Spate Of Attacks On Children Shocks China

A man attacked kindergarten students with a hammer before setting himself on fire Friday, in China's third attack on kindergarteners in three days. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Louisa Lim about the reasons such attacks occur in the country.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In China today, there was another horrifying attack on schoolchildren. It's the third in three days. A man entered a preschool in Eastern Shandong province and injured five children with a hammer before killing himself. Yesterday, a man stabbed 29 children and three adults in Jiangsu province. And on Wednesday, a former teacher stabbed 15 children in Guangdong province.

NPR's Louisa Lim joins us from Shanghai to talk about this spate of attacks. Louisa, what more can you tell us about this attack today and what kind of condition the children are in?

LOUISA LIM: Well, we've heard that the attacker was a farmer and apparently he broke down the school gate with his motorbike and then he attacked a class of preschool children. Five were injured when he attacked them with an iron hammer. And then he grabbed two children and doused himself in kerosene and set himself on fire. Luckily, a teacher grabbed the two boys that he had been holding and they were saved.

None of the children today have life threatening injuries. Although we have heard in yesterday's attack a couple of the children are still in intensive care. And it's not yet confirmed whether there were any fatalities in that attack. In Wednesday's attack we heard none of the children have life-threatening injuries.

BLOCK: Louisa, it's so hard to imagine what could possibly lead somebody to target small children like this. What are officials saying could be possible motivations behind these attacks?

LIM: Well, that's the big question and there's really no simple answer. In the recent cases, the first one was blamed on mental illness. The attacker was an art teacher on sick leave because of mental illness. So people are saying that this demonstrates their real lack of mental health provisions in China. And also the fact that the social security net has broken down because people are moving around a lot as well. There is a real lack of social and psychological support.

In today's case, we have recently heard new details from the suspect's wife, who told police that he had just received a notice that his house was about to be demolished, this house which he had spent all his savings on. And it was to be demolished because he had built it on farmland, which is illegal. But this also feeds into the idea that social tensions in China are increasing because of corruption and in quality and it falls into the category of what's being called here as social revenge cases, or people who have just been driven to the brink because of all the problems that they find themselves unable to deal with.

BLOCK: And, Louisa, response from the Chinese government to these attacks?

LIM: Yes, there have been a couple of urgent notices issued by the ministry of education. And today they issued one requiring that all schools and kindergartens nationwide prevent strangers from entering while school is in session. And some places are taking it even more seriously. In Beijing, as of Tuesday, when students go back to school after this Labor Day holiday, armed police units will be patrolling schools.

And, also, we've seen that schools in one district of Beijing at least have been issued with these six-foot-long two-pronged forks, almost like pitchforks, to hold off attackers. So it's clear that the government really does want to be seen to be taking action. But, still, there are some who are worrying that attention does also need to be focused at the causes. Even the China Daily said that more time needs to be spent looking at the deep-seated reasons behind these school attacks.

BLOCK: NPR's Louisa Lim in Shanghai. Louisa, thanks very much.

LIM: Thanks, Melissa.

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