Has China gone mad? An e-mail making the rounds on the internet with a headline 'Mad in China' certainly suggests so. A sampling of last week's news items contains a shocking mixture of the bad, the ugly and grotesque. Last Monday, Pan Huashan, a senior judge with the Zhejiang Higher People's Court, was arrested for allegedly killing a businessman and dismembering his body after the judge invited him home for lunch in January. On Wednesday, a massive gas explosion in downtown Nanjing , Jiangsu , left more than a dozen killed and scores injured. On the same day, a flash flood tore through a warehouse of a chemical factory in Jilin City, Jilin , and swept into the Songhua River about 7,000 barrels containing flammable chemicals used to make rubber and adhesives. This naturally caused panic over bottled water from Jilin to some downstream cities in Heilongjiang province. Also on Wednesday, the National Development and Reform Commission was forced to defend the government's decision to mess up people's work schedules before and after the Mid-Autumn Festival to create a three-day holiday, September 22-24. Also on the same day, the leading business daily Economic Observer said its reporter Qiu Ziming was put on an online list of wanted criminals posted the previous Friday by the Shuichang county Public Security Bureau in Lishui , Zhejiang, after Qiu wrote an expose accusing a Zhejiang company of insider trading and other financial wrongdoing. The following day, Zhejiang police were forced to revoke the detention order for Qiu and apologised. Also on Wednesday, Shenzhen media reported that the anus of a mother who gave birth in a Shenzhen hospital was sewn up by a midwife upset that the woman's husband failed to bribe her properly. Both the hospital and Shenzhen medical authorities later disputed the claim but admitted the midwife breached regulations and volunteered to tie up the patient's bleeding hemorrhoid. The husband has since told state media he was threatened by hospital officials to remain silent. It goes without saying that all the news items mentioned above sent shockwaves across the mainland, sparking intense discussion on the internet and in the media. In half-jest, some mainlanders wondered whether a bout of madness had gripped the nation as it is suffering not only from natural calamities (severe flooding) but also from man-made misfortune (the gas explosion in Nanjing and the chemical leak in Jilin). Some is just pure madness, like the Shenzhen 'anus gate' story or the government's decision to mess up holidays. Indeed, the news items are likely to induce depression about the risks and challenges the country is facing. For example, Jilin officials conveniently blamed the flooding for causing the chemical leak, but media reports suggest the barrels of toxic chemicals were not properly secured before the flood came. This came shortly after the leak of 9,100 cubic metres of acidic copper waste from the mining facilities of Zijin Mining in Fujian , which polluted a river and poisoned fish, and a massive oil spill in Dalian, Liaoning - all happening last month and more signs of lax industrial safety. As life must go on, many mainlanders may find it easy to invoke 'the spirit of Ah Q' to put things in perspective. There is a popular saying on the mainland that 'a big dense forest attracts all kinds of birds', meaning that in a country as big as China, all kinds of people or things exist, as shown by last week's appalling and depressing news. At least they are widely reported and commented on by the media. It seems not long ago that authorities could easily cover up disasters, be they deadly mining accidents or major pollution cases. Last Wednesday marked the 34th anniversary of the earthquake in Tangshan, Hebei, which killed up to 250,000 people on July 28, 1976. (The film Aftershock, depicting the mayhem, is receiving rave reviews on the mainland and in Hong Kong.) The authorities hid the true scale of the disaster from the public and the international community for a long time: the death toll was first officially reported only in 1979. But because of many brave and enterprising journalists like Qiu and such technological advances as the internet and blogs, in the middle of all this madness, a better-informed public can find a little hope.