Guest Post: A Violent Side

From the Beijing News about a patient who attacked his doctor.

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

0 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Violent Side”

  1. This post seems really pointless. If you’re going to talk about these issues they really need to be examined in isolation and detail rather than this typical “lots of bad stuff happening therefore China must be defective” argument which will get no one anywhere. It is worth talking about violence in China, but you need commonalities between incidents, their individual contexts, and individual consequences. Going from the broadest possible post-hoc scattershot summary you’ll only get the most inanely obvious results (in this case: “China has a violent side”.)


  2. Pointless in recycling old stories which you have already wrote about, just to make a generalized conclusion.

    What’s the point? China is just like any other country, with a violent side??


  3. “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 last year. When confronted by passersby the guy apparently said, “My father is Li Gang,” invoking his powerful father to avoid punishment. ”

    I think we’re mixing up two separate (if undeniably violent and inexcusable) incidents here. Li Qiming – of ‘My father is Li Gang’ fame – knocked down and killed Chen Xiaofeng in Hebei university. He’s serving time (though not a lot) in prison. Yao Jiaxing knocked down and then stabbed to death Zhang Miao in Xi’an in October last year. He was executed in June


  4. This post either needs to be much much shorter, or it needs to be much much longer and actually explore why China has a violent side and whether those reasons are unique from what is seen in other societies. Right now it’s no more than “China has a violent side…maybe it’s the stress”. I would expect more insight from a fortune cookie.

    And in that laundry list of incidents, several are out of place here. The delayed justice in the malpractice suit, the railway beating, and police brutality, have nothing to do with societal stress, sense of entitlement, or widespread frustration. Those incidents speak to “justice delayed is justice denied” in the CCP system, abuse of authority, and the absence of rule of law in China. They are, individually and collectively, legitimate concerns in CCP China. To lump them into a generic “China has a violent side” narrative is woefully inadequate.


  5. Not only the above comments, but I believe some of the facts are downright incorrect? I’ll check my sources, but I’m 90% sure the Li Gang incident and the hit-and-run cum stabbing incident were unrelated…I love your stuff Charles, but please at least make a note when guest posts include factual inaccuracies!


  6. @ Stanley (and everyone else):

    Apologies, you’re right. Clearly I didn’t read this one as thoroughly as I should have before posting it, and it does contain a factual inaccuracy, among other flaws. I’ve edited the post to correct the error. Apologies to all readers.


  7. It’d be useful to compare the murder/cap rate or suicide/cap rate to other East Asian as well as Western countries. The plural of anecdote isn’t data, and data’s what this article needs.


  8. I would add to the list as one recurring theme the violent eruptions against companies laying off people. For example when the Gaopeng (Groupon JV) kicked out people couple of months ago and offered 5 day severance payment only, employees raided their Shanghai office, stole routers and in general created havoc.


  9. I think what China is going through is what alot of countries with crappy social safety nets, excessive competition , and high demand at work with low wages. It seems in The US and China we are being squeezed in a modern day vice of succeed or be labeled a loser no matter how hard you try. Notice the 2 countries where the violence is happening do not have state funded higher education or other social justice programs. You never hear about these violent attacks in Canada, Finland, Norway, or Sweden. The one in Oslo, Norway was the exception to the rule.


  10. @Veronica: But you do hear about these kind of violent attacks in the countries you claim don’t have them. I remember a couple of years back in Finland there were two high-school shooting incidents within the space of a year. Interestingly, some of the arguments I heard about that attack is that Finland is too serene, sedate, and accordingly depressing. Almost the opposite argument of China’s fast-paced high pressure life. I know nothing about criminal psychology, but I agree with the above post: there are crazies in every country, and with a population of 1.4 billion it stands to reason there would be more like this in China than in Finland (5.4 mil), Sweden (9.3mil), Norway (4.8 mil) and Canada (33 mil).


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