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Primary Student’s Moving Essay on Teacher’s Abuse Goes Viral on Chinese Social Media

A primary school student’s essay about a teacher’s scoldings and beatings has gone viral on Chinese social media. “Teacher, What I Want To Tell You” has stirred widespread discussions about emotional abuse and corporal punishment in China’s classrooms.

Manya Koetse

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A primary school student’s essay about a teacher’s scoldings and beatings has gone viral on Chinese social media. “Teacher, What I Want To Tell You” has stirred widespread discussions about emotional abuse and corporal punishment in China’s classrooms.

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.”

 

China has outlawed corporal punishment in schools in 1986. Corporal punishment as discipline goes against the Compulsory Education Law, Law on Protection of Minors, and the Teacher Law.2

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.

A video that shows a teacher slapping a student, and him slapping her back, went viral on Weibo this week.

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.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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