Telling Ambiguous, Ambitious Gay Stories


BEIJING — It’s the evening before filming starts, but director Lu Zhan and her main actor, Yang Zhenguo, can’t agree on what the script is really trying to say. Is “Summer” a gay movie?

“It’s a love story that just happens to be between two young men,” Lu says, sitting on one of the beds in Yang’s hotel room.

“Summer,” a short film project by students at Communication University of China in Beijing, tells the story of two young men working in a noodle shop who develop feelings for each other. To Yang, the script seems straightforward: Both characters are unequivocally gay.

“That’s only in your eyes,” Lu responds. In her mind, Yang’s character, Dongzi, is straight, and Ah Zhen, his maybe-love interest, is bisexual. A long silence follows while Lu and Yang mull over the script.

The film’s producer and scriptwriter, 22-year-old Yang Zhiyuan, says he meant to sow confusion. “Some people might think it’s a strong friendship between two straight boys, while others might believe they are gay and fall for each other,” says Yang Zhiyuan — no relation to Yang Zhenguo. He wants to “leave some room for the audience to think and imagine.”

The trailer for the film ‘Summer.’ Courtesy of Yang Zhiyuan

Yang Zhiyuan’s crew, some of whom are his friends who are volunteering as actors and makeup artists to keep the budget small, have gathered in the Beijing suburb of Tongzhou for four days of shooting. It’s a small production for a short film that might not have much of a viewership outside of campus. But the story’s themes mean that the movie is a statement of sorts.

According to Yang Zhiyuan, the creative environment on campus is free, and teachers and students enjoy mutual respect. But when officials visit the school — which has a reputation for its movie, art, and broadcasting programs — projects with queer themes are not presented or mentioned. When Yang Zhiyuan, a digital media and art major, brought up the idea of an LGBT-themed story for a short film assignment, his teachers allowed it but were reluctant. “They are afraid that they can’t give us proper guidance,” he explains. “They don’t have any experience in this area.”

It’s not just Yang Zhiyuan’s teachers who are cautious with LGBT content. In April, gay romance blockbuster “Call Me By Your Name” was pulled from its scheduled screening at the Beijing International Film Festival. A month later, the European Broadcasting Union terminated its partnership with China’s Mango TV after the station cut and blurred out gay-themed content from its broadcast of the Eurovision singing contest. Industry guidelines for TV shows and online content say to avoid depicting homosexuality.

On the other hand, China’s LGBT community has become more visible and vocal. In April, microblogging site Weibo deleted accounts and posts with “comics and graphic short videos of homosexuality.” But after an outcry from its users — both LGBT individuals and allies — Weibo canceled the purge. In the same month, authorities approved “Looking for Rohmer” for nationwide release — the first gay-themed film to achieve this.

Actors rehearse a dancing scene on the set of ‘Summer’ in Beijing, May 13, 2018. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth ToneActors rehearse a dancing scene on the set of ‘Summer’ in Beijing, May 13, 2018. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone

On the first day of the “Summer” shoot, one of the scheduled scenes is the story’s climax. It takes place on a roof near the noodle shop owned by Ah Zhen’s father, where 18-year-old Ah Zhen has started working after finishing vocational school. Dongzi, a 21-year-old university student who works in the shop for the summer, suddenly hugs Ah Zhen from behind through a bedsheet that has been hung up to dry. The two end up dancing on the rooftop, tenderly and awkwardly.

Cai Rongchen, a Beijing Dance Academy sophomore who plays Ah Zhen, thinks “Summer” is about youthful innocence and discovery. “Both characters are in the process of searching for their identities,” he tells Sixth Tone.

At the start of the 15-minute film, Ah Zhen narrates: “I always thought each summer was the same, days spent between a boy and a girl. But that summer, everything was a little … different.” Initially, Ah Zhen is attracted to a local girl, and Dongzi — who sees himself as a relationship expert — gives Ah Zhen advice on how to woo her. But sparks soon seem to fly in a different direction.

To Cai, Ah Zhen isn’t sure about his sexual orientation until he meets Dongzi — an experience to which Cai can relate. When he was younger, he, too, was interested in girls. But two years ago, after befriending a gay man, Cai became involved in the LGBT community in his hometown in eastern China’s Shandong province and gradually realized that he was gay, too. “I did have some feelings toward boys at school before, but I didn’t know what it was,” he says.

One of Cai’s favorite films is “Brokeback Mountain,” which he watched before he became aware of his attraction to men — and before he knew that the movie was about gay love. “What they have is beautiful, as I’ve always believed love has nothing to do with gender,” he says.

In that movie, the main characters keep their relationship a secret, afraid of the inevitable disapproval. “Summer” doesn’t deal with such themes — to the disappointment of one crew member. “She holds the idea that all gay films should contain discrimination from society, family standing in the way, self-denial, and lack of self-awareness, but I really don’t think it’s necessary,” writer-producer Yang Zhiyuan says.

Yang Zhiyuan poses for a photo in Beijing, May 12, 2018. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth ToneYang Zhiyuan poses for a photo in Beijing, May 12, 2018. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone

Students at Communication University of China, one of the country’s best art universities, tell Sixth Tone that the percentage of LGBT students enrolled there seems higher than at other schools, though there are no numbers to verify this. Homophobia persists at schools around China, but at the university, most LGBT students have come out without any discrimination from their peers or faculty, students say. “I chose this school partially because the LGBT students are treated equally on campus,” says Yang Zhiyuan, who identifies as gay.

