A Candle in the Wind

By Bob Gaydos
 Something has come unraveled in China. That model of the closed society, tightly controlled from the top down, is killing its children. Slaughtering them, actually, with knives, hammer and meat cleavers in elementary schools across the wide nation. Here is the casualty list for the last two months:
  • March 23: In Nanping City, Fujian Province, a man waited outside a school gate with a knife and killed eight students and injured five.
  •  April 12: Not far from the Xizhen Elementary School of Hepu County, Guangxi Province, an eight-year-old student and an elderly woman were found dead, and another five were injured, including two students, a toddler, and a middle-aged couple.
  • April 28: A man ran into an elementary school in Leizhou City of Guangdong Province with a knife and injured 18 students and a teacher. The resulting investigation showed that the 33-year-old suspect was a teacher at another public school in Leizhou City, on “sick leave” since February 2006.
  • April 29: A man broke into a kindergarten affiliated with Taixing Township of Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, stabbing and killing 32 people.
  • April 30: A 45-year-old man of Shangzhuang Village of Weifang City, Shandong Province, forcibly entered Shanzhuang Elementary School on a motorcycle, carrying a hammer and gasoline. He wounded five preschoolers with the hammer and then killed himself via self-immolation using the gasoline.
  • May 12: A cleaver-wielding man broke into a kindergarten in China’s Shaanxi Province, killing nine, including seven children, and injuring 11 before returning home to commit suicide.

  In what appears to be a related attack, on Monday a young man in his 20s attacked six young women with a meat cleaver at a market in Foshan, in southern China, before jumping to his death off a three-story building. (Note: China bans handguns for civilians.)

 The first official response to the killings was the obvious one — beef up security at schools. With each attack came more guards, but China is a huge country with thousands of schools. The second official response was one that is hard-wired into the Chinese government — blame the media. The government banned reporting on the attacks, ostensibly to avoid copycat crimes, but also, as media critics within and without China noted, to spare the country embarrassment for the bizarre crimes.
But as the attacks continued and parents feared for their children‘s lives, even the government had to acknowledge publicly that something was seriously awry. Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, said, “Apart from tight safety measures, we need to pay attention to addressing the root causes of these problems. That includes dealing with social conflicts and dispute resolution at the grassroots level.”
This is not something China has done well under communism. Adding capitalism to the equation may have added wealth and international prestige and power, but it may also have increased feelings of alienation, isolation, fear  and despair among  those who do not share in the wealth. China has no independent justice system. It has virtually no mental health system. The disturbed, the angry, the violent have nowhere to go to release their demons, explain their resentments. Killing children, the most vulnerable, the most innocent, is the ultimate act of desperation. Do you hear me now?
 I don’t really know where to go with this. Part of me says this is simply another indictment (although a gruesome one) of the communist system, which purports to share the wealth with everyone, yet unfailingly rewards those in power far out of proportion and neglects the basic needs of those at the other end of the spectrum. In China, the gap between rich and poor — a contradiction of communism — has grown wider in recent decades with the introduction of Western businesses. Yet China’s government still seeks to retain control, not by serving its citizens, but by exerting its power over those who try to question it. Spend money on big things that make the country look good. Hello, Olympics! Ignore other stuff like individual rights, mental health facilities, environmental and safety precautions at work. Censor the media.
 Maybe the Internet will be the answer. Even China could not keep news of the attacks and comment on the possible causes from reaching an international audience. That inevitability coupled with the sheer horror of the assaults has stirred a discussion within China over the root causes. Perhaps that will produce a demand for change that can’t be put down by tanks and troops. Part of me really hopes so because the thought of those innocent children being slaughtered at school makes me inordinately sad for them, their parents and their country.
 Even sadder, Huang Hung, a columnist for China Daily, the leading English-language paper in China, and a prominent Chinese blogger, noted that when the first murderer was executed (Chinese justice may not be accessible and even-handed, but it is swift), the public reaction was generally one of relief. He is gone and forgotten. Put our shame out of sight. “Yet,” she wrote, “no one has lit a candle for all the dead children.” 
Maybe that’s what this column is. A candle for China’s children.
Bob can reached at bob@zestoforange.com.    


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