- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2010

HANZHONG, China | An attacker with a cleaver hacked to death seven children and two adults at a kindergarten in northwest China on Wednesday, the latest in a string of savage assaults on the country’s schools. Eleven other children were wounded.

The killer, 48-year-old Wu Huanming, returned home after the attack on the outskirts of the city of Hanzhong and committed suicide, the local government reported.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Mr. Wu owned the property used by the school and had argued with the school’s manager, who was among the victims.

It was the fifth major assault on young students in China since late March and occurred despite increased security at schools countrywide, with gates and security cameras installed at some schools and additional police and guards posted at entrances.

It was not clear whether security had been beefed up at the school attacked Wednesday.

The latest deaths were sure to fuel speculation about why assailants — usually lone males — are targeting schools.

Sociologists say the recent attacks that have killed 17 and wounded more than five dozen reflect the tragic consequences of ignoring mental illness and rising stress resulting from huge social inequalities in China’s fast-changing society.

“The perpetrators have contracted a ‘social psychological infectious disease’ that shows itself in a desire to take revenge on society,” said Zhou Xiaozheng of Beijing’s Renmin University. “They pick children as targets because they are the weakest and most vulnerable.”

The recent attacks are classic “copycat crimes,” the effects of which may be amplified by media coverage, Mr. Zhou said.

After past attacks, authorities have banned or limited media coverage, and early reports on Wednesday’s attack were removed from Chinese websites or moved to less-prominent pages. There was no mention of it on state television’s national evening news report.

The apparent attempts to play down the assault may indicate fears that coverage inspires other assailants, but authorities also may have wanted to avoid the embarrassing news, especially during the World Expo in Shanghai, a pet government project.

The attack began about 8:20 a.m., as children were arriving at the private Shengshui Temple Kindergarten in Hanzhong’s Nanzheng county, a Hanzhong government statement said. The area is on the city’s rural outskirts in a relatively poor part of the country, and images posted on the Internet showed the school, which had only about 20 students, housed in a tumbledown two-story farmhouse.

Mr. Wu killed the school’s manager, 50-year-old Wu Hongying, and a student on the spot, then hacked at 18 others, the statement and Xinhua said. Six students and Wu Hongying’s 80-year-old mother later died in the hospital, the reports said. None of the 11 others hospitalized was listed in immediate danger.

Wu is a common Chinese surname, and it wasn’t clear whether the assailant and administrator were related.

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