China is reeling from a string of attacks on school children. In the third school attack this week, a man with a hammer broke into a kindergarten in Shandong and injured five children on Friday morning.
The attacker grabbed two children and poured gasoline on himself but the teachers were able to pull away the kids before the man burned himself to death. State media identified the attacker as a farmer from a village in the outskirts of Weifang city, where the kindergarten is located, but the motive for his action was still under investigation.
It was the third horrific attack in three days at a Chinese school and the fifth in recent weeks, prompting school authorities to beef up security at campuses across the country as parents expressed fears for the safety of their children.
The Ministry of Education also announced the setting up of a special panel to handle such emergencies. Beijing police supplied school guards with long poles attached to fork-like prongs that can be used to neutralize attackers. Similar police "forks" were distributed in other places while school officials called for government financial support so that all schools can hire security guards.
A Chinese expert expressed fears of copycat assaults, urging local media not to sensationalize their coverage of the stabbing attacks. Professor Ma Ai, a criminal psychiatrist from the China University of Politics and Law, said the copycat element could explain the recent cluster of incidents. He pointed out that the killing of eight primary school students in a knife attack last month "set a very bad example for copycats."
Ma told ABC News in a phone interview, "Some people may have gotten the idea of stabbing school children from that particular incident, which received a lot of media coverage. But we can't blame the local media, they just reported what happened. But the media should protect the interests of the majority in our society."
The perpetrator of that March attack was Zheng Minsheng, a 42-year-old doctor who made this startling confession during his trial. "I have no hatred toward the students I stabbed. I chose them only because they were weak and vulnerable. I wanted to have a big influence among the public," Zheng said, according to the China Daily.
School Attacks Seen as 'Revenge on Society'
An investigation found that he had no history of mental illness but had been frustrated by "failures in his romantic life," the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a local court statement.
After his conviction by the court, Zheng was executed last Wednesday, the same day a 33-year-old art teacher went on a stabbing spree in a primary school in Guangdong, wounding 16 students and a teacher. The police said the attacker's motive is still to be determined but he is now undergoing a psychiatric test.
Thursday, a man wielding an 8-inch knife attacked a kindergarten class of 4-year-old kids, wounding 29 students, two teachers and a school guard in Jiangsu. The man later told the police he carried the attack "in anger at a series of business and personal humiliations."
He described the attack as "his revenge on society," state media reported.
Professor Ma, the criminal psychiatrist, said these individuals resorted to such extreme action "to call attention to their situation and to vent their anger at society." They chose children as their targets because "they wanted to strike at the most vulnerable section of society and cause the maximum damage possible."
"In a sense, they wanted to strike fear among the public," Ma said.
The professor said that there were social factors to explain their behavior. "China has undergone a rapid transition from a closed society where people were closely linked in their work units and knew each other in tight-knit communities. Chinese society is now more open and more mobile, where people have more space for anonymity and less attachment to their communities."
"As a result, there are these individuals who live in the margin of society and feel alienated. If they get desperate and can't get help from others, such as psychological counseling and economic assistance for their problems in daily livelihood, they may resort to extreme acts with serious consequences," he said.
Bloggers Say Attackers Should Target Authorities Instead
Many Chinese bloggers expressed their outrage at the school attacks, with several questioning the deeper causes behind these incidents.
According to one posting, "Why would anyone resort to such action? It's only because one cannot see a way out of their daily difficulties in our society, where one can't find a job and can't afford to get sick or buy an apartment."
Another blogger commented, "Beefing up campus security and psychological counseling will help but they will only alleviate the situation. They do not solve the basic root of the social problem – the lack of social justice."
One posting even had this message for the attackers, "Don't vent your frustrations in this manner, don't kill the innocent children, go and kill the corrupt officials instead!"