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China’s Crackdown on Tutoring Schools: Concerned Parents and Teachers on Weibo

The unprecedented crackdown on China’s private education has generated many online discussions.

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Regulatory reforms in China’s private education sector have triggered concerns among parents and teachers on what the changes will mean for them and their children.

The rumors on China implementing new regulations for private tutoring were already circulating for a long time, with official media reporting on a toughening of rules for off-campus training since March of this year.

The rule changes finally became a reality when Chinese regulators announced new reforms on July 24 that will radically alter how private firms teaching school curriculum will operate.

The new guidelines are also called the ‘Double Reduction’ (双减) rules for targeting “excessive homework” and off-campus tutoring for students in the mandatory nine-year education system.

The “double reduction” policy in a cartoon published by Chinese media: the student is holding up a heavy weight of off-campus tutoring and homework. (Source: NetEase).

Most importantly, the new regulations impose stricter regulations on existing private education institutions and force them to register as non-profit organizations. Any foreign investment in the sector will be banned.

The rules specifically apply to those private institutions offering tutoring on the school curriculum. New tutoring companies will no longer be able to get a license. It will also no longer be allowed for tutoring firms to provide after-school tutoring during weekends, public holidays, and school holidays.

Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, Changzhi, Weihai and Nantong are selected as national pilot cities to implement the latest guidelines.

 

CHINA’S BOOMING TUTORING INDUSTRY

“If you come, we’ll educate your kid, if you don’t, we’ll educate the competitors of your kid”

 

When talking about education in China, one of the first things that often comes to mind is the culture of fierce competition, rankings, scores, and exams. The highly competitive nature of the gaokao (高考), the National College Entrance Examinations, has fuelled a private tutoring boom.

Companies offering off-campus training often provide very specific guidance to help students grasp the study materials taught at school. They help children with homework, and will generally work through all the subjects until they are completely prepared to take their exams.

Over the past decade, China has seen a surge in the number of private tutoring agencies. Due to the pandemic, that number saw a sharp rise in 2020. According to market research platform Qianzhan, there were approximately 340,000 more education-related enterprises in China in 2020 compared to the year before.

The market is enormous – there are nearly 200 million students in China’s K12 age group, and about 75% of them attend, or have attended, after-school tutoring classes.

One of the reasons that is mentioned in Chinese media for the crackdown on after-school tutoring is that educational companies were putting profits above anything else, and were feeding off parents’ anxiety while increasing the pressure on children to drive their business.

Most Chinese parents are willing to invest a large amount of money in their children’s education, as they generally fear that their children will be left behind if they don’t. The ubiquitous advertising of after-school tutoring agencies and their cunning marketing strategies have also exacerbated parents’ anxiety about their children’s future.

https://new.qq.com/omn/20201203/20201203A0EGL700.html

A telling and well-known example is that of a private tutoring school putting up a sign saying: “If you come to us, we’ll educate your child. If you don’t come to us, we’ll educate your child’s competitors” (“您来,我们培养您孩子;您不来,我们培养您孩子的竞争对手”).

Earlier this year, Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (小舍得) reignited an ongoing debate about the problem of the extreme competitive education climate in Chinese society today. That problem is also referred to as ‘involution,’ where China’s ever-growing middle class is now facing the question of how they and their children can remain in the middle class in a situation where everyone is continuously working harder and doing all they can to rise above the rest.

 

MORE OR LESS WORRIES FOR PARENTS?

“This is not alleviating the burden on parents, this is forcing parents on a road of despair”

 

There are many people and experts in China who argue that the implementation of the ‘Double Reduction’ policy will solve existing problems in the tutoring industry and help alleviate the financial pressures on parents who feel they need to send their children to off-campus training schools.

But there are also those who say that China’s crackdown on tutoring leaves parents facing new problems. Some worry that the new policy will further increase educational inequality because richer families can always find ways to let their children have off-campus tutoring, while families with heavier financial burdens have no alternative options.

“Without extracurricular training, children can only rely on one-on-one tutoring in the future. It will be even more unaffordable. This is not alleviating the burden on parents, this is forcing parents on a road of despair,” one worried commenter wrote.

