How I Got Out and Saw the World


During my college years, my biggest goal in life was to see the world. I wanted to backpack Europe, hike all the national parks in the United States, and eat from local food vendors in Southeast Asia. After I graduated in 2009, I managed to land well-paid jobs and began traveling solo in China, before forging amazing and unforgettable experience in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe.

In October 2013 I quit my job and traveled full-time for two years. Many of my friends were jealous — pursuing my dreams and traveling the world seemed a desirable lifestyle. However, few of them understood the hardships a Chinese female traveler has to face and how hard I had fought to get where I was. Independence and the spirit of adventure are not qualities that everyone in China appreciates.

I was born and raised in an ordinary Shanghai household. My dad works as a bus driver, and my mom was a drug inspector before her retirement eight years ago. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment where I had to sleep on the couch without my own space or privacy.

My parents always thought that I would be a typical Shanghainese girl: attend college, get a good job, find a boyfriend, get married, and deliver a grandchild before the age of 27 — after which time single women are considered “leftover” in China. Chinese men face similar pressure from their parents, but it is particularly bad for girls.

Since my parents don’t particularly like traveling and didn’t have the money to fund family vacations anyway, I didn’t even get out of Shanghai to see China for the first 20 years of my life.

It wasn’t until university that I suddenly got the itch. I became friends with many international students who shared with me their life experiences and travel stories, and I couldn’t help but wonder how we could be the same age and yet so different. I met my first boyfriend — a Londoner — when I was 20. That’s when I began having lots of arguments with my parents. Most people in their generation married their first boyfriend or girlfriend, often arranged by their elders. It took me almost a year to make them accept the idea that a person doesn’t necessarily have to marry their first partner.

However, although that particular argument was resolved, other fights surfaced. I remember at one point I suggested moving out when I reached my senior year of university. I expected them to be supportive and proud of me for taking charge of my own life.

But this desire to move out confounded them even more than the boyfriend issue. They questioned what my boyfriend had said to me, and expressed their reservations about the toxic ideas my Western friends were poisoning me with. They asked me to stop dating foreigners.

As opposed to parents in the West who expect their children to learn to fly the coop after high school, Chinese parents value community and social cohesion. Many parents in China demand obedience from their children and don’t know how to communicate with them as individuals. It is generally understood that a son or daughter won’t leave home until marriage. It took me a full year to persuade my parents to let me move out — I wanted to be happy, but I also wanted to make them happy. We finally compromised that I would live somewhere nearby them and have dinner together several times a week.

They were nervous when I first moved out in 2009. None of their friends’ kids lived alone and my parents felt constantly judged by their peers. To my relief, after about three months they calmed down and all of us began enjoying our newfound privacy and space.

I began getting good jobs and I could suddenly afford to travel. First I worked at the Shanghai office of American Public Media for a couple of years as a news researcher, before moving to work as a research specialist at a consulting company. My two former bosses, both American, supported my travel desires and appreciated my sense of adventure.

Western culture is adventurous and exploration-based. It values discovery, invention, and rational thinking. When I stayed with a local family in Australia, the parents often encouraged their young children to be adventurous by taking them hiking in the snow, canoeing in the river, and sliding down sand dunes. I remembered how when I was 24 and told my parents that I wanted to travel to Beijing on my own, my father simply responded,

“Beijing is such a dangerous city for a girl.”

I first told my parents that I wanted to leave and travel the world in 2013 and they weren’t against it. I guess they had become used to my dramas. To help them through my absence, I bought them each a smartphone and taught them how to use the messaging app WeChat. I wanted to share my moments on the road, to show them how happy I am, and how wonderful traveling really is.

After spending the past several years hopping around the world, I’ve noticed the attitudes of those around me beginning to change. My parents and friends actually prize my independence now. They are happy that I have followed my dreams and admire my spirit of adventure. Many of my friends have even confided that they can’t wait to hit the road themselves.


This article was originally published on Sixth Tone.

Letting Go of ‘Fangsheng’


On a sunny morning in late June, 50-year-old Liu Yidan prayed to Buddha as usual at Dabei Temple in Tianjin, a coastal municipality near Beijing. But this time she was pleased to see that there were no bird sellers crowding the alley surrounding the temple.

“Other Buddhists and I spent over a million yuan ($150,000) buying and releasing birds from these sellers from 2008 to 2014,” Liu told Sixth Tone.

Life release, or fangsheng in Chinese, is the traditional Buddhist practice of freeing captive creatures. The participants believe that by releasing the animals, they generate spiritual merits. But though the original intention of the practice was to show compassion to caged creatures, the popularity of the ceremony has fueled a black market that does far more harm than good to wildlife — and many Buddhists are becoming aware of the contradiction.

Liu, along with other environmentalists and animal rights defenders around the country, has been pushing the government to restrict the practice. On July 2, China announced an amendment to the 1989 Wildlife Protection Law that will regulate the practice of fangsheng. The amendment, which will take effect on January 1, 2017, states: “The arbitrary release of wild animals, if causing damage to humans or property or harm to the ecosystem, shall bear legal responsibility.”

Originally from northeastern Jilin province, Liu moved to Tianjin with her husband in 1991 and opened a restaurant. When Liu became a Buddhist and a vegetarian in 2007, she closed the restaurant, and the lives of all the animals killed for her business began to weigh on her conscience.

Liu Yidan holds a hatchling at her home in Tianjin, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Liu Yidan holds a hatchling at her home in Tianjin, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

“I felt ashamed and regretful,” said Liu. So she started taking part in fangsheng to make amends. “I wanted to dedicate all merits to the lives I took in the past,” she said.

Liu’s first experience with fangsheng involved two turtles which cost her 30 yuan.

“After I released the turtles into the river, they stretched their necks long and seemed so happy,” Liu recalled.

A year later, another practitioner told Liu that it was much cheaper to buy birds from the bird market in Hongqiao District in Tianjin. Most birds there cost just a few jiao (10 jiao make 1 yuan). Liu went there every morning during the migration season to release birds directly from the market. “Bird sellers counted the number of birds we released, and we paid them on the spot,” she said. On average, Liu and other Buddhists in Tianjin would release a few hundred birds each day, but on some days they would release up to 10,000 birds.

“The bird sellers told me that if I didn’t buy these birds, they would suffocate them in woven bags right in front of me,” said Liu.

In six years of releasing birds, it didn’t occur to Liu to report illegal bird sellers to the police. There was no law to protect the birds then, so police wouldn’t have had grounds to take action anyway.

Yet the new amendment to the Wildlife Protection Law will protect not only species which are rare or near extinction, but also species which have ecological, scientific, and social value, including the sparrows and turtledoves sold in the market.

