BEIJING -- An attacker hacked seven children and one teacher to death Wednesday and wounded 20 other people in a rampage at a kindergarten in northwest China, the latest in a string of savage assaults at the country's schools.
The slayings occurred despite a countrywide boost in security at schools, with gates and security cameras ordered installed and additional police and guards posted at entrances.
The attack happened at 8 a.m. local time at a kindergarten in Nanzheng county of Hanzhong city, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It did not give the ages of the victims or say who attacked them.
Liu Xiaoming, deputy director of the propaganda department of Hanzhong city, confirmed that seven children and one teacher were killed and that about 20 others had been wounded.
"The murderer killed himself afterward," Liu said. He said he did not have any other information.
A Nanzheng county resident reached by phone said crowds had gathered outside the kindergarten, but information was spotty. He said the assailant was believed to have been a local villager surnamed Wu, aged in his late 40s, who owned the house in which the kindergarten was located.
"I saw him before and he looked quite normal," said the man, who would identify himself only by his surname, Li.
The attack is the fifth major incident at schools and kindergartens since late March, sparking security fears among parents, officials and educators.
In Hanzhong, an industrial city of 3.72 million people, nearly 2,000 police officers and security guards had been detailed to patrol public schools, kindergartens and surrounding areas beginning last week, according to a statement posted on the city government's official website.
Sociologists say the attacks reflect a lack of support for the mentally ill and rising stress resulting from huge social inequalities in China's fast-changing society. Such issues have largely been ignored in state media's reporting on the attacks, which have focused instead on increases in security in an effort to quell public fear and potential unrest.
The assaults began with an attack on a primary school in March in the city of Nanping in Fujian province where eight children were stabbed and slashed to death by a former community clinic doctor with a history of mental health problems.
The man convicted of that crime 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 following day in Taixing city in Jiangsu province, a 47-year-old unemployed man armed with an 8-inch knife wounded 29 kindergarten students -- five seriously -- plus two teachers and a security guard.
Just hours later, a farmer hit five elementary students with a hammer in the eastern city of Weifang before burning himself to death.
The government has sought to show it has the problem under control, mindful especially of worries among middle-class families who, limited in most cases to one child due to population control policies, invest huge amounts of money and effort to raise their offspring.