Posts Tagged With: school

Hong Bao party

It is sometimes hard to tell if the Chinese are generous or very selfish. On the one hand, they are obsessed with making money, by any means. Sales people are often pushy, dishonest and even aggressive; Taxi drivers will refuse to accept you, if you only want a short ride and landlords will lie shamelessly to get out of returning your deposit. On the other hand they are very generous hosts and will fight fiercely to be the one who pays for a meal. What I realise now is that it is all about the perception and face. They want to be seen as generous, but the generosity can be quite superficial. At our end of term office party I was reminded of medieval nobles throwing coins into the street and watching as the peasants scrambled for a share of the money.

The winter holiday in China in centered on the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. In China this is a time when everyone is expected to return home, to visit their parents and grandparents. It is one of the longest school holidays, typically between 4-5 weeks long, depending on whether it is a primary or secondary school. If the foreign teachers are not setting or marking exams, then it can be a few weeks longer still for us. For most people working in China, the holiday is only about a week long. It is not a peak holiday season and most of the holiday is a good tile to travel, except for that one week, when China experiences the planets largest mass human migration, when airports and train stations can each have tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people fighting over tickets. If there are delays from smog or ice, like last year in Guangzhou,then even the thousands of extra soldiers and riot police drafted in for crowd control can be insufficient for the task of keeping order.

My last few jobs were at state run institutions. A public school and a university. At the end of the term we would have a couple of thousand as a bonus before the holiday and we might have a meal. At Bao’yi wai the Chinese English teachers and the foreign English teachers went out for a meal, paid for by the school. The head of the English department would attend, but no other school officials. It was just a time to chat, relax and have fun. At Ludong University nothing was provided, but the foreign teachers organised their own dinner. Here I am in the private sector and things were very different.

The first obvious difference was entertainment. Every group of teachers was expected to put on a performance of some sort. My girlfriend, with the grade 2 teachers, was doing a dance routine. The teachers of other grades were singing songs or performing comedy routines. We were lucky that one of our teachers, Andrew, is a semi-professional singer. He often has paid gigs at the weekends at bars around Shenzhen. We had just planned to let him sing for us. Then two of the American teachers also decided that they would also sing. The organizers were clearly taking the entertainment seriously, as the music teacher was trying to get the music that they would use two weeks before the event. Andrew, however, was unwilling to commit and insisted that he needed to get a feel for the crowd and would decide on the night, which, no doubt, made her extremely frustrated.

The dinner venue was a local seafood restaurant, with the typical revolving tables. We did not have a private room, as our group was too big, but we were not enough to occupy the whole restaurant. the teachers took up a little under half the room, with regular customers all around us. The foreign teachers were meant to be spread between two tables, along with the Chinese English teachers, but instead they just took over one table for themselves. As we had not had any real work to do that day, most of them had been at the pub most of the afternoon and were already a bit drunk. Pretty soon they had drunk everything on the table and were three sheets to the wind.

The entertainment was quite amusing. Crystal, Purdy, Mathilda and some other grade 2 teachers started off with a funny dance routine, that went quite well. Andrew has a powerful voice and sang well, despite how much he had drunk. Richard sand a rap song of his own composition and Angela sang along to Valerie. Then there was a “comedy routine” which I couldn’t understand but which reminded me of old stage acts, like Abbot and Costello etc. Then a few Chinese teachers sang very badly.

A major New Year tradition in China is Hong Bao. This translates as red bag, but in this case refers to red envelopes. At New Year relatives give children red envelopes of “lucky money”. In some places employers also give Hong Bao to their employees. For my last two jobs I was not in the private sector. At the end of the year I got a bonus in my paycheck. There was no ceremony. This was different.

Before the party we had been made to attend a very dull meeting, all in Chinese, with no translation. For an hour the principled droned on at us, before giving award to the top performing Chinese teachers in the school. We were then called up one at a time to be given 500 rmb in cash. This was the first part of the Hong Bao. The rest was via Wechat.

We chat, or Weixin, is a very popular social networking app from AliBaba. As well as being used for messaging people, micro-blogging and sharing articles, it is also commonly used for shopping. Many businesses in China offer discounts if you pay online, with Weixin or Alipay etc. It is fast, convenient and not really all that secure. It also has a Hong Bao function.

