24 Oct 2010

China stabbings may be copycat attacks

A series of stabbing incidents is sweeping China in what is claimed to be copycat incidents. One of the first stabbings took place at a school and dozens of people have been hurt since.

The father of one victim told Asia correspondent Nick Paton Walsh it reveals a society at breaking point.

The video is amateur and a little shaky, but it takes you to the heart of one of the most febrile crises gripping China.

We are in a kindergarten in Guangdong province, in April. Children are seen rushing down the stairs, the loudspeakers calls for people to lock their doors and windows. 15 children and an arts teacher have been stabbed by a man named Chan Kang Bing.

The panic is evident. The crowd gathered outside are parents, enraged locals, and police.

Chen appears on the balcony, brandishing a knife. He is soon cornered by teachers using mops, and dragged headlong down the stairs into a waiting police van – a direct route to the execution chamber three months later.

This rare footage of one of several knife attacks that plagued China earlier this year, shows something that the Chinese state is not keen to talk about.

Chen Kang Bing’s crime was inexcusable, his victims strangers, innocent (none killed), and later seen, bemused and bloodied in stills from the local hospital. But his motive – or apparent lack of it – is what we wanted to understand and tells you something about the massive stresses at the heart of the fastest changing and growing society in history.

We tracked down Chen’s father – a fruit seller Chen Wei Chu. He wept profusely as he described how his son – a caretaker at another school – caught hepatitis. He lost his job, couldn’t pay for the medicine, and became depressed.

The psychosis that clearly followed and led to his vile attack is, to his father, a symptom of a society at breaking point.

He told our producer: “Corrupt officials are evil, but they’re still alive. It’s not fair. He was a good kid, just ill. We couldn’t help him because we didn’t have any money. They killed him without telling me. They killed him just like that.”

Media coverage, it is claimed, led to a few copycat attacks on other schools. Security was beefed up for the new school term (see the Neptune-esque anti-knifemen stick issued to guards in our piece), but now it appears the attacks continue, simply elsewhere.

It is hard to state a definite or irreversible trend in a country as huge and opaque as China, but we found since March eleven stabbing attacks – that is knife attacks seemingly against total strangers – in China.

In schools at first, but then on trains, in shopping centres, or even in retirement homes.

These people are, says anti-death penalty lawyer Teng Biao, the deranged, the left behind, but above all, the ignored: “With these special cases we see extreme hatred. They express their anger towards the government and that extends to all of society.

Often these people have petitioned for help for years and no-one listens to them. No media reports their cases. They cry for attention – and if killing adults doesn’t get that, they kill children.”

Their crimes are inexcusable, yes, but provide a chilling glimpse of the breakneck growth of a country where dissent and fury have little political recourse.