When covering U.S. news, Chinese media often emphasize what they see as human rights transgressions, especially in relation to gun attacks. They do this partly to deflect regular complaints about China’s own human rights record, but often to highlight an area where they feels China’s rule of law is more effective than America’s.
On the same day of that school massacre, a disturbed 36-year-old man in Henan in central China entered a rural elementary school and went on rampage with a knife, injuring 23 people. However, no one died.
“But if buying a gun in China was as easy as in the U.S., that tragedy could have been worse than Newtown,” Chen Weihua, deputy editor of the China Daily’s U.S. edition, said in an op-ed piece.
There are regular school rampages in China, but nearly all of the incidents involve meat cleavers, hammers or knives — even car rammings, as happened over the holidays — but loss of life is much lower. The homicide rate in China is around one-quarter of what it is in the U.S., and the only people with access to guns tend to be criminal gangs.
Coverage in China has not been focused as much on the depiction of violence as it has on highlighting the differences between the two countries on gun control.
“I am not trying to sound cynical, but Obama and Americans simply need to take drastic action to ‘unarm’ U.S. civilians before another mass shooting occurs,” Chen wrote, adding that American society is “addicted to gun culture.”
The China Daily made much of what it saw as Hollywood’s relative silence over gun control compared to other hot-button issues such as gay marriage.
After the Dec. 14 attacks in both countries, many online commentators complained that state broadcaster CCTV appeared to have been ordered to play down the Henan school attack and concentrate on the Newtown shooting instead.
“The two school tragedies have exposed the powerlessness of both the U.S. and China in certain aspects of society,” wrote online commentator Chen Chenchen. “The dangers that vulnerable groups face are difficult to root out regardless of the economic level of a country.”
Chinese police subsequently broadcast footage of the knife attack at the elementary school, which showed school staff and nearby residents rushing in to confront the attacker with brooms and sticks. They ultimately succeeded in driving him out with these basic implements — something that would have been useless in the face of an automatic weapon.
Since the shooting, coverage has eased off, although Chinese media subsequently gave major coverage to the gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in India.
The coverage became less intense once Indians started to demonstrate in the cities about women’s rights.