Another Weibo user published the following post:

All of the bigger and smaller online influencers are talking about how it is right that off-campus training is canceled and they support it, but isn’t it true that you are knowledgeable and experienced enough to tutor your own kids or that you have wonderful public school resources? Before you write down your opinions, have you considered that there are parents out there in the remote towns and villages who haven’t attended middle and high school, and who are raising their whole family in the hope that their children will be able to test their way out of these sad towns? Have you ever considered that the English teacher in some cities’ public schools are art graduates retrained to teach literature, language, and math at the same time, and have to manage classes of 50 children? The children of these ordinary families (..), they do not have good public school resources, and all hopes are pinned on their extra-curricular tutoring as a small step forward. Have you ever thought about that? Perhaps you will argue that only the state can guarantee fairness for the majority, but eventually, there is social stratification. Perhaps you will also say that children know how to study themselves, it’s stronger than anything, and that they will practically eat their way through the study material, and that it won’t be a problem for them to do the exam and get into a notable university. But don’t you know that without good public school resources, children don’t even have a direction for their studies? Their parents are at a loss because they are exhausted from working from 9 to 9, seven days per week.

Higher education is greatly valued in China, as it is often perceived as the key to future opportunities and climbing the social ladder. Many Chinese families believe in “winning at the starting line” and in the idea of “ten years of study to secure an entry key to a good university.”

There is a popular term in China – ‘jiwa‘ (鸡娃), literally ‘chicken babies’, which refers to the phenomenon that today’s middle-class parents in Chinese cities tend to arrange all kinds of training courses for their children so that they have a competitive edge over other children.

However, the reality is not just about hard work and being good students; many families believe that their children have to be the best, or at least, be able to stand out from the crowd.

The admission rate of normal high schools in China is only 50%, which means that most students will have to choose between two paths in the future: one is to go to university and the other is to go to a vocational school, which is seen as less prestigious. This is a cause of anxiety for countless Chinese parents. A lot of people say that even if the extracurricular class is banned, the hyper-competitive environment is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

One Weibo user commented: “We are likely to be [even] more anxious. The difference between private schools and public schools is huge, and now people who are poor don’t even have a chance to catch up.” Another user added: “Are you pretending not to know the reality? Are you saying that we won’t have off-campus tutoring now and we’re all going to be less anxious? Won’t our kids still face a fiercely competitive struggle for the gaokao?”

One online survey conducted by a Weibo account posed the question ‘Do you think the nature of educational institutions can be changed?’ The response shows that more than half of the participants voted ‘no, because of the gaokao system, parents’ needs for educational training won’t be affected.’ Less than one-eighth of respondents thinks the situation will actually change.

 

TEACHERS AND THEIR WORKLOAD

“We need to let teachers catch their breath”

 

Since China’s new education policy emphasizes the responsibilities of regular schools, there are also those who worry about the increased pressure on teachers, of whom many have already voiced concerns about the excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations of parents.

Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported that, to fill the gap of the private tutoring schools, all compulsory education institutions in China will provide their students with after-school services starting fall semester 2021.

“I have a relative who is a teacher,” one social media user writes: “I know she has to work even during the break. She has to actively participate in social work. She needs to be in school at 7am, and after she gets back from school, she needs to reply to all the parents’ messages until 9pm. She also has to do online and face-to-face training, and to plan lessons and prepare homework.”

“Now, everyone is focused on reducing the workload of students, [but] we also need to let the teachers catch their breath. They deserve a better life, and the overall education quality can only be really improved if they have more energy for their everyday teaching,” one commenter said.

But it is not just the teachers at the regular schools who are seeing increased pressure. Many teachers who work at private education facilities are facing grim perspectives. In light of the new regulations, companies laid off hundreds of employees and shut down after-school tutoring schools in order to comply.

“My friend worked at one of the after-school training institutions. The whole company shut down after the new policy was released, and all of the employees lost their jobs,” one person said.

“Don’t tell me I just started my new job and already lost it within a month,” one teacher wrote: “This year is just too difficult!”

 

BUT WILL THE BAN BRING MORE BABIES?

“I can’t consider having a third child, I can’t even have a second”

 

China’s ban on after-school tutoring is directly tied to its recent decision to relax the country’s birth control policy, now allowing parents to have three children in light of the country’s rapidly aging society.

