After Killing Sprees, Beijing Bans Knife Sales

After two recent stabbings in Beijing—one of which took two lives (including a U.S. citizen) on July 17 at a downtown shopping mall, the other claimed one fatality on July 22 at the same Carrefour outlet that supplied the murder weapon—the sale of knives at supermarkets in the capital is currently prohibited by police order. The South China Morning Post reports:

The order by Beijing police, reported by the Beijing Times on Tuesday, comes a day after a city-wide crackdown on illegal weapons, which led to the seizure of 1,123 knives and 327 guns.

Netizens have already ridiculed the move as ineffectual. “I can understand the police departments’ concerns,” social commentator Yao Bo wrote in a Sina Weibo post. “But what if someone goes into a supermarket and kills someone with a Durian?”

[...]The order comes less than 24 hours after a Beijing native, surnamed Wang, stabbed four people at Carrefour shopping centre in Beijing’s western district around noon on Monday.

[...]Wang had used a knife sold at the Carrefour shopping centre in his attack. He had been released from a Beijing mental hospital on January 11 after undergoing five months of treatment for an unspecified illness, police said.

[...]The country has some of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, studies have shown. [Source]

The Global Times reports on mixed public reception to the ban:

While several customers reached by the Global Times in the Xicheng Carrefour said they felt inconvenienced, one customer surnamed Yang said that she felt safer after the knife shelves were cleared.

“Knives should not be put on sale in a supermarket in the first place as they are dangerous articles,” Yang said.

Wang Hongwei, a public security expert with the Renmin University of China, said that the halt on knife sales is a temporary solution and would not radically solve the problem of injury cases concerning mental health patients or petitioners.

“It is not the knife that kills; it is the person who uses it. Instead of hiding away the potential weapons, government should establish a better system to supervise those patients and raise the public awareness to care for and protect them,” Wang said.  [Source]

While Wang’s statement above may evoke language often heard in a divisive weapons debate across the Pacific, an op-ed from the Global Times draws a distinct (and rather extraneous) parallel to the U.S. as evidence that prohibition will not rid the country of knife violence:

[...]At this very sensitive moment when every person’s life can be put at risk, the public expects authorities to come up with meaningful solutions. Nonetheless, they seldom feel satisfied with the moves taken by authorities, arguing that China is full of knives already and bans on sales will hardly keep them out of the hands of attackers.

[...]The US’ experience in regulating guns has taught China some lessons. Americans debate the possibilities of enacting federal legislation to eliminate easy access to guns whenever there is a shooting case like the one in Connecticut last year. A ban on owning a gun in the US, even it benefits the whole society, is impossible to carry out due to the country’s adherence to its constitution.

Public opinion, after each extreme case, should criticize violence first and help limit the scope of such cases. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities should take a long-term view when looking into public opinion. They have to reflect on every case and consider issues such as the treatment of the mentally ill, rather than rushing to knee-jerk solutions that do nothing.

As Beijing police announced the knife ban on Tuesday, the AFP reported on a fatal stabbing at a family planning office in faraway Guangxi province:

A knife-wielding Chinese man on Tuesday stormed an office enforcing the one-child policy, stabbing two officials to death and injuring three others and a lawyer, state media reported.

The villager was arrested soon after attacking the Dongxing city family planning office in the southern province of Guangxi but his motives were unclear, thePeople’s Daily said.

[...]The attacker, who has a history of psychiatric illness, is a father of four – one son and three daughters, state-run news agency Xinhua reported, citing Dongxing government officials.

He has also not paid his fines for having three more children than the country’s one-child policy allows.

China’s policy of limiting most families to one child has sown deep resentment since it was imposed more than three decades ago. [Source]

Another article from the Global Times positions this most recent stabbing among other recent acts of public violence—including last Saturday’s explosion at the Beijing airport and an intended suicide-bombing in Junecarried out by disgruntled citizens in search of redress:

Wu Boxin, a professor from the Chinese People’s Public Security University, told the Global Times that the public should be aware that such cases reflect the twisted relationship between the public and certain government officials.

“In violent incidents like these, the suspects might have suffered improper treatment from the authorities or they misunderstood directions from the government. When such discontent accumulates and the suspects can’t find a way to vent their anger, they might end up choosing violence as solution,” Wu said, adding that there is no excuse for committing such extreme violence.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at the Renmin University of China, compared the case to that of Yang Jia, a Beijing resident who murdered six Shanghai policemen with a knife in 2008 after being arrested by the Shanghai police for riding an unlicensed bicycle. Yang claimed that he had been beaten by the police. [Source]