China Takes Chilling Look at Security in Its Schools

Initial comparisons between the Newtown and Chenpeng school attacks this month tended to focus on the attackers’ weapons. Many noted that the 23 slashed in China all survived, in contrast with the 26 killed in Connecticut. But while the American National Rifle Association’s response, including the suggestion that armed guards be stationed in schools, has been assailed as “mendacious, delusional, [and] almost deranged“, the subject of school security has also come to the fore in China. From Edward Wong at The New York Times:

Perhaps most shocking is what the video of the attack 10 days ago shows about the school’s first line of defense: several children waving broomsticks try to block the man’s progress. Minutes later, local adults who had rushed into the building, also wielding brooms, chase the man from the school.

Such details were not in the immediate coverage of the attack, at the Chenpeng Village Primary School in Guangshan County, Henan Province, and the video was not released until days later.

[…] But now the Chinese video, circulating here on television and the Internet, has refocused attention on the Chenpeng attack, especially on security measures at the school and on local officials’ efforts to squelch coverage. Fury has been building because such rampages have recurred over the last three years, with intruders slashing at schoolchildren with knives and axes, including one who attacked with a hammer and then set himself on fire. Each case set off fear among parents across the country as well as criticism of government officials for not doing enough to protect children; each time, officials guaranteed schools would be secure. The video made blatant the gap between the official promises and reality.

“Did the government not say that no strangers can get into schools?” wrote one Internet user, Xia Ling, on a microblog. “Did the government not say that every school has security guards? Liars! You will eventually all face karma someday.”

While Chinese calls for stricter gun control in the U.S. have received considerable attention, Adam Minter looked last week at others advocating expanded gun rights in China. From Bloomberg View:

“Dictatorship has brought disasters much greater than the losses from the shooting,” wrote one anonymous Sina Weibo microblogger in the lengthy comment thread. Another, in Guangzhou, wrote of the land seizures that have caused so much despair — and unrest — across China: “If people have guns in their hands, can the government come to your house and demolish it?”

These sorts of sentiments weren’t confined to the comment thread below Zhang’s antigun tweet. They began to appear shortly after news of the shootings broke and have steadily become more prominent on China’s microblogs. Mao Anlin, a columnist and reporter with the 21st Century Business Herald, offered a cagey tweet the morning of Dec. 15: “A man with multiple guns is sufficiently armed to protect himself, and thus Americans should adjust their policies on guns. In places where people don’t worry about suffering from governmental violence, the need for weapons which represent civil deterrence fades…. While in those places where the government commits violence against the people, the people don’t have the ability to protect themselves.”

Mao doesn’t specify the people to whom he refers at the end of his tweet, but it certainly wouldn’t go unnoticed by his Chinese followers that they don’t have the right to protect themselves with firearms.

The availability of guns in China is already more complicated than some commentary has suggested: Minter’s column begins in a Shanghai gun range where “drinking and shooting machine guns is not only allowed, it’s encouraged”. On Twitter, he pointed out a 2008 article by The Wall Street Journal’s James T. Areddy on various aspects guns and gun control in China.