Citizens throughout the world took to the Internet on Sunday to offer their condolences and prayers after a group of knife-wielding attackers killed at least 29 people and injured 130 others at the railway station in Kunming in southwest China.
Dressed in black and armed with long knives and meat cleavers, “more than 10 terrorist suspects” hacked and stabbed passengers and passers-by at the station in the capital of Yunnan Province, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
It said the attack, which began at 9:20 p.m. Saturday, ended when police shot and killed five of the assailants. Chinese authorities said the massacre had been “orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces.”
The attack elicited an outpouring of sympathy in China and beyond. On Twitter, Sarah Moir, a college student in Michigan in the United States, stated:
Just in complete shock over the #KunmingRailwayStation attack. Such senseless killing. The world is praying for you, China.
— Sarah Moir (@marahsoir) March 2, 2014
William, a blogger of Chinese descent who lives in Sydney, Australia, simply tweeted: “#prayers #KunmingRailwayStation #unreal”
On Facebook, Jade Melville of Australia posted:
So horrible. R.I.P. to all the people killed.
News of the killing spree broke on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, which posted video and audio from the scene. A professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou noted that the first reports from witnesses appeared at about 9:25 p.m.
Guobin Yang, a communication and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania professor and author of “The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online,” said on Twitter that such postings show Weibo remains a powerful channel in social media.
Amid recent buzz about Weibo's decline, Weibo responses to violent attacks at Kunming rail station reclaim Weibo's central importance
— Guobin Yang (@Yangguobin) March 2, 2014
Several social media users urged television stations, websites and newspapers to refrain from publishing the goriest images from the railway station.
The overwhelming reaction throughout China was one of shock. As the website ChinaFile.com, put it:
— ChinaFile (@ChinaFile) March 1, 2014
The day after the attack, Chinese President Xi Jinping “urged the law enforcement to investigate and solve the case of Kunming terrorist attack with all-out efforts and punish the terrorists in accordance with the law,” Xinhua reported.
It said that “Premier Li Keqiang asked local authorities to chase and punish the suspects severely.” On Sunday, the South China Morning Post reported that police had “one female suspect in custody.”
Chinese authorities blamed the stabbings on Uighur separatists. The Uighur people (sometimes spelled Uyghur or Uigur) are a Turkic ethnic group. More than 10 million Uighurs, who are predominantly Muslim, live in the Xinjiang autonomous region in northwestern China.
Many Uighurs say they face religious persecution and other oppression by the Chinese government — an allegation the government categorically rejects. In 2009, there were deadly clashes between Uighurs and Han people, or ethnic Chinese, in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The Chinese government said at least 197 people died; the World Uyghur Congress put the death toll at about 600.
Last October, China blamed Uighur Xinjiang separatists for a suicide attack in which an SUV killed two people and injured dozens more at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
After the attack in Kunming, several netizens urged tolerance. “Don't think of all Uighurs as terrorists,” one Weibo user posted.
Others said China won't yield to violence. “What happened won't scare us; it will make us stronger,” said another Weibo posting.
The overwhelming sentiment online was concern for the victims. On Weibo, pop singer Sam Tsui posted:
Yes, We have always lived alongside evil. Global Civilization must root out this evil, wherever it hides. Unimaginable! Deeply concerned about the common people of Kunming and everyone affected. Truly messed up and scary. RIP.
Stephon Marbury, an American basketball star who plays for the Beijing Ducks, posted on Weibo:
I heard about the horrible news that happened at Kunming train station. It's sad that people can commit such a crime. Pray for the families that lost loved ones and those who were injured during this tragedy. I'm encouraging all to give your positive energy to those in need.
Simply incomprehensible. My condolences and thoughts go out to all those involved.
Several video clips from Kunming were posted on YouTube. Some were so graphic that users were required to sign in and acknowledge that they had been warned about the “potentially inappropriate content.”
After watching one clip, a viewer named vikings426 commented:
I may be ignorant to what's going on in China but killing innocent people solves nothing.
Another YouTube user, Talha Kamran, stated:
I am a muslim and live in China. I can never think of such barbaric act. Such groups and their supporters should be prosecuted by Chinese authorities with extreme strictness. This is simply inhuman.
As an American student, studying abroad in Shanghai, this news was incredibly frightening. My program has a trip planned in two weeks to the Yunnan province and our flight is supposed too [sic] arrive in Kunming. My roommate's family also lives there and I got to see firsthand how this attack is affecting people.
Those pictures (my roommate was sent them by friends back home) of the casualties and bodies were gruesome, and it breaks my heart to hear about this senseless violence taking innocent lives.