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Stabbing of Americans in Jilin Draws Comparisons to the Boxer Rebels
Stabbing of Americans in Jilin Draws Comparisons to the Boxer Rebels

Stabbing of Americans in Jilin Draws Comparisons to the Boxer Rebels

The stabbing of four instructors from Iowa’s Cornell College in a Jilin park has become the latest flashpoint in U.S.-China relations. A Chinese national who attempted to intervene in the attack was also stabbed. An official statement on the attack published by Jilin local police was circumspect, with details of the attack itself sparse: “A Mr. Cui (male, 55-years-old, resident of Jilin’s Longtan District) bumped into a foreigner while walking in Beishan Park, after which he stabbed the foreigner and three other foreigners with him, as well as one Chinese tourist who attempted to intervene.” Graphic images and videos of the aftermath of the attack circulated on X (formerly Twitter) before the incident was confirmed by local authorities. All five victims survived. 

The incident was initially the focus of heavy censorship on the Chinese internet. A hashtag about the stabbings was removed from Weibo “in accordance with the relevant laws.”  Search results for the hashtag “Jilin Beishan Park” also prioritized government-affiliated “Blue V” accounts, an indication of official censorship controls. State media outlets that posted about the news to Weibo also shut down their comment sections. Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of state media tabloid Global Times, posted to Weibo about the incident hoping that it was a “random” attack, only for the post to be deleted later. 

In a press conference after the stabbings, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson twice asserted that “China is among the world’s safest countries,” while stressing the attack was “random” and thus should not disrupt U.S.-China relations. Lin’ s comment was met with skepticism on Weibo, where a number of people speculated that the attack was motivated by anti-foreigner or anti-U.S. sentiments that have been encouraged by the government: 

渣浪的老爹:Divine fists, Righteous and Harmonious Militia, foreign devils cause us to stir-up China

自由落體2203:Isn’t everyone forced to be anti-American?

一等恪靖侯:The result of anti-American propaganda.

範熠銘:A safe and healthy Dragon Boat Festival… no?

Joewong要凍檸走冰:The U-lock has finally evolved into a dagger.

烈之驹:Why was the culprit carrying a knife on him — how strange!

结构性碎片:??? : Grassroots anti-Americanism.

Mio_兩儀:Is China really acknowledged globally as the world’s safest country?

慢慢趟吧:Using a dagger to stab people after getting bumped into? Is he a lunatic?

痞子艾米纳姆:So we’ve started killing foreign devils?

bobrain:The first thing I saw on YouTube today was a report on this. Right now, so many “China Travel” people on the foreign internet are totally freaked out. [Chinese]

Xi Jinping claims a special relationship with Iowa, which he first visited in 1985 as a member of an agricultural delegation from Hebei. Chinese state media outlets often highlight his connection to the state. In 2016, Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to China was former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hailed as an “old friend of the Chinese people.” (The story isn’t all rosy though—a suburban house in Muscatine, Iowa that had been turned into a museum to commemorate Xi’s relationship with China has now fallen into disrepair.) In January of this year, People’s Daily published an open letter written by Xi Jinping addressed to Sarah Lande, the compiler of the book “Old Friends: The Xi Jinping-Iowa Story,” encouraging American students to visit China. The stabbing of Iowa educators—even if completely random—potentially complicates those narratives. 

After restrictions on writing about the incident were lifted on the Chinese internet, a number of writers reflected on what they see as a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Chinese society. At the forefront of those ruminations were comparisons to the Boxer Rebellion, a crusade against Westerners and Chinese Christians launched by villagers in northern China in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The rebellion was put down by the Eight-Nation Alliance, a multinational military coalition that included the United States. The Alliance remains controversial in China. After U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken had a fiery meeting with Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska in 2021—the first interface between the PRC and the Biden Administration—a meme comparing Blinken to diplomats connected to the Alliance went viral on Weibo. A similar meme also went viral after the 2021 G7 summit, similarly drawing comparisons between modern diplomats and those involved with crushing the Boxer Rebellion. Yet many in China look back at the rebellion itself with unease. On WeChat, the blogger @关尔东 (@guāněrdōng) wrote an essay titled, “The ‘patriotism’ of the Boxers is one I cannot bear”: 

History reveals that the Boxers killed many of their compatriots, all due to their own baffling standards.

According to Yang Diangao’s “Records of Gengzi”: “After all the churches and missionary enterprises were burned to the ground, all of the shops in the city and its vicinity that had foreign signage or carried foreign goods were also destroyed or allowed to be looted by the poor. Orders were issued that no family was to own foreign goods or light foreign lamps. Families poured their kerosene onto the streets, and abandoned their [foreign] iceboxes and buckets. Then a rumor began making the rounds that after all of the missionaries and [Christian] converts had been killed, all students who read foreign books would be executed, too. This caused panic among the students, and all those who owned foreign books burned them.

“Records of the Boxers” asserts: “One family of eight was killed, simply for possessing a box of [foreign] matches.”

Excuse me, but what did those people ever do wrong? Reading a foreign book—or even just having a matchbook lying around—led to Boxer violence. Where’s the justice in that?

[…] Is their “patriotism” not a bit unhealthy?

[…] What I’m most curious about is why the “Chinese tourist who attempted to stop the aggressor” was also stabbed.

I’ll always hold that anyone—no matter how “patriotic”—who can ruthlessly attack an innocent compatriot is someone to be feared. “Just” is a word that can never be used to describe them. [Chinese]

Others drew a connection to recent instances of anti-Japanese sentiment in China. The WeChat account 麟阁经略 (@língéjīnglüè) wrote that the stabbing is a product of indulgence of these past incidents: 

Some people in this world harbor a hatred they learned in unknown quarters. They vent their dissatisfaction with life on innocent people who cross their path. What’s more, they think they’re righteous and courageous in doing so.

But what if this wasn’t just an isolated, random incident, but rather was incited by a long-term climate of fear and hatred? Beatings of people wearing kimonos, threats on Weibo to blow up the German embassy, false allegations that illustrations of the sun are references to the Japanese imperial flag, the harassment of readers of foreign poetry as “slaves to all things western” … there has been too much condoning of incidents like these. [Chinese]

The WeChat account @无声无光 (@wúshēngwúguāng) drew a dark comparison—linking xenophobic comments aimed at a U.S. professor in Shanghai to the attack in Jilin: 

The fact is that such xenophobic sentiments are on the rise. In early May, at an international academic conference hosted by Fudan University, an octogenarian American academic was cursed out by a security guard at Fudan Crown Plaza for moving his luggage too slowly while getting a cab. The security guard told him, “Don’t think [you can get away with this] just because you’re American!” A friend of mine said that these two incidents are similar  in nature: it’s just that in Jilin, they used a knife.” [Chinese]

A further potential agitant to U.S.-China relations is the revelation on Friday of a covert Pentagon operation to sow distrust of Chinese vaccines in the Philippines and other countries. The Reuters report that unveiled the campaign presents it as retaliation for Chinese efforts to paint the U.S. as the source of the pandemic. By deliberately discouraging vaccination at a time when thousands were dying, though, one former State Department official commented, “We’re stooping lower than the Chinese and we should not be doing that.”