SPEAKING FREELY The year of the knife in East Asia
By Thorsten Pattberg
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
What is this East Asian obsession with blades and stabbings that has perverted the otherwise harmonious quarters of Confucian legacy? The knife seems to be the preferred device for killing frenzies in East Asia.
The latest killings happened on May 21 at around 4 pm in a Taipei subway station. A 21-year-old man boarded a crowded section of the train, killing four and injuring 28. A relative of this author was
struck four times while defending herself - in her arm, her back, and, when she escaped, her fleeting ankle.
She is in hospital, in a stable condition, but still in shock. So is the entire island of Taiwan. Such random eruptions of violence were relatively rare in orderly Taipei. Now, it seems, they now it can happen any time.
Stabbings were far more common in mainland China, although not always as widely reported as the Henan school knife attack in 2012 that left 23 children with severe stab wounds. The perpetrator was clinically insane, or so he confessed. Henan authorities promptly advised all schools to hire security guards, which is as everyone familiar with China knows, would be a gargantuan task of impossible dimensions - Henan alone has 100 million citizens.
There are many more stabbings to speak of, again on May 21 there was another knife massacre in the city of Lushan in Henan province. Seven lost their lives to a lunatic.
And then there was the Kunming mass stabbing in March. It was so brutal and violent in scope and execution that the state denounced it as a terrorist attack. Over 130 people were slashed, hacked, and ended, leaving 29 dead. The stabbers, four of them shot on the scene, came from Xinjiang, a region where - because of ethnic and political tensions - stabbings occur frequently.
Knives are often carried in public in Xinjiang and Tibetan, and are in fact among the most popular souvenirs. Yet, of course, stabbings get the most media attention if they occur in public places in big cities. Just weeks after the Kunming massacre, for example, six people were gruesomely stabbed down at Guangzhou Railway Station in Guangdong.
Blades are also typically the preferred weapon of East Asian serial killers, although sometimes the shovel, hammer or axe is frequently favored. This author still recalls the time at Fudan University of Shanghai in summer 2003 when the killing spree of Yang Zhiya kept the region in fear.
He had early childhood dreams of murder and rape, and in 2000 the thug set out on his bike, smashing, chopping, and annihilating entire families on a killing spree. (He was executed in February 2004, just three months after his arrest, in a fast-track trial designed to ease the pain of the nation.)
South Korea is constantly on knife-alert, too. True, stabbing rampages such as the 2008 Seoul incident are still uncommon. Yet, the country is under constant terror due to frequent so-called "rush-hour knifings" (or crowd-stabbing, if you will).
Tokyo, as well, has had its unfair share of mayhem. The Japanese, stricken already by the highest suicide rate anywhere, and smitten by frequent earthquakes and tsunamis, are forever haunted by images of Tomohiro Kato, a 25-year-old otaku (loosely translated as geek or nerd) driving a truck into a crowd at Tokyo's busy Akihabara district (known as Electronic Town, popular with young people and tourists). After he drove into the pedestrians, he jumped out of the vehicle and stabbed some more. Seven people died. The list of knife crimes in Japan - even if the Yakuza is excluded - is long.
The imagery of knife-wielding "losers" - mostly young, male, underemployed, mentally ill - chases East Asian citizens during their daily rush-hours, partly because there are potentially so many of them.
As one psychologist at Seoul National University once quipped: "Pent-up frustration and rage in a highly competitive society have caused the recent attacks against indiscriminate victims, and this was compounded by copy-cat behavior."
If this is a correct observation, and we have reason to think it is, then governments have to address the causes of this spreading social sickness, and do so quickly. It is very wise of East Asian authorities to categorically outlaw the possession of guns and rifles. But how do they prevent dangerous men from visiting a kitchen?
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Dr Thorsten Pattberg is a former research fellow at The Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Peking University, and the author of The East-West Dichotomy and Shengren. His website is: east-west-dichotomy.com.