Reducing education costs is just one policy within a range of measures intended to combat falling birth rates and make it easier for parents to have multiple children, state media outlet CGTN reported.

Although many on social media do say they think that the new policy will reduce the burden for the younger generation, they do not necessarily believe it will ease the burden for this generation of (soon-to-be) parents.

These parents, after all, are often still working long hours themselves while also worrying about their child’s performance in a score-based education system.

“I can’t consider a third child,” one parent wrote on Weibo: “I can’t even consider a second child. (..) If I can save money [at all], I’ll spend it on one-on-one tutoring for my kid. After all, the gaokao college admission exam system is still here.”

“Nowadays, students have a lot of pressure, teachers face a lot of pressure, and parents also have a lot of pressure,” one Weibo concluded.

Facing the new regulations, some tutoring schools are trying to keep their head above water by training parents of K12 children now, instead of their kids. The Beijing New Oriental company has recently launched their “excellent parenting” (优质父母) training class to help parents train their kids.

“They had to take tutoring classes when they were young, and now they have to take tutoring classes again, this generation is really suffering!”, one commenter half-jokingly said.

For now, it seems clear that the burden on students and teachers has not been alleviated by this single policy move, even though Beijing’s strike against the private tutoring industry has rattled the market. Many parents will continue to spend huge amounts on their children’s future success, no matter what the cost.

 

By Yunyi Wang & Manya Koetse

Featured image: MChe Lee

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China Arts & Entertainment

Li Xuezheng Defies Online Celebrity ‘Blacklist,’ Says He’ll Help Zhang Zhehan File Lawsuit

China’s Association of Performing Arts has issued a blacklist, but Li Xuezheng questions their legal authority to do so.

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As an important voice within the industry, Li Xuezheng has spoken out against the recent blacklist of Chinese (online) performers issued by the China Association of Performing Arts. Li is willing to help one of the prominent names on the list, Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan, to file a lawsuit against the Association.

Li Xuezheng (李学政), Vice Chairman of the China TV Artists Association and Director of the Golden Shield Television Center, has published a video that has caught the attention of many on Weibo. In his video, Li questions the authority of China’s Association of Performing Arts (CAPA/中国演出行业协会), which released a black list of online celebrities earlier this week.

The list went trending on Weibo and contains 88 names of internet personalities who have been reported and registered for their supposedly bad behavior. The people on the list have either violated the law or their actions have allegedly negatively impacted society and public order (more about the list here).

The consequences for the people included in the list are potentially huge, since it not only bans livestreamers from continuing their work but also prohibits performers who were previously ‘canceled’ from entering China’s livestreaming industry to generate an income there. Through the list, CAPA gives an overview of people that should be boycotted and disciplined in the industry.

One of the people on the list is Zhang Zhehan, an actor who got caught up in a Chinese social media storm in August of 2021 over attending a wedding at a controversial Japanese shrine and taking pictures at Yasukuni, a shrine that is seen as representing Japanese militarism and aggression.

Zhang Zhehan got into trouble for posting photos of himself at Japanese shrines deemed historically controversial.

Although Zhang apologized, Zhang’s account and an affiliated work account were suspended by Weibo and the brand partnerships he was involved in were canceled.

Chinese celebrities who have fallen out of favor with authorities or audiences will sometimes turn to livestreaming. Singer Li Daimo (李代沫), for example, became a livestreamer after his successful singing career ended due to a drugs scandal. But now, even such an alternative career would no longer be possible for someone like Zhang, although he was never legally convicted for anything.

News of CAPA’s blacklist was widely published, also by People’s Daily, and the measures were presented as a way to tidy up the chaotic online entertainment industry and to create a “healthy and positive” internet environment.

In his video and other recent posts, Li Xuezheng wonders how the so-called ‘warning list’ was compiled, according to which criteria, by whom it was created, and whether or not the CAPA actually has the legal power to shut people out of China’s live streaming industry.

He also raises the issue that CAPA’s live streaming branch, that issued the blacklist, is actually a business entity; so how does it have the legal disciplinary powers to impose sanctions against Chinese online influencers and performers?

Li Xuezheng in his video.

