The following is a guest post by Elliot Ward.
A spate of recent stories points to part of China’s modern conundrum where seething frustration sometimes erupts in unsettling violence.
One story (Chinese) going around Beijing recently is of a patient who viciously attacked his doctor with a knife, leaving her in serious condition, but alive. The attack was apparently revenge for her failure to cure his throat cancer. To make things more complicated, the attacker had initiated a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital in 2007 and was frustrated that he hadn’t received a ruling and his case was slated for indefinite recess.
It seems like remarkably misdirected anger for someone to attack their doctor, but it’s not an unknown phenomenon here. A quick search revealed several other recent stories (all Chinese) of patients violently attacking their doctors when they didn’t get better. In one case, a man who had received treatment for an STD killed his doctor and then jumped out a window to his death when the treatment didn’t work.
The other story that caught my eye this week is of a fight on a train, where after a seating dispute a passenger was beaten to death by railway staff. That even railway employees are unable to restrain themselves from violence is startling. People getting angry is not surprising, but the extent of the violence over such a seemingly small matter is.
It’s tempting to think of these as isolated, sensationalized incidents, but there is a steady stream of dramatic violence in the news here. Last year there was the series of unstable middle-aged men attacking pre-school children. Then there’s the story last week about the man who kept six women in his basement as sex slaves, ultimately killing two of them.
Some of the violence is so absurd it’s hard to understand, but a lot of the incidents have common themes, like attacks on doctors. For example, one of the regular themes is the self-righteous violence of the privileged, often involving traffic disputes. The most famous recent incident is probably that of Li Gang’s son, who
stabbed a woman to death after hitting her with his car [struck two college students with his car and then attempted to flee the scene -ed.] last year. When confronted by passersby the guy apparently said, “My father is Li Gang,” invoking his powerful father to avoid punishment. Two incidents this month even prompted David Bandurski at China Media Project to write an article on the subject.
Then there’s the theme of stress induced suicides. This week’s entry is the story of 3 elementary school girls who attempted suicide apparently as an escape from too much homework. The famous entries in this category are the Foxconn suicides last year and a few self-immolations to protest forced land acquisition.
Another theme is police violence, most famously the illegal detentions and beatings that prompted a high level investigation and the closure of pretrial detention centers around the country a few years back. More common however are reports of special city security teams, or Cheng guan, beating up street vendors.
Perhaps the best blanket interpretation is to chalk it all up to the stresses of a fast changing society. High pressure, competition, a sense of entitlement, frustration—people can only take so much before they crack. Of course, China is far from the only country with incidents of shocking violence (see any of a number of shootings in the US for example), but it’s fair to say: China has a violent side.
Elliot Ward blogs regularly at chinaexperiment.wordpress.com.