Liu Yidan handles birdcages found in the wild on the balcony of her apartment in Tianjin, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Liu Yidan handles birdcages found in the wild on the balcony of her apartment in Tianjin, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

Liu came to realize the truth in 2014 after a short conversation with one of the bird sellers in the market. She was told that the birds she had bought and released were just the tip of the iceberg: There were at least five bird markets in Tianjin. Truckloads of birds came to the market from poachers all over Tianjin and the neighboring province of Hebei. The daily turnover could reach hundreds of thousands of yuan.

“I was suddenly awakened,” said Liu. She realized the practice of fangsheng just created opportunities for the black market:

“The more birds we buy, the more people will capture them to sell to us.”

Liu then gathered together everyone who took part in fangsheng. “If all the Buddhists can come out and protect the birds instead of releasing them, then these poachers and peddlers won’t be so rampant,” she said.

In the past two years, Liu and her team have searched for and found over 10,000 bird nets and traps in the fields and forests of Tianjin and Hebei. She has reported almost 400 cases to the police, who at first didn’t take any action or even file records, instead telling her to contact the forestry bureau or conservation organizations. When Liu called the police in early 2014 about bird nets she had found, they laughed at her: “They thought it was a joke to arrest bird sellers or poachers because they said they ate birds themselves.”

Liu Yidan finds a bird net near the Tianjin West Railway Station, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Liu Yidan finds a bird net near the Tianjin West Railway Station, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

But through continuous patrolling and reporting, Liu and other volunteers drew attention to the illegal bird trade. In September 2014, the state-run national television network CCTV interviewed Liu for their exposé on the rampant trade of migratory birds in Tianjin. One month later, the local government announced a regulation banning hunting from March to May and from September to November. Catching even one bird during the “sanctuary season” is a crime.

It was the first time that Tianjin had implemented heavy penalties for illegal bird hunting. Though the new regulation did not offer year-round protection, “it was progress from nothing to something,” said Liu. According to China’s 1997 criminal law, violating hunting regulations could result in up to three years’ imprisonment.

The new Wildlife Protection Law extends Tianjin’s protections beyond its borders to the rest of the country, prohibiting hunting and poaching during wildlife migration seasons. But the law is only as effective as its enforcement, which in the past has been lacking. “People didn’t take birds seriously, and nobody reported illegal hunting and selling to the police,” Liu explained.

Since October 2014, Liu has registered over 30 criminal cases. She reported one poacher, 60-year-old Tianjin native Xiao Xiquan, after finding over a hundred bird traps in his melon field in Chenzui Village, in the northwestern part of Tianjin. Xiao was detained for seven days last fall before being released on bail.

While he was detained, Xiao developed a sympathy for the animals he had captured. In a video Liu recorded, Xiao confessed that he lost 15 kilograms during the week he was jailed. “I felt like a bird in a cage,” he said. When Liu visited Xiao’s melon field again in June, she didn’t find any bird traps or nets.

Police officers examine bird nets Liu discovered near the Tianjin West Railway Station, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Police officers examine bird nets Liu discovered near the Tianjin West Railway Station, June 30, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

Liu said many poachers in Tianjin have given up catching birds, as they’re afraid of being caught by the police.

“Most poachers are farmers who are simple, honest people,” said Liu, “They have been catching and selling birds for generations without any clue that it now breaks the law.”

Liu has also persuaded many of the Buddhists who used to release birds with her to donate money to protecting birds instead. Zhou Meiqiang, another Tianjin Buddhist, followed Liu’s lead. In spring and fall, he drives Liu and other volunteers all over Tianjin to search for bird nets and traps.

“When we had just started, we were finding over a dozen bird traps a day,” Zhou said. Now they can hardly find any,” Zhou said.

In spite of their effort, a few stubborn poachers remain. While patrolling on June 30, Liu spotted a bird net in a field behind the Tianjin West Railway Station. “This is the fourth time we’ve found a net in this location, yet we’ve never managed to catch the poacher,” she said. But police showed up within 10 minutes of Liu’s call and rolled up the bird net while she familiarized them with the new anti-poaching regulations.

In the past two years — and with financial support from Beijing-based wildlife protection NGO Let Birds Fly — Liu and other volunteers in Tianjin have freed at least 100,000 birds from poachers. More significantly, dozens of poachers have decided to stop catching birds after being persuaded by Liu and her team. “These people could easily catch over 300 birds a day during the migration season,” said Liu.

More and more Buddhists are realizing that in the long run, protecting birds from poaching saves more lives than releasing birds from cages. Liu would like to extend her patrol and protection to other areas in the country. But money is a big issue, she told Sixth Tone. “We need more financial support from NGOs and the public.” Liu hopes the new national law will encourage more people to take part in protecting wildlife and to donate to the cause.

Liu Yidan holds an electronic device that plays sounds to attract birds, Tianjin, June 30, 2016. She has found dozens of sound traps set by poachers in the wild. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Liu Yidan holds an electronic device that plays sounds to attract birds, Tianjin, June 30, 2016. She has found dozens of sound traps set by poachers in the wild. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

Liu and her team usually patrol from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. When she is not in the field, she cooks for her kids, does housework, and attends Buddhist ceremonies. Patrolling has taken a toll on Liu’s health: Her knees and legs ache constantly. But she won’t give up. “I hope it will be more and more difficult for me to find bird nets and traps in the field,” she said.

Four days after the revised national law was announced, Liu came across a group releasing wild birds in front of Dabei Temple. She approached them immediately.

“People who release birds will be punished by law,” she told the group. “We have to destroy the profit chain behind fangsheng.”

 


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Abandoned Intersex Baby Rescued and Raised by Migrant Worker


Riding home on his electric scooter after work one day, Fan Xifa was stopped dead in his tracks by the sound of an infant crying. The cries, cutting through the noise of the heavy rain, led him to a cardboard box that lay beside the road.

It was November 2012, and Fan, a migrant worker in Sanya, in China’s southern province of Hainan, had just made a discovery that was to change his life beyond measure.

Inside the box was a newborn baby. Its lips were blue from cold, and its naked body was covered in blood from its uncut umbilical cord. Instinctually, Fan wrapped the baby up in his coat, and took it to the nearest hospital two blocks away, where a doctor told Fan it was unlikely that the baby would survive. It weighed just 1.4 kilograms.

Once the doctor had cut the baby’s umbilical cord and wiped away all the blood, Fan noticed something. The baby was intersex, born with both male and female genitals. This, Fan believes, was the reason the baby was abandoned.

Three and a half years on, Fan is still the guardian of the child, who goes by the pet name Zheng Zheng. Ever since finding Zheng Zheng, Fan has been preoccupied with the question of what can — and should — be done about the child’s gender. Fan’s dilemma has also heralded a chorus of conflicting voices from charities, NGOs, and intersex advocates around Asia.