You can send a Hong Bao on wechat, to transfer money to one person. You can also use it to transfer money to a group of people. You set how much money you will give, how many people can receive cash and whether the amount will be equal or random.  The Chinese prefer to give random amounts and usually set the number of recipients to less than the number in the group. Anyone in the group will get a notification that they have HongBao. When they click the envelope, they get a share of the money (If any is left).

This is what was used at our party. When we arrived, everyone scanned a code to join the party wechat group. During the party the head principle got on stage and announced that he was sending us all 8000 rmb of HongBao. People got poised by their phones, ready to click the envelope for their random share of the cash.


At intervals throughout the rest of the party, other principles and school patrons got up on stage. After being introduced the announced how much money they would be giving away and everyone got poised on their phones. Later on a few teachers send small amounts of money to only about the first 10 people in a group of 150 or so. The teachers would be clicking away, only to get a message saying “better luck next time”. In the scramble for the loose change that had been thrown down virtually, they had been too late.

It was these small packets of Hong Bao, where not everyone would bet anything, which made me think that it was like the gentry casting down a few coins for the beggars to fight over, or Jack Nicholson as the Joker. In total I got nearly 1000 rmb from the whole evening, which was a nice added bonus, but even with the 500 in cash it was less than the bonus that I had been given without any ceremony at my previous jobs.

The principles and patrons of our school were no more generous than my previous employers, but they wanted to make very big deal of showing off their generosity and letting everyone know exactly how much money they were giving away. As Thomas Fuller said “Lavishness is not generosity.”


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This is Halloween in China

Last week we were celebrating Halloween at Yunding school. International schools and language training centers in China tend to put a lot of effort into staging events for western holidays. It is a way of showing that they are giving the students a chance to experience western culture, although they tend to do it in ways that are not at all western.

A week before Halloween they decorated the classrooms. More effort was put into doing this for the primary children, with parents contributing time and money, coming in at the weekend to help decorate. This also meant that Chinese teachers were coming in at the weekend, unpaid, to decorate the classrooms.


During the week we were asked to have Halloween themed lessons. Teaching about Halloween, singing Halloween songs, doing Halloween crosswords and word searches and watching Halloween movies (but nothing too scary. In my case, I showed them the original Ghostbusters, which was very popular)

The school had planned a Halloween party for Friday 28th, because they thought it would be better at the end of the week, rather than the start. Each class was asked to prepare some activities which the kids could try. Surprisingly nobody did bobbing for apples, as they thought it might not be hygienic.

On Wednesday one of the school principles decided that the party would be organised like a Chinese school sports day, with the classes parading past a stage in costume and performing a small dance routine in front of the school directors.

The teachers were all required to be in costume too (except for one NewZealender who told them to f*** off and refused). Some of us took a minimalist approach, while others bought cool costumes. The best was Ed, who decided that Halloween should be properly scary and made himself zombie make-up from latex, fake nails, flour and face paint.


The classes paraded in age order, followed by parents and then teachers. Each class was expected do do some sort of dance routine together, but the teachers were only told that this was compulsary on Wednesday evening. This gave them just over a day to prepare. Unsurprisingly most of the routines were lame. The music was often completely inapropriate for Halloween. The best performance involved the grade 11 teacher gunning down his undead students. The students then had to line up in their classes and stand to attention for what followed.

A couple of teachers were asked to speak about the meaning of Halloween (some of the foreign teachers went in school uniform, as their costume). This was followed by a “costume contest”. Primary students, middle school students and foreign teachers went onto the stage in pairs, to show off their costumes. However there was no actual judging, no scores, no winners and no prizes.

The rest of the afternoon the kids were free to play games. The best was the inflatable maze, which Ed hid in and scared some of the young children.




