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


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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.

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.

Graduates said to be employed


My friend Tommy owns a small coffee shop near a college campus in Shanghai. As I was in his shop the other day, I noticed he hired a few more newbies this month.

He explained, “They are college students who will graduate this month. They are here working for free for a month and I will sign the employment agreement with them in return,” his shop is legally registered. He continued, “and then they can get the graduate certificate without being pushed from school. After that, we will cancel the contract and they can take time to find the job they actually expect.”

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? I am not sure if it’s true but I did read a lot of posts on Sina Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) complaining about it: college graduates are said to have found jobs. Some colleges, according to netizens, won’t give students graduate certificates or degree certificates if they fail to sign the employment agreement with the third party which can be a company or any organization that can offer employee a legal contract.

On June 9th, China’s college students’ employment report released that in 2010, the overall employment rate of college graduates is nearly 89.6 percent, which means employment has rebounded from level it was at during the world economic crisis.

The high rate seems doubtful since the students are helpless about the “being employed”. Some journalists saw this and did some investigate. Almost none of the school admitted it as they argued that students misunderstood their concerns. They initiated such rules only to urge students to find a job. In another word, it’s just a scarce tactic.

Ironically enough, one day later on the 10th, Ministry of Education issued that colleges are forbidden linking graduate certificate with employment contract. Universities are required to inspect employment information carefully and must not make false report. The “being employment” shall not be occurred under the management of related departments.

I remember the employment rate that my college published of my year was 97 percent which was pretty high. Sadly, I was the 3% as I decided to be a freelancer. I had a great job but no third party could sign a legal contract with me, thus, I couldn’t make contribution to the employment rate of my school. I did feel pressure from school because they were calling me very month to check out my job status even after I graduated. They offered me a few employment opportunities and felt very disappointed when I turned them down.

Actually the whole “being employed” thing is not new. It was disclosed a couple of years ago but it has become increasingly serious thanks to Weibo and all kinds of SNS. College students are complaining about their schools online and more and more people are aware of this. University’s image has been damaged. Many graduates exclaimed that employment rate is more like a number game.

It goes without saying that in recent years, the situation of graduates’ employment is becoming increasingly grim throughout China, which has brought great pressure on students, colleges, society and government. Employment serves as the fundamental prerequisite and basic approach for people to improve their life. As a result, local government has implemented policies to get over employment difficulty. However, some colleges are playing the games with employment rate and trying to cover the truth by faking the high rate. For some second-tier and private colleges, high employment rate could attract more students and that’s the very reason why they press students to sign the agreements.

University is a place where we learn knowledge and learn to be man. As the temple of knowledge, if it is guiding students to lose integrity, what is the essence of education? If the students have to experience “being employed” before they finish school, I say, that’s a sad thing for China’s education.

Making Allowance for Wealth


I read an article in a local newspaper the other day that said a 10-year-old pupil in Shanghai had saved more 200,000 yuan ($30,000) in her bank account. What’s more, a couple of her class-mates got allowances from their parents that were in the tens of thousands of yuan.

Maybe her parents are rich enough to give her anything she wants, or maybe they are just middle-class but don’t want their child to have to grow up poor like they did. Regardless, I think an allowance that large exceeds a child’s ability to manage.

When I was a pupil, I had a few classmates from rich family, but they got nowhere that much. My parents only gave me 20 yuan just in case I got hungry.

It’s not the girl’s fault that she is richer than many adults. Her parents think of the money as an emotional investment in her, but it will likely cause her to pick up some bad spending habits. She won’t have any idea about the value of money.

I heard a different story from one of my expat friends, who’s a personable business-man. I was surprised when I noticed the calluses on his hands. He told me that he came from a rich family, but his parents didn’t hand over money lightly; instead, he and his brothers had to work on the farms that their parents owned. No pain, no gain. That’s where the calluses came from. He said he was working for his parents when he was 8 years old.

That’s the difference between Chinese and Western parents. My friend is grateful to his parents. They taught him how to earn money with his own hands. It taught him independence. “My parents are wealthy but it’s their money. If I want to be like them, I will have to work hard,” he said. I think this attitude has contributed to his current success.

I watched a documentary on ICS last week. It was about a British millionaire named Paul who took his son to experience how poor people lived in Middlesbough. His son, Ben had been living lavishly off his money for 20 years and Paul thought it was time for him to experience the real world. After working at a shelter for a week, Ben realized the huge gap between the wealthy and poor.

Paul made a right decision, but wouldn’t it had been better if he had done this when Ben was younger? I talked to the father of one of my students about how he taught his daughter about money. He said he will only buy things for her if they’re good for her. He keeps telling her that it’s not easy for dad and mom to earn money so she shouldn’t take it for granted.

However, some of her classmates haven’t got that message from their parents. As he recalled, one of her classmates paid the daughter 5 yuan to do the cleaning that the class members take turns doing. She took the money and told her dad afterwards. He was shocked but had a heart-to-heart talk with her. Not everything can be bought, he told her.

Parents, especially those born in the 1980s, take as an example how Westerners edu-cate their children. If we fail to teach our children about the value of money, they will have no idea what it’s worth.