The United Nations defines a person as intersex if they are “born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.” Being intersex is different from one’s gender identity — female, male, both, or neither — or sexual orientation. According to U.N. statistics, those with intersex traits account for between 0.05 and 1.7 percent of the world’s population.

Like many places around the globe, discrimination against intersex people in China — particularly rural China — is commonplace, and the consequences sometimes tragic. Fan has firsthand experience with this: Two people in the small village where he grew up in the central province of Henan were intersex.

One of them, who self-identified as a woman, was discarded by her newly-wed husband when he discovered she was intersex. That divorce was the first of several.

School bullying drove the other intersex villager to suicide.

Memories of their plights motivated Fan — a widower without a child of his own — to take the baby under his wing. He left his job as a construction worker, and took on the role of parent full-time, relying on his 30,000 yuan (around $4,500) of life savings to get by. Determined that his child would not suffer the same fates as the two intersex individuals from his village, he decided to explore surgical options.

In 2013, tests by doctors in Hainan’s provincial capital Haikou showed the child had both mature ovarian and testicular tissue, a condition known as “true hermaphroditism.” Yet a chromosomal balance leaning a few percent to the male side has led Fan to decide that his child will be raised a boy, beginning as soon as possible with genital surgery. “I don’t want Zheng Zheng to hate me for not fixing the problem at an early age,” Fan says.

Dreams of rearing sheep and bringing up his child in his home village led Fan to make the 2,200-kilometer journey back to Henan in 2015. Fan’s village is not far from Zhengzhou, Henan’s provincial capital. It was then that Fan gave his child a name — Juzheng, a homonym for “living in Zhengzhou.”

Still determined to pursue surgical options for his child, Fan went to a local hospital for a second opinion on the available options. The hospital advised Fan that Zheng Zheng should undergo surgery that would remove his ovaries, pull down one of his testicles from his groin, and adjust his penis so that he could urinate standing up. Following the surgery, Zheng Zheng’s female reproductive functions would be irreversibly damaged.

Not everybody is convinced that such drastic surgery is the right course of action. Among them is Taiwan-based intersex rights advocate Chiu Ai-Chih, who speaks to Fan twice a month by phone to give advice on intersex issues. Fifty-year-old Chiu is a firm believer that an intersex individual must be able to give consent before any irreversible gender-assignment surgery is performed, a belief she emphasizes without fail to Fan each time they speak.

For Chiu, the subject is very close to home. Chiu’s body is genetically female, yet produces a high level of testosterone. Chiu was made by family members to undergo surgery to reduce what they considered an enlarged clitoris, when Chiu was just six years old, causing severe damage to the sexual function of Chiu’s genitals.

While advocates like Chiu have been appealing to Fan to reconsider his decision, Zheng Zheng’s case has also attracted the interest of some children’s charities who share Fan’s concerns that Zheng Zheng’s condition will lead to a life of prejudice and discrimination.

After raising money for Fan, the China Charities Aid Foundation for Children advised him that he should take Zheng Zheng for a health check-up at Beijing Children’s Hospital, considered one of the country’s best pediatric hospitals.

A consultation there in February this year revealed that Zheng Zheng was suffering from heart disease, a condition that had no relation to his hermaphroditism. Surgery on his heart was successful, and now Fan is waiting for him to recover before he broaches the issue of Zheng Zheng’s hermaphroditism with the hospital, which he plans to do with a formal consultation in June.

Zheng Zheng sleeps soundly in Fan Xifa’s arms at their rented home near Beijing Children’s Hospital, April 26, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Zheng Zheng sleeps soundly in Fan Xifa’s arms at their rented home near Beijing Children’s Hospital, April 26, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

Gong Chunxiu, director of the hospital’s department that oversees hormones-related procedures, shares the same view as Chiu. Drastic and irreversible surgery should be delayed until the child is old enough to decide which gender they identify as, she tells Sixth Tone.

Nevertheless, she believes Zheng Zheng should undergo so-called “repair surgery” at the hospital in June that would give his penis full functionality yet would not remove his female sex organs. Gong explains that the treatment would leave Zheng Zheng the option to change his sex in the future, should he identify as female.

Luk Small Ela, an intersex woman from Hong Kong, has also weighed in on Zheng Zheng’s plight, having communicated her concerns directly to Fan. The 51-year-old is not against the less drastic surgery for Zheng Zheng in June if it’s necessary, as she believes temporarily raising Zheng Zheng as a boy has its benefits.

“It’s the safest way to protect the child from being discriminated against at school,” she says.

“When I was at school, there were no separate cubicles in the men’s bathroom,” Luk recalls. “The boys could see how I urinated.” This is Fan’s biggest concern. He worries about how difficult it will be for Zheng Zheng in school as an intersex person.

“Which bathroom should Zheng Zheng go to — male or female?” Fan says. “The discrimination could be traumatizing.”

As a child Luk underwent a series of unsuccessful surgeries to enable her to urinate standing up. After over a dozen painful surgeries, a 13-year-old Luk refused any further procedures. A large part of Luk’s parents’ desire for her to undergo surgery came from the wish that — as a male — Luk could continue the family line. Yet in her twenties, she learned that she had no sperm in her body. “All the surgery I went through was in vain,” she says.

The focus on fertility was also behind the recommendations by doctors in Hainan and Henan that Zheng Zheng undergo the drastic, irreversible genital surgery. According to them, Zheng Zheng’s chances of fertility are greater as a male than as a woman.

The question of fertility, along with concerns about how Zheng Zheng will be treated by those around him in later life, weighs heavy on Fan’s mind. But following his communication with people like Chiu and Luk, it seems likely that Fan will forego the irreversible surgery in favor of the less drastic procedure, which would preserve Zheng Zheng’s female sex organs. If, at a later date, Zheng Zheng wishes to identify as female, Fan says he will support that decision.

Whatever path Zheng Zheng takes, Fan says he will have no regrets.

“If I passed by without picking up the baby that day, I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself for the rest of my life.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Three Men Under One Roof


For over 15 years, Tan Zhiliang’s parents refused to let his family spend the country’s most important holiday — Spring Festival, or the Chinese New Year — with them. Old and conservative, Tan’s parents wouldn’t accept their son’s family. Since 2001, Tan, now 46, has been living with his partner, Chen Dezhou, 42, and Chen’s 18-year-old biological son, Jack. But this year, Tan’s parents finally agreed to allow Chen and Jack to celebrate Spring Festival together at their house. Tan thinks the photos of Jack he regularly sends his parents led to their change of heart.

Tan and his family have become minor Internet celebrities in recent years after he set up an account calledsannanyizhai, or “three men under one roof,” on microblogging platform Weibo in 2009 to blog about his family’s day-to-day life. Tan followed this endeavor with a public content account on social network WeChat in 2013, and the family now has over 50,000 followers across both platforms.

