The Chinese Kindergarten Murders: “More Happy News, Please”
“Kindergarten murders.” I can barely hold these words in my head at the same time, so putting them in the same sentence feels wrong in about a billion ways. Yet five times in the last two months, lone Chinese men have stormed into schools and attacked students, with the only common denominator being the age of the majority of the victims. One attacked kindergarteners with a hammer and then lit himself on fire. Another locked twenty-one five year olds in their classroom and set it ablaze. In the latest incident, a disgruntled landlord used a kitchen cleaver to kill five girls, two boys, their teacher, her mother, then himself. Death toll: 17. Injuries: Close to 100. Answers: none.
I’ve been reading the coverage for nearly a week now – the Times, the Telegram, and the South China Morning Post – yet the stories remain hard to decipher. One account claimed that Wu Huanming, the latest attacker, was diabetic and afraid of witchcraft; another that he had been recently circumcised. (Um … what?) The more logical consensus seems to be that Wu, a landlord who rented space to the kindergarten, wanted his tenants out. But when you’re talking about killing kindergarteners, does logic really matter?
It doesn’t seem to matter to Malcolm Moore, the Telegraph’s Shanghai correspondent, who describes Wu as “a prosperous merchant … soft-spoken and gentle.” Yet five paragraphs later, he compares Wu to Travis Bickle, a “middle-aged man, left on the fringes of society, whose alienation and loneliness manifests itself in extreme violence.” Travis Bickle was not a merchant, a landlord, or a father — he was a FUCKING TAXI DRIVER. But Moore wants to make a case that “just as the American Dream turned sour in the 1970s and 80s, the same thing could be happening now in China.” (Again … what? WHAT?) Two big problems with that analogy, Malcolm: there were no American kindergarten massacres, and there is no “Chinese Dream.”
There is, however, Chinese Rage. It seems like, after decades of mining disasters and badly-built schools and that Tiananmen unpleasantness, the Chinese people are finally fed up with the corruption and inefficiencies of their notoriously bureaucratic government, which has somehow managed to bundle the worst aspects of every political system of the twentieth century into one big dysfunctional dumpling. As the wildly popular Chinese blogger/racecar driver Han Han put it: “By blocking off information and the hospital, controlling the media, prohibiting visits, and changing the subject, the Taizhou government has successfully diverted our anger from the killer onto themselves.”A government that allows families only one child apiece should do its best to protect those children; between the earthquake and these latest attacks, they have failed, visibly and tragically.
The strange thing about Chinese Rage, however, is how often critiques of the ruling party sound like a party line. Check out this headline from the South China Morning Post: “Chinese Kindergarten Massacre Seen as Symptom of Progress.” Not a single word of that sentence makes sense. Or this interview with Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based professor and commentator: ‘They are eating the vile fruits of the undermining of humanism and justification of violence in class struggles, because they shape the mindsets of many people.’” (Did this guy get through the censors because no one can understand what the fuck he means?) What looked like the Chinese equivalent of a soccer mom seemed to be speaking in Marxist tongues: “The deep social conflict has been reflected into real life. The gap between the rich and poor is too wide, so there may be people who have developed an anti-social personality. This kind of person cannot be controlled by security measures.” Even Chinese anti-government rhetoric sounds like, well, rhetoric. Nothing concrete: no statistics or examples, just concepts and clichés. Keep in mind that the clichés may well be true; however, there’s a false feel to it, Mad Libs meets Dialectical Materialism.
What’s really missing, for better or for worse, is the most ubiquitous word in contemporary American media: “I.” In China, all problems are rooted in the body politic instead of the individual brain. So there’s no meaningful mention of mental illness; in fact, most mentions merely mention that it’s not being mentioned, as it wasn’t mentioned yesterday by China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, in the first public government statement on the killings. The country obviously has a lot of work to do negotiating the balance between “I” the person and “We” the people; the lives of children and teachers should not be the price Chinese people pay for that process. A commenter named Ralph in West China responded to Moore’s post: “these episodes have been discussed in just about every foreign paper. It does not mean China is a super mad, bad and dangerous society. More happy news please.”
Here’s hoping, Ralph.
Photo credit: AP
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