China’s school attack

While the world was reeling from the tragic elementary school shooting spree in Connecticut on Friday and mourning its victims, a less deadly yet equally disturbing incident was unfolding across the Pacific. At around 7am that morning, a Chinese villager (named Min Yingjun) set out on a frenzied rampage at a school in Wenshu Township, Henan Province. Armed with a knife, his attack thankfully killed nobody, yet hospitalised many of those among the 22 victims.

Min was suspected by police, as well as villagers, to be “mentally ill”. I can’t help but let this draw my attention to the appalling state of mental healthcare in China – not only the fact that psychiatric hospitals are effectively nothing but prisons, but also how conducive society is to the degradation of mental health.

Immense competition for success, and therefore pressure, is present throughout life – school, exams (with the infamous 高考 (gāokǎo) university-entry level exam as an example), universities themselves, work places and families. These aren’t exactly the fault of any authority; they’re just hallmarks of a country with a huge population, finite resources and conservative families. Yet these people grow up into a world where poor treatment and unjust legal procedures prevent grievances from being heard, and more extreme measures are needed to vent frustration against the “system”.

Many turn to suicide; China has the 7th highest suicide rate in the world and accounts for over 30% of all suicides across the globe. But there is also a worrying upward trend in violent rampages like yesterday’s, and I’d guess this is largely a trait of a disaffected population who feel powerless in the corrupt system which governs their lives. You could say this is just rehashing the same old argument which relates the lack of democracy to every societal problem, but corruption strips away all hope of what anyone would call a system of justice.

Give the Chinese government their due credit, though. The Xinhua News Agency has very scant coverage of the China stabbings – controlled media doesn’t silently encourage copycat attacks to the same degree as with free, open media (although of course Chinese propaganda still hushes political scandal which should be exposed). Also, strict gun laws lead desperate people to knife crime, evidently less deadly than gun crime. However this is a very shallow form of prevention, and they’d do better to address the root cause of such discontent. Needless to say, the authorities themselves would never say this is due to their politics, though…

I’m trying to steer clear of the whole comparison between the US and China (as so many people do), but the two events’ occurring so close together really highlights what each government can learn. While many in the US believe this is the time to amend the constitution and tighten gun laws, Chinese leaders should recognise the significance that their system has in driving people to extreme measures.