A quick follow up on my previous post about corporal punishment in Taiwan.
Removing the physical form of abuse from both the Taiwanese and Chinese education systems has done little to curb the zealotry of either. I don’t mean to be disparaging to all educators, but certain realities need to be addressed.
The recent suicide of a student in Fujian, who walked out of a teacher’s 4th floor office and immediately jumped to his death, tragically illustrates how severe the system remains.
Fifteen-year-old Zhang Zhipeng was busted using his cellphone in class on Friday. The teacher, Ms. Su Meirong, took the phone from him and kept it for the weekend. Zhang, according to his family, understood he had broken a rule and accepted losing his phone for the weekend.
But when he returned to school that next Monday, Su, inexplicably, was even more incensed. She began berating Zhang in class, then pulled him out of the room and took him to her office.
After the mother came, Su Meirong went on to berate Zhang and slammed her desk several times during the process. On seeing her son’s misty eyes, the mother talked her son into apologizing to the teacher, hoping to end this storm. However, Su Meirong refused to accept it. Instead, she said, “You, get your schoolbag, and get the f**k out! No need to come to school any more. Your entire life has been screwed up and is officially over.”
Until this moment, Zhang Zhipeng didn’t answer a word back. He had been lowering his head and stomaching the abuse. However, after Su Meirong finished her insults. Zhang Zhipeng walked in silence out of the office and immediately jumped off the fourth floor. Zhang’s mother tried to stop him. However, right in front of her eyes, her own flesh and blood fell to the ground.
Zhang’s mother rushed downstairs, held Zhang’s body in her arms and cried for at least twenty minutes, during which time, nobody came to offer help, even though the hospital is right across the street from the school.
Ministry of Tofu has been in touch with the parents and has been reporting on the story here. At the end of the article, MoT has compiled a mere partial list of similar incidents over the last few years that have all stemmed from school-related pressure or psychological abuse. “It is easy to find something in common among these cases: corporal punishment and public humiliation,” Jing Gao writes.
This particular tragedy, the unbelievable escalation over such a meaningless violation of school policy, lowlights just how intense psychological scoldings can be and how little prepared students are to deal with them.
Even though the Communist Party has theoretically banned corporal punishment at school, some unscrupulous or short-tempered teachers hate to relinquish the role of father/mother, which gives them a sense of power and a vehicle for letting off steam.
However, when children and adolescents are abused and insulted by teachers, unlike adults who know how to vent, they swallow it, and let it get to their hearts and egos before finally imploding. Children’s mental health is often ignored in China, as adults assume children are happy and free from the worries and stress that adults face. Besides, as a result of the Confucian value of filial piety, which characterizes the respect a child should show to his parents, coupled with China’s societal sea change after the economic reform that has widened the generation gap, Chinese kids are generally not as close to their parents as their western counterparts are, and are less prone to view their parents as friends to whom they can divulge their secrets. They tend to bear them themselves.
Pressure to excel in school is much more intense in both of these societies– I would argue even moreso in China, where an entire family’s future is often levied on one child’s performance on less than a handful of tests. Even in Taiwan, where the education system is more developed and teachers often better trained, systemic problems endure. In both places exists an unfathomable disproportionality between that pressure and coping mechanisms.
According to a survey conducted in 2004, among 2,500 elementary and middle school (equivalent of 7th to 12th grade) students, 5.85% planned suicide and 24.39% had a passing idea of “better to die than to live.” In 2005, Peking University’s research showed that 20.4% of kids in 13 Chinese cities had thought of killing themselves. According to Dr. Xu Guangxing, director of the center for psychological health at East China Normal University, until June 6, 2010, 5 to 6 percent of students under the age of 18 are suffering from depression. (emphasis mine)
I’ve often said about the only outlet for frustration and pent up personal issues I’ve experienced in Asia is karaoke. But that option may only be on the table for more well-off high school and college students. For younger students, there is an abysmal lack of safe activities or sports. The culture is very much against being outside in the sun doing physical exercise. So, what we have now, seemingly, as the only available solution is the Internet.
It’s baffling. It’s unhealthy. And it’s fatal.