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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

“I’m One of 1.4 Billion” Goes Trending as China’s Population Now Tops the 1.4B Number

China’s total population is up, but its birth rate has fallen to the lowest level.

Manya Koetse

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According to the latest numbers, China’s birth rate has hit a new low, but state media are instead highlighting the fact that China’s population has now surpassed 1,4 billion.

This Friday, official data, released annually by the National Bureau of Statistics, shows that the total Chinese mainland’s population has surpassed 1.4 billion at the end of 2019.

In light of this news, Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily launched the hashtag “I’m One of 1.4 Billion” (#我就是14亿分之一#), propagating a sense of unity among such a massive population.

This message was also reiterated by other accounts, such as the Shenzhen Police, that said: “We’re all one big family, our name is China, we have a lot of brothers and sisters.”

China’s Birth Rate Falls to Lowest

While People’s Daily is publicizing the 1.4 billion number, the annual statistics also show that China’s birth rate has fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Although only 14,65 million were born in mainland China in 2019, the death rate of the country was also lower than before – meaning that the total population number still went up from 1,39 billion to 1,4 billion in the last year.

One thread started by People’s Daily on Weibo received nearly 530,000 likes by Friday afternoon, with thousands of Weibo users posting a response to the latest numbers.

Many netizens responded to the news in a similar fashion, saying: “There are already enough people [in China] now, I don’t need to have children anymore,” or: “Good, there’s so many people, I don’t have to worry about having kids.”

China’s marriage rates hit a new low in 2019 after dropping year by year.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the existing social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates.

The rising costs of living and the fact that many among Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy and general preference for baby boys.

Although Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or not being able to afford it.

For some years, ‘leftover women’ were mentioned as a reason for China’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were sometimes singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This has increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Today’s responses on Weibo seem to indicate that many young people are still not very eager to have children. “Let’s not add to the population, it’s enough burden for the planet,” some say.

Others say the number of 1,4 billion make them or their action seem “irrelevant” and “tiny.”

There are also those with entirely different concerns about the number: “There are 1,4 billion in China now, and yet I’m still not able to find a boyfriend!”

By Manya Koetse
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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media

From blockchain to hardcore, this is an overview of China’s media top buzzwords over the past year.

Jialing Xie

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Some of the expressions and idioms that have been buzzing in Chinese media the past year. What’s on Weibo’s Jialing Xie explains. 

Last year, we listed China’s “top ten buzzwords” for you (link), giving an overview of some noteworthy expressions on Chinese social media and in the media in 2018. Recently, the chief editor of the magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì (咬文嚼字) has again announced the “top ten buzzwords” in China of the past year.

Yǎowén Jiáozì, which literally means “to pay excessive attention to wording,” is a monthly publication focused on the Chinese language. Chinese (state) media have been widely propagating the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year in newspapers and on Chinese online media. The ten terms have also become a topic of discussion on Weibo over the past month, with the topic receiving 290 million views.

We’ve listed them for you here:

 

1. 文明互鉴 (wénmíng hùjiàn): “Mutual Learning”

  • Literal Meaning: “Mutual learning,” “Exchanges and mutual learning among different cultures and civilizations.”
  • Original context: This expression can be traced back to the era around and during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), a time of division, bloody battles, and political chaos. The demands for solutions brought forth a broad range of philosophies and schools. During this time, Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Mohism and many others were developed leading to the phenomenon known as the “Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought.”
  • What does it mean now? In 2014, at the 4th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a major initiative to convene a conference on dialogue between Asian countries followed by an introduction emphasizing how “diversity spurs interaction among civilizations, which promotes mutual learning.” This sentence and expression were later repeated in speeches during various major events. In May 2019, President Xi once again emphasized the idea during the CICA, making the term pop up across Chinese state media again. 

 

2. 区块链 (qū kuài liàn): “Blockchain”

  • Literal Meaning: Blockchain Technology
  • Context: “Blockchain” is no longer a new concept since it was first introduced to the public around a decade ago. Development of the malleable blockchain technology has become an important trend in China’s tech market through the years. 
  • What does it mean now?  Blockchain was all the buzz in China over the past year. In early 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of China released the Provisions on the Administration of Blockchain Information Services. In October, President Xi singled out blockchain technology as an important breaking point in developing China’s core innovative technology and emphasized the importance of investing and stepping up research on the standardization of blockchain to increase China’s influence and power in the global arena. 

 

3. 硬核 (yìng hé): “Hardcore”

  • Literal Meaning: “Hardcore” – 硬 = hard, 核 = core. 
  • Context: “Hardcore” is known as the abbreviation for Hardcore Punk, a punk rock music genre originated in Southern California during the late 1970s. The term was later used to reference things of a certain level of complexity, such as “hardcore games” (versus casual games). The term started to mean something along the lines of “terrific” (厉害) or “strict”/”rigid” (刚硬)  and in Chinese, started being used in expressions such as “Tiger mom” (硬核妈妈) or “Hardcore game players” (硬核玩家).
  • What does it mean now?  As the Chinese science fiction blockbuster The Wandering Earth (流浪地球) was categorized as ‘hardcore science fiction’ (硬核科幻), the term ‘hardcore’ resurfaced as a popular word often popping up in (online) conversations.

