By Christopher Bodeen Associated Press
TAIXING, China — A knife-wielding man attacked a kindergarten class of 4-year-olds today in eastern China, slashing 28 children in what an expert said was a copycat rampage of two other episodes at Chinese schools in the past month.
A 47-year-old jobless man, Xu Yuyuan, burst into a classroom early today at the Zhongxin Kindergarten, waving an eight-inch knife and stabbing a security guard who tried to stop him, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Five students were in critical condition following the attack in Jiangsu province’s Taixing city and two teachers and the security guard were injured, said Zhu Guiming, an official with the Taixing propaganda department.
A series of school attacks in China in recent years have mostly been blamed on people with personal grudges or suffering from mental illness, leading to calls for improved security.
China’s inadequate mental health network has left millions of unstable people without the help they need. Many otherwise healthy Chinese also feel frustrated and powerless because they aren’t able to adapt to the constant social upheaval and because they believe the changes favor the corrupt. That kind of anger has occasionally erupted in mass violence and in isolated attacks.
It is not known why schools are targeted.
On Wednesday, a teacher on sick leave due to mental illness broke into a primary school in Guangdong province’s Leizhou city in southern China and wounded 15 students and a teacher in a knife attack. That attack came on the same day a man was executed for killing eight children last month in stabbings that shocked China.
It was not known if Xu knew about the previous day’s attack in Guangdong, but Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said these sorts of violent attacks often happen in clusters because one may trigger copycat attacks.
“It’s like suicide, which is another type of mental health problem that can spread in a community,” said Zhou. “Normally, with these kind of violent events we hope the media won’t blow them up too much. Because that tends to make it spread.”
A survey of mental health in four Chinese provinces jointly done by Chinese and U.S. doctors that was published in the Lancet in June concluded that China likely had about 173 million adults nationwide with mental health disorders and that most, 158 million, had never gotten any professional help for their problems.
But state media said Zheng Minsheng, 42, had no history of mental illness before he rampaged through a school in Fujian province in March, killing eight children.
During his trial, Zheng said he killed the children because he had been upset after being jilted by a woman and treated badly by her wealthy family.
The court also heard that Zheng lived with his 80-year-old grandmother in a one-bedroom apartment and slept on the balcony in summer and in the living room in winter. He testified that he had trouble dealing with people at work but had not gotten the help he needed from his boss, so he quit his job but was unable to find another one.
Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has said China’s sweeping social changes might be partially to blame for Zheng’s anti-social rage.
“A social environment lacking fairness and justice, in which those who abide by the rules gain nothing, while those who do not can profit, could bring about resistance by the weak against the entire society,” Yu was quoted as saying by the Southern Weekly newspaper a few weeks after the attack.
Zheng was executed Wednesday, just weeks after his crime. Zhou, the Renmin University professor, said China’s use of capital punishment helps fuel the cycle of violence by enforcing a belief in “blood for blood.”
He said China should abolish the death penalty, improve human rights and make its justice system more fair and transparent.
After a 2004 attack at a school in Beijing that left nine students dead, the central government mandated tighter school security nationwide.
The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a fax today asking whether the attacks would result in orders to step up school security.
In Wednesday’s attack, in which a teacher stabbed fourth- and fifth-graders in their heads, backs and arms, Xinhua said the suspect suffered from mental illness and had been on sick leave from another school since February 2006. He is now in police custody.
None of the victims in that case had life-threatening wounds, said the director of the command center at the Leizhou Public Security Bureau, who gave his name as Qin.
Two weeks ago, a mentally ill man hacked to death a second-grader and an elderly woman with a meat cleaver in southern Guangxi, and wounded five other people.