BEIJING • Chinese police said yesterday they believe a 22-year-old school dropout planted a homemade explosive device outside a kindergarten, killing eight people, including himself, although his motive remains unclear.
The explosion took place at around 4.50pm on Thursday outside a kindergarten in Xuzhou city in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, as parents and grandparents were gathered at the school gates to pick up their children.
There was initially some speculation the incident might have been caused by a gas cylinder from a street-food vendor, but it now appears the explosion will go down as the latest in a long series of puzzling and disturbing attacks on young children in China in recent years, perpetrated by people with mental health issues or grievances against society.
The attacks on children are, perhaps, even more troubling in a society where many parents have only one child, thanks to four decades of draconian family planning policies.
"The explosion was caused by a homemade explosive device," Mr Pei Jun, the deputy head of Jiangsu public security office, told a news conference, blaming a man he named only as Xu.
Police said their investigation, together with DNA testing, had helped to identify Xu, whom they said had dropped out of school with autonomic nervous dysfunction, a disorder that can cause heart and breathing problems, and who went on to work and live near the kindergarten. "Materials for making an explosive device were found at his room, and words such as 'die' were written on the wall," Mr Pei said.
Police said 65 people were wounded in the attack, eight seriously, of whom four remain in critical condition. Many appeared to be mothers.
The attack happened before the children were let out of the school, the authorities said, saying no teachers or pupils were among the victims.
Sociologists blame the pressures of a society undergoing rapid change for the attacks on schools and young children, with rising inequality and huge pressures on young people to compete and succeed.
A lack of support for the mentally ill and a dysfunctional legal system, where people who feel they have been treated unfairly or have suffered injustice have few avenues to seek amends, are also thought to be possible causes.
Police said two people died at the scene and six died in hospital.
Professor Li Meijin, a professor in the department of criminology at the People's Public Security University of China in Beijing, said many attackers appear to be men in the prime of their lives, who may be struggling to cope with pressure or difficulties in their lives.
"Socially isolated individuals are more likely to commit crimes," she said. "If they can't get effective help or if there's no good way for them to vent their feelings, they may become reckless in desperation and take revenge on society.
"I am wondering if we should have more ways for people to file a complaint or appeal," she said.
Last month, six Chinese children and six South Korean children, all aged between three and seven, died after their kindergarten bus driver set his bus on fire, police said. The man was apparently angry that his overtime and night shift pay had been cut, police told state media.
But with China maintaining strict control on firearms, most of the other attacks have involved knives or other sharp implements, such as last year's attack on an elementary school in northern China that left seven children wounded.
Those attacks prompted the government and schools to beef up security, posting guards and installing gates and barriers outside schools, and the Ministry of Education yesterday issued a fresh directive instructing schools to carry out a "comprehensive investigation of security risks".
Among other things, it said schools should look at former personnel who may have been dismissed, individuals with mental illnesses and illegal street stalls in the vicinity.