The Reality Institute

MAP: 107 Attacks Related to Primary School Across the Globe in 250 Years

by Michael Molitch-Hou


View List of attacks related to primary schools in a larger map

About two years ago, I was reading news reports aggregated by my Google News feed and was startled to hear about two recent stabbing incidents that took place in Chinese primary schools less than a day apart. The first happened on April 28, 2010 in Leizhou, China when a man named Chen Kangbing, a teacher from a neighboring school, attacked a class of 16 children with a knife. The next day, in Taixin, an unemployed man named Xu Yuyuan stabbed 29 kindergarteners with an 8-inch blade. This second attack was said to be inspired by a copycat mentality. And over the course of the next couple of months, more attacks took place in Chinese primary schools.

The scenes, so brutal and incomprehensible, were hard to remove from my mind. It was impossible to understand how anyone could attack a classroom filled with children. The use of knives seemed to make the stories that much more nightmarish. As is the case, though, with the majority of the world’s events, these too slowly faded from my thoughts. Otherwise, I’d never be able to go about my life after reading the news everyday.

It wasn’t until the recent massacre in Colorado that I revisited the Chinese incidents. On Mother Jones, I came across an article entitled “MAP: 50 Mass Murders Across America in 30 Years”. The map seemed to speak to a feeling I’ve had multiple times when hearing about mass violence in the media: this happens all the time. In the same moment that I still feel the horror and fear in response to a shooting like the one that took place in Colorado, I never feel surprised. Mass violence, in a variety of forms, has taken place in the world’s history for some time; the way that it manifests is the only thing that seems to change. The sensationalization by the media, then, frames mass murders as something unique and completely isolated. They never seem to examine it with a bird’s eye view.

So, when I heard about the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, I couldn’t help but think of the kids in those schools in China. Out of curiosity, I googled “list of school attacks” and was surprised that Wikipedia had such a list and that it was even broken down into primary and secondary levels of education. I clicked on the link and saw that people have been attacking primary schools since 1764. Of course, the nature of such attacks has changed over the years, but it’s been happening since before the United States was a country and it’s happened across the globe.

To put the recent atrocity into context, I created a map based off of the Wikipedia article entitled “List of attacks related to primary schools”. From a cursory glance at the map, I haven’t been able to come to all that many conclusions, but what I did gather seems to be of importance when thinking about any acts of mass violence anywhere at anytime.

It’s Widespread
Mass violence isn’t specific to the United States. The English version of Wikipedia is clearly U.S.-biased. The majority of the entries made in the article were surely done by users from the United States and, consequently, I was going to see a larger number of attacks that took place in the U.S. – especially dating farther back in history. But, as early as 1884, there’s an entry for an act of violence in Ontario with the number of foreign attacks slowly increasing as, I assume, technology develops and the sharing of information between countries develops. By the 1990s, we see mass violence in primary schools being well-documented throughout the world.

Gun Control and Violence
While the majority of incidents in the U.S. involve the use of guns (indicated on the map with a magenta pushpin  ), the majority of incidents in China involve some sort of knife (indicated with a  ). One attack in particular clued me off to what was happening in China: on October, 12, 2005, Liu Shibing attacked 16 children in Guangde County using six home-made guns. It wasn’t until I started looking at this map that I realized why the attackers in China had used knives: China has stronger gun control laws than the United States. I found that, in China, only government officials, hunters, farmers, and a particular tribe – the Basha, who can keep guns due to their cultural importance – are allowed to own firearms. This seems to pose the possibility that gun control does not prevent people who are mentally unstable from trying to attack schools.

What gun control might do, though, is limit the amount of people that can be terminally wounded at a single time. While the Chinese attacks yielded huge numbers of injured children, the fatalities seemed to be limited. And in totaling the numbers of injured and dead from the knife-related attacks versus the gun-related attacks, there were a greater number of fatalities from guns (117 gun deaths and 87 knife deaths) and a greater number of injuries from knives (320 knife injuries and 188 gun injuries) throughout the 250 years.

Guns and knives seem to be more common methods for violence in schools, but I don’t think they cause the most damage.

War and Other Factors
Based on the coverage I’ve seen of atrocities like the one committed in Aurora, the suspects are usually characterized as mentally ill ( ). James Holmes, for instance, was taking classes on mental illness in his graduate program just before withdrawing. As cited in the Associated Press, “Mary Muscari, a criminology professor at Regis University in Denver who studies mass killings, said she was not surprised Holmes was studying neuroscience and mental disorders. ‘It could be he was interested in that because he knows there’s something different in him.’” And most of the men involved in the knife-related attacks in China were said to be suffering from mental instability as well.

I’m not sure I’d disagree with the idea that someone like Holmes is potentially suffering from mental illness, but I think that focusing on such details does draw the eye away from the role that war and large-scale conflicts () play in incidents of mass violence. The list of attacks on primary schools seems to suggests that acts of war -dating back to 1764 – have been responsible for the largest numbers of deaths in primary school massacres.

The largest single attack on a primary school was done by Chechen rebels in 2001, killing 386 people and injuring more than 700. Following that is an event in Angola in which a pilot accidentally bombed a school instead of his intended target of rebel troops located 30 miles away. The third largest was perpetrated by the Israeli air force, which bombed a small Egyptian village in 1970, including a primary school, and killed 46 children while wounding 50 others. According to Time Magazine’s 1970 report on the incident, the Israelis believed the target to be a military installation.

What this list suggests to me is that, even when the violence does come from a person said to be mentally unstable – such as the Bath School disaster (), the largest school attack ever to take place in the United States – we have a tendency to disconnect the events from the larger social context and from one another.

