x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Chinese schools step up security after suicide attacker

Farmer sets himself ablaze after third attack on schoolchildren in the country this week, as schools arm guards with pepper sprays.

A child who was injured during a knife attack receives medical treatment at a hospital in Taixing, Jiangsu province.
A child who was injured during a knife attack receives medical treatment at a hospital in Taixing, Jiangsu province.

SHANGHAI // Five children were hurt by a hammer-wielding man who burst into their kindergarten in the latest of a series of attacks on young children in China. In yesterday's incident in the city of Weifang, in Shandong province, south of Beijing, the attacker died after pouring petrol over himself and setting himself alight, but two children he tried to set on fire with him were rescued by teachers.

It is the third such attack on schoolchildren in the country this week, and social scientists have said disenchanted men are carrying out copycat attacks after widespread media coverage of earlier incidents and the trial of a multiple child killer. In the wake of the incidents, China's ministry of education has called on schools and kindergartens to step up security, restrict entry by visitors and develop plans to deal with emergency situations.

State media said police identified the latest attacker as Wang Yonglai, a local farmer said to have entered the school, Shangzhuang Primary School, after smashing through a gate with his motorcycle. A teacher who tried to stop him was also hurt, according to reports. The five children hurt were in a stable condition and none had life-threatening injuries, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

A day earlier, at least five people were left critically injured after a 47-year-old man stabbed or cut 29 children and two teachers and a security guard at a nursery school in Jiangsu province in the east of the country. On Wednesday in Leizhou city in Guangdong province in the south of China, 15 pupils and a teacher were stabbed on Wednesday by an art teacher off work from another school because of mental illness.

Zheng Minsheng, 42, a doctor who stabbed eight children to death and injured five others in an attack in Fujian province in March over the breakdown of a relationship, was executed the same day. Speaking to China Daily before the most recent incident, Zhu Li, a professor in the social and behavioural sciences school under Nanjing University said adults were targeting "weak children instead of more powerful adults" as a way to vent frustration. He said the multiple child killer Zheng, whose trial was covered heavily by Chinese media, "sets a very bad example for copycats".

"Some people may not have thought about stabbing schoolchildren, but due to the media's coverage of such a case, they got an idea," Professor Zhu said. "But we shouldn't blame the media. They just reported the facts." He called for greater efforts to help people vulnerable to psychiatric illness, saying an absence of support mechanisms was partly to blame for the recent incidents. "If they get desperate and can't get help from others, like mental guidance and physical support from families or community workers, it's possible for them to do something with serious consequences. Our society should set up an effective mechanism to help these people," he said.

According to a report by Chinese and American doctors published last year in the medical journal The Lancet, more than 90 per cent of the 173 million people in China with mental health disorders have never received professional help. Fears have been voiced that rapid social change in China, and in particular the growth in income inequality and rampant corruption, have in extreme cases created frustrations that have led to attacks on schools.

The ministry of education directives, posted online yesterday, called for "concrete actions" to "strengthen the security activities at schools to ensure the safety of students and teachers", especially at primary and middle schools. Schools were told to implement an existing rule to register all visitors and stop unidentified individuals entering. Schools are said to have stepped up security recently, with a school in Nanjing having armed its guards with batons and pepper spray, while guards at schools in a district of Beijing have been given pitchfork-like metal restraints.

Calls for improved security in schools were also made in 2004 when nine students died in an attack on a school in Beijing. There were two other attacks the same year on schoolchildren, one of which left a child dead. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae