Yes, I have been away for awhile, a long while. Life has an unexpected way of sneaking up on you and, well, happening. That is not the point of this blog. Actually this is a very serious topic, a very serious situation, and something that personally impacts my family and our well being. I am taking some risks by writing this, but it needs to be written and its in English which seems to be done over here.
There is a public epidemic going on here, a bad one. It has no symptoms, no warning signs, and is deadly. The China blogsphere is alight about it trying to pick apart the aftermath, hence the title. My Chinese readers most likely have no clue what a snipe hunt is, heck many Americans would not know either. A snipe is an imaginary bird/creature that is used to lure unsuspecting people out on a ghost chase. That is what is going on over the aftermath of the recent kindergarten/school attack where a man killed 9 people, went home, smoked a cigarette, and committed suicide as the police began to close in. Devastated parents, community members, local and national leaders and general citizens are all seeking reason and causes for such a horrific act. They are on a snipe hunt.
From world wide news accounts, the listing of the school attacks alone is as this:
- March 23: Former surgeon and community doctor, Zheng Minsheng, stabs 8 students to death and wounds 5 others at an elementary school in Nanping, Fujian province. The attacker stated relationship and business failures, he was executed the following month.
- April 12: A former mental patient, Yang Jiaqin, stabbed 2 people, a second-grader and an 81-year-old woman, to death and wounding 5 children in Guangxi province. He was scheduled to go back to the hospital for a 3rd treatment due to family concerns his mental health, he was apprehended by police.
- April 28: A laid off male teacher, Chen Kangbing, barged into a primary school in Leizhou, Guangdong province, wounding 16 pupils and a teacher. Police subdued the man who was about to attempt suicide, he is currently in prison. He had been on leave sine 2006 citing mental issues according to media reports.
- April 29: An unemployed man, Xu Yuyuan, stormed into a kindergarten in Taixing, Jiangsu province stabbing 28 students, 2 teachers, and a security guard with a knife. Police apprehended the man as we was walking home, he still had the knife with him. Media reported mental issues.
- April 30: A farmer, Wang Yonglai, entered a village school in Shandong province attacking 5 preschool students with a hammer, causing head injuries. He was told the day before to tear down a new family home just completed because it was on farm land, he lit himself on fire after the attack holding 2 children, he died, the children survived.
- May 12: A local merchant and real-estate magnet, Wu Huanming, hacks 7 children, the school administrator, and her 80 year old mother to death and wounding 11 others with a meat clever at a kindergarten in Shaanxi province. He watches the cleanup from his home then kills himself.
- Across the country, to date, no less then 8 attempted attacks have been stopped by local security and/or police officials according to Beijing public safety officials in to the news. From the tally above 17 student deaths, 90 student and administrator injuries, all just for going to school.
After 6 separate attacks, all over the country, committed by professionals, mentally ill, and successful people the common threads binding them all together are thin. This stresses the parents, communities, officials, and entire nation as such horrific attacks are senseless and finding any rationale or reason to lash out against is seen as a way to ease the pain. Apart form all being men, in their 40’s, and the attacks taking place early in the day not much else is there. Some are legitimately mentally ill, have been dismissed or detained for their illnesses before. Some were out of work or frustrated over their social situation, both professional and personal. One was quite well off and respected by the community, but recently jilted by a rental dispute. Looking for a common thread is looking for a snipe.
As a parent with a child in a local community kindergarten I worry. I take my daughter to school, keep an eye on those around me, that is all I can do. I am fortunate enough to live really close to the school, next door in fact. This morning there was a police officer at the gate, for about 15 minutes, he was gone after 8:40am. Shanghai is a very large city, full of migrant workers, among the tens of millions crammed in here I am sure a few have lose or missing screws. The focus here is on ensuring the Expo goes off without a hitch. I am worried, but not overly worried. I have a lot of interest in the country gaining control over this phenomenon plaguing the defensless and innocent against these acts of violence.
The clamor here is being steered by the state. The news agency here has been ordered to scantly report on them, if at all as some reports have disappeared all together. The fear is that the sensational reporting will encourage copy-cats and inspire those with perceived or legitimate grievances as a way to lash out against the faceless ‘them’ in society. Having grown up in the school shooting era in America I can understand their concern and desire to put a lid on the carnage while it is still manageable. Unfortunately I feel the genii has been let out of the bottle already on this one. The killings and maiming may have broad underlying causes, trying to place them into a tidy box is not going to work, but the focus now should be prevention. China is unique in that is can do something about this. They could put armed militia outside every school in China, seriously, they could. Is this the answer, not likely but the security of the schools should be more then what it is.