All of Yang Zhiyuan’s movies depict gay themes. His first short film, a comedy, was drawn from personal experience: It centers on a gay man who is looking for a place to relax while waiting for his next train, and who then steps into a bathhouse that offers massages. The female masseuse gives him plenty of sexually tinted hints that service options extend beyond what is advertised, but the man, oblivious, fails to pick up on them. The masseuse eventually gives up, assuming he has erectile dysfunction.

Yang Zhiyuan’s second short film is a love story between a student and an office worker. They live together, but their relationship struggles as they keep their love a secret outside the house. The office worker is not out at work and never introduces the student as his boyfriend.

The films are careful not to be too explicit — neither have kissing scenes, for example. Nevertheless, when Yang Zhiyuan attempted to upload his films to Tencent Video, they were rejected for “breaking with regulations.” Such experiences have made Yang Zhiyuan determined to produce as many gay-themed films as possible during his time in university, as he is afraid there won’t be many chances to do so after graduation. “I predict that in the next five to 10 years, China won’t allow commercial gay films on the market,” he says. “I cherish the freedom to express myself at the university.”

In “Summer,” neither of the protagonists explicitly expresses his feelings. In the final scene — at the end of summer — Ah Zhen rushes to the bus station to catch Dongzi before he leaves. But Ah Zhen arrives too late. He returns to the rooftop, thinking back to when they danced together, and recalls Dongzi saying: “Having feelings for someone is the most beautiful emotion in the world. If you choose to give up this feeling, there’s nothing to chase in life.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

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Left-Field Careers for Farmers’ Kids


YUNNAN, Southwest China — Zhi Zhengjiao, 17, grew up among rolling green hills full of corn stalks and tea shrubs. But despite this natural vista, other outlooks remain dull. For children like Zhengjiao, there are two typical career paths: becoming a migrant worker in the city or staying home to farm.

Zhengjiao, who has waist-length hair and bangs that nearly cover her eyes, is creative and fond of drawing. She never considered it a skill that could earn her money until two years ago, when she listened to a designer share her career experience at school, Nanjian No. 2 Middle School. Now, Zhengjiao is set on becoming a fashion designer.

Nanjian Yi Autonomous County is a three-hour drive along a rugged mountain road from Dali, the nearest city. Whereas urban parents push their children to outperform their peers, here, as well as elsewhere in China’s underdeveloped rural heartland, many see education as useless — partly for economic reasons, partly for lack of imagination. There are few role models for academic success. Zhengjiao’s mother, a farmer, only ever attended elementary school.

The career events at Nanjian No. 2 are organized by an NGO, Tumeng, to inspire students to continue their studies beyond middle school, the end of China’s compulsory education period. Children are supposed to stay in school until ninth grade, when most children are around 15 years old. But in rural areas such as Nanjian, many children start school late and drop out early. Most of the roughly 1,400 students at the school come from villages in the surrounding countryside, and more than 90 percent are Yi — an ethnic minority of about 8 million people.

Students take notes during a career-sharing event at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneStudents take notes during a career-sharing event at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying

“Students here have no idea what life is like outside of the mountains, and they think that if they can’t get into high school or college, they can always just go back to the mountain and grow tea,” says Chen Fei, a volunteer teacher at the school. Zhengjiao tells Sixth Tone that before taking part in Tumeng’s event, the only occupations she had heard of besides being a farmer or factory worker were teacher, doctor, and scientist.

Zhengjiao, now in her last grade of middle school, has signed up for art classes — which she hopes will allow her to further her education. Her mother supports this ambition. “With my grades, it’s not easy to get admitted to a high school, but after studying painting for two years, I can get bonus points as an art candidate,” Zhengjiao says animatedly. “Once I go to high school, I’m closer to my dream school: China Academy of Art.”

Tumeng was founded by Yang Xueqin, who realized the need to motivate rural students after she volunteered as a middle school geography teacher in rural Yunnan. Although it was rewarding for the Chongqing native to see her students improve, she says she felt powerless to prevent children from dropping out. When she finished her two-year stint, her class was twice as small as when she started. “They don’t know why they should study, because they lack the motivation to learn,” Yang says.

The solution was giving the children role models. “Through online videos, professionals can share their own career paths and workplace experiences with children in remote areas,” Yang explains. Beijing-based Tumeng is as aspirational as its name, which is made up of the characters for “journey” and “dream.” Since 2015, it has reached more than 60,000 pupils from all over China. Hundreds of volunteer professionals have talked about how they became archaeologists, e-sports players, programmers, illustrators, or interior designers.

Students attend a career-sharing presentation given by an investment banker at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneStudents attend a career-sharing presentation given by an investment banker at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying

Tumeng initially spread through volunteer teachers. Yang Fuqiong (no relation to Yang Xueqin) teaches Chinese at Muping Middle School in Yibin, in southwestern Sichuan province. She found Tumeng when she was desperate for a way to stir up the students’ passion for studying. “They think they have no future,” she says. “But they are so smart and full of potential.” The career planning courses have noticeably changed the students, she says: They do their homework instead of playing on their phones. “They’ve realized that being a migrant worker isn’t their only option after graduation.”

In the beginning, it proved hard to convince school principals, who saw career classes as a distraction, Yang Xueqin says. Lou Shengzhang, the principal of Nanjian No. 2, was an exception. He tells Sixth Tone that while only a few of his students have good enough grades to enroll in high school, he sees value in expanding everyone’s horizons. Even university-educated locals often choose to become civil servants purely because it’s the only high-level occupation they know. “They don’t know much about [the types of skills] society needs, and what their own strengths are,” he says.

