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Private-school kindergarten rivalry turns deadly in China

LIANGHE, China — When kindergarten was dismissed on that April afternoon, 6-year-old Ren Xinyi and her younger cousin hurried home. They were eager to check out a plastic bag they had spotted on the way to school that morning with their grandmother, who had taken it home without thinking twice.

Xinyi looked inside and grabbed a blue pencil and notebook; 5-year-old Ren Zhaoning took out a children's yogurt drink and sipped half of the creamy white liquid before handing it to her cousin. By nightfall, Zhaoning was dead. Xinyi, who drank less, would succumb six days later. As it turned out, the drink had been laced with rat poison.

Even more shocking than the fact that the poisoning was deliberate was the identity of one of the perpetrators. Two people were arrested and later confessed. One was the principal of a rival private kindergarten. She was apparently intent on hurting the reputation of its bigger, more profitable rival, according to the official New China News Agency.

Though extreme, the tragedy in this remote corner in Hebei province draws attention to the intense, sometimes-brutal competition among private, profit-driven kindergartens across China.