Panic Over Knife Attacks Causes Stampedes in China

March 17, 2014 Updated: March 17, 2014

“Slash,” “stab,” “cut,” and a variety of other words that could remind people of violent knife attacks, must now be carefully avoided in public. Blurting out such words in public can cause crowds to panic, as a string of incidents over the last week have demonstrated. 

The public has been on edge since the beginning of the month, after the violent knife rampage in Kunming, southern China, on March 1. 

At least four stampedes have erupted in cities around China recently, caused by rumors like “there’s someone stabbing people.”

Stampeding Crowds 

Two stampedes in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, were reported March 15, according to local media. 

The first was sparked in a crowded clothing market at 8:30 a.m. when security guards were chasing a thief. As he was being chased, he yelled out “someone’s stabbing people!” 

People within earshot, unaware of what was happening, reacted by themselves running and screaming, bringing the orderly shopping area to chaos. 

It took around an hour for the police to calm people down and assure them that there was no mass murder taking place. 

Another stampede occurred at noon, on a crowded street, when an argument in a store was misinterpreted as another stabbing episode. It again created mass panic. 

Yet another public panic took place in Chengdu on March 14, when people ran out of a shopping center yelling either “stabbing,” “fire,” or “earthquake.” The incident was later discovered to be a false alarm. 

Similar stampedes happened in the subways in Beijing and Guangzhou on March 7 and 10, according to China News.  

Social Insecurity

The stampedes of thousands of shoppers over the last few days, over what turned out to be false alarms, raised heated discussion in China. Many saw it as a reflection of the level of social trust, and general sense of insecurity in society.

“This society is already unsafe. Add some alarmist talk on top of that, and we common folk just can’t bear it,” said a user of Sina Weibo, a microblogging service. 

“Security has become the greatest luxury in this country,” said Internet user @Pingzhongmiao on Weibo. “The Kunming incident has a huge impact on China, bringing panic to the whole country. Even a word or rumor could overturn social order.”

On March 1 eight attackers armed with long knives went on a rampage through a train station in Kunming, the capital of the southern province of Yunnan, running through and killing 29 people and injuring over 140. The Chinese authorities concluded that it was a terrorist attack perpetrated by Xinjiang separatists, though there has been no independent verification of this claim. 

Another knife attack saw five killed on March 14 in Changsha, Hunan Pro.