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The Zhenxing Martial Arts School in Henan province, central China. Photo: Handout

Early hours fire kills 18, mostly children, at central China MMA school

  • Eyewitness says they were screaming for their lives but rescuers were driven back by the fierce flames
  • The young victims, aged between seven and 16, were asleep upstairs when the fire broke out at 3am

At least 18 people – most of them children – were killed in a deadly blaze at a mixed martial arts school in central China’s Henan province in the early hours of Friday morning.

Four others were severely injured and 12 sustained minor injuries in the fire that broke out at the boarding school in Shangqiu city’s Zhecheng county in the early hours of Friday, according to state media reports.

The children, aged between seven and 16, were asleep on the first floor while school owner Chen Lin and his wife slept on the ground floor, news website reported.

An eyewitness said he heard the children screaming for their lives, according to Hongxinwen – a state-affiliated online news portal overseen by the National Development and Reform Commission – which also identified the school as the Zhenxing Martial Arts School.

“All the children screamed and we tried to help by pouring water on the fire but it didn’t stop. It eventually got so fierce there was simply no way for adults to get close.”

A total of 34 students were enrolled at the school and all doctors at the local hospital were mobilised to treat the victims, Beijing Youth Daily reported.

The Zhecheng county government’s news office confirmed the fire broke out at around 3am on Friday morning. Chen Lin has been taken away for investigation.

According to the emergency management ministry in Beijing, 18 of the 34 people at the school were killed in the fire. Deputy minister Song Yuanming is taking a work team to Zhecheng to supervise the rescue and investigation.

China launches nationwide safety checks after deadly blast in Hubei

Henan party secretary Lou Yangsheng on Friday called on local cadres to “reflect on” the tragedy, which happened just days before the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations.
The deadly blaze was the latest in a series of incidents resulting in high numbers of casualties which prompted the central government to order nationwide safety inspections. These included a deadly blast in Shiyan, Hubei province, earlier this month which killed 25 people and injured more than 100.

In response to the Shiyan deaths, President Xi Jinping ordered cadres across the country to remain “politically vigilant” to prevent major safety hazards. The party is striving to harness a positive vibe and maintain social stability ahead of its centenary celebrations next week.

Mixed martial arts has been growing rapidly in popularity in China with a deep talent pool producing a fair share of world-champion level fighters.

Shaolin Monastery – centre stage in Hong Kong martial arts films

Henan province also has a rich culture of martial arts, linked to the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Monastery in the Song Mountains that enjoyed a reputation as a centre for kung fu with its Buddhist martial arts monks.

The local martial arts scene was further popularised by the 1986 box office hit Martial Arts of Shaolin starring Jet Li. Last year, the General Administration of Sport called for better regulations to improve the safety of competitions, because of the emerging popularity of freestyle and MMA fighting, as well as professional boxing.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Blaze at martial arts school kills 18, mostly children