Alone Together: China and the US

While the Sandy Hook massacre still covers TV screens and computer monitors everywhere I look, few Americans know that on the same day a lone attacker rampaged through a Chinese elementary school wounding 22 students and one adult. Understandably, the tragedy close to home got more attention. Yet since school invasions, including savage killings of school children, have troubled China for the last few years, shouldn’t we wonder why this is happening there and now here?

It bothers me that, instead of looking for root causes, America focuses on the obvious–the HOW of what happened. For example, one article covered the latest Chinese attack focuses on the weapons involved: “’None Dead’ in China: Sensible Laws vs. Maniacal Attacks.”  Is focusing on weaponry useful? Are gun laws the answer?

This afternoon I talked to my neighbor, a practicing psychologist who deals with the mentally ill on a daily basis, she said, “We aren’t even asking the right questions.” She stressed the role of mental illness and the ineffective reactions to it in our bureaucracy. She complained about the perfunctory release of obviously disturbed individuals after the required 72 hour hold. Certainly, this contributes, but what’s under this? The occasional Jack the Ripper pops up in history every now and then, but in the United States, mass killings occur so often that today Jack the Ripper would probably be a short article on some local page nine and not even a big blip on CNN.

Finally, I found a brief 2010 article titled China Searches for Answers after School Attacks.”  Here’s a major part:

Ji Jianlin, a professor of clinical psychology at Shanghai’s Fudan University, says the incidents share some common features.

“The attackers all have grudges against society. They all try to take revenge by attacking the young and vulnerable,” he says.

In part, it reflects the social tension caused by rampant corruption and inequality. But Prof Ji points out that there is a lack of social and psychological support in the rapidly changing society.

“In the past, China’s workers used to have social support from the unions or women’s associations. They used to provide quite adequate support. It’s now quite weak.”

This is especially true in smaller cities and towns. In a country where people used to be looked after from cradle to grave, the social change has not only left many Chinese without their traditional support mechanism but also pushed a large number of people into relative poverty.

And the income gap is widening further between the rich and poor.

This, coupled with a changed attitude towards life, has driven many to extremes in their desperate attempt to come to terms with the law of the jungle prevalent there.

On top of that, there is still a stigma in Chinese culture about people needing psychological counselling.

Family members and society as a whole tend to conceal or shun those with mental problems. This may partly lead to attackers failing to get help before they commit crimes.

There is also suspicion that widespread reports of the attacks may have encouraged copycats. Three out of the four recent attacks were carried out with knives.

Mental illness, corruption, a wealth gap, a “rapidly changing society”? Does any of this sound familiar?

I have no answers, but I found myself looking up “anomie.”

Can the melding of corruption, a wealth gap, and rapid societal change create a perfect storm? National insanity? Why do I want to say “Rwanda”?



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