Watching Newtown from afar, China wrestles with its own tragedy

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 17, 2012 

WORLD NEWS CHINA-NEWTOWN 2 ZUM

On the same day as the rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty-two school children and a villager were injured in a knife attack at the entrance of Chenpeng Village Primary School including Xie Xinye, a primary school student.

LI BO/XINHUA — Zuma Press/MCT

— Not long after Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults Friday at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the news swept through Chinese media and websites. The state Xinhua newswire ran an editorial headlined, “Innocent blood demands no delay for U.S. gun control.”

On that same Friday, 23 children were stabbed or slashed at a schoolhouse in central China’s Henan province. All of them survived – the attacker wielded a knife and not, as in Newtown, an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

During the days that have followed, though, the sense of satisfaction about China’s strict gun laws has been accompanied by growing questions about the difference in how the two nations handled the incidents.

The Chinese public has focused on the slow official response and the level of social reflection,” said a commentary piece that ran Monday in the English-language Global Times, a state-controlled publication. “Many are furious that while the Americans have started mourning nationwide, the Chinese appear insensitive to the Henan case.”

The piece pointed out that reporters from Xinhua had posted online comments “indicating that the responses from local officials are too slow and cold, with many details of the attack remaining unknown to the public.”

Even as Lanza’s life and possible motivation has been dissected in the United States, little is known about the man suspected of the assaults in Henan. State media reported that his name is Min Yongjun, he is 36 years old and “might be mentally ill, some villagers said.”

A statement Monday by officials in the local Guangshan county government said that initial investigations suggested that Min was “under the influence of doomsday rumor.”

The notice said authorities would be looking into whether Min has a history of epilepsy. It also acknowledged that an earlier release misspelled Min’s name.

There was no explanation for why exactly Min reportedly burst into the home of an 85-year-old woman about 7 a.m. Friday, argued with and attacked her, and then rushed off to the neighboring primary school, where he began slashing students with a knife.

The Tea Leaf Nation online magazine, which analyzes social media in China, found that “particularly vexing to observers was mainstream media’s following evident marching orders to downplay the Chinese tragedy in service of emphasizing the Newtown massacre, followed by local Guangshan government’s unwillingness to cooperate with an increasingly inquisitive press.”

As one Chinese Internet user put it Tuesday: “For the entire afternoon CCTV (state TV) has been doing extensive analysis and report about America’s shooting case: counting the numbers of gun shooting cases, if you are . . . so serious why do you turn a blind eye to and not report about a man in Henan stabbing 22 students” – the initial number reported.

When a rash of similar incidents in 2010 – bludgeoning by knife, kitchen cleaver or hammer – left at least 20 people dead and dozens injured, mostly children, analysts referenced broader social tensions in China and serious problems with care for the mentally ill.

Frustrations over issues such as land rights, a lack of redress through the legal system and official corruption are common reasons for protests in China. But because the backgrounds of those responsible for the 2010 attacks on children often were left vague, it was difficult to know what, exactly, was happening.

That trend seems to have continued. On Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a message of condolence to President Barack Obama about the Newtown shooting. Also on Saturday, a posting at an online account verified as belonging to Xinhua said that when asked whether Min suffered from mental illness, a county-level Chinese Communist Party official responded, “What is the point of discussing this?”

The item on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like micro-blog account, said that people from the local education bureau were meanwhile “playing games in the office.”

On Sunday, another remark on the Xinhua account said that authorities in Guangshan had used “various methods to refuse interviews” and “block information.”

The fact that censors, as of early Monday evening, had not scrubbed those postings suggested the possibility that Beijing may this time around demand a more public accounting of what transpired.

“When Obama was giving the public speech, the local government in Henan was blocking information,” wrote one Weibo user, from the southern province of Hunan. “When America was flying flags at half-mast for the victims, our officials were playing games in the office.”

Researcher Joyce Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Email: tlasseter@mcclatchydc.com

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service