A Day in the Park Turns Tragic: Four US University Instructors Stabbed in China

In an unexpected and violent turn of events, four instructors from Cornell College in Iowa found themselves in a life-threatening situation while visiting Beishan Park in Jilin City, China. The group, on an educational trip, was subjected to a brutal stabbing attack by an unknown assailant during a seemingly routine visit to a local temple.

brutal stabbing attack

The Incident

On Monday, June 10th, what began as an enriching cultural experience for the educators swiftly became a nightmare. The Cornell College group, in collaboration with Beihua University, was enjoying a tour of Beishan Park, known for its serene landscape and historical significance. It was there that a man, armed with a knife, launched an unprovoked attack.

Among the injured was David Zabner, the brother of Iowa Representative Adam Zabner. David was stabbed in the arm and, along with his colleagues, was quickly rushed to a nearby hospital. Representative Zabner spoke to CBS News, providing a grim but hopeful update on his brother’s condition: “He has not yet been released this morning but he’s doing okay.”

Response and Reactions

Cornell College issued a statement confirming the “serious incident” and emphasizing the well-being of their staff. They reassured the public that none of the injuries were life-threatening, a sentiment echoed by China’s foreign ministry. “This was an isolated incident and the investigation continues,” stated spokesperson Lin Jian, who also stressed that China remains a safe destination for foreigners.

However, the details surrounding the assailant remain shrouded in mystery. Chinese authorities have yet to disclose whether the attacker is in custody, fueling speculation and concern among the expatriate community and those with loved ones in China.

Media Silence and Online Censorship

While the incident has garnered significant attention in international media, it appears to have been swiftly censored within China. Searches for terms related to the attack, such as “foreigners Jilin,” yielded no results on Chinese social media platforms like Weibo, despite the term trending initially. Instead, discussions shifted to adjacent topics, with netizens seeking information under veiled references.

Hu Xijin, a well-known commentator and former editor of the state-run Global Times, had initially posted about the incident, labeling it a “chance event” and highlighting the general friendliness of Chinese people towards foreigners. His post, however, was later removed, reflecting the sensitivity of the issue within China’s tightly controlled media environment.

Beishan Park source BBC

Diplomatic Context and Safety Concerns

The attack comes at a time of strained diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington, despite recent efforts to foster more cultural and educational exchanges. President Xi Jinping has announced an initiative to invite 50,000 young Americans to China over the next five years, a move aimed at improving bilateral relations and fostering mutual understanding. Conversely, the US State Department’s travel advisories have cast a shadow of caution over potential travelers, particularly in light of this recent violent episode.

The Victims: A Closer Look

The injured instructors were part of a teaching initiative designed to build educational bridges between the US and China. They were engaged in a program that facilitated cultural exchange and academic collaboration. This was not David Zabner’s first visit to China; as a doctoral student at Tufts University, he had previously explored the country and was on his second trip with Cornell College.

The identities of the other three victims have not been disclosed, but all are reported to be receiving medical care and are in stable condition. Their families have been notified, and Cornell College is working closely with local authorities and the US Embassy to provide support and ensure their safe return.

An Isolated Incident or a Growing Concern?

While violent crime is relatively rare in China, particularly involving foreigners, this incident has raised alarms and prompted a re-evaluation of safety protocols for expatriates and tourists. The quick response by emergency services and the subsequent hospital care underscore China’s commitment to maintaining the safety of its visitors. Yet, the lack of transparency about the attacker’s motives and current status has left many questions unanswered.

Moving Forward

As investigations continue, the focus remains on the recovery of the injured educators and the ongoing diplomatic conversations between China and the US. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of such travels and the importance of vigilance and preparedness.

For now, the international community watches closely, hoping for more clarity and justice for those affected. The educators’ courage and resilience in the face of such adversity highlight the indomitable spirit of those dedicated to fostering global understanding and educational exchange.


This shocking incident has cast a shadow over what was intended to be a peaceful and enlightening visit to China. It underscores the potential dangers that can arise unexpectedly, even in the most seemingly safe and tranquil environments. As the world awaits further details from Chinese authorities, the focus remains on supporting the victims and ensuring such an event does not deter future cultural and educational exchanges between nations.

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