 

 4. 融梗 (róng gěng): “Mixing up ideas”

  • Literal Meaning: “Integrating other people’s ideas into one’s own work” or “integrating punchlines,” “mixing up plots.”
  • Context: Over the past two decades, many literary works, including a few by prestigious Chinese writers, have been suspected of plagiarism and triggered heated discussions online — when it comes to drawing inspiration from other art and literary creations, where is the boundary between artistic freedom and plagiarism?
  • What does it mean now?  Soon after the Chinese movie Better Days (少年的你) came out in October (read more here), the writer of the original novel was accused of plagiarizing parts of Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino’s work. Many netizens argued that in the field of online literature, borrowing ideas from others (融梗) is ubiquitous and does not necessarily equate plagiarism because the act (融梗) itself requires original work and creativity. From October to now, the term has become a recurring topic in Chinese media. 

 

 5. “XX 千万条,XX 第一条” (XX qiān wàn tiáo, XX dì yī tiáo): “Out of millions of things,..is the first one”

  • Literal Meaning: “Out of ten million things,.. xxx comes first as the rule of thumb.” 
  • Context: List thinking is prevailing in China; from codes and regulations enacted by the government and laid down by companies, to the way teachers outline their lectures, the usage of “articles” (sometimes used as ‘rules’)  or “items” (条) to organize ideas and outline objectives is commonly seen in daily life.
  • What does it mean now? This phrase caught people’s attention after appearing in the aforementioned science fiction film The Wandering Earth, where a robot voice reminds a driver of traffic safety in a noteworthy way, saying something along the lines of: “There are thousands of road rules, but safety rules always come first. If you disregard safety, your loved ones will end up in tears.” Despite sounding like a sketch that rhymes poorly in Chinese, the lines stuck around and were later also used by Chinese traffic police across the country. The sentence structure is now also more often applied in various other contexts, for example: “There are thousands of things good for health, but sleep is the most important.”

 

6. 柠檬精 (níngméng jīng): “Lemon monster”

  • Literal Meaning: “Lemon mythical spirit” or “Sour lemon goblin”
  • Context: In ancient Chinese superstitions, it’s believed that animals and non-living objects may have the potential to grow into something with spiritual and immortal characteristics if meeting certain criteria. One of the criteria is to be around long enough, usually hundreds of years – if not thousands. For instance, in the classical work Journey to the West (西游记), the four main characters except Tang Sanzang are all spiritual beings derived from animal prototypes. 
  • What does it mean now? Lemon tastes sour (酸), which is often used to describe the feeling of envy or jealousy. When lemon becomes a spiritual being, it basically means the lemon has reached the ultimate stage of being a lemon and maximized its characteristics such as being terribly sour. The phrase is used to deride those who feel envious of others’ possession and achievement. Lately, the word is more often seen in a self deprecating humoristic context. For instance, when someone says “I’m a lemon jing now/I feel sour now( 我柠檬精了/我酸了)”, instead of expressing envy towards others, it’s more about acknowledging others more advantageous position compared to one’s own. 

 

7. The 996 work schedule 

  • Literal Meaning: 996 working hour system
  • Context: 996 is a work schedule commonly practiced by many companies in the internet and tech industry in China. With the 996 schedule, employees are required to work from 9 am to 9  pm, 6 days per week. 
  • What does it mean now? In April 2019, Jack Ma, the co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, commented on 996 during an internal meeting with Alibaba employees. Ma’s comments seemed to justify how companies and employees can both benefit from the work schedule, however, the comments quickly triggered criticism after widely circulating online for allegedly violating of the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. 

 

8. “我太难(南)了” (wǒ tài nán le): “Life is so hard for me” 

  • Literal Meaning: “I’m feeling uneasy” or “life is so hard for me” 
  • Context: The phrase originated from a 10-second video self-posted by a user on video-sharing site Kuaishou earlier in 2019. As the video begins, the user – an older Chinese guy –  says to the camera: “I’m feeling uneasy…” followed by sad music. He then continues to say “Lao tie [bro/guys], (I) have been under a lot of stress lately.” The video, in which the man dramatically drops his head in his hands and seems to cry without tears, quickly went viral. The phrase “I’m feeling uneasy” was quickly adopted and applied in daily conversations.  
  • What does it mean now? The broad circulation of this phrase on the internet reflects that the uneasy feeling about life is relatable to many people. Acknowledging the stress in a self-deprecating humorous tone is in itself a way of relieving stress. To add a sense of humor to this phrase, many replace the initial character “难” (nán, adj. difficult) with “南” (nán, adj.& n. south), which is believed to be taken from the mahjong tile “南风”(south wind).  

 

9. “我不要你觉得,我要我觉得” (wǒ bùyào nǐ juédé, wǒ yào wǒ juédé): “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think”

  • Literal Meaning: “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think.”
  • Context: The line was taken from Xiaoming Huang, one of the guests in the third season of the entertainment TV show “Chinese Restaurant”, which was broadcasted in the summer of 2019. In the show, Huang, who took the role as the manager of the restaurant, is self-centered, and often disregards the opinions of others in matters such as menu ideas or pricing, showing his blind self-confidence and arrogance. In addition to this line, Huang’s frequently used language includes “There is no need to discuss this matter”, “Listen to me, I have the final say” and so on, and it spread quickly on the internet.  
  • What does it mean now? The popularity of this line reflects people’s ridicule and resentment against arrogant and dominant personalities.

 

10. 霸凌主义 (bàlíng zhǔyì): “Bully-ism”

  • Literal Meaning: “Bully-ism”
  • Context: The word 霸凌 (bàlíng) comes from the English word “bully.” Here, it refers to bullying other countries in the face of conflicts between nations. 
  • What does it mean now? As the trade conflict between the US and China was ongoing in 2019, many believed that the current government administration of the United States has been handling international affairs in almost a bullying manner. The slogan “America First” is also often perceived as a declaration in front of the entire world that the interests of the United States come first. As a buzzword, “bullyism” has come to be used by Chinese media in the context of international affairs. 

 

By Jialing Xie
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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