Luo, who attended university, says that his students’ parents, mostly farmers, were initially skeptical. They thought the people sharing their stories were exceptions, and that their careers were unattainable for their own children. But Luo persisted, and parental opposition dwindled after he showed videos of Tumeng events that included a top-level wrestler from rural Yunnan and a boy from a farming family who had become a successful investor in Shanghai.

Locally, women often become mothers at a young age. Zhengjiao knows several classmates who are already pregnant. When she told her friends and roommates about an event at which a female pilot talked about her career, they were shocked. “They can’t imagine a girl still being single at 30 and becoming a professional pilot,” she says. Chang Ranran, a 17-year-old classmate of Zhengjiao’s, agrees that the events changed her views on what is possible in life. “After middle school, many girls get pregnant, and so we think our whole lives will just be like this,” Ranran says, referring to married life in the countryside.

Students pick up trash after class at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneStudents pick up trash after class at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying

Tumeng has also expanded to cities, but because the NGO’s donors only sponsor rural programs, urban schools must pay to participate. Duan Lili, founder of Shanghai-based Career Sharing — a nonprofit organization that aims to help young people solve career problems — sees a need for career education among urban students. High-schoolers are made to choose a major, but they often don’t know what they want. “I’ve noticed that many university students are at a loss,” Duan says, explaining that many realize they are not interested in continuing in the direction they initially choose. “Their college life just passes in a blur without a particular goal,” she says.

Back in Yunnan, Ranran tells Sixth Tone that her lifelong dream of being a TV host always seemed “too far away.” In 2016, she signed up for a career-sharing event hosted by a TV personality. “I used to think of it as a glorious job that could bring an audience happiness, but then I learned about the persistent effort behind the glitz and glamor,” Ranran says.

Zhi Zhengjiao (left) and Chang Ranran look at works of art created by their classmates at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone Zhi Zhengjiao (left) and Chang Ranran look at works of art created by their classmates at Nanjian No. 2 Middle School in Nanjian Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, March 22, 2018. Fan Yiying

Afterward, Ranran, who wears her hair in a bob to stand out from other Yi girls, made the first step toward what might become a media career by volunteering to be a host for the school’s radio station. Every day during lunch and dinner, her voice booms across campus as she delivers the latest news, plays pop songs, and reads essays written by students. “I’m not entirely sure if I will still want to be a TV host in the future, as there are many more professions out there,” Ranran says. “But at least I’m one step ahead of my peers.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Teaching Sex Ed to China’s Special Needs Students


GUANGDONG, South China — Early Sunday morning, eight teenagers sit in a row looking at pictures of male and female bodies on the whiteboard and trying their best to answer the teacher’s question: Which parts of our bodies are private?

“Wee-wee,” Ming Hang, a 12-year-old boy with autism, quickly replies, half giggling. “Remember, let’s call it a penis,” the teacher corrects him amid laughter from his classmates, all of whom have intellectual disabilities.

Hang and his fellow students take this sex education class every Sunday at No. 2 Children’s Palace, an activity center in Guangzhou. The free course was launched by the Nurturing Relationship Education Support Center (NRC), a Guangzhou-based nonprofit organization that specializes in sex education for youth.

Since the sexual rights of the general population are still not sufficient or fully respected, children with mental disorders are given even less attention.

Su Yanwen, 30, is the special education teacher at the NRC. Since 2010, she has worked with students aged 9 to 22 who have mental disabilities, most often autism spectrum disorder or Down syndrome. Usually, other children need about 10 minutes to master the key points of a sex ed class, “but these kids need more than three hours to understand and remember these things,” Su tells Sixth Tone. In classes for special needs students, the teachers also employ more interactive methods, such as having the children draw on the outline of a body to learn the concept of private parts.

Almost every student in the class has a teaching assistant beside them to remind them to stay focused, help them with questions, or correct their behavior — students sometimes scream or walk away for no apparent reason. Parents are asked to wait outside. “Most of the parents can’t help but intervene too much,” Su says. They are invited to join the last 10 minutes of each lesson, when the volunteer teacher explains what their children learned that day.

Su Yanwen (middle) helps a student understand physical changes that come with puberty during a sex education class at No. 2 Children’s Palace, Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Nov. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Su Yanwen (middle) helps a student understand physical changes that come with puberty during a sex education class at No. 2 Children’s Palace, Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Nov. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying

Based on the students’ ages and how well they interact with others, the yearlong course is divided into Class A and Class B. In the former, children learn about the body, how to express affection for others, and how to distinguish public from private. Meanwhile, Class B focuses on the physical changes and sexual urges that accompany puberty. But most importantly, Su emphasizes, “They must know they are in charge of their own bodies.” Students are taught to say no when others touch their private parts; for most children with mental disabilities, recognizing that someone is about to touch a private area is still too difficult, Su says.

There are an estimated 30 million people with mental disabilities in China, more than 10 million of whom have autism. They are more likely to become victims of sexual violence for a variety of reasons, including a lack of awareness of what constitutes abuse, according to Su. Their parents often focus on teaching them to be well-behaved and agreeable to the people around them, which can backfire if they fail to identify a dangerous situation. What’s more, perpetrators have a lower chance of being caught, because their victims might not be able to articulate what happened. Most offenders are relatives or acquaintances.

