On Friday, September 26, a 'stampede', reportedly caused by misplaced cushions normally used in a physical education class, lead to the deaths of six schoolchildren and injured at least 26 others at Kunming's Mingtong Primary School (明通小学). Local authorities have said two trampled students remain in serious condition at a local hospital.
As of this writing, details of the tragedy from various media reports continue to be vague. Originally, State-run media outlet Xinhua reported that between 2 and 2:30pm on Friday, a lunch break accident occurred when a group of students "were playing with a large cotton cushion" which then fell on top of several smaller children. A general panic erupted afterwards, with several students running over the cushion itself, causing severe injuries, according to the account.
Other initial reports claimed two mattresses fell onto children while they walked down a stairwell after a scheduled nap. The resulting rush to flee further down the stairs caused more children to run over the cushions, unaware that some of their classmates were trapped beneath.
No concrete detail-oriented accounts have yet elucidated what exactly happened at the school. However, it now appears the 'official' story' is that a mass of 600 students rushing from a scheduled nap to class inadvertently trampled several of their classmates in a packed dormitory stairwell. The killed and injured children apparently tripped over a misplaced cushion, fell underfoot and were crushed as their classmates streamed down the stairs.
Bereaved parents of the deceased pupils staged a memorial parade at the school on Sunday. They carried flower wreathes, photos of their children and a sign reading "The killers should be severely punished". Officials at the Kunming Education Bureau sacked or suspended seven administrators over the weekend, including its own deputy director and the head of education in Panlong District (盘龙区), where the accident took place. It was also announced that the families of those killed would each receive payments of 800,000 yuan (US$130,000).
Regardless of what exactly led to the tragedy, general safety standards of schools have been called into question by netizens across the country once again. Such discussions only intensified when news broke the same day of the Kunming incident that four elementary school students in Guangxi province had been stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. When approached for comment by Xinhua, professor Zhou Ning of Yunnan Normal University stated that "schools should pay more attention to safety education, and make sure all students know how to cope with emergencies."
Chinese law limits primary school class sizes across the country to no more than 45 students. However, this statute is often not enforced, especially in rural schools and prominent urban academies with reputations for excellence. Overcrowding is not the only issue of concern for parents. A national lunch program came under intense scrutiny in 2012, when thousands of rural students, many of them in Yunnan, suffered severe food poisoning after eating at their school canteens.
Mingtong School — located in central Kunming near the intersection of Beijing Lu and Dongfeng Dong Lu — is considered one of the best primary schools in the city. At the time of the tragedy, it may have been overcrowded due to its public standing and commensurate enrollment demands. An investigation is still ongoing into exactly what caused the stampede and how it could have been prevented.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 27, under the title 'Six children killed in Kunming primary school panic'. It has been rewritten to include details that emerged over the weekend.