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Academic Exploitation in China: Online Voices Help Three Victims Speak from beyond the Grave

“How many still need to suffer in universities over inappropriate behavior by their professor?”, online voices say.

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A protest sign at Xi'an University commemorates the suicide of Yang Baode (image acquired via zhihu.com).

Recently, different stories about abusive professor-student relations and their fatal consequences have attracted the attention of Chinese media and netizens. Online voices speak out against the problem of academic exploitation in China, and call on students to unify and empower themselves.

On March 11 of 1998, a 21-year-old female Peking University student named Gao Yan (高岩) committed suicide. Twenty years after her death, some of Gao’s old classmates, most importantly a woman named Li Youyou (李悠悠) who now lives in Canada, have come forward on Chinese social media.

They have linked Gao’s suicide to the behavior of Professor Shen Yang (沈阳), who had since moved on to work in the Literature & Language department of Nanjing University.

Gao Yan when she was going to university.

According to South China Morning Post, Gao’s classmates have since long claimed their former classmate had been raped by the professor on multiple occasions over a two-year period, and had been called “mentally ill” by him, before taking her own life. Gao’s old friends have been calling for a re-examination of the case.

The case has drawn much attention on Chinese social media over the past week. Although Shen has denied all accusations through a statement on April 7, Peking University stated it did serve Shen a disciplinary warning in 1998 based on a police report about his inappropriate conduct.

The professor has now been sacked by two of his employers, Shanghai Normal University and Nanjing University’s liberal arts school.

 

More University Suicides: Yang Baode 杨宝德

 

The Shen Yang case has been placed into the larger framework of the ‘Metoo movement in China‘ by various online media such as the New York Times or SCMP.

Li Youyou, the Canada-based former friend of Gao, also told Chinese media that she wanted to expose the two-decade-old sexual assault case because she was inspired by the #MeToo movement and by Luo Xixi, who came forward about a sexual assault case earlier this year, which involved her former Beihang University Professor Chen Xiaowu.

But on Chinese social media, rather than a ‘#metoo’ movement, netizens link the story with that of two other recent university suicides and the bigger problem of exploitation of students in Chinese universities. More than sexual abuse, it is also about emotional and verbal abuse, and official misconduct in academic circles – regardless of gender.

One of these stories is that of Yang Baode (杨宝德). In December of 2017, the 28-year-old Yang Baode, a male PhD student at Xi’an Jiaotong University, went missing and was later found drowned in a river 10 kilometers from campus, as noted by Sixth Tone.

Yang Baode (image via Weibo).

Yang’s girlfriend Li Xin (李欣) and relatives then came forward and said Yang had drowned himself because of the enormous pressure he faced at the university, as his female supervisor Zhou Jun practically treated him as a slave, making him clean and shop for her for years.

In a letter from Yang to his previous Master thesis supervisor, he also complained about Zhou, writing: “I’m suffering every single day.”

 

The Wuhan Case: Tao Chongyuan

 

The third suicide case that has attracted the attention of Chinese social media users is that of the 25-year-old Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) post-graduate student Tao Chongyuan (陶崇园), who jumped to his death on March 26.

According to an account on social media written by Tao’s sister (@陶崇园姐姐), Tao committed suicide to break away from the control of his supervisor, Professor Wang Pan (王攀). (Also see detailed report on this case by SupChina‘s Tianyu Fang.)

Tao Chongyuan

Tao was allegedly required to call his supervisor “father,” buy lunches for him, wash his clothes or give him wake-up calls. A former classmate of Tao told Chinese reporters that Wang used a “tough military style with his students”, “putting immense mental pressure on them.”

State newspaper People’s Daily reported that Professor Wang Pan was stripped of his title by the university on April 8, after the university found enough evidence indicating that Wang acted highly inappropriately towards his student.

 

Traditional Teacher-Student Relations “Unsuited to Modern Society”

 

“Yang Baode, Gao Yan, Tao Chongyuan – three names, three crying voices,” one Weibo netizen writes: “All I can do is warn, alert, and care about my child.”

“The power of the supervisor over PhD students in China is too big,” other commenters on Weibo write. “How many people still need to die because of this reason?”, one blogger asks.

In February of this year, Professor Yang Chunmei wrote that “inappropriate relationships between faculty and students have deep historical roots.”

In this article, she traces the Chinese teacher-student relations back to Confucian thought and China’s history, in which the notion was internalized “that a good teacher was akin to a good father.” Yang writes:

“Because children were expected to show deference to their fathers, students were obliged to treat their teachers in the same way, regardless of whether their teachers were right or wrong. This principle introduced the notion of hierarchy into teacher-student relationships.”