Media reported in November on an abuse case in the southern city of Nanning, in which a girl with a mental disability had been sexually abused by her 50-year-old neighbor for half a year before her mother found out. She had never received sex education and didn’t realize that what the man did to her was “filthy,” according to the report.

Aside from helping the children learn to protect themselves, the sex education course also aims to teach them appropriate public behavior. After taking the class a few times, 15-year-old Chang Chang, who has autism, has realized that masturbation is “shy” and shouldn’t be done in public. “He now locks the door and covers himself with a blanket,” says his mother.

In many cases, parents come to Su for help after their adolescent kids encounter physical or emotional problems that parents can’t handle or feel too embarrassed to address. Ever since Zi Ping reached puberty, the 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome has refused to be accompanied by female social workers at his boarding school. But he’s gradually making progress since joining the Sunday classes. Tang Feifei, his mother, always asks for a copy of the class materials and reviews them with her son whenever she can. “I’m relieved to see that he’s now okay with a female teaching assistant sitting next to him,” she says.

Tang is an exception to the rule: Most parents find it difficult to talk about sex with their children. “After all, they haven’t received professional education or training, and they are worried they might give children misleading information,” Su says, adding that the most common ways parents explain the differences between male and female bodies include showing pictures or taking showers with their children.

Many Chinese hold conservative views about sex, and plenty of parents consider sex ed unnecessary or unsuitable for children, even as advocates say the country’s sex education is inadequate. In March, parents in the eastern city of Hangzhou complained about sex ed textbooks that taught their second-grade children about sex organs, sexual orientation, and gender equality.

They must know they are in charge of their own bodies.

“Since the sexual rights of the general population are still not sufficient or fully respected, children with mental disorders are given even less attention,” Su says. Established in 2010, the NRC is still the only charity organization in China that provides sex education to children with mental disabilities, according to Su.

In 2009, several special education schools and institutions from Guangzhou invited Glenn S. Quint — an expert on sexuality and disability from the U.S. — to develop sex education courses for children with intellectual disabilities. Su attended the training in 2009 when she was a junior at university. It was the first time she realized that sex is something that can be discussed openly.

Over the past few years, dozens of students at Guangzhou universities who are majoring in special education have volunteered to teach Sunday sex ed lessons through the NRC. The first time he taught a whole class, Lin Huan realized how much repetition was necessary before his pupils understood the material. “I only taught half of what I’d prepared,” says the university sophomore. Lin, who joined the program in September, confesses to Sixth Tone that he is worried he might not have explained the concepts clearly enough to students. After all, he says, “I’m in the process of learning about sex myself.”

A boy with autism circles private parts on a worksheet during a sex education class at No. 2 Children’s Palace, Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Nov. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

A boy with autism circles private parts on a worksheet during a sex education class at No. 2 Children’s Palace, Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Nov. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying

Parents play an important role in sex education, regardless of whether their children have disabilities. “We only see the kids for an hour a week,” says Su, “but their parents are with them every second.” Before children begin the NRC course, Su and her team first run workshops for the parents.

When asked what kind of sex organs they know, parents blushed, Su says. “Some of them really do have a hard time saying ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’ out loud,” she explains. Some of the parents didn’t know how to write the Chinese characters for sex organs and other body parts. “I was astonished,” Su recalls.

Su’s own parents never taught her about sex. She says she learned about menstruation in fifth grade when a sanitary pad brand held a promotional activity at her school. The girls were given a small box of pads as a gift, she recalls, adding, “I was told not to let the boys see it.” Even today, Su’s parents think it’s shameful for their daughter to teach sex education.

But the potential impact of her classes motivates Su to continue teaching. Once, the mother of a girl with Down syndrome told Su that she was on the subway with her daughter one day, when the girl suddenly asked to switch seats because the man next to her had touched a private area. “This was the most rewarding moment of my work,” Su says.


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Wrestling School Gives ‘Left-Behind Children’ a Fighting Chance


JIANGXI, East China — Sixth-grader Lin Hongyu is shy until he gets onto the wrestling mat. There, he becomes a different person: effusive, competitive, and devoted to his dream of becoming a champion.

“I’m not worried about how hard wrestling is,” the 12-year-old tells Sixth Tone between cartwheels. “All I know is that wrestling makes me happy.”

Wrestling is not particularly popular among either spectators or athletes in China. Yet the sport has won many hearts in Matian, a village of around 10,000 people in western Jiangxi province, because of a rural elementary school that has specialized in wrestling since 2006.

“All the students at the school can do some basic wrestling moves,” says Zhu Zhihui, the principal of Matian Central Primary School. The school has integrated wrestling into morning fitness drills and physical education lessons for its 600-plus students in first through sixth grades. Some students, like Hongyu, dream of pursuing wrestling professionally, but Zhu says that’s not the point.

I’m not worried about how hard wrestling is. All I know is that wrestling makes me happy.

“Our goal is not to raise each child to become a professional; instead, we aim to cultivate healthy students who are strong in body and mind through wrestling training,” Zhu explains.

More than 70 percent of the students at Matian Central Primary School are “left-behind children” whose parents have migrated to find better-paying jobs in distant cities. Hongyu, who lives with his grandma, is one of them.

Hongyu joined his school’s wrestling club four years ago and was quickly selected for the school team after excelling in five fitness tests — sprinting, long-distance running, pull-ups, sit-ups, and the standing jump — that the school uses to evaluate prospective wrestlers under national sports bureau standards. Now, he is one of around 30 students on the team who train from 3:30 to 6 p.m. every school day and almost every day during the summer break. They are registered with the provincial sports bureau and take part in the municipal and provincial games each year.

