Fatal stabbings form disturbing pattern at Chinese schools

By Lily Kuo
Los Angeles Times

BEIJING – The brutal killing of at least three children and a teacher at a school in northeastern China had residents confounded and authorities tight-lipped on Wednesday.

A man identified by state media as Fang Jiantang, 26, reportedly attacked kindergarten students and teachers with a knife Tuesday in a suburb of Zibo, killing four and injuring 20 staff and children. The man turned himself in to police, according to Singtao Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper. A 2-foot-long knife believed to be the weapon used in the attack was recovered. No motive has been established.

The attack was the seventh rampage in China since March. Almost all the cases involved middle-aged men targeting young children with household tools such as knives, axes, hammers and, in one instance, gasoline. The Zibo killings were not the deadliest but raised new concerns that the government was not making enough effort to stop the attacks.

In recent months, security has increased at schools. After the first spate of attacks, local authorities armed teachers with pepper spray and asked that they be instructed in self-defense. National authorities got involved when the violence continued, issuing mandates for schools to hire police officers and sending out armed troops to escort children to school.

Now gates and cameras have been installed at schools around the country. Teachers are reported to be trained in martial arts, and some schools hired undercover security guards posing as parents. The government has also issued stern warnings to future assailants.

According to some reports, the assault Tuesday at the Boshan District Experimental Kindergarten’s Jinfengyuan branch occurred when security guards were on break. The primary school is considered to be the best in the area, attended by several children of local officials.

“This was to be expected. Increased security can’t solve everything,” said Ni Jianping, a professor at the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, who has been following the attacks.

As in the past cases, experts and residents alike asked what causes these violent outbursts and why they are directed at children.

“A person commits these kinds of crimes for one of two motives: either to attract public attention or to exact revenge,” Ni said. Targeting children “is definitely a form of revenge from the individual, directed at society.”

One comment on a Chinese Internet forum said, “Why are these criminals going after kids again? They are shameless!”
Some blame the attacks on deeper societal problems such as a lack of attention to mental health, an increasing income gap or the everyday stress of living in rapidly developing areas.

One problem, Ni said, is that local officials do not resolve conflicts among residents. An attack on May 13 that left nine dead arose out of a dispute between the assailant and the headmaster of the school over building rent.

A Chinese farmer in Shandong killed five children with a hammer on April 30 after hearing that his home was to be demolished. Two other assailants had been fired from their jobs.

Tuesday’s attack came two days after a man driving a piece of heavy equipment in the western province of Hebei killed 17 people in a drunken rampage.