Is China Becoming More Violent?
Yesterday, a 40 year-old woman went on a rampage onboard an overnight sleeper train in northeastern China, stabbing and wounding nine people as they slept before she was wrestled to the ground by fellow passengers. The same day, a 46 year-old bank guard opened fire outside a courthouse in central Hunan province, shooting three judges dead and wounding three others before killing himself. The man was reportedly upset about the division of assets in his divorce case. These two incidents come on top of a series of bloody knife attacks aimed at schoolchildren that have left 17 people (including 15 children) dead, and dozens injured.
One almost never heard of such incidents in China until recently. In fact, I’ve always thought of China as a remarkably safe country (perhaps because of the draconian penalties often meted out to criminals). For the first time, however, safety concerns have actually influenced my travel plans: I was planning on taking a sleeper train to Jilin (the same route where the train attack took place) in a couple weeks, but for my family’s peace of mind, I’ve agreed to fly instead. And as much as I’d like to think so, I’m not sure I’m overreacting.
Rather than offer my own opinion, as I usually do, I’d like to throw some questions out for discussion. Is Chinese society becoming more violent (and a more dangerous place to visit or reside)? Or have such incidents always taken place, and are only now being reported and discussed instead of hushed up? If China is becoming more violent, what accounts for it? And if the media coverage is what has changed, what does that say about Chinese society — both in terms of the violence that is only now coming to light, and the willingness to discuss it more openly? Or is everyone making too much of a set of isolated events in what is, after all, a country of 1.3 billion people?
My point in raising these questions, by the way, is not to drag down China (obviously the US has had many similar incidents), but to ask what the Chinese themselves must be wondering amid all these disturbing reports: what exactly is going on here, and what does it mean for China’s future?