19 May 2010

Limited Government in China: Amoklauf Updates

Here's a change of pace: the latest attack on a Chinese school was a gang attack, and instead of targeting kindergartners they went into a vocational school with knives. That leaves open whether we should characterize this as a classic amoklauf, since the incident also seems tied to a student-vs-villager feud. Something more like what we've come to expect happened over the weekend, except that the man went mad in a market and attacked adult women instead of kids before jumping to his death.

The Chinese regime may be some people's nightmare (or ideal) of "big government," but this crime wave may have exposed a limit to government's sweep regardless of scale. The government has had a month to crack down by heightening school security, and has done a pretty poor job so far. Cynics might say that the Chinese tyranny doesn't really give a damn for its citizens' safety, but I thought that China was a "totalitarian" state, and that totalitarians by definition give a damn about everything.

Some observers have looked to China as an alternative to the west's risk-crazy globalized economy, claiming that the Chinese have immunized themselves from many of the stresses and strains of laissez-faire finance markets. But we've seen enough of these episodes by now to assume that something is going seriously wrong in Chinese society, whether it has to do with the rest of the world economy or not. It may be that mutilation and murder become the only options left in some people's minds when open opposition to the government is outlawed. But why attack children or students instead of bureaucrats or cadres? I suspect that these crimes are a kind of dissent, but they're not a cry for freedom or anything Americans can root for. These Chinese amoklaufers and similar criminals are self-evidently anti-social if not anti-socialist. The distinction is important and might be made elsewhere, even where violence is currently absent.

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