The recent incidents, which have drawn world-wide attention, threaten to cast a shadow over the lavish celebrations planned to mark the official start of the Expo 2010 Shanghai, which is intended to showcase China's economic and social development.
Propaganda authorities have ordered domestic media not to feature stories on the attacks prominently and discouraged original reporting, instructing media to follow Xinhua's dispatches, according to people familiar with the directives. It wasn't clear if the move was intended to stem concerns over social tensions ahead of the Shanghai Expo or to prevent further "copycat" crimes against schoolchildren.
In the latest rampage, five kindergarten students and a teacher at the Shangzhuang Primary School in the Shandong province city of Weifang were injured in an attack by a man wielding an iron hammer who then set himself on fire, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The alleged attacker, identified by police as Wang Yonglai, a local farmer, died at the scene, Xinhua said, and the five children were reported to be in stable condition Friday afternoon.
An official in the news department of the Weifang government directed questions about the incident to the local foreign affairs office, which couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
See also reports from BBC and Los Angeles Times. Danwei sums up Chinese media reporting on the incidents, and China Media Project translates a commentary by Chang Ping about the media's responsibilities in covering cases of violence:
I want to start by correcting some of these exaggerated statements. It is a bit sophistic and misleading to confute the idea of having an “obligation to share anything and everything” and “exaggeration.” There’s no need to argue too much about this. I think most people would agree that the media should not report absolutely everything. Moreover, in reporting cases of homicide, mass media need to show a degree of restraint. They should not exaggerate the process of the crime or the horrors of the scene. And when the needs arises, of course they must respect the privacy of the victims.
What I want to talk about here is whether or not media must or should report on this kind of incident — or whether they should report so heavily on such cases.
Media reports certainly can offer example and inspiration to potential attackers, suggesting to them that physical violence might present an outlet for the venting of their own frustrations or “grievances.” Of course, those who would limit media reports on these grounds see only one aspect of the role of the news media.
The social impact of media reports is diverse and intermixed, and we have to consider a number of aspects together before we can reach a conclusion. There are at least four aspects we should take into consideration.
Update: The New York Times looks at the social and political response to the attacks:
After the first attack, in which a man stabbed and killed eight children outside an elementary school in Fujian Province on March 23, the Internet and government media bubbled with outrage, and the state-run Xinhua news service issued a lengthy study of the loner who committed the crime.
But on Friday, after three consecutive days of spontaneous and inexplicable assaults on children as young as 3, the media went silent. News of the latest attack, at the Shangzhuang Primary School in Shandong Province, vanished from the headlines on major Internet portals, replaced by an announcement that the government had assembled a team of 22 experts to help the education system set things right.
Posts on social networking sites indicated the change in tone came from the Communist Party’s central propaganda department, which directs and censors coverage of major news events.
If it was a classic response, born of Leninist dogma that dictates that bad news be buried and the state’s heroism trumpeted, it was still understandable after a week of what were apparently copycat crimes.
But it brought little comfort to average citizens, who still wondered what in their society could generate such madness. Online, many of them focused on problems — the growing rich-poor gap or the helplessness of average people in the face of power — that are a backdrop to everyday life.
See also "Recent Attacks Against Schoolchildren, Netizen Reactions" from chinaSMACK.