At least five major attacks on schools in China last year left 17 people, including 15 children, dead [AFP]

A man armed with an axe has killed a child and three adults as they made their way to a kindergarten in central China, officials say.

Police have detained Wang Hongbin, the 30-year-old attacker who allegedly carried out the deadly assault in Henan province's Gongyi city early on Wednesday morning, the city's government said in a statement.

He also seriously wounded another child and adult in the assault. 

"According to locals, the suspect Wang Hongbin has a history of mental health illness," the statement said.

Local news reported that the adult victims were all parents taking their children to the nearby kindergarten.

The incident is the latest in a series of violent attacks involving children that have forced authorities to increase security around China's schools and kindergartens.

At the end 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 at children aged between three and four years old at the Little Happiness Star nursery in an eastern suburb of Shanghai, according to local news reports.

The suspect in that case was also believed to have suffered from mental health problems.

Last year, at least five major attacks took place at schools in China, killing 17 people, including 15 children, and injuring more than 80 others.

Two of the attackers were executed and two others committed suicide. The suspect in the fifth attack was sentenced to death in June 2010.

Studies have described a rise in the prevalence of mental disorders in China, some of them linked to stress as society becomes more fast-paced and socialist support systems wither.

Source: Agencies