Men and Women
The smaller killings on the list, where just one or two people were involved, usually took place when a man was rejected by a woman () – divorces, break-ups, and thwarted advances – and attempted or successfully completed a murder suicide. The frequency of such incidents could be tied to a host of factors, but the ones that stick out in my mind are related to gender, the social structure, and ontology. The fact that, for the most part, the perpetrators were men rejected by women seems to be a symptom of violence against women taken to an extreme. Self-worth in our society is so closely linked to sex and sexual desire that, when combined with a genetic predisposition for mental illness, it’s not surprising to see a man’s reaction to rejection go so far. Rather than understanding rejection as a fact of life, it’s much more likely that a man will project his feelings onto a woman and perceive her as the source of all his frustration and ill-fortune. Most people, I think, are too overwhelmed by their lives to see their problems as part of the bigger picture and will ultimately look to their immediate surroundings for the source of their woes.

The Map
Incidents of mass murder are unique in that they are highly concentrated, happen quickly and with little anticipation. They are not unique in their severity as certain populations of our society face the long-term, chronic acts of violence associated with a lack of access to adequate food, water, shelter, disease, and safety from traumatic environments. With a society that is generally structured so that a small percentage of the population profits at the expense of a massive workforce, from the untouchables of our society all the way up to the upper-middle class, people seem to be kept in a state of discontentment almost intentionally.

Our school system isn’t geared to help each person reach his or her full potential. It’s disorganized, haphazard, and usually ushers us into various work roles where we are constantly seeking external rewards and validation to make us happy. Commercial products, such as the make-up sold by the massively profitable cosmetics industry, are pitched as the solution to our inadequacies. Our fellow neighbors – people of different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, abilities, and genders – are responsible for our unhappiness.

As the population increases exponentially and communication technology advances, it’s becoming clearer that we are living in a global community separated by neighborhoods of nations. In a neighborhood that is quite obviously suffering as a result of tyrannical rule, such as in Egypt and other countries part of the Arab Spring, the built-up discontentment has the potential to cause positive change. In a country such as the United States, where the systems of control are more subtle and ideological in nature, there is no clear plan of action for a solitary individual. The competing ideologies – the Tea Party, workers’ unions, Occupy Wall Street, the KKK, local militias, gangs – appear to the allegiance-free individual as a schizophrenic hive mind. There is no obvious form of rebellion against a system that is so complicated and loud. As a result, what appear to be senseless acts of violence occur. But they are only senseless when looked at myopically.
Whether the social structure results in small amounts of violence to the self in the form of self-control and the sublimation of impulses or dramatic acts of terror, I feel as though I can come away from looking at this map with one bit of knowledge: this happens all the time. More importantly, though, the ability to create such a map, to take a bird’s eye view of the events of the world, makes me wonder if the growing sense of community created through the internet and an awareness of the global nature of things might actually lead to a decrease in isolation and, therefore, a decrease in events the likes of Aurora, USA; Leizhou, China; and Anywhere, Ever.

Since I first wrote this, another attack on a primary school has taken place – this time, in Newtown, Connecticut.  The media and the White House roll out the same responses.  McDonald’s and Newt Gingrich tweet their condolences, thoughts and prayers to the families of those who lost their lives.  Again, the mainstream media and the political elite are myopic in regards to a mass shooting that has occurred on this planet.

President Barack Obama expresses his grief at the tragedy, without acknowledging the US Army’s policy of “opening [their] aperture” of  potential threats in Afghanistan to include children, the ongoing drone strikes that have killed at least 176 children in Pakistan, or US Government support of Israel’s own killing of innocent Palestinian children on a regular basis – at least  1,477 since 2000 – not including the deaths caused by the destruction of Palestenian infrastructure .  Also ignored is the 17,000 children who have died from a lack of medical insurance in the years between 1989 and 2009 in the United States.  He also does not acknowledge the number of people killed by severe weather that has resulted from climate change, as caused, primarily, by developed nations refusing to make major progress towards sustainable energy.

As details come out about the gunman, there will most likely be information regarding his troubled childhood and history of mental illness, limiting the causes of the incident to bad parenting and bad genes and ignoring larger structural causes: an intentionally underfunded public education system geared  to prevent the self-actualization of the majority of the population in order to maintain a large work supply.  At the same time, there is a media apparatus designed to create unattainable goals of wealth and power, which simultaneously creates fear in the population and scapegoats around every corner so that, if the population does react in some way, it is at their neighbors, potential gunmen and loose cannons, instead of those who direct the social structure themselves.  And those seemingly powerful people too are lost in the game of earning more wealth so as to remain comfortable and mistaking that comfort for happiness.  

The past few years have offered us examples of uprisings and alternative solutions to the current system within which we operate daily.  The internet provides us with endless opportunities to connect with one another and to see that our views are not isolated.  There are alternative news sources that can give us actual facts, instead of biased conjecture.  Or, if they are biased, at least they are biased in favor of preserving human dignity and reaching for equality.  We are living in a world in which creative answers to difficult problems are cropping up more and more and we are actually creating an infrastructure capable of maintaining social systems that do not rely entirely on money.  The sort of thing that happened in Connecticut will keep happening for years and years, but it is my hope that they will decrease as our collective knowledge of the collective happenings on this planet increases to the point where we acknowledge our mutually contingent existences. 

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The 3D Printed Gun: Individual Freedom, Collective Violence - 3D Printing Industry - April 4, 2013

    […] cannot be addressed by simply limiting the number of guns in circulation. In the process of writing a piece on mass violence occurring at primary schools in China and the US, I realized that China had similar numbers of […]

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