School Attacks Highlight Mental Illness, Increasing “Social Pressures” in China


Why do Chinese adults keep attacking Chinese schoolchildren? Most recently: A man broke into a school in the Shandong Province on Friday and beat five preschoolers before setting himself on fire.

This has been the fourth assault on Chinese students in just over a month, and the third in three days, reports the New York Times.

To recap: On Thursday, an unemployed man stabbed 28 children (most of them 4-year-olds) and 3 adults at a kindergarten. On Wednesday, a former teacher with a history of mental illness stabbed 15 children at a primary school. On that same day a 42-year-old man was executed for killing 8 children in a knife attack at a primary school.

Criminal psychologists think these are actually copycat crimes, since they incite intense reactions in the public and broad media coverage. Which, if you are crazy, you probably like the sound of.

According to The Lancet,173 million Chinese adults are believed to suffer mental problems — and 91 percent of them never receive professional help. That’s 157 million-or-so people running around, ostensibly untreated for whatever ills they may be facing. Says the New York Times, “Mental illness remains a closeted topic in modern China, and neither medication nor modern psychiatric treatment is widely used.”

But being mentally ill does not mean you’re going to start attacking kids, obviously. According to Yahoo News,

Experts say outbursts against the defenseless are frequently due to social pressures. An egalitarian society only a generation ago, China’s headlong rush to prosperity has sharpened differences between the rich and poor, while the public health system has atrophied.

Indeed, “Most school assaults have occurred on the east coast, where both the cost of living and income inequality are high.” People also blame a lack of the old socialist support systems for increased tensions and violence. Ji Jianlin, a professor of clinical psychology at Shanghai’s Fudan University, told BBC News, “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.”

And, in fact, violent crime is up in general in China.

Schools are taking precautions against further attacks by arming guards with police batons, pepper spray, and in Beijing’s Xicheng district, long-handled metal restraint poles with a hook on the end. Police posts are also being built on elementary and middle schools’ campuses.

But at the end of the day, such precautions don’t serve to address the cause of the problem, only attempt to prevent it from happening — and, as everyone knows, a Band-Aid is not a permanent solution.

Meanwhile, China takes home the gold for most executions in the world. So, um, there’s that.