Parents Responsible for Shengnu Issue in China


In China, single women over 25 years old are now creatively called shengnu. With exactly the same sound as the Chinese word for saint woman, shengnu actually means leftover women.

Last week, I had a chance to talk with 10 attractive and successful unmarried women in this age group. Each had a different reason for not being married, but they all had one thing in common: their parents have given them a poor education about romantic relationships. Their parents, like most Chinese parents, are so conservative and backward in their mind-set about marriage that it directly leads to their daughters becoming shengnu.

Many leftover women, especially Shanghainese, have always been “good girls.” Following their parents’ advice, they didn’t date boys in high school or at university – and maybe not even in the first two years of their careers.

But once a girl turns 25, her parents become anxious, even desperate, for her to get married. They don’t understand why their excellent daughter can’t find a boyfriend. They set up their daughters up on blind dates that they don’t want to go on, and go to the matchmaking corner that is held regularly at People’s Square.

In many parents’ eyes, a relationship is like a faucet. It can be turned on and off at will. The purpose of dating is to marry and it has to be done on the first try. When I told my parents that I broke up with my first boyfriend they were astonished. “Then why did you go out with him for a year?” they asked. They are greatly influenced by Mao Zedong whose philosophy goes as those who are in love and don’t consider marriage as an intention are regarded as hooligans!

According to those Shanghainese parents, their daughters shouldn’t be in a relationship before 24 and must be married by 25. That leaves us with one year to find a husband.

For parents who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, there weren’t any leftover women because the government wouldn’t let you remain unmarried. There were labor unions, the women’s federation and youth league committees who helped single employees find partners. Most parents never experienced a real relationship. Back then, a girl just needed to stay at home and wait for someone to propose.

So this is what they teach their daughters. Be good at home and we will find you a husband. Most leftover women still live with their parents. They are legally single, but I think they are really married to their parents, in a matter of speaking.

I believe that shengnu should start by moving out of their parents’ home. You don’t have to own a house. You could rent or even share the apartment. Of course many parents don’t see the point. But have leftover women got the point?

Parents are to blame because they manipulate their daughters. However, girls bear some of the responsibility because they are too obedient.

As one of the girls I talked with said she was trying to move out but her parents didn’t allow her to. She gave in. Isn’t it pathetic that a 30-year-old woman can’t decide her own life?

In my opinion, the first thing that these leftover girls should do is to fight with the old-fashioned thoughts of their parents. They are more experienced than us in many aspects, but when it comes to relationships, I don’t think they are experts. Like my parents, most parents of post 80s got married with their one and only partner in their life. How much do they know about men or women and the complicated relationship? We can’t expect our parents to teach us how to manage a relationship or when to get married.

Universities in China: Reforms are Required


As many managers worry over whether their factory workers will return after the Spring Festival, about 600,000 new graduates remain unemployed, a government official stated on January 26.

Ministry of Education statistics show that more than 6 million students graduated in China last year, up from 1.45 million in 2002.

The other day, I interviewed a recent graduate who was struggling to make ends meet at his current job, which paid him 1,500 yuan ($227) per month before tax. He said that he thought migrants who worked construction jobs were being paid more than 2,000 yuan ($303) a month even though they didn’t have a higher education. “What’s the point of studying for 16 years?” he asked, quizzically.

The graduate actually wanted to work for a Japanese company because he had studied their language, but none of the companies he interviewed with was willing to hire him because of his lack of experience.

On one side, a large number of graduates have failed to find satisfactory jobs; on the other, many multinational corporations can’t get enough highly skilled white-collar workers. The most common complaint that I’ve heard about new graduates is that they don’t think outside of the box and don’t know how to cope with difficulties. I believe this is the fault of China’s universities.

Reforms must be made to solve this problem. Firstly, students should be allowed to change their majors. In the US, students can change their majors at anytime. Many do during their college career. Chinese students, however, have to make that decision when they are 18 years old. Many of them later realize that they chose a course of study that didn’t suit them, but the higher education system makes it difficult to change majors. As a result, many students find themselves trapped in majors in which they have no interest or passion.

Secondly, universities should establish a department to help students prepare for their future careers. Most universities have such courses, but they remain impractical and meaningless.

Thirdly, universities should offer more opportunities for students to obtain practical, real-world experience with companies and organizations related to their majors. As a journalism major, how I wish my university would have offered more internship opportunities, but all we had was a chance to work at the Xinmin Evening News where boys were preferred, despite the fact that there were three boys and 22 girls in my class.

Fourthly, schools should put a lot more effort into teaching students how to think analytically and express themselves. Most classes are still graded based on final exams, which tend to only test students’ knowledge of textbooks and lectures. There is not enough classroom interaction and work outside of the classroom. My journalism teachers emphasized reciting the textbook as opposed to asking us to cover stories on campus.

Apart from reforming the universities, students themselves should be more proactive in finding opportunities to gain experience outside the classroom. I started working part-time right after high school. I had worked five jobs before graduating from university. Not only did I gain lots of experience, but also I managed to develop some connections, which got me a couple great job offers after I graduated. Some of my schoolmates thought I was lucky. But they should have known that success and opportunity only come to those who are well-prepared.

In the end, isn’t that also the job of higher education system?