Yang argues that these traditional student-teacher relationships are “unsuited to modern society”, and many netizens express similar sentiments and worry about the future of their children.

One commenter noted that in a highly competitive academic environment, Chinese parents do everything they can to give their children the opportunity to get into a prestigious university. But if they are not safe there and driven into depression, then “what’s the point” to all their endeavors?

 

“Students Must Unite”

 

The issue is also a hot item of debate on Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu.com, where a top commenter promoted the platform teacher-ranking platform mysupervisor.org as a solution to expose inappropriate behavior by professors and to empower students caught in unhealthy relations with their supervisors. They write:

“Students only have limited power, and the relationship between students and teachers is naturally imbalanced. So we have to unite ourselves. This website is anonymous. Please evaluate [your professor], and don’t let those creepy ones get away easily. More importantly – even if teachers force students to give positive comments, it will still not diminish our power. After all, the effect of a string of negative evaluations will surpass that of 100 good reviews.”

Through mysupervisor.org, Chinese students can evaluate their teachers.

The call by the Zhihu user has received nearly 800 comments and 2600 upvotes in two days time.

Meanwhile, the stories of Gao Yan and the others keep generating discussions on Weibo, WeChat, and other online platforms.

“Our state education is rotten,” one person writes: “From Gao Yan’s death to that of Yang Baode and Tao Chongyuan, what more is needed to wake up our country that our education is corroded? Students, come forward and offer more evidence … society, wake up!”

By Manya Koetse with contributions from Miranda Barnes and Richard Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.


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China Insight

10 State Media Cartoons on China’s Social Credit Implementation

This is how state media propagate the Social Credit System.

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Chinese state media roughly illustrate the country’s much-discussed Social Credit implementation in two ways; as punishing individuals and bringing harmony to the collective.

The growing importance of China’s Social Credit implementation is a hot topic in the media – both in- and outside of China.

Ever since the Chinese government announced its first plans in 2014 on the construction of a nationwide Social Credit System to be rolled out by 2020, media coverage on the issue has seemingly been growing month on month.

According to the official government website, the system (or policy) is meant to “assess individuals and government agencies on areas ranging from tax payment and local government bonds to judicial credibility,” and focuses on credit in the areas of (1) administrative affairs, (2) commercial activities, (3) social behavior, and (4) the judicial system.

Part of the Social Credit plan is the implementation of blacklist systems that punish the “untrustworthy” behavior of companies or individuals through various measures. Already in 2013, China’s Supreme Court launched its online publicly available ‘blacklist’ with the names of people that have an effective court order against them.

In 2017, there were more than a hundred regions in China where local governments worked with blacklists. Earlier this year, Chinese media published reports claiming that more than 9,5 million people were blacklisted nationwide in 2017. Those on these lists could face a hold on their loans or travel bans, and will have to deal with a range of other restrictions in their daily lives until they comply with court orders.

In foreign media, the system has been called “Black Mirror-like” or “Orwellian,” while Chinese state media generally emphasize “innovation” and “harmony” when discussing these new implementations.

The cartoons that are published together with news reports on social credit also clearly show the big differences in how the social credit implementation is perceived in foreign media versus in Chinese media.

Below, on the left, is Financial Times‘ Ingram Pinn’s illustration which was featured in a 2018 article  discussing both private credit scores (e.g. Sesame Credit) and the national social credit implementation (for the difference between them, please see our “Open Sesame” article). On the right is a cartoon by state media outlet Xinhua – the same illustration is regularly posted across dozens of news sites when featuring social credit-related stories.

While the cartoon on the left illustrates people as carrying the heavy burden of their ‘credit score’ (note that only commercial programmes such as Sesame Credit actually have these scores), the cartoon on the right shows the social credit as flying over a group of cheering people.

1: “Xinyong” (trustworthiness) flies above the happy people.

In general, the illustrations on Social Credit in Chinese state media roughly present China’s nascent Social Credit implementation in two ways; (1) as punishing individuals for bad behavior and (2) as benefiting the collective, which builds on a more harmonious society together.

 

2: Building “trust” together.

This cartoon above was used in a local government post about social credit and shows people dressed as construction workers literally ‘building’ on the characters for ‘honest’ and ‘trustworthy’ (诚信).

3. Xinhua cartoon: constructing the social credit system.

The idea of literally ‘building’ on a Social Credit System together is also illustrated in other cartoons used by Chinese state media, such as the one above by Xinhua that shows a person waving a flag that says “construction,” standing in front of a number of blocks that form the term “personal integrity system” (个人诚信体系).

