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Commentary: Knife vs. Gun as Chinese Reflect on ‘Children’s Sorrow Day’

In a rare moment in history, twin tragedies connected the United States and China on Dec. 14. A gunman in Newtown, Conn., forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six adults. In Guangshan, in China’s Henan Province, a madman wielding a knife attacked Chenpeng Village elementary school and injured 22 children and one adult.

It is hard not to draw comparisons. The difference is a knife and a gun, life and death. The difference is Chinese parents visiting their children in a hospital as they recover, while American parents are mourning theirs lost forever. The difference is private gun ownership, banned in China, but legal in the U.S., even for assault weapons.

While President Obama shed tears when speaking about the tragedy in Connecticut, President Hu Jintao of China sent his condolences and expressed his deep sympathy to the American people and victims’ families. Whether this is a new practice of diplomacy among nations, the condolences remind one of responses to devastating natural disasters: earthquakes and hurricanes; or terrorist attacks, like 9/11; or epidemics, like SARS — a force majeure beyond anyone’s control. In a way, it is. America’s guns are out of control.

As Americans mourn and reflect on the latest epidemic of gun rampage in the country, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency published an in-depth analysis of America’s gun politics and violence, titled “Innocent blood demands no delay for U.S. gun control.”

People’s Daily published a special report with detailed information on the crime and a long list of gun shootings in the U.S. from 1997 to 2011. The Chinese government is hardly an untarnished model, but views from China offer a different perspective. To Chinese citizens and government alike, private guns and gun violence are alien, a “cultural shock” particular to the United States, a country that many in China otherwise admire and seek to emulate.

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The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos in Beijing said it well in his blog on the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting: “It takes a lot to make China’s government look good. But we’ve done it.”

When it comes to American exceptionalism, Americans are exceptionally vulnerable to the guns of their own fellow citizens. How many Americans died in Iraq in the eight-year war? 4,400. How many Americans are victims of gun violence a year? 100,000. While gun-rights advocates say more guns would make us safer, there is already one gun for every person in America.

It is a bigger puzzle to the Chinese. On Sina Weibo under the hot topic “Save the Children,” where Chinese netizens discuss the tragedies in both Connecticut and Henan, one expressed his incomprehension as to why anyone in the U.S. could own a gun. With the average mass murderer in his 20s and single, this microblogger suggested perhaps only mature taxpayers married with children should be allowed to purchase them.

We may not be able to get rid of evil, but we can do our best to prevent evil people from arming themselves with combat-style weapons. We may have Second Amendment rights to own guns, but we can’t let violent gun owners trample other people’s rights to live, to work, to go to the movies, to go shopping, or go to school.

It is truly sad, but we have made a knife in a hideous Chinese crime look good by comparison. One thing in common in both countries, however, is the sorrow over the innocent young victims. As one Sina Weibo entry suggested, Dec. 14 should be declared “Children’s Sorrow Day” — indeed, a day linking China and the U.S. in the most unfortunate way.

Published December 16th, 2012

  • Dori Yang

    Thoughtful analysis – and a much-needed perspective on our American society as seen from abroad. Yes, December 14 was Children’s Sorrow Day.

    • Wen

      Thank you Dori for your comments. You know all about perspectives. Hope to see more input from you.

    • Wen

      Thank you Dori. You know all about perspectives. Hope you see more input from you.

  • Carson Tavenner

    I do not think these tragic “twin” events merit a comparison of knife vs. gun rules. Many African children die every day by both knife and gun violence and the world keeps on turning. Meanwhile, in Tibetan regions, the death toll from self-immolation in current years now tops 90+ and the central government has yet to show sorrow over those lives. I think saying gun violence makes China’s crime “look good by comparison” should make us also cautious not to forget a comparison between marching compared to burning in the streets.

    • Wen

      You are right, Carson. All those issues, in Africa or Tibet, should be addressed. But the school attacks on the same day in both China and the U.S. did provide a comparison and opportunity to think about the gun violence in the U.S., with over 9,000 deaths in 2009.

  • Alice Lau

    That microblogger’s suggestion is terrible. Lanza went shooting with his mother, and it was her guns that he used. Being a parent does not necessarily make one responsible.

    • Wen

      Hi Alice, the blogger probably didn’t know that part yet when he made that suggestion. I guess he meant that people with family and children would be responsible that peole without them.

  • Kristi

    It is not an “either/or” argument. Why would suffering by others make these events less significant? All deaths of innocent people are tragic, but an outside perspective can shed light on one’s own society and help people reflect on the issue in a new way.

  • Mike Craig

    While I am filled with sorrow and compassion for the loss and ruination of so many lives in Newtown, I must express strong disagreement with some of the views you posted.

    I urge you to read and consider this article by Professor John Lott, a recognized gun expert published today. copy the whole line.

    Professor Lott discusses shooting tragedies and points out that “Gun Free Zones” are magnets for sick minds that intend to kill themselves after multiple murders. Sick minds are not confined to the U.S., mass murders have occurred all over the world: Norwegian island Utøya; Kauhajoki, Finland; State Oil Academy, Azerbaijan; Dunblane, Scotland; Sanaa, Yemen; Taber, Alberta, Canada; Veghel, Netherlands; Carmen de Patagones, Argentina; Tuusula, Finland; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

    There were as far as I know no school shooting incidents in the U.S. prior to the passage of the Safe School Zone Act of 1990, because concealed permit holders were permitted to carry on campus. Consider the probable consequences if you were to post a sign in your front yard “There Are No Guns In This House”.

    There are by latest estimate some 300 million privately owned guns in America, which translates into the fact that there are millions of law-abiding citizens in America who did not shoot at or kill anyone this year, or any other year. Cars do not drive themselves into fatal accidents and guns do not pull their own triggers.

    And by definition an “Assault” rifle is a military rifle capable of selective fire from single shot to 3 round bursts to fully automatic fire. Fully automatic weapons have been banned to civilians since about 1939. The rifle used in New town was not an “Assault Weapon”. It was legally purchased and registered by the shooter’s mother.

    • Wen

      Thanks Mike for your thoughtful input and the link. This is a conversation or debate every American should join, and all views are welcome. Regarding cars and guns, cars are not made to kill. Guns are, and have been used 9,000 times a year to deliberately kill Americans.

  • Rob

    In serious debate on this topic, remember why the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution was put in place: to assure free men the ability to defend themselves against the possibility of a tyrannical government. History bears witness to the tendency of governments, being imperfect and administered by fallible men, to go down that path. The author is correct that it is easier to kill people with a firearm than with a knife. It is also easier to keep a people under an autocracy’s thumb for the same reason.

    • Wen

      Thank you Rob for your comments. Second Amendment is of course part of the United States. But we need to find a balance between Americans’ rights to own guns and thousands of Americans who die from those guns a year.

      • Rob

        Wen – OK, so how do you suggest we do that? What does that balance look like? You do not make any concrete recommendations here, however the tone of your article insinuates that the problem is there are too many guns in the hands of Americans. If so, what would you propose as a solution to that problem?

        • Wen

          Yes I do think there are too many guns. Concrete recommendations? I would start with a limit of the number of guns a person could own, and an age limit to own as well. In the meantime, instead of arming the teachers, there could be a police officer or an armed security personnel at each school. As one tweet said, one failed shoe bomber made everybody take off their shoes at the airport. With so many gun deaths, nothing changes?

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  • Chains

    Fair comparisons. War is evil and brings lots of sorrows. Of course it will be wonderful to erase war but while it can be contained, it is difficult to totally erase it. So what is more deadly and more fatal? Missiles or nuclear weapons? This is the case here.

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