05/12/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Children hacked to death and religious freedom

by Bernardo Cervellera
Children continue to die violently in kindergartens and schools. For the government, such episodes are isolated incidents caused by deranged individuals. However, they have deeper roots and are the consequence of pent-up social tensions. Democracy and religious freedom could open up spaces where people can meet and listen to one another. Without them, China might experience a conflict much more violent than the one that unfolded in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says.
Rome (AsiaNews) – News from China about the senseless murder of toddlers in kindergartens and primary schools fills us with horror and pain. In this case, six pupils and a teacher were hacked to death, whilst other children were injured, all under the age of six.

In the last few months, five other attacks have taken place in both rich and poor regions, from Jiangsu and Guangdong to Fujian. In each case, the attacker wielded a meat cleaver normally used to butcher pigs.

The Public Security Ministry sent teams of experts to 18 regions of the country to examine upgraded security facilities in schools, including CCTV technology and security guards that screen people coming in or going out. Unfortunately, for many schools they are too expensive and their effectiveness remains unproven.

As part of their efforts to beef up security, the authorities are monitoring more closely people with known mental problems. For them, recent episodes of violence are in fact isolated incidents caused by deranged individuals. The facts tell a different story. Only one, perhaps two, of the perpetrators of such acts suffered from mental problems. The rest tended to be people frustrated by being out of work, victimised by corrupt local government officials, jobless men in despair.

Such episodes point to the fact that China’s cities and rural areas are straining at the seams. The causes are legion: migrant workers not being paid, families having their homes seized, villages seeing their land sold without their knowledge, entire cities becoming environmental wastelands, and people subjected to police control, arrest and detention. Add to all this, the frustrations families experience as a result of coercive family planning methods like forced abortions and taxes on second children, etc.

The government’s way to cope with rising social tensions is more controls on society. Reporters are prevented from reporting. Websites where issues are discussed are shut down. Anyone seen as spreading tendentious information is arrested. Even the petition system, China’s old safety valve that gave people a chance to complain against injustice and abuse by local officials, has been broken. At the same time, the official propaganda machine has underscored China’s long list of successes, showing off its wealth and glitter for domestic and foreign consumption, as was done during the Beijing Olympics and is being done for the Shanghai Expo.

Left on their own, without any outlet to voice their problems or channel to let off steam, at the mercy of official violence, some people tragically vent their frustrations against those least capable of defending themselves, children.

For years, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing has been warning the government that if it did not find ways to let people present their complaints or allow space for pro-democracy reformers to speak, the social chasm would grow so much that it could lead to bloody conflict, hundreds if not thousands of times worse than what was seen in Tiananmen Square.

Indeed, more and more scholars are arguing that religious freedom is an essential condition for social stability. For them, religious communities are equipped to help individuals who fall through the cracks of the system overcome their isolation and heal thanks to charity work that fails to show up in government surveys.

Religions can help people discover their dignity as individuals rather than for what they have or own. This way, they can contribute to building a society without violence.

Their spiritual dimension can contribute to social harmony, which is part of President Hu Jintao’s pet project, but which he has failed to achieve so far because of a materialist ideology and perspective.

Sadly, we must note that in China democracy and religious freedom are seen as enemies. Instead, they are the means to defuse social tensions and limit violence. Without the, the much-vaunted economic success of the Middle Kingdom could crumble.

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