there were orders from the Ministry of Public Security to not comment on Xinhai or share any information with the media.

The Chinese government routinely prevents the dissemination of information to the public. To make matters worse, police officers are incentivized to report low crime statistics to achieve salary increases and promotions.

Chinese crime expert Borge Bakken states that the Chinese police consistently underreport crimes. In the providence of Guangzhou, for example, only 2.5% of the crimes reported are included in the official numbers. So, what comes of the remaining crimes? According to Bakken:

“The remaining 98 percent disappear in irrational bureaucratic incentive structures and outright bans on publicizing data on violent and serious crime that diverges from the official dream logic.”

The people of China are frequently in the dark about real crime statistics and possible threats to their safety. Xinhai was able to kill 65 people and seriously harm many others, while it is likely that none of his victims were aware of these ongoing crimes. By not allowing the media to share this information, and by incentivizing law enforcement officers to not report crimes, it is harming the people of China and allowing people like Xinhai to get away with murder.


Chelsea Nelthropp
Chelsea Nelthropp
Read next: Chad Alan Lee
Chelsea Nelthropp
See all posts by Chelsea Nelthropp