2003 November 17 Monday
Group Poisonings Popular In China

In America one recurring image of group killers is some lone psycho who goes up in a tower and starts blasting away at strangers or randomly chooses to blast the customers of a McDonalds. Plus there is the lone white guy in his 20s or 30s who, like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer who kills mostly strangers in secrecy for the pleasure of killing and operates for months or years before being caught. Then there are the disaffected teens who hate their fellow students and hate their teachers. Plus, there is the proverbial mad postal clerk or other peon employee who hates the authorities and co-workers who surround them. But these are very American profiles. in In China, by contrast, they have teachers killing their students and restaurant owners killing the customers of competitors and they use rat poison to do it.

One Chinese Web site, Sina.com, has already reported a possible copycat poisoning in which funeral guests were sickened but not killed. The authorities also reported a poisoning on Oct. 23 in Shaanxi Province in which 16 people were hospitalized, they said, after a jealous barbecue-stand operator poisoned the food at a barbecue stand that was outselling him.

Several times a year, the Chinese news is filled with tales of restaurant owners poisoning the food in rival restaurants, or of teachers poisoning students, or, as happened a few years ago, of a zookeeper poisoning animals to spite his boss. The worst case happened last year when 49 people, many of them children, were killed in an intentional poisoning.

They use the poison in part because guns are hard to come by. But poisoning has advantages as well by allowing the killer to not be around when their victims are around. But that is not what is interesting here. It is the kinds of people doing the killings, their motives, and their victims that are curious.

This shows how much cultures differ. Teachers killing students? There is just not an American ethos to support that sort of thing. Also, poisoning of the customers of competitors seems foreign to the American ethos as well. It may have happened at some point. But it is rare. Is that at least in part because of an American ethos where we are supposed to be good losers and accept when others out-compete us and are more successful? Also, are customers more seen as king in America than in China?

The article quotes experts who argue there is a lack of access to court systems in China for resolving conflicts and therefore people feel so frustrated that they seek their own form of justice. So then one explanation for the difference between American and Chinese killng patterns is that the different systems create outcomes that leave different kinds of people feeling very aggrieved. But that can only be part of the explanation. When people kill for reasons other than the joy of being the predator there must be cultural influences that lead them to see killing as an acceptable course of action in their own minds. In the United States movies that glorify narcissistic killers must push some people into a direction that makes some see the act of killing in a more positive light. But in China what cultural influences cause, say, a teacher to see killing his students an acceptable course of action?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 November 17 07:51 PM  Culture Compared

Steve Sailer said at November 19, 2003 2:56 PM:

Poisoning was a big thing in Italy from Roman through Renaissance times, along with a lot of other places in Europe. Remember the king's food taster? It seems to have disappeared out of our culture, thankfully, but I'm not sure why.

Weitz said at May 30, 2005 9:51 PM:

Hey! Who put cyanide in my Extra Strength Tylenol?

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