The family’s story has brought hope to many same-sex couples in China who also want to have their own families — an arrangement that to this day is still rare. Traditional beliefs about relationships and families dominate in China, and marriage law expressly forbids same-sex marriages, a fact emphasized by the recent case of Sun Wenlin and his partner, who lost their appeal against the rejection of their marriage registration earlier in April in Changsha, Hunan province.

Tan Zhiliang (right) and Chen Dezhou (left) pose at the rooftop garden of their apartment in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, March 16, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Chen and Tan first met in 1997, when Chen was a migrant worker at a garment factory in Shunde, a small city 50 kilometers from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. One weekend in October of that year, Chen was reading magazines in a local bookstore, when he came across an article about a transgender woman. The woman was despised by her family and cheated on by her boyfriend for not being a “real” woman. It resonated with Chen, who was feeling miserable about his marriage, so he penned a letter to the journalist who wrote the article – Tan Zhiliang.

Over the next month, Tan and Chen exchanged more letters and phone calls, sharing the details of their lives. It was clear they had a lot in common, so Chen got on the train to Guangzhou at the end of Nov. 1997, to meet Tan for the first time. Chen confided in Tan that he felt no love for his wife. It was the first time Chen had ever told anyone, and he felt a great weight lift from his shoulders. The only route for young men in the small village Chen grew up in was to get married to a woman as soon as they hit their early 20s. This was a course that Chen, under pressure from those around him, also followed. Chen had already told Tan about the marriage before the two met. But there was one detail Tan wasn’t expecting: Chen’s wife was about to give birth.

Ten days later, Chen’s son was born into a home shared by two people who barely saw each other and who weren’t in love. With Tan on his mind, Chen told his wife that he was gay and in love with Tan. Her calm and composed reaction spoke volumes. “There was no love between us,” Chen says. He moved in with Tan in 1998, while Jack went to live with Chen’s parents. But after Jack badly burned his thigh reaching for a bottle of hot water in 2000, Chen worried that his parents were getting too old to look after Jack, and so he decided it would be safer if Jack moved in with him and Tan.

Initially, Tan started the Weibo and WeChat accounts to share stories about the family’s life together. But he soon realized that what he was doing mattered to other gay people in China. The family’s experiences have brought hope to many gay people who want children for themselves. For Tan, the message he wants to communicate is clear:

“Being gay doesn’t mean you can’t have your own family.”

But for most gay couples, having children is complicated. Adoption law in China prohibits applications that violate “social morality,” which includes those submitted by same-sex couples. If a couple is wealthy enough, they can use expensive services in the U.S. that provide surrogacy or in vitro fertilization. In rare cases relatives may let a couple look after their child. Abandoned infants are still a reality in China, and some gay couples might take one home if they happen to see one. But aside from the ethical implications, this is also illegal. The only option for the majority of gay couples in China is to remain childless.

It was 2001 when Tan invited his parents to Guangzhou to see his new apartment. Still in the closet to his parents, he introduced Chen as a friend and Jack as his godson. Naively, Tan thought his parents would be immediately accepting of the arrangement. But Tan’s parents hated the idea of their son raising another person’s child, and urged him to find a woman to marry as soon as possible.

In 2003 Tan’s mother told him to come home and visit a relative. But the order was a ruse, and when Tan arrived home he was confronted by a witch who put a spell on him. Superstitious beliefs are still common in China’s countryside, and Tan’s parents thought he was possessed by a female devil that was preventing him from finding a girlfriend. This was the last straw for Tan, and he told his parents the truth about his sexuality.

“I felt the air in the room freeze,” he says.

Tan and Chen live in Guangzhou, but because Tan is vice president of a state-owned media outlet means he spends most of his time in the city of Kunming, Yunnan province. However, the pair decided to live in an affluent suburb of Guangzhou because they think the city is more open-minded. Tan and Chen say that because their neighbors are well-off, they are more accepting of the family.

“Jack is active with the other kids in the compound and has never been confronted with awkward questions,” says Chen.

Photos of Tan, Chen Dezhou, and Chen’s biological son Jack, from their apartment in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, March 16, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Jack doesn’t think his life has been unusual in any way.

“I just happen to have one more dad,” Jack says.

Chen and Tan have been able to maintain a degree of anonymity in spite of their popularity on social networks, but they have shied away from some public events in order to protect Jack’s privacy. Now 18, Jack realizes that his life and experiences might help others.

“I just want people to know that gay families are as ordinary as other families,” Jack says.

In reality, Jack has two fathers and one mother. Chen’s wife requested a divorce in 2003, and the split was amicable. Soon after, Chen and Tan helped her move to Guangzhou where, according to Chen, she is free to visit whenever she wants. Chen has a child in Jack, and he financially supports his family — the two main demands his parents had of him. Because of this, Chen’s family has been accepting of his relationship.

“My job as a son is done,” Chen says.

Tan’s relationship with his own parents didn’t improve after he came out to them. In the years following, he lied to his parents, saying he had broken up with Chen. He pretended to date a lesbian friend, even going as far as to consider a sham marriage with her. But deep inside, Tan knew he couldn’t go through with it.

In January 2016, Tan posted about the changing relationship with his parents on the sannanyizhai public WeChat account. For the first time ever, he shared a post from that account on his personal WeChat feed, where all of his contacts could read it. Tan was incredibly nervous: He was lifting the lid on his double life and coming clean about his sexual orientation. He even worried that he might lose his job.

But Tan’s post received tens of thousands of views and comments of support, including many from close friends and colleagues. Despite the support of people in wider society, Tan was made to wait by his own parents.

“It took them 15 years to finally accept my family,” says Tan.

The English name “Jack” has been used to protect the true identity of Tan and Chen’s son at their request.


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Think Twice About Marriage, Shanghai Counsels Couples


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On a Tuesday afternoon in March, one of the young, soon-to-be-married couples at Shanghai’s Putuo District marriage registry was less than excited. Wei Jun, a premarital counselor, was asking the spouses-to-be to rate each other on a 10-point scale.

“Seven,” said the woman of her fiance.

This, according to counsellor Wei, was a little on the low side. In her experience most couples who come to her right before registering to marry score each other at least a nine, she told Sixth Tone.

Wei said the woman then burst into tears, asking aloud whether her fiance really cared about her. After some prodding, Wei found out the couple had come to get married because of constant pressure from the man’s family. Wei told them they ought to think twice about whether they should get married.

After their counselling session, the couple still chose to wed at the registry office later that day.

