Dissent as violence

May 07, 2014 - 1:38:09 am

Frequent knife attacks in public places in China present Beijing with a problem it should immediately confront.

A knife attack at a railway station in China yesterday has heightened concerns over public security in the country which has seen similar attacks earlier. The finger of suspicion points at Uighurs from the northwest of the country. China has been facing an insurgency in the northwest by Uighur Muslims who say the influx of Han Chinese in the province has become a threat to their culture. They also accuse the government of oppression and harassment.  The first knife slashings that took place at Kunming railway station in March killed 29 people. The latest attack comes a week after a knife and bomb assault in Urumqi station that killed three and injured 79. 

There are conflicting reports of the slashings at Guanghzou railway station in southern China that injured six. Eywitnesses claim to have seen more than one attacker. But police claim to have shot and immobilised one man with a knife at the station. 

The latest attack points to a dangerous trend in China, which is known to be cautious with disseminating information, and where political dissent is discouraged. If the United States is jostling with gun crime, China seems to be staring at a knife threat.   Probably, the authoritarian nature of the Chinese regime and popular culture doesn’t allow people to easily get hold of guns. So, they seem to resort to knives and machetes. The three attacks, which took place within two months, show a pent-up frustration among people who try to let it out by going berserk. This is symptomatic of a deep rooted desire to burst out against what an individual or a group would label the ‘injustice of society’. Beijing should not lose sight of the fact that such dissatisfaction can lead to, and often does, mass slayings that might take the government by surprise when they come. If the government tries to go behind the reasons for such outburst, it wouldn’t take long to keep a finger on the cause. 

In authoritarian political societies, which are governed by traditional structures and a paternal streak of senior leaders, the population finds it hard to air its grievances. In democratic societies, a free and vibrant media talks on behalf of the people and lets them come out with their problems. 

In China, the media space is tightly controlled by the government. All newspapers are owned and run by the Communist Party of China. Control over newspapers and the electronic media means social and economic issues are not discussed threadbare and the problems of the people are largely ignored by the press. 

Beijing should act strictly to bring to book the perpetrators of the latest knife attack and try to scotch any plans of more such assaults. At the same time, greater political and social reforms would help bring more stability to society and reduce the chances of dissent showing up in violent ways.