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4 US college instructors teaching at Chinese university are attacked at a public park

News of the incident was suppressed in China, where the government maintains control of information about anything considered sensitive.
China Cornell Instructors Attacked
Posted at 7:24 AM, Jun 11, 2024

Four instructors from Iowa's Cornell College teaching at Beihua University in northeastern China were attacked in a public park, reportedly with a knife, officials at the U.S. school and the State Department said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Tuesday that the injured were rushed to a hospital for treatment, and that none was in critical condition. Police believe Monday's attack in Jilin City's Beishan Park was an isolated incident, based on a preliminary assessment, and the investigation is ongoing, ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at a daily briefing.

Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said in a statement that the instructors were attacked while at the park with a faculty member from Beihua, which is in an outlying part of Jilin, an industrial city about 600 miles northeast of Beijing. Monday was a public holiday in China.

The State Department said in a statement it was aware of reports of a stabbing and was monitoring the situation. The attack happened as both Beijing and Washington are seeking to expand people-to-people exchanges to help bolster relations amid tensions over trade and such international issues as Taiwan, the South China Sea and the war in Ukraine.

A woman sits near a screen showing Chinese and U.S. flags.

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An Iowa state lawmaker posted a statement on Instagram saying his brother, David Zabner, had been wounded during a stabbing attack in Jilin. Rep. Adam Zabner described his brother as a doctoral student at Tufts University who was in China under the Cornell-Beihua relationship.

“I spoke to David a few minutes ago, he is recovering from his injuries and doing well,” Adam Zabner wrote, adding that his brother was grateful for the care he received at a hospital.

News of the incident was suppressed in China, where the government maintains control of information about anything considered sensitive. News media outlets had not reported it. Some social media accounts posted foreign media reports about the attack, but a hashtag about it was blocked on a popular portal and photos and video of the incident were quickly taken down.

Cornell spokesperson Jen Visser said in an email that the college was still gathering information about what happened.

Visser said the private college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, partners with Beihua University. A college news release from 2018, when the program started, says Beihua provides funding for Cornell professors to travel to China to teach a portion of courses in computer science, mathematics and physics over a two-week period.

According to a 2020 post on Beihua's website, the Chinese university uses American teaching methods and resources to give engineering students an international perspective and English-language ability.

About one-third of the core courses in the program use U.S. textbooks and are taught by American professors, according to the post. Students can apply to study for two years of their four-year education at Cornell College and receive degrees from both institutions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has unveiled a plan to invite 50,000 young Americans to China in the next five years, though Chinese diplomats say a travel advisory by the U.S. State Department has discouraged Americans from visiting China.

Citing arbitrary detentions as well as exit bans that could prevent Americans from leaving the country, the State Department has issued a Level 3 travel advisory — the second-highest warning level — for mainland China. It urges Americans to “reconsider travel” to China.

Some American universities have suspended their China programs due to the travel advisory.

Lin, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said China has taken effective measures to protect the safety of foreigners. “We believe that the isolated incident will not disrupt normal cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries,” he said.