4. Integrity above the people.

The applauding and cheering keeps coming back in other cartoons, such as the one above that is published across multiple news platforms. The characters in the flying heart say “chéngxìn” (诚信) , meaning ‘integrity.’

5. Blacklisted people can’t go anywhere.

Besides the illustrations propagating the benefits of the Social Credit system for the collective, there are also many which emphasize the downsides for individuals who get blacklisted. This illustration, published on on the Economic Weekly zhonghongwang.com, shows a person on the left that has a heart on his chest saying ‘keeping trust’ (or: ‘trustworthy’), and the text above his head says “I can go anywhere” (路路通). The person on the left has a ‘lose trust’ black heart on his chest; this ‘blacklisted’ individual sees “limits” on all the signs around him and the cloud text above his head says: “I’m blocked everywhere” (处处受限).

6. Lose your trust in some place, and there’s no place to go.

This illustration published on Party newspaper People’s Daily shows an individual being punished through a pillory which has the term for “blacklisted person” on it. The man’s thinking cloud says: “Lose your trust in one place, and there’s no place to go” (“一处失信、处处受限”), which is a slogan that is recently applied a lot by Chinese media writing about the Social Credit system.

7. Social credit as ball and chain.

To be fair, the illustration above was not published by state media outlet but by various commercial sites, but I still wanted to include it here; these illustrations travel from news article to news article and it is not always easy to detect their origin. This cartoon shows a big ball and chain, the ball says “Social Credit System,” which is tied to the chain which holds a “Resident Identification Card” (official ID of the PRC) and is then tied to the individual.

8. Tax evaders get caught.

This Xinhua illustration, also published on the official government Credit site, shows a man caught in a “black list name” confinement for tax evasion, with the cloud saying: “I can’t move a single step!” (寸不难行). On the flying carpet that says “honor list for paying tax” is another man who holds a “legal tax paper” in his hand and who says: “I can go wherever.”

9. Trust ranks.

This widely circulating illustration shows four individuals from A to D, standing on a block that says “Trust credit levels.” The A man holds a sign that says “special treatment” (or: “favored”), whereas the number D man is put a dunce on his head that says “constrained,” while he falls into a black whole.

10. Big credit is gonna get you.

The cartoon above, by state media outlet Xinhua, shows a computer that has the term “government information sharing” on it, and says: “[We] unite in taking disciplinary measures!” He holds a big net that is titled “Social Credit Web,” and captures a man with a briefcase who is “blacklisted,” and also says, as we’ve seen in previous illustration, that there is “no way to go” for him.

All in all, the message these various illustrations propagate is straight-forward: those who stay off the black lists and behave like good citizens are free to go wherever they want, those who do not will be caught and lose their freedom of movement. They further emphasize that the Social Credit System is a combined effort, that will, allegedly, benefit the collective and make China a safer and more harmonious place.

Want to understand more? Also read our previous articles explaining social credit in China here and here.

By Manya Koetse


Directly support Manya Koetse. By supporting this author you make future articles possible and help the maintenance and independence of this site. Donate directly through Paypal here. Also check out the What’s on Weibo donations page for donations through creditcard & WeChat and for more information.

 

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China Insight

Can’t Enter Uni Because of Daddy’s Bad Social Credit – The Blacklist Story That’s Got Weibo Talking

When one bad social credit listing affects the entire family.

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The story of a Chinese student who got admitted to a renowned university and was then denied access because of his father’s bad social credit has got Chinese social media talking.

Getting access to a top university is not easy in China’s fiercely competitive education environment. For one student from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, the results of his gaokao (national university entrance exams) were so good that he received the happy news that he was accepted into one of these renowned universities in Beijing.

Unfortunately for him, that news was later followed up with an update that he could not be accepted due to his father’s bad social credit standing.

The story, which was widely covered by Chinese state media (including the English-language CGTN), received much attention on Chinese social media this week.

The young man’s father, named only as ‘Mr. Rao’ (饶先生), ended up with a bad credit standing after owing a debt of 200,000 RMB (±US$29,900) to a local bank for more than two years. Since Rao did not succeed in paying off his debt after warnings given, he was informed by a local court that he had ended up on a so-called “lose trust list” or “black list” (失信名单/失信黑名单).

Towards a More Credit-Based Society

In 2014, China’s government first announced plans of its “Social Credit System” (社会信用体系) that focuses on accumulating and integrating information, and will create measures that encourage ‘trustworthy behavior’ and punishes those who are not ‘trustworthy.’

