What on earth is going on?!

Yesterday, I got a message on my phone from Xinhua (a Chinese news organisation). It said a guy responsible for stabbing a group of school kids in Fujian about a month ago had been executed. Not long after, I got another message about an attack on school kids in Guangdong. Same kind of thing, a guy went into the school and hacked away at a bunch of students and their teachers. I went to huanqiu.com to have a look at the news report. Thankfully this time no deaths. Well, not that I’ve heard so far anyway.
I’ve developed a rather stupid habit recently. I’ve started reading the comments written by netizens on China-related topics reported on Yahoo! news and those written by Chinese netizens on various topics reported by huanqiu.com. To be honest, it is a good way to completely lose your faith in humanity. People say the most horrendous things when sheltered by the ‘anonymity’ of the internet. Things they would never ever have the guts to say to anybody in person. I say ‘anonymity’ because anybody who comments on the news in China, on a Chinese website is probably sadly mistaken if they think they are truly anonymous. Anyway, I read some of the comments about yesterday’s stabbings in Guangdong. I have not gone back to see if they are all still there, but I doubt it because Internet sites here tend to self-censor, otherwise they lose their right to stay online. I am presuming a lot of them would have been removed because most of the comments blamed corrupt government officials on leaving the society in chaos and making people desperate enough to do such things. One asked if it was a school for the children of rich families (are children to blame for the wealth or lack thereof of their families?!… and is being rich or poor enough of a reason to assault somebody?). Many asked why these people weren’t going out and killing government officials, since nobody would be upset about it then. Some even offered money to anybody with enough balls to do so. I was shocked. This is the first time I’ve visited a Chinese news site quick enough to see these kinds of comments before they were erased.
One person (just one) wondered if this was a problem in education rather than just a political issue. Today, I was sitting at lunch when my phone beeped, announcing the arrival of yet another horrible news report. A guy went into a kindergarten in Jiangsu and stabbed a bunch of kids. Some are already dead. I’ve been completely shaken by this news. I’ve not had the courage to go onto huanqiu again. This led to a discussion with some friends who were with me at the time. Why children? It’s not their fault. They have nothing to do with it. Are these people who have already decided they want to die and wanted to go out with a bang knowing that killing kids would be the one thing that would grab everyone’s attention in a mostly self-absorbed society? Perhaps it is stupid to postulate the reasoning of somebody who obviously, for whatever reason, is not quite with it, but my mind at the moment is one giant question mark. I just don’t understand.
This also reminds me of something else I discussed with someone recently. With all this bad news, are we becoming numb? Everytime something bad happens here, rarely is it just one person who gets hurt. People die and rarely are the number of deceased in single figures. Like the mining disasters or, worse, earthquakes where the dead are in the thousands or even tens of thousands. I was appalled at myself when I went home in 2009 and there was a huge fire in Victoria because my reaction was just plain wrong. As the number of dead when up from 30-something to over a hundred, I found it upsetting but wondered what the fuss was… until it finally hit me. I was home, such things do not happen in Australia. For so many people to die is a tragedy. It is always a tragedy, wherever it may occur, but I had become numb to it because it happens all the time in China. I was never this kind of person. What had happened to me? Was this a wall I’d put up? Or had I been affected by a general atmosphere of apathy for the plights of others. Whatever it was crumbled and with it came a lot of tears.
Today I read the English translation of an article by Zhang Wen at China Geeks. That hit the same nerve. What is up with this society when things like this happen? Or when people hear about human tragedy but simply don’t care? Why is it happening? In the rush to get rich moneywise, is there any way of making up for the empathic deficiency that so obviously exists in China nowadays? I’m not suggesting a lack of empathy is an inherent characteristic of Chinese people. Nor would I say that a shortage of empathy is not a problem in other places, indeed I believe it is behind an awful lot of the world’s problems. I’m just saying it is endemic in the society I find myself in and I am in China. I recommend the article and the website in general.

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