Shanghai, one of the most developed and international cities in China, is suffering from collective psychological shock after the murder of two schoolboys.
On June 28, outside Shanghai World Foreign Language Primary School, one of the best private elementary schools in the city, a man attacked three schoolboys and a mother with a kitchen knife, fatally wounding two boys and injuring the others.
According to a statement from the Shanghai police, posted on its Weibo account, the attacker, 29, was caught by pedestrians at the scene. Unemployed, he arrived in Shanghai in early June but failed to find a job. To “take revenge on society,” he decided to commit the crime, the man told the police.
Video clips of the dying children lying on the street as well as the arrest of the attacker were swiftly posted online by unknown pedestrians and soon exploded across Chinese social media.
Although in recent years China has seen a series of random attacks against civilians conducted by people who aimed to “take revenge on society,” such violent crimes were comparatively rare in big cities. Many well-off middle class citizens living in Shanghai had always boasted about the city’s rule and order.
The latest attack thus deeply shocked the city’s middle class in particular.
Within hours, a large number of people rushed to the scene to express condolences, piling flowers, cards, candles, and toys along the school wall — a rare non-organized civil gathering in the country.
While many Shanghai citizens were showing the city’s best side through the collective mourning, a large number of local residents were venting their anger over migrants online. Some called for “kicking out those non-local trash,” adding that they “have no interest in knowing the killer’s pathetic story.” Some argued that many non-locals “envy and hate Shanghai’s prosperity,” thus the locals should safeguard the city’s security by themselves. Some even urged China’s top authorities to re-adopt the Custody and Repatriation system — a long-abandoned notorious administrative procedure that allowed the police to detain people without a temporary residence permit.
Such remarks, unsurprisingly, triggered counter-criticism online toward Shanghai residents as a whole, despite the tragedy.
On June 29, the Shanghai Procuratorate released further information about the attacker, Huang Yichuan. Huang told the police that after failing to find proper employment in various cities, he had been “caught in pessimism.” On the day of his attack, he took a bus to the school and waited until the students came out, according to the Shanghai Procuratorate.
The Shanghai authorities intentionally left out Huang’s educational background: he had graduated from a decent university in Hunan province in 2012, according to some Hong Kong newspapers and leaked government documents posted online by unknown netizens.
Meanwhile, the elite background of the young victims has also been played down. According to Shanghai World Foreign Language Primary School’s 2017 admissions guide, in order to be enrolled into the programs — which use a “comprehensive international education curriculum” and “high-quality original foreign materials” — the majority of its students should have “non-Chinese mainland birth certificates” and pay tuition ranging from 35,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan (about $5,200 to $7,500) per semester. This implies that this school’s students all come from the upper crust of Shanghai’s middle class.
In other words, this tragedy revealed critical hidden social problems. Faced with the split opinions in the city and the psychological trauma of citizens, Shanghai’s authorities chose not to directly confront the issue, but instead to forbid the local media from reporting on the tragedy — a typical method for the Chinese government to handle public extreme violent incidents that could cause “social instability. ”
Yet more and more people have realized that such governing methods only add to the pressure-cooker of Chinese society, which has no proper outlets.
By Charlotte Gao