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In China, school stabbings stir panic and debate

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Distraught: Anxious parents at a hospital in Hanzhong City where an attack on school children took place on Wednesday.
Distraught: Anxious parents at a hospital in Hanzhong City where an attack on school children took place on Wednesday.

Ananth Krishnan

BEIJING: A spate of deadly stabbings by knife-wielding attackers at primary schools across China has sparked panic and anger, and also raised uncomfortable questions for the government on the problem of growing social unrest.

Early Wednesday morning, seven school-children, all thought to be under seven, were hacked to death by an assailant armed with a kitchen-cleaver at a kindergarten in the northwest Shaanxi province. Two teachers also died in the attack which left 11 children injured.

Wednesday's attack was, remarkably, the fifth such one on school students in the past two weeks. The attacks began on April 23, when eight children were killed in a primary school in Fujian province.

A second attack followed on April 28, when a recently laid-off teacher ran amok in southern Guangdong, slashing 18 students with a knife. However, none died. On April 29, another attack unfolded in Jiangsu, leaving 28 children injured.

This unprecedented wave of violence targeting school children has shocked a country where children are almost revered.

A popular phrase in Chinese refers to children as “little emperors”, denoting how fussed over they are in a land where family planning rules limit parents in most cities to having only one child.

The government has tightened security in schools, but the measures have done little to ease anxieties.

“No matter what measure is in place, the safety of my child cannot be guaranteed,” said Ma Qiuju, a worried parent, as she waited outside the gates of her son's school.

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The attacks have also stirred debate among sociologists, who say the incidents point to rising mental illness, still a social stigma often left untreated.

An estimated 91 per cent of 173 million Chinese who suffer from mental problems never receive medical help, according to a study conducted in four Chinese provinces by the Lancet, a medical journal. Other commentators say economic inequalities are also a cause. This debate has, however, been an uncomfortable one for the government.

Following the outcry after the first attacks, the ruling Communist Party's propaganda department moved quickly to bar newspapers from discussing the issue.

Censors have also clamped down on any criticism of the government in relation to the incidents.

Han Han, China's most widely-read blogger, last week criticised the government over the attacks. “In a society that has no release valve, killing the weakest members of society has become the only release,” he wrote.

“I would advise deploying the security that is currently protecting all the local governments in the country to protect our nursery schools. A government that can't even protect the children doesn't need so many people to protect it.”But within hours, the post was removed from his website.


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