An essay of 2000 characters written by a primary school student from Lüliang in Shanxi province has gone viral on WeChat and Sina Weibo. The essay, titled “Teacher, What I Want to Tell You” (“老师我想对您说”), has triggered thousands of shares and comments from Chinese netizens.
Over recent years, the issue of corporal punishment at school has been a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.
In the much-shared essay, a fourth grader writes about how she1 feels when her teacher punishes and degrades her. In seven pages, she writes down what she wants to tell her teacher after suffering abuse since the first grade. China’s first graders in primary school are usually around the age of 6; fourth graders are 9-10 years of age.
“I try all I can to be a good kid in your eyes.”
The young student writes:
“Teacher, I really do not know what I did for you to be so dissatisfied with me. I clearly remember when I first had you as my teacher in the first grade, on the fifth day you flung my book in my face (..) I will never forget your expression at that time. I have been scared of you ever since.”
Further on in the essay she writes:
“I try all I can to be a good kid in your eyes, but it seems to have the opposite effect. I am always that kid who takes a scolding and a beating without knowing what she did wrong. (..) I often have dreams about you beating me. When I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s hard to fall asleep again.”
“Teacher, oh teacher, we spend every day looking at the expression on your face. If you’re happy, then we’re happy too. If you’re angered, then we are scared.”
Besides sharing her confusion about why she is punished, her willingness to do her homework right, and her hopes to be a good pupil in her teacher’s eyes, the child also writes that the abuse over the years has deeply affected her: “My dreams have been crushed.”
The student’s writings were first accidentally discovered by the child’s own parents on August 6. They found the papers in a school book while cleaning up the desk.
Upset by what their daughter had written down, they photographed the pages and shared them with friends on WeChat. From there, it was soon shared from group to group and made its way to Weibo, where some threads on the matter received over 450,000 comments and 22,000 shares.
On August 10, the essay was also picked up by Chinese media (link in Chinese), who contacted the school to verify the story.
The parents of the student knew the teacher was disciplining their child inappropriately, and had already reported it to the school in June. Several Chinese media now write that relevant educational departments did look into the matter. They said it concerned a ‘substitute teacher,’ who has already resigned.
“15.4% of Chinese students suffered corporal punishment as a form of discipline at school.”
Chinese teachers generally have various forms of disciplining, such as detention, time-out (outside or in the back of the classroom), confiscation of possessions, verbal reprimands, physical labor (cleaning the classroom), or exercise.3
But despite its illegality, corporal punishment of students also still remains relatively common. A widespread survey across ten provinces in China among elementary and junior secondary school students showed that 15.4% suffered corporal punishment as a form of discipline at school.4
With the spread of social media and smartphones with cameras, abuse by teachers is now often exposed by students. In 2016, Weibo netizens shared footage of a teacher in Shandong beating and humiliating students during a military training. In the video, the teacher can be seen pushing and kicking one of the students for being late to class.
“A teacher is never supposed to hit a child in the first place.”
Online reactions at the time also showed that Chinese traditions of teaching children discipline through corporal punishment run deep. Although many denounced the teacher, who was fired after the incident was exposed, there were also people who spoke out in his favor: “You say the teacher is cruel, and that’s not right. But what about the students coming late?”
A surveillance video showing an altercation between a teacher and student also went viral on Weibo this week. The video shows a female teacher yelling at a male student. When she slaps him in the face he immediately slaps her back in her face.
The scene led to the question: ‘Can a student strike back when they are hit by a teacher?’ In a poll done by an educational organization’s Weibo account, over 87% of the participants said a student could hit a teacher back once they are slapped themselves, although there were also many commenters who said: “This is a misleading discussion; a teacher is never supposed to hit a child in the first place.”
“Up to this day, I sometimes still dream about my teacher hitting me.”
Both the young child’s essay and the classroom video have stirred discussions on abuse in the classroom. “Up to this day, I sometimes still dream about my teacher hitting me,” one netizen writes: “When I wake up, I feel all worked up and angry. Coincidentally, I saw this essay of the primary school child today, and I wish I could just take the child in my arms and help them.”
Many people on Chinese social media are touched by the essay and angered about the issue. They find the school’s response unacceptable: “A ‘substitute teacher’ for four years?! That’s ridiculous!”
Although some comment that “these kinds of teachers are everywhere,” there are also many who say they are shocked: “How can a person like this be qualified to teach?”
Many people speak out against giving children corporal punishment: “It will mentally affect a child for the rest of their life.”
Some say the system is to blame, since it is difficult to qualify as a teacher and the pay is low. With a lack of proper teachers, many schools, therefore, take on ‘temporary workers’ or ‘substitute teachers’ to teach the children.
Due to the overwhelming media attention for the case, the school has now openly spoken out on August 12, offering their sincere apologies to the student for the abuse suffered at their institution. They guarantee that the child will have a different teacher after the summer vacation.
1 According to various blogs, the young writer of the essay is a girl, although this is not confirmed by official media.
2 (Russo et al 2014: 24).
3 (Russeo et al 2014: 25).
4 (Russo et al 2014, 25-26).
References and further reading
Russo, Charles J., Izak Oousthuizen, Charl C. Wolhuter. 2014. International Perspectives on Student Behavior: What We Can Learn. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
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Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang
Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.
Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.
The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.
People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.
The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.
Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.
As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.
In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.
“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”
“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”
For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”
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‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives
‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.
Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.
The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.
US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.
Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.
One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.
The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.
“American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”
One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”
The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后：时间，或许真的不在美国那边了“).
It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”
“American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”
Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”
The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.
Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”
“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”
Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.
Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你：将美国经济从中国分离，美国会破产“).
In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”
The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》：那些说出来的，和没有说的“).
The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”
In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.
Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”
“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”
Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.
In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”
Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.
Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”
Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”
Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”
Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.
Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”
“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”
“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”
Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.
Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.
According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”
More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”
American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.
The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”
Edited by Eduardo Baptista
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