The recent arrest of two kindergarten teachers over a child abuse case in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang has prompted calls for new child protection laws in a society where the physical punishment of children is commonplace, and often seen as necessary, analysts said.
Police in Zhejiang's Wenling city are holding kindergarten teacher Yan Yanhong, 20, after she posted photos of herself smiling while lifting a pupil at the Blue Peacock Kindergarten off the ground by the ears.
After that photo sparked a public outcry, Yan was found to have posted more than 700 photos of child abuse on the popular chat and microblogging site QQ.
Other pictures showed children, aged between four and five, with their mouths sealed by tape, dumped head-first in a trash can, with their clothes stripped off as they danced and were made to kiss each other, official media reported at the time.
Yan told local media that she was "just playing" with the children, adding: "It was great fun."
A second teacher, Tong Qingqing, was detained because she took the photos and did nothing to prevent Yan's actions.
However, Yan is currently detained on suspicion of public order offenses rather than for child abuse, because China's current laws limit the definition of child abuse to actions perpetrated by family members.
More than 95 percent of netizens who responded to an online poll on Monday supported making "child abuse" a specific offense under Chinese criminal law.
Zhang Xingshui, a researcher into minors and the criminal justice system at Beijing's China University of Politics and Law, said that Chinese children were routinely subjected to physical punishment, perhaps blurring the notion of abuse in the public imagination.
"Violence against minors, in particular against children, happens all the time," Zhang told RFA's Mandarin service.
He said there were "no specific rules" in existing legislation governing the protection of minors to forbid the physical punishment of children.
"That's why I think that we could add some legislation on this issue, so that there is some basis in law for designating certain actions illegal," Zhang said.
"That way, we can pursue legal responsibility [for such acts]," he said.
A report in the China Youth Daily newspaper said the online poll had revealed that the physical abuse of children happened mostly in their own homes, and that it was most likely to occur in households where the marital relationship was under strain.
It quoted a 2008 joint study by a nongovernment child protection group in Xi'an and the Xi'an Jiaotong University as saying that more than 60 percent of children reported being physically and verbally abused by their parents, as well as being forced to stand for long periods, and being denied food and sleep.
More than 49 percent of the 300 elementary schoolchildren surveyed said they had been smacked, while 28 percent reported emotional abuse, including the "cold treatment," at the hands of parents.
The International Union for Child Welfare in 1981 defined "child abuse" as consisting of "neglect or abuse" of children by family members and institutions, or of exploitation outside the home in the form of child labor or prostitution.
Zhang said China's "left-behind" children, whose parents were working in factories in richer cities, were at the greatest risk of abuse.
"They have been without a mother or a father since they were tiny, and develop very callous and closed-in personalities in the course of their personal development and education," he said.
"Particularly those children who have been subjected to violent abuse, will themselves develop violent tendencies," he said. "These people have themselves been victims in the past, so this warps their personalities."
Song Meiya, senior editor at the China Women's News, said the Wenling abuse case would now likely focus public attention on the issue.
"Since this case was broadcast by online media, it has made people extremely concerned about an issue that they never really took seriously before," she said.
"Everyone is a journalist nowadays," Song said. "They can all report the news, and ... very quickly, too."
"This is an excellent use of new media; it lets us see right into people's hearts, their spiritual quality," she said.
"If there is a problem, then people should care about it."
Yan was detained "on charges of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," the official Xinhua news agency quoted the Wenling city government as saying, a charge which carries a maximum jail term of five years.
"China's child-abuse laws only apply to family members, leaving a loophole," the agency quoted police sources as saying, adding that schools were responsible for enforcing child protection laws on their own premises, and for punishing abusive staff.
Tong, who took the pictures and uploaded them, was handed a seven-day administrative detention, the agency said.
The Blue Peacock Kindergarten had failed its educational evaluation this year, it added, according to local official Wu Guojian, who commented of Yan: "She has problems in her moral quality."
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.