Wei is one of several volunteer premarital counselors at the Putuo marriage registry. Every Tuesday she talks to couples — sometimes as many as 30 a day — who come in to apply for a marriage certificate. Wei, 46, works as a full-time lab technician in a hospital. Out of an interest in psychology, she took a course to become a registered counsellor a decade ago. She had been volunteering at a school until December 2015, when Shanghai started with a new program aimed at preventing unstable marriages.

Shanghai was ahead of the national curve. Regulations recommending that every marriage registry in China hire premarital counsellors came into effect on Feb. 1, 2016. Now every couple has to sit down for a free, mandatory counselling session before they can apply for a marriage certificate. The new rules are a reaction to China’s rising divorce rate, which has increased more than tenfold since 1980in 2014 3.6 million couples ended their marriage.

Sun Xiaohong, the deputy director of the marriage management department at the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, told Sixth Tone that 58,302 Shanghai couples filed for divorce in 2015, a 9.5 percent increase compared to the year prior.

Part of this rise can be explained by easier, cheaper ways to get a marriage annulled — the fee is usually less than 10 yuan ($1.50) in most places, and it is waived entirely in Shanghai. The whole procedure only takes about half an hour. Also, as has happened in other countries, economic growth means more and more people discover they are no longer financially dependent on their spouse.

Sun said this has also meant that “people pay more attention to emotional demands.”

More recently, new rules making it more expensive for couples to buy a second house in Shanghai have led to them filing for divorce as a way to circumvent these regulations.

In the hope of halting the tide of ended marriages, divorce counseling has been available in Putuo since 2006. According to Qian Cuiping, head of the Putuo marriage registry, about 70 percent of couples who go through these sessions either delay a divorce or decide against one altogether.

With premarital counselling, the government hopes to lower the divorce rate by stopping couples who are not ready from rushing into a marriage that will likely end in tears. Wei has come across many young couples who fall into this category.

“A lot of people don’t really know themselves, let alone their partners,” she said.

Many people leave Wei’s office with more problems than they realized they had when they came in. Wei says she often makes happy couples feel “sad and confused,” but she thinks it is necessary.

“It’s my job to help these couples face reality,” she said.

On the same Tuesday that Wei saw the first pair, another young couple from Shanghai visited her for their mandatory counseling session. Although initially very excited to be registering for marriage, they realized after speaking to Wei that they had different opinions on whether they would live with his parents after the wedding and, crucially, on when to have a baby. The couple left the counselling sessions unhappy. “This is not ideal,” Wei said with a smile.

“But it can also save them from the heartbreak of divorce later.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

The Honeymoon Is Over: China’s Late Marriage Leave Cancelled


whatsonweibo

As of January 1st, the Chinese government has canceled the ‘late wedding leave’ that allowed China’s twenty-five-somethings to take a 30-day paid leave when getting married. With the policy’s cancelation, newlyweds can now take no more than a 3-day wedding leave. Chinese netizens are angry about the sudden reversal: “Who wants to get married if we don’t even have time for a honeymoon?”

At a news conference for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee last Sunday, an amendment of the Family Planning Law was announced to cancel China’s so-called “late marriage leave” (晚婚假).

The amendment to the family planning law has come into effect on January 1st, 2016. Most newlyweds were previously entitled to a 3-day marriage leave plus the additional ‘late marriage leave’ that ranged from 7-30 days, depending on local policies. In China, the legal marriage age is 22 for men, and 20 for women. The ‘late marriage leave’ was meant for anyone who got married three years after their legal marriage age. With the revised policy, all Chinese newlyweds, no matter age or location, are only entitled to a 3-day leave.

The late marriage leave was introduced at the time of the one-child policy to encourage people to postpone marriage and childbirth (“晚婚晚育”) in order to help control China’s population growth. Now that China has started to adopt the two-child policy, the government no longer intends to encourage people to marry later on in life.

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Propaganda posters encouraging late marriage and late childbirth. 

On Sina Weibo, thousands of netizens commented on the news under the hashtag of “late marriage leave cancelled” (#晚婚假取消#). Many of them speak out against the new policy, believing that couples should be allowed longer paid leaves, also now that the two-child policy has been implemented.

 

“The government wants us to deliver more babies, but doesn’t help to reduce our stress.”

 

“The new policy just doesn’t make sense to me at all,” says Weibo user “ZPPPPL”: “The fact is that those who get married late need more vacations. The government wants us to deliver more babies, but doesn’t help to reduce our stress, nor does it offer us better welfare. That’s so unwise!”

According to Zhang Chunsheng (张春生), the head of legal affairs at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the average marriage age for Chinese is now 25. This is already older than the previously established ‘late marriage’ standard age.

User “Jennifer” does not understand why the late marriage leave policy coincides with the implementation of the two-child policy: “I don’t think couples will get married earlier just so they can have two kids. Getting married late is related to higher education and improved living conditions – that’s the reason why so many people choose to get married after 25 nowadays. We really need those longer marriage leaves to have a break.”

 

“The 30 day paid marriage leave was the sole motivation to tie the knot.”

 

Employees working at state-owned companies in China are entitled to five days of paid vacation per year. The late marriage leave is very important for many of them. Over the past few decades, Chinese couples have come to view the ‘late marriage leave’ as their right. Now that this right has been taken from them, many go online to vent their anger and voice their disappointment, saying they were already looking forward to their late marriage leave for a long time.

According to some netizens, the 30-day paid marriage leave was “the sole motivation to tie the knot”.

A user nicknamed “Heavy Manual Labor” complains: “The late marriage leave is a precious vacation for me, and now it’s canceled. The government really takes extreme measures to push those twenty- or thirty-somethings who are still unwed to get married and have two kids.”

Medical worker “Eileen” writes: “I don’t have enough time to get rest. The prospect of the late marriage leave was extremely important to me. What can I expect now that it is canceled? The government doesn’t encourage us to get married late now, but it also doesn’t encourage getting married young by offering any favorable policies.”

 

“How are we supposed to make make babies without our honeymoon?”

 

Aside from the worries of not getting that much-needed vacation, many netizens also worry about more practical issues, fearing that three days is not enough time to prepare for the wedding, let alone to go on a honeymoon.

User “Miss Wang” writes that three days is nowhere near enough time to cope with all the concerns before and after the wedding: “Have you ever considered the needs of couples who work far away from their hometowns, and who will already spend days just to get home for the wedding? You can’t just change the policy like it’s a game. This must be a joke.”

Another user “Jugeng Xiaoran” adds: “We need more than three days to prepare the wedding banquet. What about the honeymoon? Who wants to get married if we don’t even have time for a honeymoon? And how are we supposed to make babies without our honeymoon?”

 

“I will still marry late, I won’t have two kids, I am the boss of my own life.”

