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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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About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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More Than Just a Visit: Explaining the Chinese ‘Cuànfǎng’

‘Cuànfǎng’ became a popular word on Chinese social media and in official Chinese discourse this year. But what is it?

Jin Luo

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Since Pelosi’s stopover in Taiwan, the word ‘cuànfǎng’ has been all over Chinese social media to refer to this controversial visit. But ‘cuànfǎng’ is more than just ‘visiting’ alone. Jin Luo explains.

It was a sleepless night for many Chinese people when U.S. House Speaker Pelosi flew to Taiwan on August 2nd of 2022. A new Chinese word created in recent years, cuànfǎng (窜访) appeared in the official statement that was issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry at 11 pm that night, and subsequently it appeared all over social media.

Meanwhile, a pop song released more than 30 years ago titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (“今夜你会不会来”) suddenly became a Weibo hot topic before it was taken offline. What is this word lost in translation, and why did people suddenly get nostalgic over an old romantic song?

 
Cuànfǎng: A ‘Sneaky Visit’
 

Here is the original wording in Chinese and the official translation to English from the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the evening on 2 August:

In disregard of China’s strong opposition and diplomatic discontent, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region” (“美国国会众议长佩洛西不顾中方强烈反对和严正交涉,窜访中国台湾地区.”) The word ‘visited’ in Chinese that is used here is “cuànfǎng” 窜访.

While the English verb “visit” is a neutral word by itself, the Chinese “cuànfǎng” 窜访 has much stronger connotations. According to the Wiktionary, the word is a derogatory, officialese way to say “to visit.” But it is not an easy word to translate, as there is no direct equivalent in English, and both the literal and implied meaning of the word need to be understood.

Cuànfǎng is actually a compound word: cuàn 窜 refers to fleeing, escaping, hiding, or running away; fǎng 访 refers to inquiring, seeking, or visiting.

Cuan as a compound character (Sohu).

To make matters more complicated, cuàn by itself is also a compound character. It is written as ‘竄’ in traditional Chinese: the top radical ‘穴’ means ‘hole,’ and the lower part is the character ‘鼠’ which means ‘mouse.’ The character, having the shape of a mouse hiding in a hole, therefore has the meaning of ‘hiding’ and ‘escaping.’

The origins of the character ‘cuan’ explained, image via Sohu.com.

The mouse or rat is an animal that is more often associated with negative things in Chinese culture. They are often considered sneaky, dirty, running around everywhere, and able to reproduce quickly. With mice so often carrying a negative association, cuàn ‘窜’ also refers to a kind of hiding and escaping that is negative or objectionable.

The second character fǎng 访 is a neutral word that simply means “to visit.”

At the New York Times, Chris Buckley captured the underlying meaning of this word in writing: “The Chinese word used in the official statements for ‘visit’ — cuanfang — connotes a sneaky or illicit encounter, not an aboveboard meeting.”

 
The Evolution of Cuànfǎng
 

Although it is a relatively new word, cuànfǎng already existed before the Pelosi incident and was not created in light of this controversial visit.

Since the word’s first appearance, translators have had some difficulties in properly translating the term into different languages.

Research papers in translation studies and international relations in China suggested that cuànfǎng is a “new derogatory term invented in recent years, specifically for the purpose of maintaining national security and unity, and condemning and exposing the national separatists” and “demonstrated the big wisdom of Chinese diplomatic discourse users; vividly described the image of the separatists, that they go on the run sneakily, just like thieves and mice” (source, in Chinese).

Other sources interpret it as “the unjust, improper visit conducted in order to reach hidden political agenda, to agitate and peddle the separatist ideas,” and:

1. You went somewhere where you were not supposed to go;
2. The visit was not accepted or welcomed by the (Chinese) government;
3. The purpose is to shake justice and create conflicts
” (source, in Chinese).

Cuàn was mainly meant to add an emotional aspect to the term and shows the contempt of the person who uses it.

Image via Wainao.

The word was first prominently used in Chinese official discourse when the Foreign Ministry in 2006 referred to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Israel. Since cuàn has the meaning of fleeing, it is especially suitable when referring to political dissidents who went into exile overseas.

Since then, it has been used again for further visits of the Dalai Lama to other countries (US 2014, Mongolia 2017), as well as for Rebiya Kadeer, Lee Teng-hui, Shinzo Abe, Joshua Wong, and others.

Although it is clear that the term is not only applied to Chinese dissidents, it is generally applied to those who conducted visits that were perceived to be hostile towards China, with Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit serving as a clear example.

Since the Dalai Lama has been living outside of China and conducted numerous visits to other countries, cuànfǎng was previously mostly used in this context until Pelosi’s visit, which ended up being good for more than 80% of the search results of cuànfǎng on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

If cuànfǎng is a word with such strong emotional connotations, why was it simply translated as “visit” in official English-language documents? Some say it is because of the mere difficulty to translate this word, while others say it is the routine sanitization of English translations by the Foreign Ministry.

David Gitter, president of the Center for Advanced China Research based in Washington D.C., said that the external goal of Beijing can be different from the internal goal towards the nationalist domestic audiences, and that “more accurate yet counterproductive translations … [often] breach normal diplomatic language.”

At this point, it remains up for debate whether this is a linguistic constraint or a political choice.

 
Tonight, Are You Coming or Not?
 

While the term cuànfǎng has been widely used in official discourse, it has also become a popular online word. Chinese netizens seemed to be as passionate as the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and perhaps even more so –  in condemning Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and demanding radical countermeasures.

Chinese netizens were watching the entire event unfold with mixed feelings – on the one hand, there was a strong sense of patriotism and anger, on the other hand, the massive attention to the event also turned it into something that was almost as exciting as a celebrity drama.

On that specific evening of Pelosi’s nearing arrival in Taipei, Chinese netizens were doing two things: watching real-time tracking of Pelosi’s flight, and listening to a classic pop song released in 1991 titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (今夜你会不会来) (video). Back in the previous century, Hong Kong singer Leon Lai expressed the emotions of someone waiting for his lover to arrive in this melodic song, singing:

“你是否愿意为我停留

Would you be willing to stay for me

今夜你来告诉我

Tonight, you tell me

你是否愿意陪我走过我的梦

Are you willing to accompany me through my dream?

我的所有

My everything

(Chorus)

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

如果你的心已经离开

If your heart has left already

我宁愿没有未来

I would rather not have a future

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

别让我所有的等待

Don’t let all my wait

变成一片空白

Go all in vain

 

In the middle of the uncertainty about whether Pelosi would come to Taiwan or not, this song served as entertainment for netizens and became a “collective carnival” of people jokingly applying the song to Pelosi, turning her into a ‘mysterious lover’ that might or might not show up. (Later, some were unable to play the song anymore, although it remains unclear if this was due to geographic restrictions or because the song was actually taken offline by censors.)

“Taiwan has been preparing for your cuànfǎng ‘sneaky visit’, are you coming or not tonight?” some netizens wrote, combining the title song with the cuànfǎng term. In doing so, Pelosi became both a ‘sneaky mouse’ and ‘mysterious lover’, both a target of condemnation and subject of fun and banter.

All jokes and cuànfǎng references aside, Pelosi did end up realizing that visit, and its aftermath, including a second Taiwan visit by a U.S. congressional delegation, has had a substantial impact on U.S.-China relations that were already strained before the move.

Will there be more cuànfǎng to Taiwan? It’s likely not an issue of if, but when. For next time, at least we’ve got cuànfǎng covered.

 

By Jin Luo 

Featured image by Alexa from Pixabay

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.
 

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