China kindergarten murders prompt government response

The latest Chinese kindergarten murders have prompted more discussion on government response within China, which has traditionally avoided confronting mental health issues.

Yet another violent outburst at a school in northeast China has left three children and 20 others injured and prompted the Chinese government to announce plans to build as many as 550 new psychiatric hospitals over the next two years.

The seventh such attack since the beginning of this year has encouraged an increase of armed guards and video surveillance on school campuses across the country, and self-defense training for students and teachers, reported Global Times, a sister publication of the state-owned People’s Daily.

In spite of the new security measures, parents are again fearful following the Aug. 4 incident, which took place in Zibo, a suburb of Shandong Province. It was the first major incident since May in a series of heinous crimes targeting young children across China.

The unrelated attacks have all employed crude weapons – cleavers, a hammer, and most recently, a two-foot-long blade. Most of the attackers have been middle-aged men with financial and/or psychological problems, though the latest detainee, Fang Jiatong, is just 26.

At least 18 children have been murdered and over 80 others injured since the first spree in March.

Experts cite varying motives for the attacks – inability to cope with a fast-changing society, disillusionment due to the gap between rich and poor, and lack of a proper infrastructure for people suffering from mental illness. “We have focused on economic progress but have most certainly lost sight of psychological improvements,” Ma Ai, a criminal psychologist with the China University of Political Science and Law, told Agence France-Presse in May, after a man in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province, hacked seven children and one teacher to death before killing himself.

The gruesome nature of the crimes has prompted a closer look at the state of mental health in China by the country’s highest authorities. In May, Reuters reported that Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged to Hong Kong’s Phoenix television that there were “deep-seated causes behind these problems.”

Global Poverty reported in July that an estimated 173 million people in China suffer from mental illness; however, less than 10 percent are able to seek help.

China has been slow to confront mental health issues in the past, choosing instead to let the police deal with them, but according to the Wall Street Journal, this is changing. 

"From the point of view of maintaining stability, the new hospitals are definitely good news." Jiang Qianjin, a professor of psychology at Zhejiang University told The Daily Telegraph. "There are a large number of poor and mentally unstable people scattered around the country, but the hospitals have had poor facilities and treatment, and the attention they were given was far from sufficient."

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