 

A number of Weibo users also criticize the government and the Party from a human rights perspective. “How many kids we want should be our own business. It’s our rights. But in China, it’s decided by the government. No wonder so many Chinese choose to migrate to other countries,” one user says.

“Go ahead and cancel our welfare,” user “RiveGauche” continues: “I will still marry late, I won’t have two kids, I am the boss of my own life. Meanwhile, I will work harder so that I can move to another country where there actually are human rights.”

The cancelation of China’s late marriage came without warning, and took five days from its announcement to its enforcement. Many netizens are caught by surprise, and suggest a ‘deadline cushion’ for future change in policies. Weibo user Vincent writes: “The cancelation itself is unreasonable, but what’s more, there is barely a buffer period for it. These kind of distressing policies will bring about social unrest.”

The amendment has led to a wave of last-minute marriage registrations. Since it passed on December 27, many couples rushed to get registered by January 1st so they would still be entitled to the late marriage leave.

According to the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau, there was a 30 percent increase in marriage registrations compared to the same period last year. In Shenzhen, the wedding registration offices were flooded with couples who hoped to get registered before the new rule would go into effect. “Getting registered for the sake of the late wedding leave” (#为晚婚假扎堆领证#) even became a hot topic on Sina Weibo.

One Weibo blogger predicts that China’s divorce application offices will be packed within a year. Another netizen agrees, and says that in China, marriage choices are distorted by policies. “And that is pathetic,” he concludes.

By Yiying Fan

Netizens Upset over Chinese Harvard Girl News Story


The news that an ordinary Chinese high school girl from Hangzhou was accepted by Harvard University created a stir amongst Chinese netizens on Sina Weibo this week. Thousands of Weibo users criticized the Chinese media for hiding information from the public when it turned out that the girl is actually a US citizen from a wealthy family.

Reports of an ordinary girl named Guo Wenjing from Hangzhou getting an early admission to Harvard University became big news on Chinese social media this week. The news created commotion amongst Chinese netizens for various reasons: first for the fact that a Hangzhou high school student was admitted to Harvard, and then for the fact that the story was partially untrue.

According to Qianjiang Evening News (钱江晚报), Guo Wenjing gained an early admission to Harvard with her talent in programming, and excellence in various fields. In 2014 and 2015, she won gold two times at the Olympiad in Informatics in the US. She was invited by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to participate in a programming tournament and won the second prize. Apart from her academic achievements, Guo has also taken up sailing and skiing. In addition, she attended summer schools of well-known universities such as Harvard and Berkeley.

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A number of major state media, including CCTV News (央视新闻) and People.com (人民网), posted about Guo’s admission on their Weibo account. They quoted the secretary of Harvard in China, who praised Guo: “Her computer skills are as excellent as any top American female programmer of her age, she got full marks in five subjects in the AP [Advanced Placement] exams, she speaks fluent English, and she is beautiful. She is almost perfect!”

Guo’s admission caught the attention of netizens, and the topic “High school girl’s early admission to Harvard” (#高三女孩被哈佛提前录取#) soon became trending on Sina Weibo. Thousands of users commented on the topic. Some complimented Guo on her achievements, calling her “the pride of China”, while others pointed out that China once again was sending its top talents abroad, and that Guo would “get a green card and then contribute to building up a better US”.

However, the next day, netizens exposed how Chinese major media outlets had left out some important information about Guo. Shibugui, the president of the Global Leaders Lab, revealed on his Weibo that Guo actually is an American citizen and that both of her parents graduated from MIT. Her father is the chairman of a publicly held company. He writes: “The media did not mention her nationality, and made her look like Cinderella. They sensationalized the news.”

The topic then became trending again, this time under the hashtag of “Harvard girl’s truth” (#哈佛女孩真相#), receiving a lot of attention on Weibo.

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“It’s a good thing that the Chinese media is trying to publish positive things, but please let them do thorough research because Chinese netizens are smart,” says Weibo user Echo.

The majority of Weibo users believe that Guo is an excellent student with great talents, but say that her success should not be glamorized. A user called “Dragon to the Sky” says that family background has a huge influence on one’s education: “I don’t think we can learn from her case. She was born in the US and raised by PhD parents. Her parents are probably more intelligent than our teachers. For ordinary Chinese, we have to fight for better education resources through continuous exams and competitions. So, CCTV and People.com, what are you trying to say by posting this news? ”

“When will Chinese media stop twisting the truth to make news?” user “JL” says: “They always make up these positive cases, it’s been enough! It seems like they want to encourage children from poor families to study harder, but the reality is that children from ordinary families don’t have the opportunity to attend summer school at Harvard. Do you think children can have hobbies like sailing and skiing just by working hard? Are you kidding me?”

Dongfeng Paiman, former reporter of Hangzhou Newspaper Group, adds: “The media made a shameless attempt to represent an American girl whose parents are PhDs as a beautiful straight-A student from an ordinary Chinese family. They hope to stimulate all Chinese parents who have big dreams for their children.”

“What they are saying seems correct,” a mother on Weibo replies: “I saved the news on my phone immediately after I read it. I wanted to share it with my son later, but my husband had already told him ahead of me. All Chinese parents would be excited over this. It’s a great example to encourage our kids!”

As Chinese netizens are fed up with untrue reports from the media, some of them try to figure out the best way to deal with this situation. User “Orz” asks: “The questions is, if it is a crime for Chinese netizens to post and repost untrue information, then what are the consequences for these public media accounts when they post these things on Weibo?”

User Chen Haiyan says: “Those who write false news should be detained for half a month. Only by that can we keep the internet clean and clear.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

China’s Year-end Bonus Game Has Just Started


yearend

The end of the year is approaching. This means that Chinese employees start to look forward to their annual year-end bonuses (年终奖). It is a tradition in China that can be both stressful and pleasant for full-time workers: is the boss finally giving out that promised bonus, or do they have to wait another season?

The year-end bonus became a hot topic on Sina Weibo this week. A number of China media, including China Daily (中国日报) and Caijing (财经网), posted the news of a Chinese boss paying terminated employees the year-end bonuses they were supposed to get four years ago.

Over 90 employees were forced to leave the Chongqing-based company in 2011 due to financial problems, and the employer failed to give them their year-end bonuses that year. Since the company has been doing better in 2015, the boss decided to reissue the bonuses that he promised his former employees four years ago.

The news received much attention on Weibo, where the hundreds of netizens responding to this post can be roughly divided into two camps: those who praise the Chongqing employer for being “such a wonderful boss”, and those who say that they just want to repost this news to their own boss as a subtle hint.

 

“Over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015.”

 

According to PXC Consulting, a well-known human resource research organization in China, over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015. Within these enterprises, 77.6% pay more than RMB 5,000 (±US$1,058), and 4.1% pay more than RMB 30,000 (±US$4,645) to each employee. Of all cities, Shanghai tops the ranking with the average employee working there receiving roughly 8,515 yuan (±US$1,319) on top of their monthly salary.

