Seven students who were forced to kneel in front of their classroom and slap themselves in the face for failing an English assignment in Guang’an, Sichuan province became the most circulated story on Sina Weibo on October 12.

The use of corporal punishment in China’s schools is on the rise. On September 23, three middle school students in Shanxi province were spanked by their headmaster for snacking during the morning recess. The headmaster said the spanking was because the students denied snacking when asked.

On September 28, a Guangxi student was left with a ruptured kidney after being beaten and kicked by a teacher.

The right for teachers to employ corporal punishment was first codified in the Chinese Education Law of 1986. It was reaffirmed in the 1991 Protection of Minors Act.

Horrible Situation

Shandong Technology Defense Institute is a school known for helping to rehabilitate Internet addicts. Last month, the school became entangled in a scandal that involved sevre corporal punishment.

Chen Xiran, a 16-year-old girl who was enrolled to overcome Internet addiction, imprisoned and tortured her mother for eight days before killing her. She surrendered herself to police in Heilongjiang province on September 17.

“Even if I don’t kill them, I swear I will cripple my family,” Chen wrote on her blog. The girl had been a student at Shangdong Technology Defense Institute for four months.

Chen previously told her aunt Li Aiqing that the school was “run by a tyrant.” “She said she was forced to eat dinner while facing a toilet. The teachers were even worse, and beat students for no reason,” Li said.

Chen tried to escape once, but failed. A month after returning from the Shandong Technology Defense Institute, Chen began writing a series of angry blog updates. Before Chen killed her mother, she stabbed her father, Chen Yonglin. He moved out shortly after.

While her mother was out, Chen changed the locks on the home. When her mother returned on September 8, she locked her in and began her week of revenge. Throughout the process, she sent photos and videos of her mother’s condition and her actions to other family members.

“I tried to imagine how she felt and tried to convince her to release my sister,” Li Aiqing said. In one of the videos, Chen’s mother is seen bound in a corner and moaning.

On the evening of September 15, Chen called Li Aiqing and demanded 50,000 yuan for the release of her mother. At 11 pm, Li transferred 35,000 yuan to Chen’s account.

At 2 am on September 16, Chen’s mother was dying. The coroner’s autopsy found her stomach was empty, and police said she most likely died of hunger.

The case shocked China, and the Shandong education authority weighed in on Shandong Technology Defense Institute’s use of corporal punishment on October 12.

Reasons

Most teachers said they used corporal punishment in an attempt to correct students’ poor behavior.

The real problem may be a lack of awareness about the limits of punishment that make student’s reluctant to protect themselves from abuse. Many students associate corporal punishment with shame, and they are unwilling to tell their parents. Their silence emboldens their abusers.

But faculty members too may fall prey to weak moral education.

Yao Xingfang, an author on Guangyuanol.com, criticized education officials for emphasizing teachers’ professional credentials rather than their character.

“Some teachers have violent inclination or mental illness. The way they treat their pupils is incredibly wrong, and some students get hurt,” Yao said.

But few commentators take the view that corporal punishment has no place in school. Yang Zhong, a commentator for Suzhou Daily, said “moderate” punishment is acceptable.

“Today’s education system coddles the students. They cannot be scolded or punished. We can say no to corporal punishment, but admonition is still needed,” Yang said.

Corporal punishment is still practices in many countries. There are 19 US states that permit school administrators to spank students with a paddle. In countries such as South Korea and Japan, corporal punishment is completely legal. However, the law does limit which parts of the body may be struck in an attempt to protect students’ safety.

Real Problem

Those who focus on stamping out corporal punishment in China may be on the wrong track. A better approach may be to rein in the cases in which it is permissible.

The previously mentioned Shandong Technology Defense Institute received a smack down from Shandong’s education authority on October 12. The school’s directors and other responsible parties will be investigated and disciplined.

As for the teacher who asked the students to slap themselves in public, he is expected to make an apology.

“This will affect our quality assessment of this teacher,” the spokesman said. He also said the school was instructed to prepare an incident report.

“I think ‘minor’ punishments help to embolden teachers who have a natural inclination to violence,” said Qiu Can, a user at report.hebei.com.

“Punishing students physically is not appropriate,” said Liu Chaohong, a high school guidance counselor in Nanchong, Sichuan province. “Students have their own self-awareness and motivation. Even similar behaviors may result for different reasons. I advise teachers to probe to better understand student behaviors.”

He Benfang, a columnist at cnhubei.com, said most corporal punishment results from a “blurry definition”.

“Although many education reforms in China have ‘banned’ corporal punishment, the specific actions that qualify have never been explained,” he said. He urged authorities to publish detailed files explaining the behaviors considered “physical punishment.”

“If so, maybe the teachers who mistreat students will finally learn a lesson,” he said.

Karena Hu

About Karena Hu

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Karena was born with the English name Karen but decided to add an “a.” She dreamed of a career in astronomy, but bad scores in physics kept her out of the science department. She seeks other worlds in reading and writing and is a super fan of the Hunger Games trilogy.

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