Li’s video, posted on his Weibo account on November 24, has received over 90,000 likes and was shared over 8500 times at the time of writing.

“What I don’t understand,” one popular comment says: “- are these online influencers [on the list] all members of the Association? Can the Association also punish non-members? Does the authority of the Association cover all media? On what legal basis is their regulatory conduct based?”

The China Association of Performing Arts, founded in 1988, is a national-level organization that falls under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China. It is a non-profit organization formed by performance operators and performers, according to its official website, which also states that members of the association include performance groups, performance venues and companies, ticketing companies, and more.

Since Li’s video was posted on November 24th, he received a lot of support from Chinese netizens but also faced some online censorship. Li himself posted screenshots showing that not all of his posts could be published.

It is noteworthy for someone like Li to speak out against CAPA’s blacklist. Li Xuezheng is a familiar face within the industry. Born in Shandong Province in 1965, Li has worked in China’s film and TV industry for a long time and has since built an impressive resume as a producer, supervisor, actor, and distributor. He has over a million followers on his Weibo account (@李学政).

On November 25th, Li added another post to his series of posts on the CAPA issue, saying that although his initial goal was just to make sure that CAPA sticks to the rules, he is now also prepared to help Zhang Zhehan in filing a lawsuit against the Association, since Zhang did not violate any laws in order for him to be ‘canceled’ like this. “I believe in the justice of the law,” Li writes.

Although Li received a lot of support on social media, there are also those who worry about Li himself: “You first take care of yourself,” some say, with others warning him: “Teacher Li, if you go on like this, you will lose your [Weibo] account tomorrow.”

Others are moved by Li’s courage: “I almost feel like crying reading your words.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone with this kind of overwhelming righteousness.”

For now, Li seems to be unstoppable in his goal to get to the bottom of this case; he seems to be determined to raise awareness within the industry on who is legally allowed to set the rules and who is not.

One popular comment says: “Looking at Teacher Li, I see he is fighting corruption and advocating honesty. Besides listening to the public’s opinion, I just hope law-based society will rule according to law.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Insight

Weibo Discusses: How Has the Covid Epidemic Changed Your Life?

China’s zero-covid approach does not come at zero cost.

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It has been nearly two years since China was hit with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Like most countries in the world, the epidemic has also had a profound impact on people’s lives in China.

Life in China was already ‘normalized’ in numerous ways in April of 2020, which is when Wuhan allowed people to leave the city again for the first time since the lockdown began on January 23 of that year. Most schools reopened, theatres started to open their doors again, temporary emergency hospitals closed their doors, and a big light show was organized in Wuhan to celebrate the end of the lockdown, which was yet to begin for many Western countries.

In comparison to other countries, China has seen very few Covid deaths – the official number is below 5000, while the US number of Covid19 deaths is now over 750,000. China’s low Covid19 death toll can be ascribed to the country’s commitment to a ‘Covid Zero’ strategy.

But this zero-tolerance covid approach does not come at zero cost; China’s fight against Covid19 is still ongoing and requires constant vigilance, lengthy local lockdowns, mass testing, strong contact tracing, strict quarantine measures, and an everyday public life that includes face masks, temperature checks, and QR health codes.

The impact of this strategy and the epidemic at large was the topic of one trending topic this week titled “How Big is the Difference in Your Life Before and After the Epidemic?” (#疫情前后的生活差别有多大#), a hashtag that drew in over 320 million views on social media platform Weibo.

The topic triggered thousands of comments from people sharing their thoughts and experiences, but the post that started the discussion (@人间投影仪) simply said:

I’d like to go back to a world where we don’t need to wear masks.”

The post came with various images comparing life before and after the Covid19 outbreak.

Playing in the snow (top), epidemic worker in the snow (below).

People without masks in the cinema, waving national flags (top), moviegoers wearing masks (below).

Singing on the subway (top), masked up on subway (below).

Playing in Disneyland (top), getting tested for Covid19 in Disneyland Shanghai (below).

