Why China neglects its children’s safety?

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The following article is based on a blog of Li Wei, one of the popular bloggers in China.

Actually, I prefer not to write an article like this.

But I find it astonishing that the enthusiasm of the mainstream media for the Guangshan school attack has faded away so quickly.Somehow, we all know it, but hate to mention – the story might have been contained because of requirements (by some authorities).

At the same time, observing the quite different reactions to a similar tragedy on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, I feel there is something I must say. Even if my views could hardly be distinguishable from others’ on the issue, for the sake of our children and our future, I think it’s better to speak out.

The 14th of December, 2012 was a sad day—that day, in Guangshancounty, Henan province in  Central China, 22 primary school students were injured in a knife attack by a local villager with mental illness. The same day, in Connecticut, USA, 28 people were killed in a shooting massacre, 20 of them beautiful children aged six and seven.

So, for the past several days, the mainstream media of the two nations was busy covering the news. American media was covering their news, and we were also busy covering their news. News about the Guangshan attack was however blocked by the local government. The violence against the children happened about the same time on both sides of the Pacific, but received different treatment. The fact begs some introspection on our side.

Shooting-related crimes are common in the US, and it was once reported that an average of 300 people get killed in shooting incidents every day. Although the gun-free policy may be to blame for the crimes, it’s none of our government’s business. We are supposed to care more about our own business—like our own children were chased and stabbed at the school.

The shooting in the US shocked the whole nation and drew widespread indignation. It received in-depth coverage, there were many press conferences, even the President cried several times in public, and the national flagwas lowered to half-mast in mourning.

But in China, things were quite different—at first, no one knew about the horrible crime because the Guangshan government blocked the news, and then after being disclosed, local Guangshan media purposely played down the incident by running high-profile front page articles praising the efforts of the local educational authorities.

Those who know little about Chinamay assume that children are not valued here because even if they get hurt in such a horrible way, our government seems oblivious to it. The callousness of the local government and the abnormal reaction of the local media are very infuriating.

In fact, the attitude and indifference of the local officials is really appalling. When reporters approached the village committee about the news the following day of the attack, an official surnamed Zhou replied on the phone saying he was not at the office “due to some personal matters, and don't know anything."

A woman who claimed to be a "working staff" but was later identified to be an office deputy director on duty at the County Bureau of Education told reporters that "the leaders had all gone to the countryside on inspections". She left the office on an excuse and never returned, leaving reporters waiting in the office.

When reporters called a person in charge of the county's public relations department to verify if Min, the arrested man, was mentally ill, the official replied that it would take time to identify the illness, and told reporters, "It makes no sense to discuss this. It's better to have lunch first." The indifference and repulsion of the officials is more chilling than the current frigid weather.

Any violence targeted at children is unforgivable, and all societies have a moral obligation to report on and prevent occurrence of such violence. These are social issues and have no immediate relevance to the politics, so it makes no sense to hide the truth.

However, in China, the common public has long been blocked from this kind of news. A perfect example would be the notorious fire in Karamay in 1994, which killed 284 primary and junior high school students and 38 teachers. But common people didn’t known about the tragedy until recent years. (And, several survivors of the fire recalled that when the fire first started, some local official stood and loudly ordered “all students to stay put and let the government officials (领导们) leave first. After thedeparture of the local officials, the fire went out of control, causing the heavy casualties of the children)

We can totally understand that, as a developing country, China is incapable of providing its children with the same welfare enjoyed by those living in the developed countries. And we are patient and confident enough to believe that someday our children will finally get to enjoy the best care of the motherland. But, if such callous remarks made by government officials like “let the officials leave first”, “makes no sense to discuss” popping out all the times, we wonder if our patience and confidence could last.

They may argue that Obama is just putting on a show. Maybe they are right. But at least it’s quite a show. What did they do when Obama was shedding tears for children? Playing games, or having dinner, or leaving a building on fire with hundreds of kids still trapped inside?

Apparently, even publicity stunt would be too much for our officials. Even if all the tears by the American politicians are not real, it at least makes us feel warm in this cold winter. But what the Guangshan officials did directly struck a chill in our hearts.

It is true—there are more children in China than in the US. And in central China’s Henan province where the recent tragedy happened, there are especially more left-behind children (the phase refers to those children who are left with their grandparents in the under-developed rural areas by their parents who leave their hometown for better paying jobs in big cities).

Let me guess, if their own children got hurt in the accident, would they remain so detached or busy with chanting praises for the indifferent government. There is an old saying in China-- all human hearts are made of flesh. However, I wonder whether it’s true for the officials involved in these incidents.

It always makes people feel sad when such kinds of tragedies happen, but what hurts more is our government’s apathetic reaction. Yes, it’s true we could not stop such tragedies from happening in every corner of the world, because there will always be the brutal or mentally disturbed who might hurt others. But, the society should at least provide its young some necessary protection.

And more importantly, when the tragedy does take place, the government should at least apply some more tender and considerate approach to console the public rather than rubbing salt on their wounds.

Without a doubt, some local officials would be removed from office for offsetting the public resentment incurred. But the forgetful Chinese would soon forget the sadness and indignation, and then everything will be all the same—children are still insecure, and maybe some officials may even be rehabilitated.

Although the good people could hardly accept such an end, the neglect of the children has become a constant phenomenon in the country. And all we could do is to pray for it to not happen again,and then live with the fear of such tragedies looming large.

I really hope this is the last time, by which I do not mean the tragedy itself, but the cold heart of the government applying on it.



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