ALL month schools in China have been on what the state-controlled press calls a “red alert” for possible attacks on pupils by intruders. In one city police have orders to shoot perpetrators on sight. Yet a spate of mass killings and injuries by knife or hammer-wielding assailants has continued. To the government’s consternation, some Chinese have been wondering aloud whether the country’s repressive politics might be at least partly to blame.
In the latest reported incident, on May 12th, seven children and two adults were hacked to death at a rural kindergarten in the northern province of Shaanxi. Eleven other children were injured. It was one of half a dozen such cases at schools across China in less than two months. Three attacks occurred on successive days in late April, when more than 50 children were injured. The previous deadliest attack killed eight children in the southern province of Fujian on March 23rd. The killer was executed on April 28th.
This has been embarrassing for a leadership fond of trumpeting its goal of a “harmonious society”. In 2004, two years after Hu Jintao became China’s top leader, he and his colleagues called for better security at schools. But occasional attacks continued. Assailants were often said to be lone, deranged, men venting their frustrations on the weak. A report last year in the Lancet, a British medical journal, said that of 173m Chinese it estimated were suffering from mental illness, fewer than 10% had seen a mental-health professional (see article). Knives are the weapons of choice in China, where firearms are hard to obtain.