China’s kindergarten and preschools increased security after another violent attack on children and teachers Friday. The execution of a former doctor who stabbed eight children to death and wounded five others at an elementary school in eastern China last month failed to deter what police say are copycat attacks, state media reported.
“Chinese society has generated enormous pressure on individuals and some of those individuals have perhaps had emotional and psychological problems,” sociologist Ding Xueliang said. (CNN) “They want to cause general attention from the population and attacking kids is perhaps the best way from their perspective of achieving this objective.” (CNN)
The last attack came Friday at 7:40 a.m., when an armed man with a hammer injured five preschool children in east China before setting himself on fire in a classroom suicide, a government spokesman told Xinhua news agency. Wang Yonglai used a motorcycle to break down the gate of the Shangzhuang Primary School in the city of Weifang City, Shandong province, and struck a teacher who tried to block him before hitting students with a hammer, Xinhua said. The attacker had two children in his arms as he poured gasoline over himself, the spokesman said. Teachers pulled the children away as the man died, the spokesman said. All five victims from the attack were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening, he said. The attack was confirmed by an employee at the Weifang Public Security information office. Wang’s motive was unclear. Xinhua described him only as a farmer.
The incident followed at least three other attacks in China in recent weeks in which assailants have killed our wounded students. This is unusual in a country where extreme violence is comparatively rare and strict controls keep most people from owning guns. On Thursday, at least 29 children were injured when a man with an eight-inch (20-centimeter) knife attacked a kindergarten in Taixing city in Jiangsu province, state media said. Most of the victims were 4- or 5-year-olds and five of the children were in critical condition. The victims also included two teachers and a security guard. Police have arrested a 47-year-old suspect identified as Xu Yuyuan, a former insurance agent.
On Wednesday, a 33-year-old former teacher identified as Chen Kangbing, broke into a primary school in the southern city of Leizhou and wounded 15 students and a teacher with a knife. The attacker had been on sick leave from another school since 2006 for mental health problems.
This week’s attacks came despite the execution of Zheng Minsheng, 42, a former community doctor convicted for the March 23 attack. In the attack, Zheng killed eight children outside their elementary school as they waited with their parents for classes to start. Zheng, executed by a firing squad in Nanping City on Wednesday, told investigators he carried out the attack because he was frustrated by “failures in his romantic life and in society,” according to Xinhua. Zheng reportedly wanted revenge on “rich” and “powerful officials” in Nanping, where he lived, Xinhua said, quoting his neighbors.
China Daily newspaper quoted Nanjing University sociology professor Zhu Li saying Zheng’s attack inspired copycats. “Some people may not have thought about stabbing school children, but due to the media’s coverage of such a case, they got the idea,” Zhu said. (CNN)
State media reports have largely shied away from why students have been targets. Experts say outbursts against defenseless children can be due to social pressures in a rapidly changing society. The attacks have been particularly shocking because most urban families in China have only one child due to government population control policies. “Children are the ones people care about the most, and they are the most innocent,” said Ma Ai, a sociology professor at the China University of Political Sciences and Law in Beijing. Targeting children is “beyond the bottom line of human morals,” he said. (The Associated Press)
State media either ignored or played down Friday’s attack. It wasn’t mentioned on the evening news in the eastern province of Shandong, where it occurred, and Xinhua didn’t release a Chinese-language story on its website. Experts have worried openly about copycats, but authorities may also have wanted to avoid overshadowing Friday’s opening of the World Expo in Shanghai, a pet government project. “In circumstances like this, where it appears quite possible that there’s a copycat element, it’s responsible for agencies to limit both the volume and the type of publicity,” said Michael Phillips, the Shanghai-based co-author of a mental health survey in China published in the medical journal The Lancet in June. (The Associated Press)
A group of parents marched Friday night outside the Taixing People’s Hospital, demanding a better government response and proper care for their children. Video posted online showed them holding signs that read “Baby come home,” and chanting “We want the truth!” (The Associated Press) Two witnesses, including a parent, confirmed the protest by phone and said police were at the scene. A photo posted online showed what looked like hundreds of people outside the hospital. Another showed broken glass on a sidewalk, describing it as the hospital entrance. The same Twitter feed later showed a photo of city leaders meeting with parents and said they told the crowd that four people remain in grave condition.
Chinese authorities have begun teaching safety awareness in school curriculums, China Daily reported. Officials have also tightened security in schools by hiring extra guards to escort students to and from class. In the capital, the Beijing Education Commission ordered armed tactical police to begin patrolling around nursery, primary and secondary schools starting May 4, the first day back to school after the May Day holiday. Police will be on site when classes begin and end. According to news reports, guards will be armed with police batons and pepper spray in a district of the eastern city of Nanjing, and guards at kindergarten, elementary and middle schools in one Beijing district have been given long-handled metal restraint poles with a hook on the end. In Jinan, the capital of the province where Friday’s attack occurred, police posts are being built on elementary and middle school campuses.
Students, teachers and parents are receiving counseling to help deal with the trauma, according to authorities.
In an editorial Friday, the English-language China Daily said security should be tightened at schools nationwide, but it stressed the need to prevent attacks in the first place. China likely has about 173 million adults with mental health disorders, and 158 million of them have never had professional help, according to a survey in four provinces published in The Lancet in June. Mental illness remains a closeted topic in modern China, and neither medication nor modern psychiatric treatment is widely used.
Some experts like Mr. He said that beyond mental illness, rising strains in China’s fast-changing society might have a role in the growing number of violent crimes. Most school assaults have occurred on the east coast, where both the cost of living and income inequality are high.
“It can be easy to put killers on trial and execute them, but it is far more difficult to find out the deep-seated causes behind such horrifying acts,” the China Daily editorial said. “Our efforts should be focused on preventing these from happening. We should find out what propelled them to such extremes. What problems do they have? Could anyone have helped, especially the authorities?”