Attacks show dangerous trend of private grievances turning into public violence in China

Latest attacks in busy places suggest angry mainlanders increasingly lashing out against society instead of those who wronged them

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 8:59am

Deadly explosions outside the Shanxi Communist Party Committee offices in the provincial capital of Taiyuan on Wednesday show a trend of aggrieved persons seeking revenge not on specific people and targets but against society in general and at symbolic venues, academics say.

Watch: Scenes from blasts near Communist provincial HQ in China

Just a week before the Taiyuan bombings, which left one person dead and eight injured, an SUV rammed through barricades in front of Tiananmen Square's gate tower and burst into flames.

The incident killed five people, including two tourists and the vehicle's three occupants - a man, his mother and his wife, all from Xinjiang . Forty others were injured. Authorities said the crash was a terrorist attack orchestrated by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

No one has claimed responsible for either incident.

In July, a disabled man, Ji Zhongxing , set off a homemade explosive at Beijing airport in protest against alleged police brutality that he said had left him confined to a wheelchair. Ji, who said he had "lost all hope in society", lost his left hand in the blast but injured no-one else. On October 15, he was sentenced to six years in jail.

The recent high-profile incidents differ from previous cases in which people who felt they had been unfairly treated sought revenge explicitly against those they thought had done them wrong.

For example, Shenyang street vendor Xia Junfeng stabbed two security officials to death in 2009, he claimed, in self defence as they attacked him. Xia's execution in September, two years after his appeal against his death sentence was overturned, was widely condemned.

In 2008, 28-year-old Beijing man Yang Jia stormed into a Shanghai police station and stabbed to death six officers and injured four others. Yang claimed he had been beaten at the station for riding an unlicensed bicycle. He was found guilty of murder and executed in November 2008.

"Previously, such attacks were normal criminal cases with explicit targets, but recent cases involve implicit targets - the public - at symbolic places," said Mao Shoulong , a professor of public administration at Renming University. "Such attackers aim to attract wide attention and create an atmosphere of fear."

Hu Xingdou , an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Techno logy, said it was a sign of growing despair.

"Social problems have been accumulating over the past decades," Hu said. Some people who have been treated unfairly want to exact revenge on society, or at least attract attention across the country or even overseas through such radical actions when they feel they have no redress through legal channels."

With the latest incidents coming at such a politically sensitive time, Mao felt the media needed to exercise restraint when reporting them. "Others might try to imitate them," he said.

For instance, an elderly petitioner from Hunan province set off fireworks at Beijing airport in September, apparently following Ji's example.

But Hu played down Mao's concerns. "Media reports have little to do with this," he said. "If a man really wants to take revenge on society, he can think of many ways to do so himself."