The system is planned to go national by 2020, and is currently implemented in various regions across the country.

However, the public black list was introduced before this time, with Chinese courts in 2013 starting to publicly give out the names online of people who have not complied with court orders.

Additionally, In 2006, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) also already began operating its own independent Credit Reference Center tasked with managing a national commercial and consumer credit reporting system. With the recent launch of the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联), a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data, China’s credit-based society has taken another leap – with state level and commercial organizations joining forces in further developing China’s credit systems.

In recent (English-language) media reports, the lines are often blurred between the Social Credit system and a number of private programs, including the Sesame Credit program. These misunderstandings partly come from the fact that both the government’s plans on introducing their ‘Social Credit System’ (社会信用体系) and the Central Bank’s endeavors to build a stronger personal credit industry (个人征信行业) were major developments in the period from 2013-2015 up to the present. Together with the 2013 judicial online blacklist, these policies and programs all built on a stronger credit-based society that governs both economic and social areas.

The ‘system’ (there is not one system in place yet) works through rewards and punishment mechanisms. In the city of Zhuhai, for example, individuals or companies with good credit are put on a “red list” which potentially means they could be praised online (Zhuhai credit website) or given rewards, whereas those put on the “black list” (f.e. due to serious misbehavior or promise-breaching) will be subject to various restrictions (Zhang & Zhang 2016, 157).

Those restrictions could include a halt on loans or a national ban from traveling by air or train. Since private programs and institutions also have access to the public blacklists, one company or person’s bad credit status can affect their status among various platforms and for various institutions – and thus, potentially, could also influence their children’s access to schools and universities.

A Controversial Measure

The recent story of Rao’s son paying the price for this father’s bad credit listing has stirred controversy online over children being affected by their parents’ bad credit listing.

One Weibo news thread on the issue received nearly 30,000 comments.

One of the most popular remarks on the story said: “If it is okay to treat those who are associated with an offender as guilty (连坐), then it’s time to punish the sons and daughters of corrupt officials, too.”

“A father’s bad credit has nothing to do with the children!”, another Weibo user said.

But another popular comment called the measure “effective,” with others agreeing: “If he waited two years to pay off his debt, he was basically asking to be on the blacklist. That his bad credit influences his child’s education is just to reap what one has sown.”

Various Chinese media, including financial newspaper Caijing, report that the boy’s father was previously warned by the local court that his bad credit standing could potentially have consequences for his children too, but that he still did not comply with court orders to pay back his loans.

Since Rao’s son has been denied access to the university as long as his father has a bad credit standing, Rao has allegedly paid back the loan and has asked the local court to be removed from the blacklist.

There are also commenters on Weibo, such as @闪电McQueen, who say the university’s actions are nothing newsworthy: “This is just the [political] examination of people’s records, it’s not specifically about the black list, it’s common knowledge, let’s not make it all about that black list.”

This commenter’s reaction reiterates the idea that the social credit system and black list system is actually not that new, as Rogier Creemers has previously described in Foreign Policy (2016): “The Chinese Communist Party government has always sought to keep tabs on its citizens, for instance through the “personal file” (dang’an) system of a few decades ago.”

Another person on Weibo says: “The people who are saying the child is the victim here should also know that people who end up on the blacklist are generally not people without money, their kids have enough opportunities, it’s just that if they owe money [to the bank], paying the tuition fee for their kids would become a problem.”

As for Rao’s son, whether or not he will be able to start at his new university in Beijing in the new semester, now that his dad has paid off debts, is yet unclear. Some commenters say it would be better if he didn’t: “Who wants to go to a university who does this anyway?”

UPDATE (7.16.18): Jeremy Daum at the ever-insighful China Law Translate blog has further looked into this case and found that the institution in this article, which has not been named in Chinese media, is most probably a private academy. He was also able to verify that this concerns a real story with no fake names used – he was able track Rao down in the public blacklist.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

References

Creemers, Rogier; Peter Marris; Samantha Hoffman; Pamela Kyle Crossley. 2016. “What Could China’s ‘Social Credit System’ Mean for its Citizens?” Foreign Policy, Aug 15
http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/15/what-could-chinas-social-credit-system-mean-for-its-citizens/ [15.7.18].

Zhang, Keting, and Fang Zhang. 201. “Report on the Construction of the Social Credit System in China’s Special Economic Zones.” In: Yitao Tao and Yiming Yuan (eds), Annual Report on the Development of China’s Special Economic Zones (2016): Blue Book of China’s Special Economic Zones, 153-171. Singapore: Social Science Academic Press.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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