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Attacks in China blamed on rising social conflict

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

A man who detonated a homemade bomb at Beijing Capital International Airport to gain attention for his grievances highlights the growing threat to social stability in China from frustration at perceived injustice.

The man, identified as Ji Zhongxing, a 34-year-old from Heze city in eastern Shandong province who is confined to a wheelchair, exploded the device outside the exit to the arrival hall of Terminal 3 on July 20, according to a report from the official Xinhua News Agency. Ji, whose arm was injured, was the only person hurt in the explosion, it said.

Economic growth that's averaged 10.5 percent a year over the past decade, limited local government accountability and the lack of independent public institutions have led to increasing social conflict. The risk is that those with grievances will resort to more high-profile acts in bigger towns and cities to draw attention to their plight.

Protests such as Ji's “are the ultimate acts by those at the bottom of society who are unable to find justice,” said Wu Qiang, a political scientist at Tsinghua University in Beijing who studies social unrest. “They are taking their issues from where they originated to big cities like Beijing, to sites where people gather, to places that will ensure greater public attention.”

The airport said on its official microblog that operations weren't disrupted by the explosion. The level of security checks were raised yesterday and all three terminals activated plans to prevent explosions, according to a Beijing Evening News report posted on the official People's Daily website yesterday that cited the airport police.

In June, a bus fire that killed 47 people in the city of Xiamen was started by a man who planned the blaze to vent personal grievances, Xinhua reported at the time.

In 2008, a 28-year-old unemployed man stabbed five officers to death and wounded four at a police station in Shanghai in a revenge attack for being suspected of stealing bicycles, the city's police department said.

“Social conflicts at grass roots levels have reached an unprecedented level as officials shield each other and the petitioning system is problematic,” said Hu Xingdou, a professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Beijing Institute of Technology. “This person may have chosen the international airport because he wants to gain revenge on society and get more attention.”

Petitioning is the practice dating from imperial times by which people take their complaints either to local officials or directly to the capital.

Fractured Spine

Ji petitioned Dongguan authorities many times after a conflict with public security guards in June 2005 left him with a fractured spine and paralysis in his lower limbs, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing the findings of an investigation by Heze authorities. In 2010, Dongguan authorities paid him 100,000 yuan ($16,300), Xinhua said.

At Beijing airport, Ji set off the bomb “like fireworks” after he was stopped from handing out leaflets calling attention to his complaints, Xinhua said in a separate report. Photographs on the agency's website on July 20 showed airport and medical staff in a smoke-filled area of the arrival hall with police officers and other workers surrounding a person on the ground near an empty upturned wheelchair.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said Ji's left hand was amputated as a result of the blast and he was taken by police after being treated in hospital, citing unidentified doctors. Xinhua said his family had no idea how he obtained the explosives and weren't sure of his whereabouts.

Great Challenge

The explosion triggered an outcry on the Internet, with thousands of postings on microblogging sites denouncing social injustice. The incident occurred days after a watermelon vendor in Hunan province died after a clash with officials from the urban administration and law enforcement bureau, known as chengguan.

“It's a great challenge for the government which not only needs to handle the individual cases, but also to provide an overall public security solution to the general public, who are growing more anxious,” Wu said.

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