The incident is the latest in a series of violent assaults on children involving people with suspected psychiatric problems in China, which experts have blamed on rapid social change as the country’s economy booms.
The 30-year-old farmer carried out the deadly assault in Henan province’s Gongyi city, in central China, the city government said in a statement.
One child and three adults were killed on the spot, while the other child and one more adult succumbed to their injuries in hospital, authorities added. The children — both girls — were aged one and four.
“According to locals, the suspect Wang Hongbin has a history of mental health illness,” officials said, adding he was already detained by the police.
One witness told the official Xinhua news agency he rushed out onto the street when he heard people crying for help.
“We used mops to fend off the axe-wielding man and waited for the police to come,” Cao Jianli, a local civil servant, was quoted as saying.
The report said the suspect’s medical records indicated he suffered from schizophrenia.
Chinese authorities have been forced to increase security around schools after a series of violent assaults involving children. In many cases, the attackers were suspected of having mental health issues.
In the last week of August, eight pupils were hurt when a staff member at a day care centre for migrant workers’ children in Shanghai went on a stabbing spree.
The female worker used a box cutter to slash children aged between three and four at the “Little Happiness Star” nursery in an eastern suburb of the metropolis, according to local news reports.