Guangdong-based Shenzhen TV news has broadcast CCTV footage of a stabbing incident on Monday. The footage shows a man randomly running up to people in the street before viciously and indiscriminately stabbing them, chasing some into stores to continue his attack.
The incident happened on Monday morning, July 29, in the Luohu district of Shenzhen. According to local police, the man, who was not named, charged into a small restaurant at approximately 9:40 AM. He entered the kitchen and grabbed a knife, injuring the restaurant owner when he was confronted. He then proceeded to exit onto the street, where he stabbed and hacked at pedestrians. 3 were killed and 5 were left injured. One of the victims is believed to be in her young teens.
Police have stated that the man has a history of mental illness and has been receiving treatment since 1991. After being confronted by the police, he was said to have injured himself. An independently filmed video released to the South China Morning Post shows him lying on the floor and drenched in blood, being apprehended by the police. He was taken to the hospital for his self-inflicted wounds.
This spree has been the sixth report of a sustained stabbing attack in 2 weeks. Beijing suffered two other such attacks in the same month, while five people died in an incident in Henan. While local news organizations have been able to report on these incidents, government censors have turned the screw: as of August 1 a search for ‘Shenzhen Stabbing’ in Baidu reveals no results, despite the credible outrage against the indiscriminate nature of the attacks.
Netizen commentary on the subject has been fairly equivocal. The top comment on Netease for the Shenzhen stabbing gave a blunt prediction that the attacks would increase in both number and severity. Many of the other comments seem to hold anti-government sentiment and pessimistic attitudes concerning the attacks, with the second top comment cryptically stating “Every injustice has its perpetrator and every debt its debtor”.
While many Chinese netizens have been criticizing the government for this policy of sweeping the problem under the table, the situation is more difficult than it appears. According to The Lancet, approximately 1 in 5 adults in China have a mental disorder. Because of social stigmas and a lack of understanding towards mental disorders, few are forthcoming to take relatives to mental hospitals to obtain treatment. When patients are admitted to mental healthcare institutions, the situation is dire. There are only 1.58 beds per 10,000 citizens, compared to a global average of 4.36, and as of 2007, there were only 17,000 certified psychiatrists in the whole country. China has at last begun to see these stabbings for what they really are – a mental health epidemic. If it can target the problem, it follows that substantial progress in halting these attacks may be made.
However, the Chinese government has hitherto simply shelved the problem – thoroughly censoring all references to the stabbing sprees – instead of making significant public drives to raise awareness and highlight the importance of mental health issues. Ignoring the elephant in the room has not worked as a tactic – July was the worst month this year for stabbing attacks.
China is not alone in facing an epidemic of spree killings with roots in mental health disorders – the last few years have seen large number of high-casualty shootings in the USA alone. However, the fact that the incidence of these attacks seems to be on the increase shows that the problem may be getting worse. China needs to be forward and proactive in changing social attitudes so that people with mental health illnesses are able to come forward freely and obtain treatment. For this to happen, there also needs to be more funding for mental health institutions and education for future psychiatrists. Only when the right steps are taken, and the practice of closing its eyes and wishing the problem away comes to an end, can China experience real improvements in mental healthcare and the reduction in associated crime.
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