US academic who survived China stabbing attack says suspect lashed out after being bumped into

An American college instructor who survived a stabbing attack in China has revealed that the suspect lashed out after being bumped into.

David Zabner is one of four Cornell College instructors who was attacked on Monday while visiting a temple in a busy public park in the northeast Chinese city of Jilin, where they were teaching on a partnership program with Beihua University.

A Chinese person who attempted to intervene was also stabbed. Chinese police said the five victims were immediately rushed to hospital and did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

A 55-year-old man, identified by his surname Cui, was “swiftly apprehended” by police at the scene, according to a statement.

A police statement said Cui “collided with a foreigner while walking” before stabbing his first victim. The statement did not address the suspect’s motive for the attack and said the investigation was ongoing.

Zabner appeared to confirm the account of the attack by Chinese police, telling Iowa Public Radio News from his hospital room: “Police told us that he was unemployed and down on his luck, and that somebody in our group bumped into the man.”

David Zabner was one of several people seen in video footage lying on the ground after the attack
David Zabner was one of several people seen in video footage lying on the ground after the attack (Reuters)

He went on to describe the attack, saying he first realized something was wrong when he heard a scream while descending a hill in Beishan Park.

“I turned around to find a man brandishing a knife at me. I didn’t immediately realize what was happening. I thought my coworkers had been pushed, and he, for some reason was trying to push me,” Zabner said.

“And then I looked down at my shoulder and realized, ‘I’m bleeding. I’ve been stabbed.’”

Zabner was stabbed in the arm six inches below his shoulder, he told Iowa Public Radio News.

In footage posted online of the aftermath of the attack, Zanber was seen lying on his side and using his phone in between two other wounded instructors, with the back of his shirt soaked in blood.

A gateway with the name "Beishan" seen at the Beishan Park in northeastern China's Jilin province
A gateway with the name “Beishan” seen at the Beishan Park in northeastern China’s Jilin province (CNS Photos)

The video first appeared on Chinese social media on Monday but was quickly erased by censors, along with any discussions about the stabbing, CNN reported.

Zabner’s brother, Iowa state Rep Adam Zabner, told CNN that his sibling was “doing well” and “has been stitched up and seems to be recovering,” after speaking to him on Tuesday.

“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.”

Zabner was on his second trip to China with Cornell College, which has partnered with Beihua University in Jilin since 2018. He joined the partnership program in November 2019 to teach computer science courses at Beihua, according to Iowa Public Radio News.

“I was really excited to get to see it in the summer,” he told the radio station.

The attack came at a time when China is trying to encourage foreigners to visit the country and boost educational exchanges with the US following the Covid-19 pandemic, with China’s President Xi Jinping this year pledging to invite 50,000 young Americans to China for study programs to boost people-to-people ties.

There are currently fewer than 900 American exchange students studying in China compared to over 290,000 Chinese students in the United States, according to US data.

As reports of the attack began to emerge on Chinese social media, authorities reportedly responded by removing any discussion of the stabbing – a move that many questioned.

“Do they really think that censoring domestic discussion of the incident impacts whether foreigners choose to visit China or not?” posted one Weibo user.

US officials were quick to condemn the attack, with US Ambassador Nicholas Burns saying Monday that he was “angered and deeply troubled” by the stabbing.

“A US consular Officer visited the 4 in Jilin Hospital today where they are receiving treatment. We are doing all we can to help them (and) hope for their full recovery,” he said in a post on X.

“We are deeply concerned by the stabbing of U.S. citizens in Jilin City, China,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan added.

“Our team has been in touch with these Americans and our PRC counterparts to ensure that the victims’ needs are met, and appropriate law enforcement steps are being taken,” he said, referring to the initials for the People’s Republic of China. “We wish them a speedy recovery.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said police believe the stabbing was an “isolated incident,” based on preliminary assessment.

A ministry spokesperson added that the incident would “not affect normal people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States” and that it would take measures to ensure the safety of foreigners in China.


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