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Adding to a spate of school violence that has shocked China in recent weeks, a man stabbed to death six children and one teacher and injured at least 20 others in a kindergarten attack in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, Chinese state media said Wednesday.

The latest spree, which was the fifth school attack in recent months and the deadliest since an attack in March, took place Wednesday morning in Nanzheng, a county that's part of the municipality of Hanzhong southwest of Xi'an. The attacker killed himself after stabbing the children, Wu Xiaoyan, a Hanzhong city official told Xinhua news agency.

A policeman from the Nanzheng Public Security Bureau confirmed the attack and said most of the county's police officials have gone to the site and are investigating the case. He said no details had yet emerged.

The unusual surge of violence, which has now left at least 17 dead and some 90 injured, has drawn concern from worried parents and challenged China's top leaders, who are trying to figure out what's motivating them.

Wednesday's killing spree is likely to further erode faith in the government's ability to protect its citizens and stem the wave of apparent 'copycat' crimes that is terrorizing schools despite beefed-up security. The attacks have also underscored the weakness of China's mental health services.

There was no known motive for the Wednesday morning spree.

A waitress in Nanzheng Nanhua Hotel identified as Ms. Xiong said about the attack: 'This person is cruel. How could he stab those kids? Kids are innocent. Our colleagues who have kids at schools or kindergartens feel nervous about this.'

After the previous attacks, propaganda authorities ordered domestic media not to feature stories on them prominently and discouraged reporting, instructing media to use state-run Xinhua's dispatches, according to people familiar with the directives. It wasn't clear if the move was intended to prevent further copycat crimes.

Similarly, by midday Wednesday, the terse report on Xinhua on the latest attack had been removed from major news Internet sites, and the noon state television newscast didn't cover the incident.

It appeared that comments on popular Internet portal Baidu were also being deleted.

In recent weeks, state-controlled television reports have sought to assuage growing unease about security failures by showcasing reports on extra security measures such as more guards and briefings on how to disable attackers.

While violent crime in China is still relatively low, there is a growing sense that long-standing strains in a society pulled apart by massive migration, a growing income gap between rich and poor and sense of powerlessness against corruption is beginning to break out.

One of China's most popular bloggers, Han Han, wrote in a May 2nd post, that attacking the vulnerable schools has become 'in vogue, because in the process of killing people, the killer encounters the least resistance, is able to kill the greatest number of people, and is able to inflict the greatest amount of pain and terror in society. It has become the most effective way of avenging oneself against society,' according to a translation by the China Elections & Governance Website, which was jointly founded by the Carter Center China Program and Renmin University of China.

Web comments Wednesday reflected similar outrage at the government.

'It's a result of the social injustice, the country is too corrupt!' wrote one. 'Young kids have no capability to protect themselves. Does this mean they should just become the target of a maniac?' said another.

Shai Oster

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