When Hongyu told his grandmother, Liu Qingyun, that he’d taken up wrestling, she had no idea what the sport was. Later, she saw the boy and his cousin practicing together in a field in front of the house. “I support him wrestling as long as it’s free of charge,” she sighs, as the pair live on government welfare. In August, Hongyu came in second in the annual citywide games. He walked home with a silver medal around his neck but didn’t show it off to his grandma.

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Lin Hongyu walks through a rice field in Matian Village, Luxi County, Jiangxi province, Sept. 6, 2017. Fan Yiying

Left-behind children and elders are the subject of ample media coverage and public concern in China, as the country’s mass migration to urban areas has disrupted traditional family relationships and social structures. Many fear that rural children who grow up without their parents will face psychological issues and developmental difficulties. School principal Zhu hopes that wrestling will help his students become confident, humble, and self-disciplined.

“It’s a way to plant character traits that will influence them throughout their lives,” says the 40-year-old headmaster.

[Wrestling is] a way to plant character traits that will influence them throughout their lives.

When Zhu transferred to Matian Central Primary School in 2006, it was a typical rural Chinese school with run-down infrastructure and facilities, insufficient faculty, and an outmoded curriculum. Himself a former wrestler, the new principal sought ways to revitalize the school and thought wrestling could create opportunities — but other teachers opposed the idea.

“They argued that as a school, our chief role is to teach core subjects,” Zhu says, referring to Chinese, math, and English. But he insisted that youth wrestling wouldn’t affect the students’ grades, and that it would even boost the students’ confidence and strength of mind.

Teachers gradually changed their attitudes as the school began to receive more government resources as a reward for their growing number of wrestling medals from all levels of competition. More and more families have been drawn to Matian Central Primary School’s success: In the last decade, the student body has nearly doubled.

Yet prioritizing wrestling over academics is still something of a dilemma for students who have a shot at a career in the sport. When members of the wrestling team graduate, they must decide whether they will go to a regular middle school or a professional sports school. This year, five students continued on to municipal or provincial sports schools to focus on wrestling training. It’s a difficult decision, especially if they’re doing well academically. Most parents would still prefer to see their children continue their studies and hopefully make it to university.

But wrestling can be a life-changing opportunity for children from poor families who aren’t academically gifted. Coach Zeng Hanjin says he’s a living example: Now 29, Zeng never excelled in school. He took up the sport when he was just 11. Coming from a poor family, his parents looked to wrestling as a way out — but they also saw that success came with painful costs for their little boy. “My mom cried when she saw me being brutally thrown to the mat repeatedly,” Zeng recalls. But she didn’t stop him from training, and he eventually made it onto the national team.

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Coach Zeng Hanjin instructs two students during wrestling practice at Matian Central Primary School in Luxi County, Jiangxi province, Sept. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying

“If I didn’t wrestle, I’d probably have ended up being a farmer at home or a migrant worker in a faraway city,” Zeng says. Though he had to stop competing before the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to injuries — the sport has left him with back pain, cauliflower ear, and broken fingers — he still sees wrestling as his lifelong career. “This is the spirit of sportsmanship,” he says.

If I didn’t wrestle, I’d probably have ended up being a farmer at home or a migrant worker in a faraway city.

Girls, too, are increasingly getting in on the action: After the 2016 Indian movie “Dangal” — which tells the true story of two sisters from rural India who became world-class wrestlers under their father’s tutelage — emerged as a breakout hit at the Chinese box office, more villagers started to see wrestling as an option for girls.

“Before watching the movie, I thought wrestling was just boys fighting with each other,” says Lai Xuehui, whose 11-year-old daughter, Wu Yujie, took up the sport in March. The sixth-grader signed up for wrestling after watching her classmates train after school. “I think they’re awesome, and their moves are amazing,” Yujie tells Sixth Tone while sitting on the mat before practice.

Yujie is one of just a few girls on the school team. Zhu says his next goal is to recruit more female wrestlers. “It’s easier for the girls to attain wins, as the competition isn’t as fierce,” he says. “But they also need more attention physically and mentally.”

When the school first started offering the sport in 2006, the young wrestlers practiced in an outdoor sandpit. A few years later, a shed was set up with a secondhand wrestling mat provided by a sports school. “The temperature in the shed was over 50 degrees [Celsius] in the summer,” says coach Zeng.

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Students play on the grounds of Matian Central Primary School in Luxi County, Jiangxi province, Sept. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying

After Matian Central Primary School provided more than 100 graduates to professional sports schools and won more than 200 medals in provincial and national competitions, the local government paid for a brand-new wrestling arena at the school in 2016.

Zeng, who has never won an international medal himself, dreams of seeing his students become world champions — the Chinese flag fluttering in the wind and the notes of the national anthem echoing in the air. “I know it’s extremely difficult,” he admits. “But if we work hard together generation after generation, I believe this dream will eventually come true.”

Dalian’s Patchwork Family of Prisoners’ Children


LIAONING, Northeast China — As the sun rises in the seaside city of Dalian, 46-year-old Ju Chunmei prepares breakfast for 20 children while holding 2-year-old Hai Fan. “Mama, Mama,” the little girl mumbles, pointing out a bag of oranges on the ground.

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Children play on a seesaw at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

In fact, Ju is not Hai Fan’s mother but a former prisoner who volunteered to look after the young charges living in Dalian Children’s Village after she was released last October. A single mother, Ju entrusted her own son to the village in 2011 when she was sentenced to five years in prison for credit card fraud.

