Suicide Bombings in China: Beyond Terrorism
Blood on the ground after the Heze bombing.
Image Credit: Sina Weibo/ etinchina

Suicide Bombings in China: Beyond Terrorism

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A suicide bomber attacked a park in the city of Heze in China’s Shandong province on Monday, killing two (including the bomber) and injuring 24, with three people receiving “relatively severe” injuries. According to the official Weibo account of Heze’s public security bureau, the explosion took place at 10:34 pm local time on Monday at the west gate of Heze’s Huxi park.

Heze authorities identified the bomber as Jie Xingtang, a 32-year-old villager from Shan County (where Heze is located). Their Weibo post (cited by People’s Daily) described him as an unemployed and a long-term sufferer of liver cirrhosis, a condition that has worsened recently according to the Heze authorities. Those explanations were the only hint into Jie’s motives for carrying out the bombing. An investigation into that, as well as how Jie created the bomb, is ongoing.

China has endured suicide bombings before. A terrorist attack in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, last May saw five suspects detonate car bombs in a crowded market, killing themselves and 31 others. Earlier, in April 2014, two suicide bombers carried out an attack at an Urumqi railway station, in what International Business Times called “the first known suicide attack in the country.”

The rise of suicide bombings as a technique for terrorists in China’s Xinjiang province, where tensions between ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese are high, is indeed a noteworthy (and troubling) development for China. But suicide bombings in China are not a new phenomenon, although generally the attacks have less to do with ethnic tensions and more to do with an individual’s discontent, as seems to have been the case in Shandong this week. These attacks aren’t terrorism in the classic sense — the individuals behind them seem motivated not by grand political aspirations (the establishment of a separate state or the downfall of the government) but by personal frustration: the loss of a job, land seized by a local government, a beating by China’s law enforcement.

In May 2012, a 26-year-old man blew himself up in a housing demolition office in Yunnan province, killing two villagers and one government official. The attack may have been linked to plans to demolish villagers’ homes; on the day of the attack, officials and villagers were signing agreements to pay villagers for their land and houses.

In September 2012, in Shandong province, a man conducted a suicide bombing in a government office, injuring six officials. According to the BBC, the man had been paralyzed in a work accident and believed he had been “denied proper compensation.” And in November 2013, a series of home-made bombs exploded outside the Shanxi provincial office of the Chinese Communist Party, killing one person and injuring eight.

Perhaps most famous is the case of Ji Zhongxing, who set off a bomb hidden in his wheelchair at the Beijing International Airport in July 2013. Before detonating the bomb, Ji had been prevented by a policeman from passing out leaflets recounting how he became paralyzed after being beaten by local law enforcement officers. Ji’s case actually gained a good deal of sympathy from Chinese netizens–probably because he was the main victim of his bombing attempt, and reportedly warned passers-by that he had a bomb just before he detonated the device. Social media users described him as a “good person,” not the sort of label that bombers usually earn.

In each of these cases—and possibly Jie’s as well, although information is still scarce—the bomber was motivated by a sense of being treated unjustly by local government officials, coupled with a lack of alternative options for expressing grievances. As a recent Diplomat article noted, China’s petition system is supposed to be the avenue of last resort for the Chinese people, but the system is overburdened and inefficient.

It now appears a handful of Chinese have chosen an extreme, deadly path for airing their grievances—suicide bombings. These cases receive less media attention, both in China and abroad, than the classic terrorist bombings in Xinjiang and Beijing, but they are more common, and perhaps more dangerous to China in the long run.

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