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Search is underway for deeper meaning in a string of mass murders in Chinese schools.
Pi Yijun, criminal psychology professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, said China’s ever-growing wealth gap has created a volatile situation in which the people living at the poorer end of the spectrum feel disenfranchised and helpless.
Mass incidents — what the government calls demonstrations, protests and other disruptions — are on the rise each year. Pi said there were 90,000 such incidents across the country in 2008.
“The disparities in wealth lead to problems like poverty or joblessness and the accumulated complaints boil over into outbreaks, not just individual cases,” Pi said.
Yet there are still questions about whether the knife attacks actually are unusual, or statistically very meaningful. With a population of 1.3 billion, China’s overall murder rate remains relatively low.
In addition, as the Chinese government has loosened controls on parts of its domestic media, reporting on incidents such as the school murders is now possible, where it may have been censored in years past. In other words, it’s impossible to tell by looking at open historical data just how unusual these killings are.
Still, there is no question that Chinese parents and others are living with a heightened sense of fear.
“I don’t think anything will happen in Beijing, but I’m still nervous to send her to school,” said Lu Liyang, the mother of a 6-year-old kindergartner in the Chinese capital.
Whatever happens next, China has joined the unhappy ranks of countries grappling with widespread, random school violence.
Pi said the children were likely chosen as targets because kids are so important to Chinese families, particularly in the age of the one-child policy.
“If they kill a child, they can destroy a big family behind the child,” Pi said. “They think it is a very good way to express their anger.”