Located on the western end of the city, Dalian Children’s Village is a registered nongovernmental organization that was established in 2003 to provide a home for minors whose parents were in prison. Children of prisoners have mostly been ignored by government welfare bodies, which expects extended families to fill in when parents are incarcerated.

Many of the children in Ju’s care were homeless and hungry before they came to the village, after being rejected by their relatives because of the stigma associated with having a family member in prison. Half of the children also lack household registration, or hukou, usually because they were either born out of wedlock or considered additional to family planning rules, meaning they cannot easily access many public education and health care services. Besides material deprivations, they have endured both the loss of their most loved and trusted guardians and, often, humiliation for their parents’ crimes.

Society discriminates against these children, and what we do here isn’t supported by the government either.

Children of prisoners are also at a higher risk of dropping out of school or breaking the law themselves, a 2006 report from the Ministry of Justice warned. The report found that there were more than 600,000 children belonging to China’s 1.56 million prisoners at the end of 2005, and nearly 95 percent of these children hadn’t received any kind of social aid. Yet no government department is held responsible for the welfare of prisoners’ offspring.

The children cannot be legally adopted either, as the State Council — China’s cabinet — explicitly excluded juveniles whose parents are in prison from its definition of orphans in a notice issued in 2010.

Though Dalian Children’s Village receives some donations from individuals, universities, and other charities, funding for most of its daily operating costs comes out of the pocket of its current head, Wang Gangyi. The 61-year-old took over the village in 2007, after its founder died unexpectedly and its second head quit due to the pressure of the position.

“Society discriminates against these children, and what we do here isn’t supported by the government either,” Wang tells Sixth Tone.

Hai Bao chases a dog at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Hai Bao chases a dog at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Dalian Children’s Village is now in its third home, spread over 4,000 square meters of land that Wang purchased for over 3 million yuan ($435,000) in 2012. Its 20 juvenile residents range in age from a few months to 17 years old. Wang says that the village is one of nine registered charities around the country that have served about 3,000 children of prisoners to date.

Zhang Hongwei, a law professor at Jinan University in the southern province of Guangdong, has been researching the issues facing children of prisoners for several years. He tells Sixth Tone that his research suggests very few children have both parents in prison. “When we don’t have detailed data, and the number of victims doesn’t seem very large, it’s hard to push the government to enact a law,” Zhang says.
Wang also has a legal background. Until his retirement last year, he worked as a lawyer and as a law professor at Dalian University of Technology. Yet he came into his role in the charity through his career as a cold-water swimmer.

Dubbed “China’s Iceman,” Wang is considered a national hero for his feats in icy waters. Between 2001 and 2006, he set several Guinness World Records for cold-water swimming, including a plunge into the Antarctic Ocean. As a celebrity, he made countless public speeches; one at Dalian Nanguanlin Prison in 2004 changed the course of his life.

After Wang gave a motivational speech to the prisoners, one inmate pleaded for Wang to find his daughter, who had been abandoned by his wife after he went to jail. When Wang located her, the 4-year-old had been living under a bridge for over a year, begging and scrounging for food in trash cans. “She looked so bony and frightening,” Wang recalls.

Volunteers make dumplings with the kids at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Volunteers make dumplings with the kids at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Wang gradually became involved with Dalian Children’s Village after sending the girl there in 2004. When he took over the village in 2007, he gave her the name Hai Ou. Wang renames all the children who join the village, giving them the surname Hai, meaning “sea” in Chinese. For one, Dalian is the largest port in northern China, and secondly, Wang wants the kids to grow up broad-minded, with lives as vast and varied as the ocean. Now, even Ju calls her own son by his new name.

“With the same surname, we are like a family,” says 8-year-old Hai Xi, who came to the village last November. Her mother was sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping and trafficking, and her father died in a car accident shortly afterward.

As grateful as she is to Wang, who saved her from being homeless, Hai Xi is glum and shows no interest in playing with the other children. “I miss my mom to death,” she says. She counts down the days until she can visit her mother in Shenyang, around 400 kilometers north of Dalian. “Each day seems like a year,” she mutters.

It’s not easy for ex-cons to start a new life immediately after we get released.

Children come to the village from all over China, so many of their parents are serving sentences far from Dalian. The cost and distance makes visits difficult, but Wang drives the children thousands of miles every year during the summer holidays to spend time with their parents. “Seeing their kids doing well gives prisoners more courage to live and remold themselves,” says Wang. Even those sentenced to death or with no hope of release find motivation in their children.

The village also aims to provide a safe haven for recently released prisoners like Ju. “It’s not easy for ex-cons to start a new life immediately after we get released,” Ju says. Feeling disconnected from the wider society and facing pervasive discrimination, Ju says she feels comfortable in the village because everyone there understands her circumstances.

Wang believes it’s far from sufficient to simply meet the children’s material needs. He hopes to instill self-esteem, self-reliance, and a strong sense of initiative in each of them. After school, the kids are assigned housework or gardening chores in the village’s vegetable patch.

“The kids in the village are more thoughtful and hardworking compared with children who are spoiled by their parents and grandparents at home,” says Ju. But their difficult experiences also lead the village children to act out.

Hai Xi sits in the activity room at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Hai Xi sits in the activity room at Dalian Children’s Village in Liaoning province, April 17, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

“They are stubborn, wayward, irritable, and aggressive,” Ju says. She doesn’t want to replicate the harsh discipline she experienced in prison, but she is careful to set hard limits. “I have to be strict with them to prevent them from following in their parents’ footsteps.”

