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Four US college instructors injured in ‘brutal’ China stabbing attack

 

Four US college instructors teaching in China have been stabbed while visiting a busy public park, in a rare case of violent crime against foreigners in the powerful security state.

The educators from Cornell College, a private liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, were wounded “in a serious incident” on Monday, while participating in a partnership program with Beihua University in the city of Jilin, in northeastern China, according to the college.

“We have been in contact with all four instructors and are assisting them during this time,” Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said in a statement, adding no students took part in the program.

Footage purportedly showing the aftermath of the daylight attack, which emerged on Chinese social media on Monday but was swiftly censored, showed two men and a woman lying on the ground covered in large blood stains, surrounded by onlookers.

They appeared conscious and were talking on their cell phones, the video showed.

CNN geolocated the video of the attack to Beishan Park, a popular green space in Jilin city center, less than half an hour’s drive from Beihua University. Monday was a public holiday in China.

China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Tuesday that “four foreign teachers at Beihua University were attacked” while visiting Beishan Park in Jilin on Monday morning, adding they were immediately taken to hospital and did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

“The police initially determined that the case was an isolated incident and are currently under further investigation,” ministry spokesperson Lin Jian told a regular news conference.

Details of the attack, including the motive and the identity of the assailant or assailants, remained unclear on Tuesday.

Iowa state representative Adam Zabner told CNN his brother, David Zabner, was one of the victims of the stabbing.

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Rep. Zabner said his brother, who was on his second visit to China with Cornell, is “doing well” and has “been stitched up and seems to be recovering,” after speaking to him on Tuesday morning Beijing time.

Victims of a stabbing attack are seen lying on the ground in Beishan Park, Jilin, China, on June 10. CNN has blurred areas of the image to obscure the identities and graphic injuries of the victims.

The other three victims survived the attack, Rep. Zabner said, adding he could not comment on their health status.

“I’m just extremely grateful that my brother is OK and that he survived this attack,” he told CNN.

“The hope of my family is to get my brother back home as soon as possible and get them healthy. And we really just want to thank the US State Department for all their help, and also our federal delegation from Iowa who have been particularly helpful.”

The US State Department said it was aware of reports of a stabbing incident in China and is monitoring the situation.

‘Horrifying attack’

Knife attacks are not uncommon in China, where guns are tightly controlled. The country has faced a spate of stabbing rampages in public places including schools and hospitals. But public attacks against foreigners are rare.

The attack in Jilin Monday comes as China has been seeking to draw back international visitors following three years of stringent Covid-19 border controls. It also comes amid efforts to boost educational exchanges with the United States as the two countries look to stabilize their fraught relationship.

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The incident has drawn attention and concern in Iowa from officials and lawmakers. The state’s Gov. Kim Reynolds called it a “horrifying attack.” Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, who represents the district where the Cornell College is located, said the college employees “were brutally stabbed” and vowed to “do everything in our power to bring these Iowans home safely.”

On China’s heavily censored social media, visuals and discussions about the attack had been swiftly erased since Monday. Censorship appeared to have relaxed somewhat by noon Tuesday to allow some comments to surface.

Some Chinese internet users called it a “terrible” incident, while others questioned why Chinese media was not reporting on the attack. Some also expressed concerns about its potential impact on China’s global image and the willingness of foreigners to visit the country, amid a rise in nationalism and anti-American sentiment.

At its news conference Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry sought to dismiss concerns that the attack would affect educational exchanges between China and the US.

“Carrying out people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and the United States is in the common interests of both sides and has received active support and response from various sectors in both countries,” said Lin, the spokesperson.

“China is widely recognized as one of the safest countries in the world. China has always taken effective measures and will continue to take relevant measures to effectively protect the safety of all foreigners in China.”

The campus of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa

Study ties

Cornell College began a partnership with Beihua University in 2018, which would see the Chinese institution provide funding for educators from the Iowa school to travel and live in China and teach a portion of a course in areas of computer science, math and physics over two-week periods, according to information posted on the college website at the time.

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China has been trying to boost its educational cooperation with the US, which has suffered considerable setbacks due to the Covid pandemic and bilateral tensions.

During a visit to the US in November, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the country would invite 50,000 young Americans to China on exchange and study programs in the next five years to foster personal ties between the two countries.

The Chinese leader noted his own enduring ties to the state of Iowa in his announcement. Xi stayed with a host family in Iowa during his first visit to the US nearly four decades ago, an experience he has described as “unforgettable.”

Last week, Xi encouraged universities in China and the US to “strengthen exchanges and cooperation,” in a letter to the president of Kean University in New Jersey, which has a China-based joint venture with Wenzhou University, according to state media.

China has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world, partly due to its strict gun controls and powerful mass surveillance.

But it has continued to face mass stabbings in public places. In May, two people were killed and another 21 injured in a knife attack in a hospital in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

Last year, six people were killed and one injured in an early morning stabbing incident outside a kindergarten in southern Guangdong province. And a 2022 stabbing, also at a kindergarten, killed three and injured six in eastern Jiangxi province.

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