BEIJING – BEIJING (AP) — Flashing police cars guarded Beijing schools Tuesday and officers in another city were told they could shoot to kill to stop assaults on students, as Chinese authorities tried to assert control after three attacks last week left dozens of children injured. The government also banned further media coverage of the attacks, a watchdog group said.
Tuesday was the first day of classes in China since a farmer hit five elementary students with a hammer on Friday in the eastern city of Weifang before burning himself to death in the latest of the back-to-back attacks on children that shook the country.
"I was a little worried after seeing those reports on TV about the attacks," said Liu Xingwu, who took his 7-year-old granddaughter by bicycle to Shijia Elementary School in central Beijing. "The security measures are good. But we've also told her to be careful."
The government has sought to appear on top of the situation, with senior leaders urging improved school safety. But experts say the violence indicates a lack of support for the mentally ill in rapidly changing Chinese society and that official efforts so far have failed to address the social inequalities believed to have driven the violence.
Child safety touches a nerve particularly among people in the urban middle class, who invest huge amounts of money and effort in the education and care of their children. Most Chinese have only one child under the country's population control laws.
Recent scandals in which children have been the main victims have sparked public anger and occasional protests, such as when at least 3,000 children around the country were found to have lead poisoning from polluting factories built too close to villages, and in 2008 when tainted baby milk powder sickened more than 300,000 infants.
China's recent string of school attacks started when a man stabbed eight elementary schoolchildren to death in March in Fujian province. He was executed on April 28, the same day a 33-year-old former teacher broke into a primary school in the southern city of Leizhou in Guangdong province and wounded 15 students and a teacher with a knife.
The next day in Taixing city in Jiangsu province, a 47-year-old unemployed man armed with an 8-inch (20-centimeter) knife wounded 29 kindergarten students — five seriously — plus two teachers and a security guard.
China's education ministry on Tuesday again urged improved school safety, including guards with protective gear and patrols at the beginning and end of the school day.
In Beijing, police cars flashed their red and blue lights outside some schools as guards in orange vests watched students enter the gates. Guards in the southern city of Guangzhou prevented parents from entering school grounds without special permission.
In the southwestern city of Chongqing, police were told they could shoot to kill to stop assaults on students, state media reported. Officials in Guizhou province, meanwhile, were searching for potential attackers among people with official grievances and the mentally ill.
Jiang Chenkui, a lawyer and father of a 5-year-old boy in Shanghai, said he urged the parents' association of his son's kindergarten to pressure the school to implement tighter security. "I don't mind paying for it, since I can't afford the risk of losing our child," he said.
The social issues underlying the attacks still need to be addressed, said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing. "The government has stepped up its efforts on school security in the hope of providing confidence and a sense of safety to the public," Zhou said.
"This will only cure the symptoms, not the disease. In our society there is a fertile soil for violent crimes, which is the widening gap between the rich and poor, as well as social injustice."
Authorities seemed more comfortable keeping the country's discussion focused on preventing attacks, not the reasons why they occurred. The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders released a statement Tuesday saying it had copies of directives from Chinese propaganda authorities restricting state media coverage of the attacks.
"To avoid any feeling of fear in the population and prevent extremists from committing similar crimes, it is strictly forbidden to report cases of attacks on schools or to publish comments," one order said. "Articles about the Jiangsu and Leizhou cases already posted online must be withdrawn."
A popular Internet forum on Chinese search engine Baidu.com about the attack in Taixing that was flooded last week with comments and pictures was emptied within days with an order from the forum administrator saying, "Stop mentioning that incident or else the post and your user account will be deleted."
A blog post about the Taixing attack written by best-selling author Han Han, a young writer known for being outspoken, was removed shortly after he posted it Saturday.
"Our poor children, you've been poisoned by toxic milk powder, hurt by vaccines, crushed by earthquakes, burned to death in fires," Han wrote. "Since the older generation have failed their duty, I hope you may grow up not only to protect your own children but all children."
Associated Press Writer William Foreman in Guangzhou and researchers Ji Chen in Shanghai and Xi Yue in Beijing contributed to this report.