Some here are claiming its a result of social injustice, inadequate mental health, growing gaps in socio-economic achievements. If you look hard enough you can find it, but I say hogwash. The same issues plaguing the US society for decades is creeping into society here, lack of personal responsibility and restraint. Sure, each has to be insane, that makes us all feel better to state that and then blame the government for bad mental health access. For a few cases that may work, but if a person is such a mental risk to society to be a homicidal maniac why did they not get tripped off before now, why a seemingly coordinated approach requiring specific thought and planning to execute such attacks? I am going to ask the hard questions because I have a vested interest to know the risk and take appropriate steps to minimize it. How insane are these people to see a pattern, make a plan, get into the proper frame of mind, and execute such attacks, with such ferocity, and all within the period of a few weeks of each other? Something else is going on here. Mentally ill people don’t pay attention to news papers, radio reports, or TV news to a degree to see something, think to themselves ‘hey, that’s it, now I know how to resolve all my problems’, and go out and do something so horrific. Mentally ill people who are psychotic will lash out at others frequently because its their way of dealing with stress or fear, I doubt some recent event in China caused such stress as to trip off all the crazies at one time and give them all the same reactions. Something is not smelling quite right about this series of tragedies, as a parent that has me more worried.
It can’t be the attention. The first is this latest string only lasted 4 weeks and a few days, had no sensational trial or media platform, and was quickly executed. I can see the social injustice angle on a few of the cases, jilted love, employment disputes, rental issues, land rights. I can see the mental illness, however the doctor and the former teacher were both once professionals, if they were mentally ill something triggered it and then re-triggered it to make them act out so violently. The farmer whom was told to tear down his home, well I can see his frustration, but why take it out on children? Here in Shanghai a Beijing migrant Yang Jia was arrested, beaten, and abused by police for riding an unlicensed bicycle, tried suing the police, and after all else failed he took a knife to ‘get even’ killing 6 police and wounding 5 others. His story gained much sympathy but he was executed for his murders 4.5 months later. Surely killing children will gain nobody any sympathy from anyone, why do that?
As for the social inequality angle, if it weren’t for the last murderer, a merchant and landlord who leased the building the school occupied, and the first killer of this year, a doctor, well then it fits, but many forget their social and economic achievements prior to the killings. Something else is at work here. My wife has stated that taking religion out of a society leaves it feeling like there are no consequences for your action, nobody to ultimately answer to. As China is officially an Atheist nation its citizens however are a mix of Buddhists or Taoist followers, sure not as many as if it were a state controlled religion but there is some religion here. I do feel she is onto something here. There is a component of ‘not answering for your sins’ so to speak going on here. A desperation so deep and hopeless that it makes one follow through on an unthinkable act, attacking children, innocent kids who are just going to school, most under the ages of 7.
As people try to rationalize the impossible they are missing the point. The government has its hands tied. There is little you can do to monitor every citizen and protect every outlet for those turning to murder. The schools have limited resources to hire professional guards to patrol and safeguard the schools all day against would-be attackers. The economy has little to do with it. There are jobs out there, unemployment in China is taken seriously as they have to maintain control of the masses here. Would having a job have saved any of these children, maybe, but it may have led to murdered co-workers too. The issues are not neat and tidy little boxes that all can be placed into. No, the problem is that here in China, as in America, the communities have lost a sense of community. There are so many people here and yet few try to take the time to know their neighbors. I am not saying strong community would have identified and prevented the attacks, but it would have made carrying them out much harder to undertake. Problems like these don’t crop up overnight, they fester, slowly boil and seethe for months or years.
The snipes people here are hunting are the wrong types. The intent is on the right track, looking for commonality, however the commonality is not some ill treatment of the murderers, they should be looking at the how, not the why. How is it that these people go to that point. How did they take such a turn to see innocent children as a messenger for their perceived ill will, that is the point. In a close knit community there are outlets for frustration, healthy was of coping, support, and mediation to prevent things from boiling over. People here, as in other countries, have become too obsessed with chasing after their own financial gains and dreams and have shrugged off the neighborly ways of the past. There is a social problem, just not the one people are focusing on. I am sure mental health in China could use some vast improvements but when people are isolated, jilted, and pushed there is a breaking point. If nobody is around to observe and assist these people when the issues are still small and manageable then we have to deal with the aftermath. Instead of railing against capitalism, corruption, land rights, or migrants, people should be asking why their communities have been falling apart. Of course that means looking at whey they don’t talk to know everyone in their apartment building, socialize with neighbors on weekends, and able to name all the parents in their kids class. I suffer form the same problem, I give myself no pass here as I am guilty of the same thing, not connecting with the community I live in, no excuses. In stead of passing off the blame on a nameless, faceless them, or they, or others, we should ask ourselves why we didn’t see this coming sooner and stop it before it got this far. That is the problem with a snipe hunt, you will never find what you sought out looking for, what you might find may be much worse.