Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 12:18 UK

China searches for answers after school attacks

By Shirong Chen
BBC China Editor

Police outside a school in Nanping, Fujian (23 March 2010)
China has been shocked by the outburst of violent crime

China is reeling from a surge of attacks on innocent children and the country is searching for answers while beefing up security for schools.

In the most recent attack, a local farmer in Shandong province injured five pre-school children and a teacher before burning himself to death.

Two children were saved from his grip.

It was the fourth attack in a month on schools and children in China.

On Thursday, a middle-aged man armed with a knife wounded 28 children and three adults at a kindergarten in Jiangsu province, eastern China. Five children were left in a critical condition.

On Wednesday, a teacher on sick leave because of a mental illness wounded 16 children and a staff member at a primary school in Guangdong province.

The same day, another man was executed for murdering eight children last month outside an elementary school in Fujian province.

The education ministry has formed an emergency panel to tackle the violence and some local police authorities have distributed such instruments as steel pitchforks and pepper spray to security guards in schools.

'Social revenge'

China used to take pride in its low rate of violent crimes but now has to deal with them almost every day, leading many to ask what has caused the sudden surge of apparently random attacks.

Security training at a school in Beijing, China (29 April 2010)
Schools have been told to teach defence tactics

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," he says.

In part, it reflects the social tension caused by rampant corruption and inequality. But Prof Ji points out that there is a lack of social and psychological support in the 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."

This is especially true in smaller cities and towns. In a country where people used to be looked after from cradle to grave, the social change has not only left many Chinese without their traditional support mechanism but also pushed a large number of people into relative poverty.

And the income gap is widening further between the rich and poor.

This, coupled with a changed attitude towards life, has driven many to extremes in their desperate attempt to come to terms with the law of the jungle prevalent there.

On top of that, there is still a stigma in Chinese culture about people needing psychological counselling.

Family members and society as a whole tend to conceal or shun those with mental problems. This may partly lead to attackers failing to get help before they commit crimes.

There is also suspicion that widespread reports of the attacks may have encouraged copycats. Three out of the four recent attacks were carried out with knives.

Whatever the causes may be, the parents of the victims are paying a high price.

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