Another commenter (@电联吗) replied to the Weibo post:

Looking at countries such as Thailand or South Korea, they’ve already re-opened, and I can’t help but feel a bit jealous. After all, it’s been over two years since Covid19, and there’s no trend of it weakening – it only seems to get stronger instead. I’ve become numb to the daily controls and prevention of this virus. I’m getting the feeling it’ll never go away. Will there ever come a day when other countries besides our own will lift all restrictions? To fully open? To just co-exist with the virus? And then, should we just continue to go on this way? Although our country is so safe now and our epidemic control is very timely, it still feels like people are living in fear. The slightest thing can cause a panic about the virus spreading. It can totally disrupt your plans. All activities can be delayed or canceled. All youthfulness, enthusiasm, perseverance, and dreams, can be stuck. But life is also very important. This perhaps is what is such a contradiction.

While many netizens agreed with the previous commenter, saying they are also struggling with anxiety and pressure that comes from the current Covid19 situation, there are also commenters who do not agree:

The freedom you see [in other countries] is not real. The opening up in many countries is simply because their economy otherwise can’t carry the weight, it’s not because they want to live with the virus. You think the epidemic is affecting your youth and passion, but I’d say youth and passion don’t only exist at a certain time, and it won’t be affected by an epidemic – otherwise, there wouldn’t be an awakening era. In times of an epidemic, people just do all they can to keep on living.

Another Weibo user from Ganzhou writes:

During the epidemic, it seems that when I don’t go out, there’s so much to do, yet when I go out, there doesn’t seem anything to do. At the time of the epidemic I wanted to go out so bad, I almost felt like exploding, and then when [measures] relaxed, I didn’t really feel like going out anymore. Before the epidemic, I liked to go out to eat a lot and whatever I wanted to eat I could have without doing anything. During the epidemic, I discovered I could fry chicken, make my own nuggets, and discovered skills I didn’t even know I had. Before, I wanted a two-month winter holiday, and then I got 4-6 month holiday I never could’ve imagined. I used to feel like not working, and then I felt so panicked without work and really wanted to work. Before, I never thought I could study at home and then discovered I could study till night. In the end, I still want to return to a world where we don’t need to wear masks.

Other commenters also look back on the pre-Covid19 with nostalgia:

I once thought 2019 was the most difficult year. But it was actually the happiest one of the last three years. Because there was no epidemic and we were free to go out as we pleased. We didn’t have to rigidly stick to our face masks, and there were no complicated processes to request a leave of absence.”

Then there are those who are longing for simple pleasures of the pre-covid era, such as this Weibo user (@柴柴鱼与柴):

I want to travel out of Shanghai and to other countries without any fear, I want to take off my mask in the theaters so that the performers can see when I am crying or laughing, or when I’m admiring them and cheering for them. I want to shout out during live performances and music festivals, I want  concerts to be able to be organized without issues, and I don’t want my twenty-something years to slip away in an era of masks and epidemic.”

Some also comment on how differently they experience the passing of time during the pandemic, like the original poster of the hashtag (@人间投影仪):

I have the feeling that since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, these past two years just went by in a flash. I don’t really have any memories that stick. But then when I look at photos from before covid19, it feels like a different life.”

But then there are also those who defend China’s zero-covid approach, saying (@风的节奏吹):

Everyone wants more freedom. If the world would’ve copied China’s homework, the epidemic would have ended long ago.

And (@种花家的兔子要嚣张):

Seeing so many people talking about (..) how others are opening up, are their countries populated as densely as our country is? With [us being] one-fifth of the world population, are you kidding me? If we’d open up, and you get sick and need to pay for your treatment, would you want that? Only if your country’s social benefits are so good, you’re able to be unreasonable on social media. Already now, there’s too much pressure on people at the basic level, do you even realize? If you say you feel envious, just move to another country and experience it for yourself, just don’t come back here spreading the virus!

One of the most popular comments in the top threads on this comment currently says:

If other countries had started to control it [the virus] like our country, we might not have to wear a mask now.”

Meanwhile, the hashtag “An Illustrated Handbook of the Maskless Era” is also getting many views on social media (#无口罩时代图鉴#), with people sharing photos and videos of the pre-covid19 times. Even ordinary everyday scenes from the subway in the pre-covid19 era are making people feel nostalgic: “I’m just cherishing the memory of those days.”

Read more about social trends relating to Covid19 in China here.

By Manya Koetse

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.

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