According to law professor Zhang, most children of prisoners experience discrimination at school, and many feel guilt and shame for their parents’ crimes. “Psychological intervention is crucial,” he says, “but most charity NGOs can’t afford professional staff to help these children with regard to their mental health.”

Psychological intervention is crucial but most charity NGOs can’t afford professional staff to help these children with regard to their mental health.

Though he believes organizations like Dalian Children’s Village benefit their charges, Zhang feels they do not address the underlying problem of legal custody and guardianship.

In recent years, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has begun to take responsibility, establishing rescue centers in some cities for children of prisoners. “But it will take a long time to build support facilities and improve staff capacity nationwide,” Zhang says.

More than 100 children have grown up in Dalian Children’s Village since its inception. Some stay for a couple of years until their parents are released, while others remain until they come of age.

Hai Ou, the then-4-year-old who started Wang on his journey, is now 18. She left the village last year and now works as a waitress in the city, visiting Wang and her de facto siblings whenever she has free time. “He’s like my father,” Hai Ou says of Wang. “I wouldn’t be what I am now without him.”

However, most of the children never return once they leave the village. Wang says many are desperate to escape the label of being a prisoner’s child at the first chance they get. He doesn’t resent their decision. “As long as they are doing well, my job is done,” he says.


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

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 Neglected Problem: Student Kicked Out for Being Autistic


school

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.

Weibo Netizens: Chinese Guys Are Weaker Than Girls


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Many of China’s universities have too many girls, professors say, which is not good for the development of male students. ‘Nonsense’, Weibo users argue: Chinese guys are just weaker than girls.

The ‘Chinese Language Development Summit’ (中文发展论坛) was held at the University of Anhui this week. Over 20 principals and professors from China’s key universities attended to discuss the development of Chinese language and traditional culture. One of the topics was China’s relatively high percentage of female students within liberal arts education, which was presented as an urgent concern.

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Dean of the Capital Normal University (首都师范大学), Ma Zili (马自力), stated at the summit that there was “not even one boy” in some of the classes. He and other professors suggested that the best solution to solve the problem of “too much yin and too little yang” (“阴盛阳衰”) is to accept more male students through university recruitment, in order to get a more equal balance between male and female students.

“This is not a good growing environment for boys.”

According to the President of Beijing’s Language & Culture University (北京语言大学), Cui Xiliang (崔希亮), girls account for 83% of this year’s Chinese language major freshmen. “This is not a good growing environment for boys,” he added: “I’ve heard from many girls that the guys in their class are not even as tough as they are.”

Once President Cui’s remark was posted on Sina Weibo, the topic “boys are less tough than girls” (#男生还没女生爷们#) triggered heated discussions.

The topic page has been viewed over 37 million times, attracting over 10,000 comments.

Some female students share what they have witnessed at college. For instance, user “Yu Yuxun” writes: “We were with over 200 students at an elective class yesterday, and we had to move desks and chairs. All the girls were working, while the guys did nothing and just stood there. Then they just sat on the chairs that the girls moved for them. I really believe that girls at university are tougher than guys.”

“Guys are spoiled by their parents and society at large.”

A lot of female netizens write that studying has made them stronger and more independent, especially because the guys are not “helping” at all.

User “Sophie Lee” says that she has become a “tough girl” (女汉子) after a couple of years at the Capital Normal University: “I was a typical vulnerable little girl before I entered university, but now I’m capable of doing a lot of physical work by myself. It’s mainly because I feel like I can’t trust or rely on guys any more. They are spoiled by their parents and society at large. Girls have to be tough and independent.”

In China, particularly in small cities and rural areas, families still prefer having sons instead of daughters. The one-child policy is often pointed out as the main reason for that.

“Chinese boys are raised to be sissies.”

As someone who grew up from a small town in China, user “ADnue” comments that Chinese boys are pampered and are raised to be sissy (“娘娘腔”): “In my hometown, boys always play around, while girls have to help parents with farming and housework. Parents and teachers are more tolerant with boys, and easily forgive them their mistakes. They just assume that boys will eventually catch up with girls. Girls are forced to be tough because of the idea that men are superior to women.”

A number of Weibo users are offended that some of China’s universities consider offering more entry opportunities for male students to balance the male/female ratio.

According to user “Silly Wool”, it is gender discrimination: “It’s normal that there are more girls than boys majoring in education or languages, because girls are generally better at it. I just really don’t understand the point of giving priority to male students. Female students majoring science and engineering find it difficult to get a good job after graduation, since a lot of related occupations prefer men over women. And now these college leaders and professors think they should enroll more boys in liberal arts? This is pure sexism.”

This is not the first time a similar topic has become trending on Sina Weibo. The question of “what is a true man?” is a recurring issue, especially amongst those coming from the post 90s generation.

Weibo users generally say that a true man should be responsible, decisive and self-motivated. A user called “Short-haired Cat” says: “When thousands of people say that boys are not as tough as girls, it is no longer an individual problem”. For the majority of Weibo users, it’s a fact.

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Gifting Headaches on Teachers’ Day


September 10th is Teacher’s Day in China. Some people believe that giving gifts on Teachers’ Day is a way of establishing interpersonal connections between parents and teachers. Most parents, even those with low salary are compelled to do so for fear that their children may not get enough attention in class, or to encourage extra care for their children.

