Tuesday, May 04, 2010

China sees rise in school attacks

There is mounting concern amongst parents and authorities in China after a spate of attacks targeted at school children. In the latest of a series of incident a man took a 5 year old girl hostage but was shot dead by armed police [China Daily]. In just over a month, four incidents involving knife-wielding men in four different provinces have resulted in the death of eight children and injured at least 52 others. Most of the cases occurred in schools or kindergartens.

The attacks have prompted authorities to impose stricter safeguards. Safety around schools has been strengthened and police in Beijing will be on patrol when students go to and leave schools. Some schools in the city have even said they will not let students leave unless parents come to pick them up. 

Knives have not been the only weapon. Friday saw one man attack children with a hammer before killing himself. Five kindergarten class children and a teacher were injured when Wang Yonglai attacked them with a hammer at Shangzhuang Primary School in Weifang City, Shandong Province. The 45 year old man, who had poured gasoline over himself prior to launching the attack, set fire to himself and died from his injuries. Four boys, aged four, six and seven, and one 6 year old girl suffered head injuries in the attack. They were taken to Fangzi District People's Hospital. Two were later transferred to Weifang Municipal People's Hospital however all were said to be in a stable condition. The teacher was injured while attempting to intervene. Guo Feng snatched the kids away from the hammer wielding assailant before he set himself on fire, the school's head teacher, Wang Fatang, told reporters [Xinhua].

On Thursday last week a man stabbed 29 children at a kindergarten in the town of Taixing in East China's Jiangsu province [China Daily]. Only the day before a man had gone on the rampage at a primary school in Leizhou in China's Guangdong province stabbing 15 students and a teacher. On April 12th a man named as Yang Jiaqin hacked a student and an elderly woman to death in the small village of Xizhen in China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.On March 23rd there was a deadly attack when 42 year old Zheng Minsheng stabbed 8 children to death at Nanping's elementary school in east China's Fujian province. The man was later executed.

On March 2nd, two children were killed after 40 year old Xu Ximei went bezerk with a kitchen knife in Guangdong village of Mazhan. The victims were aged two and four years. Three other children and a grandmother were also injured in the attack.

The attacks brought a response from senior Chinese leader Zhou Yongkang who has called it a "major political task" to ensure security at schools and kindergartens. "We must take fast action to strengthen security for schools and kindergartens to create a harmonious environment for children to study and grow up," Zhou, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said Monday.

The wave of violence has been dubbed cases of "social revenge" in China. Ji Jianlin, a professor of clinical psychology at Shanghai's Fudan University, says the incidents share some common features. "The attackers all have grudges against society. They all try to take revenge by attacking the young and vulnerable," Ji said. In fact one of the attackers claimed his actions had been out of vengeance. Xu Yuyuan told police that his knife attack last week was "his revenge on society" [Xinhua].

In part, the attacks reflect the social tension caused by rampant corruption and inequality. But Professor Ji points out that there is a lack of social and psychological support in China's rapidly changing society. "In the past, China's workers used to have social support from the unions or women's associations. They used to provide quite adequate support. It's now quite weak."

In smaller cities and towns this is especially true. In a country where people were once looked after from their birth until death, social change has not only left many Chinese without their traditional support mechanisms but also pushed a large number of people into relative poverty. Income gaps are widening between the rich and poor and there is growing resentment amongst many poorer Chinese citizens [BBC].

Beggars are a common sight in China. On subways stations and in the streets of Beijing burns victims, horribly disfigured cripples and destitute members of society can be seen begging for money. They can often be seen as an embarrassment by authorities who are known to clear them from the streets during state visits and prior to large high profile events. 

In the run up to last years National Day there were several knife attacks in Beijing. Although no motive was immediately forthcoming, it was suggested at the time that the attackers were prompted by feelings of resentment after losing their jobs. While the reasons behind such attacks cannot be simplified, it appears that as China develops and moves into the 21st century it is experiencing the same social ills that the west has long struggled with. Unfortunately, the tragedies seen in recent weeks will not be the last.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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