Friday, April 30, 2010

Random Attacks Send Frightening Message

A series of copycat killings, where men have attacked elementary-school children with knives and a hammer are creating fear among parents and people around the country.

Over a month ago on March 23, Zheng Minsheng, 42, attacked children in the school yard with a knife in the southeastern city of Nanping, killing eight students. Initial reports said he was mentally ill, but some media said he was not mentally unstable.

Legal expert He Weifang, a former Peking University law professor and civil rights advocate, said Zheng's trial was over unusually swiftly. 

Coincidentally he was executed on Wednesday, the same day as an attack in Leizhou, Guangdong, where 33-year-old Chen Kanging broke into a primary school and wounded 15 children and a teacher with a knife. Apparently Chen was a former teacher (not at that school) who had been on sick leave since 2006 for mental problems.

Then yesterday in Taixing, Jiangsu Province, an unemployed man called Xu Yuyuan, 47, stormed a classroom and with a 20-cm long knife, wounded 29 children and a teacher. Two teachers and a security guard failed to stop him. So far no motive has been given.

Apparently Xu had been an insurance salesman until he was fired in 2001 and has not had a job since.

And then today, 45-year old farmer Wang Yonglai wielding a hammer broke down the gates of a school with his motorcycle in Weifang, Shandong Province. He tried to attack children using the hammer and struck the teacher who tried to block him. He then grabbed two children and doused himself with gasoline and tried to light himself on fire. Two teachers managed to rescue the children before he set himself alight and died.

While the Chinese media and authorities are quick to blame these incidents on mental illness, it also shows the desperation of people who feel they have no hope with the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the lack of social services and social injustice.

Nevertheless, there is also the serious problem of mental illness in China, how it is mostly left untreated due to the stigma attached to having psychological issues.

In a Telegraph article from April last year, Huang Yueqin, director of the National Center for Mental Health estimates there are over 100 million Chinese with mental illness.

The report says only recently has the Chinese government recognized the scale of the problem.

"The government did not pay attention to the public's mental health over the past 50 years, and did not invest much in treatment or care," Huang says.

"However, the current five-year plan (for 2007-2012) has included mental illness treatment as a major field of research, which is a big step forward," she said.

While Beijing will build six new mental health clinics to treat 150,000 people in the city, where as there are currently only 6,900 psychiatric beds, there needs to be more qualified people to treat the patients.

Huang says because psychiatry was outlawed during the Cultural Revolution, from the late 1960s, Maoist thought attributed any mental illness to an incorrect appreciation of the class struggle. Apparently many mentally-ill patients were taken from hospitals and sent to labour camps because of their "counterrevolutionary" behaviour.

As a result, currently the entire country has only 4,000 qualified psychiatrists and 15,000 doctors working in psychiatric hospitals. "There is no psychiatry, psychology or psychotherapy students in medical school," explains Huang. "You need to qualify as a doctor first, and then subscribe to a course in mental treatment."

While she claims there is no link between mental illness and the growing wealth disparity, one has to wonder why there is such a spate of attacks that are happening one after another.

Each of the individual attackers' motives may be different, but it seems all are taking extreme measures -- attacking and killing innocent people -- in order to draw attention to their plight.

They are trying to say something, which is beyond our comprehension.

1 comment:

ks said...

anger, hopelessness ,work pressure, stress of all sort, inequality from a nation of a huge population are some of the causes of this type of disturbing happenings. it is high time china should recognize mental health is part of the welfare of its citizens.