Schools learn lessons on safety

09:11, May 11, 2010      

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A primary school security guard in Weifang, Shandong province, accompanies students out of school. Security at schools has been beefed up across China after several attacks on children in April. Zhang Chi / for China Daily

After six attacks on schoolchildren in two months, China is on red alert. The vast majority of schools have already beefed up their security, with both police and teachers now closely guarding school gates, while parents have taken to escorting youngsters to and from class.

So, are the country's children safe from more knife-wielding killers?

Although many people say yes, some argue that far more needs to be done to protect the ruan lei - literally soft ribs, which means the weakest points - in the public security system.

Analysts warn that the widening wealth gap, which is leading to a growing frustration among the underprivileged, and the lack of supervision of mental illness could prove hidden dangers and prompt future attacks.

Outside Hui'anli Primary School in Beijing, 10-year-old Zeng Jiaqi appeared relatively unfazed by the brutal killings in recent weeks. "I'm not afraid," said the third-grader as she stood at the school gate with her parents, who juggle their working hours to make sure one of them can pick her up after school. "My classmates aren't afraid, either."

The innocence of youth is something to be cherished - yet such innocence is something parents cannot afford.

Thirteen children as carefree as Zeng were attacked as they walked to their primary school in Nanping, Fujian province, at 7:20 am on March 23. Zheng Minsheng, a 42-year-old former community doctor, stabbed eight of them to death.

The brutal killing shocked the nation but there was more to come.

On April 12, a man called Yang killed a child and an adult when he attacked a group of people in front of a primary school in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

On April 28 (the day Zheng was executed for his assault), retired teacher Chen Kangbing stabbed 16 children and a teacher at a primary school in Guangdong province.

On April 29, a 47-year-old jobless man in Jiangsu province slashed 29 children, two teachers and a security guard at a kindergarten.

And on April 30, Wang Yonglai, 45, hit five toddlers with a hammer in Shandong province before setting himself on fire.

Police marksmen also shot dead 24-year-old Wang Yi last week after he took a 5-year-old girl hostage in Beijing and threatened to kill her unless a woman he met online agreed to see him.

Apart from the most recent case, the motive behind the attacks remains a mystery.

Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee, urged the country to improve security at schools and kindergartens. Regional governments also need to work on solving social conflicts quickly - several media reports have blamed such conflicts for the attacks - and provide better care for the underprivileged, he said.

An emergency circular released by the Ministry of Public Security also ordered local authorities and neighborhoods to "screen residents for any potential risks", such as people with mental illnesses (police described Yang as having a mental illness) or those "dissatisfied with life and looking to take revenge".

In Beijing's Xicheng district, 112 schools and kindergartens have been equipped with defense sprays and cut-resistant gloves; in Hefei, capital of Anhui province, schools are installing surveillance cameras; and in Shenyang, Liaoning province, teachers and security guards patrol boarding schools 24 hours a day.

Police stationed at schools in Shapinba district of Chongqing have even been ordered to shoot any assailant "that cannot otherwise be stopped", local media reported.

Zeng Jiaqi's school, which is in the capital's Chaoyang district, does not allow any child to leave until his or her parents arrive to collect them.

"Police cars patrol around and a few teachers guard the gate, so we do feel OK," said the girl's 40-year-old father, Zeng Lianshan. "But the real danger is impossible to prevent. How can I know which person on the street is good and which is bad? I showed my daughter a news article about the attack yesterday, to educate her about danger. I also tell her every day not to talk to strangers."

As it is still unclear why Zheng Minsheng and the others targeted children, and with expert opinion divided, finding a way to prevent future attacks is no easy task.
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