The height of the year-end bonus largely depends on one’s profession. People employed in the finance, e-commerce, automobile, and aviation sectors rank amongst the top earners when it comes to year-end bonuses, PXC Consulting reports.

 

“I only stay at the company because of my year-end bonus.”

 

For many Chinese workers, the year-end bonus is their motivation to work hard and stay in the company till the end of December. Sina Weibo user ‘Xiao Meng‘ is a typical example of such a worker: “My wages are nothing compared to the labor intensity of the job. What’s more, my company is a two-hour drive from home. I only stay at the company for the sake of my year-end bonus.”

The year-end bonus is also called the ‘December bonus’, which means that the bonus is supposed to be paid in December of every year. But over recent years, more and more companies choose to pay the bonus in the middle of the year or divide it into seasons, to make sure their employees don’t leave right after receiving the bonus.

Weibo user ‘CBH2015‘ complains that he might not be able to receive half of his year-end bonus. “My income is composed of a base salary and the year-end bonus. However, the year-end bonus is given out twice a year – in the end of December and in the middle of next year. I don’t think I will get the second half of my bonus, as I have just resigned.”

 

“Some employers have turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’ to make sure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year.”

 

It is up to each employer how much they pay for the year-end bonus, and when they pay it. Some employers have now turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’. This way, they can ensure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year. Since companies care about keeping good employees for the development of their businesses, and employees care about the receiving a bonus to boost their income, the delay of bonus-giving seems like a clever solution for many companies.

Pressured by rising prices, the timing of when to pay the year-end bonus and deciding on its amount seems increasingly crucial to employees. Therefore, most companies do not add the bonus to their labor contracts. Whether or not they give out the bonus depends on the company’s situation and recent profits.

 

“Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees.”

 

According to Fu Ting, a labor relation lawyer from Beijing, employees should demand a written promise to ensure the pay of year-end bonuses. She writes that it is not required for companies to give out year-end bonuses, unless there is a contractual agreement. Such an agreement would avoid confusion and disappointments, benefiting both employers and their employees: “The written promise could be included in the work contract, in a compensation agreement or in the company regulations. The specific date of payment should be written in the contract as well.”

But in reality, many employers are not yet willing to contractually agree to give out the year-end bonus. They do not want to risk violating the contract once they cannot afford to give out money at the end of the year. Simply not putting anything on paper is the safer route to take.

 

“After I complained about it on Weibo, they decided to give out the bonus.”

 

The year-end bonus will be a hot topic for the coming weeks, as some workers will be surprised and some disappointed. It has created some social media hypes over recent years. Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees. Another company reportedly gave out 1 RMB lottery tickets as a year-end bonus, making some employees resign on the spot.

If the boss is late paying, complaining on Weibo might offer a solution. User ‘Nikovsky‘ writes: “My company always delays the year-end bonus. The managers don’t pay us until we are back for work after Chinese New Year. But after I complained about it on Weibo, they’ve decided to give out the bonus in the end of December.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Weibo Controversy over “Beijing Subway Breastfeeding”


breastfeedingchina

Two separate events where women were publicly shamed for breastfeeding in public have caused controversy on Weibo. The issue attracted the attention of UNICEF and Beijing authorities. 

A Sina Weibo user posted a picture of a young mother breastfeeding her baby in the subway in Beijing this week. The user, a 21-year-old woman, wrote that she felt that the mother needed to “pay attention to her manners in public place” and that she should not “expose her sex organ”. As the young mother looked like a rural woman according to the Weibo user who took her picture, she also added that “this is the Beijing subway, not the bus in your village”.

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The picture became a trending topic on Sina Weibo under the hashtag of “Beijing Subway Breastfeeding” (#北京地铁哺乳#), and accumulated over 70,000 comments and 80 million views.

“I don’t care if people are watching. I’ll breastfeed when my baby is hungry.”

Weibo netizens collectively responded to the issue; some agreeing with it being inappropriate, some defending the mother, and some attacking the woman who took the picture.

Some mothers write that a mother should always breastfeed her baby when it needs to be fed; she cannot let the child go hungry, no matter if it is on the subway. A Weibo user named Liz confesses: “I used to say I would never breastfeed my baby in public. I didn’t understand this behavior either. Just like most netizens, I thought I could try to avoid it or at least breastfeed in the public toilet. But after I became a mother, I realized there are too many uncertainties when you are out with the baby. I don’t care if people are watching. I’ll breastfeed when my baby is hungry.”

“Once I breastfed my baby in a toilet at the airport because I couldn’t find a nursing room. I still blame myself for feeding him with the smell of the toilet,” user “Anna Bailan” confides. “I wasn’t strong enough to breastfeed him in public. If the same thing happens again, I won’t let my baby suffer again, even if someone might post my boob online.”

“If you don’t like it, you can avoid it instead of taking a picture of it and posting it on Weibo.”

There are also comments teeming with anger and criticism, directed at the picture taker: “As a woman yourself, you will be a mother someday. You are arrogant and feel too good about yourself. You don’t even have a basic conscience. This is exactly what the younger generation lacks right now,” writes user “Sweet”.

A user named Sophya adds: “I feel so angry after reading this. This young mother did nothing wrong but to feed her baby when it was hungry. If you don’t like it, you can avoid it instead of taking a picture of it and posting it on Weibo. Do you have any idea how much damage you’re causing to this mother?”

“How I pity those who would actually belittle a mother for taking care of her child.”

The controversy over breastfeeding in public did not stop at the Beijing subway issue this week. Other news about breastfeeding in public also raised concern amongst Weibo netizens.

The issue concerned a U.S. case, where a man in Indiana took a picture of a woman breastfeeding her son in a restaurant and posted it on social media. “I understand that your child is hungry,” he commented, “but could you please at least cover your boob up?” The American mother, named Conner Kendall, then stroke back with a long post on Facebook. “You have given me a platform and a drive to advocate breastfeeding ferociously,” she wrote: “You’ve inspired me into a call of action. Rest assured, there will be action. Not only by me but others like me who feel you violated them and their rights. How I pity those who would actually belittle a mother for taking care of her child.”

Many Weibo users praise Kendall for being brave and strong. As user “Xiongbi” says: “She’s such a great mother for being brave enough to say things like that. We are also lucky enough to have her educate us and persuade us by her beautiful words.”

“Breast milk is the perfect natural health food for babies, which cannot be replaced.”

“God made mothers able to feed their children from their own breasts. It is the society that sexualizes them. Children do not sexualize breasts until they are taught to do so. True it is! Applaud her for being courageous,” expresses user “Wind and free”.