This year’s Teachers’ Day fell on Saturday and it happened to be during the Mid-Autumn holiday. As a result, lots of parents chose to sent teachers gifts in the name of the traditional festival.

As a teacher myself, I received two boxes of Haagen-Dazs ice cream moon cakes from my students’ parents. They just dropped them off at my door and didn’t even give me a chance to say no. Moon cakes were probably the best gift this year because it represents two meanings.

Actually my favorite gifts are the hand-made cards from my students. I keep them in a box. They make me smile every time I look at them. I know my students really spent time and made efforts to draw a card for me to show their respect and gratitude. As for those expensive gifts or cash, I know for sure that these parents do this for utilitarian purposes rather than being respectful.

Many parents follow the trend worrying that everyone else is bribing teachers. A father of one of my students is a teacher too. Though he made it very clearly to his class that he wouldn’t take any gifts besides cards and flowers, he prepared expensive gifts for his daughter’s teachers. “My daughter complained about losing face as she was the only one who didn’t give gift to their teachers last year. I had no choice but to buy some this year.”

A lot of parents send gifts to teachers, hoping that it would change the teachers’ attitude towards students or put better comments on their kids’ evaluation reports. Personally, I will not do that just because the parents send me expensive gifts and I am sure that most teachers feel the same way. Moreover, kids would never make progress if they have the thoughts that they would be treated better by the teachers who take the gifts from their parents.

I saw the news that a few schools in Shanghai posted posters at school saying that teachers refuse to take any gift on Teachers’ Day. In my opinion, it’s ok to write cards or send flowers to teachers, but giving teachers precious presents and cash is a different matter. On the other hand, it is wrong if some teachers give a hint to students and parents for gifts or cash in the name of Teachers’ Day. If these teachers favor and discriminate against students based on the value of gifts they receive, it is highly unprofessional and a violation of ethics.

I hope all the teachers can refuse inappropriate gifts and remain innocent. Don’t ruin the reputation of this holy profession. Meanwhile, there should be strict restrictions on the value of a gift. If teachers accept too expensive gifts, they should be punished for taking a bribe. And parents should be punished for shoving expensive gifts into teachers.

The true meaning of Teachers’ Day is not giving or accepting gifts. It is a day when students should show special respect to their teachers and appreciate their unselfish dedication. We have to create a clean environment at schools in no time as it is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Only by eliminating this phenomenon can we hope to see a fair and healthy atmosphere at school.

Sports and education should be combined


Zhang Shangwu, a champion gymnast who was forced to turn to begging after injury ended his career prematurely has become a media sensation recently.

His case throws the spotlight on the plight of top athletes in China, who are taken from their homes as young as four to be trained in special sports schools, then struggle to adjust to normal life once their careers are over.

Everyone has his own views on this issue. From my perspectives, related sports ministry or society doesn’t have the direct responsibility, but we need to rethink profoundly of what our athletes lack.

In China, most athletes are not well educated. That’s because they are isolated from cultural education when they are little. These potential sports starts are being trained intensively at sports school and the main goal is to win the medals. Even they are arranged to study a couple of hours a day, all they can do is to pretend they are listening or just sleep in class. “I was too tired after the training and our teachers just turned a blind eye,” my friend, a former fencer sighed.

Currently in China, sports and education seems two parallel lines. It could be dangerous and pricy. Once the key potentials fail to make great achievements, it would affect the entire team performance and the athlete’s future. Take Yao Ming as an example. He was trained as the hope ever since he was little. But what if he turned out to be average or couldn’t make it to NBA? It’s way too risky to bet on a couple of athletes.

In the United States, almost all the athletes are selected from regular schools. They don’t have sports schools. The biggest talent origins for NBA is colleges. Coaches at university select excellent players from high schools and universities offer full scholarship. These basketball players are required to pass recruitment test. Their training period is strictly limited to make sure they have enough time to study. They can’t graduate if they don’t earn enough credits, just like every other average students.

Back home, our athletes are spending way too much time on training. They don’t have time and energy to learn what they’re supposed to learn. System is to blame, but I also sensed some of these athletes are guilty too.

As a top-level fencer, my friend didn’t study hard at high school because she knew she would go to university anyway. She only got less than 200 out of 630 scores in Gaokao but was still admitted by one of the top 3 universities in Shanghai. She then represented that university to compete in University Games domestically and internationally. But the reality is that even though she was entitled as a graduate from a top university, it didn’t help her at all when she was looking for job. She was too busy training and competing in the games. As a result, she didn’t learn any skill rather than fencing at school.

What about those athletes who don’t even have a chance to go to the university through bonus policy? Their situation would be even worse. However, in the U.S, athletes, no matter they are top ones or average ones, basically don’t have a problem of finding them other jobs after retirement. The combination of sports and education makes the society value sports. Often times, in the U.S, those who used to be athletes or are good at sports are popular and respected in all walks of life. But in China, unless you’re an elite who has won golden medals in world first-class game, your life after retirement would be harder than you can ever imagine.

In fact, the theory of combining sports and education has been spoken over 20 years in China. It’s just not working in the way we expected. I know our system is different from the U.S and other counties and we have difficulties that we haven’t figured out how to tackle, but we do need to speed up if we want to see the next Yao Ming soon.

We can’t just copy the model how American cultivate their sports talent, but we could at least let sports be part of the education. Sports and education are not supposed to be separated in the first place. In order to do that, we need to create a surrounding where sports and education are combined and it cannot be realized without the efforts of parents, coaches and athletes themselves. We need to help them understand the importance of education and how it will benefit their whole life.