China’s crowded buses are adding undercover cops to halt a string of arson attacks

Which one is the cop?
Which one is the cop?
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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A string of deadly arson attacks on Chinese buses have killed eight people and injured more than a hundred since February, including an explosion on a bus in Guangzhou that killed two people earlier this week. Many of the incidents are caused by disgruntled individuals, and in some cases they’re reminiscent of mass shootings in the United States. The Guangzhou attack, for example, was carried out by a man who was irate over a string of gambling losses.

The attacks expose a significant vulnerability for security officials: buses are the main form of transportation in most Chinese cities, where they are far more widely used than subways or cars. To stem the violence, the country’s ministry of public security has announced that all buses will carry at least one police officer, either plainclothes or in uniform, along with additional security personnel patrolling bus stations.

Aside from the huge logistical challenge in providing a policeman for every single bus and station, there’s another problem. As many Chinese social media users pointed out, many of the country’s buses are already horribly overcrowded—and a policeman on every bus means one less place for a regular rider to sit. A selection of comments from the Sina Weibo microblog:

  • my_giraffe: Are they crazy coming up such bad ideas? I wonder if anyone could find a real safe place on the bus filled with people.
  • Myz’s Weibo: It might not be efficient, not to say it is wasting manpower and money.
  • Pinhuige Store 186: It can’t solve the problem from its root.
  • Guesswhoami: The actions will slack off after a while.
  • Malixiaohui_shang: They’ve only started to think about after the accident had already happened and the people already dead. Next time it might not be the buses.

The new bus security proposal also includes encouraging citizens to help the police identify suspicious items, installing fire blankets on board, and tightening controls on flammable and explosive materials.