The “Beijing Breastfeeding issue” has not only created a buzz amongst netizens, it also made them realize the importance of establishing breastfeeding rooms in public. User “Evadi” is one of them: “I hope we can take advantage of this incident to continue urging the government to build more nursing rooms so that we can provide a better environment for breastfeeding moms in public places.”

UNICEF China also got involved in this topic on its Weibo account, and called for the whole society to be more supportive of breastfeeding by building more public nursing rooms: “Breast milk is the perfect natural health food for babies, which cannot be replaced. All mothers and babies have the right to on-demand feeding, including in a public place. A good nursing room could let mothers breastfeed their babies in a quiet and comfortable space. Infants and young children also have the right to enjoy public resources.”

Beijing authorities have been quick to respond to the issue. According to the local news program “News Late Peak” (新闻晚高峰), Beijing is to set maternal and infant rooms in subway stations of large passenger volumes and build maternal facilities in the toilets of other stations.

In the meantime, the woman who uploaded the Beijing breastfeeding picture has deleted her post and apologized for her behavior. “I didn’t expect that my post would cause such a stir on Weibo. I’m young and ignorant. This is a mother’s unconditional love to her child – she can do anything for her child, which I might not be able to experience yet. I’m so sorry for being disrespectful.”

By Yiying Fan

Featured image: women breastfeeding on Beijing subway on Breastfeeding Day, Aug 1st 2015, source).

 

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

China’s Neglected Problem: Student Kicked Out for Being Autistic


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A young boy from Henan was sent away from school for being autistic, leading to furious reactions from Chinese netizens. China’s education system is failing our children with special needs, they say.

In Puyang (濮阳, Henan Province) an 8-year-old boy named Xiaoxuan (an assumed name) was kicked out of school after over 40 parents opposed to him to studying in the same classroom with other students because of his ‘hyperactive’ and ‘weird’ behavior, Henan Sina reports.

According to Xiaoxuan’s parents, their son suffers from autism and hyperkinetic disorder linked to birth complications.

Xiaoxuan was unable to start school last September, at the age of 7. After his parents took him to Beijing for a year-long rehabilitation training, the doctors reassured them that Xiaoxuan would be able to attend a mainstream school. They took him to a regular primary school in Puyang this September, hoping their son could attend school like every other child. But he was nevertheless forced to go home in late October.

 

“Everyone should have equals right to learn. What those 40 parents did negatively affects their own children too.”

 

Xiaoxuan’s story has sparked heated discussions on Sina Weibo. The topic “hyperactive boy required to leave school” (#男孩爱动被要求离校#) has been viewed about 60 million times, attracting over 40,000 comments since November 11. Many netizens are angry about what happened to Xiaoxuan and call for equal rights in education.

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User Timfrk speaks out: “Don’t you have kids yourself? Can’t you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Everyone should have equals right to learn. What those 40 parents did negatively affects their own children too.”

“The primary education period is a crucial time for kids to build perspective on the world, and it determines their outlook on life and values,” user Minoz explains: “Having a ‘special’ kid in the class is a wonderful opportunity for other kids to learn how to be understanding and tolerant. They now missed out because of their selfish parents.”

 

“Perhaps this boy is super smart, but his talent is burned out by China’s school system. This demonstrates how the education in China is failing.”

 

According to article 4 of China’s Compulsory Education Law (义务教育法), school-aged children and adolescents have equal rights to receive education. This means that children entering the education system are protected by the law, making it illegal to deprive them of the right to schooling.

In addition, according to the provincial law in Henan Province, Xiaoxuan’s school must take him in as a student, as there is no special school for him in the local area.

User Ahuang indicates: “These parents deprived Xiaoxuan of his right to education, which is against the law. What’s more, their behavior might make him diffident, withdrawn, and pessimistic. Who is responsible for that? Perhaps this boy is super smart, but his talent is burned out by China’s school system. This demonstrates how China’s education is failing.”

An important cause for the rejection of children with special needs is the Chinese approach of an exam-oriented educational system. The desire for high scores is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Parents are concerned that the academic performances of their ‘normal’ children will be affected by the presence of ‘special’ children.

 

“A good learning environment is crucial to us. If there is a kid who talks a lot and interferes with others during class, not only the students but also the teacher will be affected.”

 

Students from Henan Province particularly suffer from the great pressure of the China’s college entrance exam system (gaokao). As higher educational resources (number and quality of universities) are distributed unevenly across China, it is said that students are not treated fairly during the admission process, which is called “regional discrimination“. A university usually sets a fixed admission quota for each province, with a higher number of students coming from its home province. But because Henan province has fewer universities per capita than for example Beijing, an applicant in Henan needs a significantly higher score than his Beijing counterpart to attend the same university. Therefore, fierce competition starts from grade one. Parents have no choice but to make sure their kids have the best learning environment.

Weibo user “Original” shares: “Parents and children from China, especially from Henan Province, are dealing with the huge pressure of schoolwork and college entrance exams. A good learning environment is crucial to us. If there is a kid who talks a lot and interferes with others during class, not only the students, but also the teacher will be affected. I sympathize with Xiaoxuan, but others should not shoulder responsibility for this problem.”

Another user named Lao Li writes: “We have to consider the enormous pressure that the students of Henan Province are facing. Schools are also extremely stressed about the high enrollment rate. The children are victims of the education system, generation after generation.”

 

“We should follow the Japanese example where schools put kids with special needs together in a class, and assign extra teachers to teach them and provide extra care.”

 

Though some users try to argue in favor of the 40 parents and the school principal, the majority of Weibo users condemn their decision and question the principal’s ability to cope with Xiaoxuan’s issue. “The school principal seems useless. He should have calmed the parents down, and should have resolved the problem with the right solutions instead of asking Xiaoxuan to leave school,” says user Lanear.

Weibo users also suggest their own solutions to the issue. For instance, user “Rabit9104” purposes: “We should follow the Japanese example where schools put kids with special needs together in a class, and assign extra teachers to teach them and provide extra care. This then also gives them the chance to engage with other students in a regular school. This is called inclusive education.”

Xiaoxuan is not alone. A similar case has happened before. In 2012, a boy with autism was refused by four regular schools in Shenzhen after principals received complaint letters from other parents. The number of special schools in China is limited, and mainstream schools don’t always have the facilities and funds for special education. Special needs children face considerably more difficulties in accessing education than their fellow students.

Zhang Xiujuan, an expert on special education at Shenzhen University, pointed out in 2012 that all teachers from regular schools should receive training on special education. She also suggests that teachers should be given a monthly compensation if they have special students in the class, since they will need to put in extra efforts. Local education departments should also increase the penalties and punishment for schools that refuse to enroll special needs students.

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This article was published on What’s on Weibo.