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School memories

Yesterday was my first day at my new school and was a complete waste of time. The students are not here and the classes don’t start until September 1st, but we were told that we had to be here on the 15th for “training”. The first day of so called training was a meeting with the Chinese staff in which the Chinese principle spoke at us in Chinese and the new Chinese staff introduced themselves. It seemed to me that the only reason the foreign teachers were asked to be there was because someone was photographing the meeting and we were there as window dressing. After an hour we were free to go home, but were told that we needed to be back for another meeting at 3.00. We had hoped that this was something useful for us, as foreign teachers, such as perhaps being told what classes we would teach etc. However, once again this was with the Chinese teachers. The owner of the school was due to turn up, but was running late. We waited around for an hour and a half for him. When he finally turned up he made a 5 minute speech, the photographer was back to document it, and that was it. Another complete waste of time.

It says something about the Chinese style of leadership. The subordinates wait around, just for the boss to appear. Last year our first experience of the school was when we had to wait two hours for the director to turn up for a welcome dinner. The people in charge often have no skills or abilities and they certainly have no respect for their subordinates. All they have is guanxi, the political connections.

Afterwards I was talking with Crystal about her school experiences. Shandong has a very good reputation for good academic grades, but not for producing well rounded students. Students there generally do very well in exams, but learn very little else. She went to the Lichung number 2 middle-school, but even before she started there she had heard it referred to as Lichung number 2 prison. It reinforced a lot of things that I had noticed during my time in China, but at her school it was even more extreme.

In China the students are not allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends, but Crystal’s school took this further than most. Students were not allowed to spend any time together with students of the opposite sex. Students were not allowed to sit next to students of the opposite sex. They were not allowed to touch, hold hands or even walk side by side. They were not allowed to talk to each other. The dining room even had separate floors for boys and girls.

The students were not allowed to have mobile phones, in order to prevent them from talking to each other or having any other distractions. They were also not allowed to leave the school campus, except to go home at the weekends. Students could only go home every two weeks and the teachers would even be watching to make sure that they did not try to get taxis together and were not sitting together on the bus.

Crystal had a boyfriend when she was at school, although the innocent relationship was probably good practice for a career in covert operations. They were in separate classes but arranged to pass each other on their way out of classes during the break, so that they could slip notes to each other as they passed. On other occasions she would get girls in her dorm building from his class to slip him notes.

They both needed to take two buses in order to get home, so they would get a little bit of time to see each other on the second bus and waiting for that bus, but this was only once a fortnight. Therefore they got good at finding ways to see each at school. Since the school did not allow them to have mobile phones (which they did secretly have, but had to keep hidden in their rooms to avoid confiscation) the students needed access to payphones. At the front of the school were a couple of phone boxes, so they would slip notes to each other, for a time to meet at the phone box. Whoever was there first would pretend to make a phone call and the other one would pretend to wait to use the phone. In this way they could talk, while pretending not to be talking to each other.

Another school restriction was to try to prevent vanity. It was felt that girls who paid attention to their appearance would not be paying attention to their studies. Make-up was prohibited and all girls were required to have the same basin hair cut. Hair was not allowed to be long enough to cover even the tops of their ears. If their hair grew too long a hairdresser was called into the school, in order to cut their hair in front of the class. This was intended as a punishment, to embarrass the child.

Life in such a school must have been quite unbearable for the children, so I was not surprised to hear that during her three years at the school there were a couple of children who killed themselves.

At every school I have taught, at least one student has compared it to a prison. I found myself immediately thinking of prisons when I first passed the international school behind Baoyiwai. With the ugly accommodation blocks, sometimes with bars on the windows, barbed wire fences, prison trays in canteens, crowded dorm rooms and lights out at fixed times Chinese schools can easily be compared to prisons, but until speaking to Crystal I had not realised quite how far the analogy goes.1095

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ordered to kill himself for talking in class

Teacher ‘ordered pupil aged just 10 to JUMP from building for talking during class’

This was the headline in the Telegraph on November 1st 2013.  The story was also in the Daily mail.  It is a shocking story which I felt compelled to share.

The 10-year-old plummeted 300ft from a 30th floor roof to his death after refusing to write a 1,000 word “character apology”

Agony: Heartbroken parents of 10-year-old Chinese boy Jun Jun
Agony: Heartbroken parents of 10-year-old Chinese boy Jun Jun

A ten-year-old boy died after being told to jump from a building by his teacher after talking in class.

The 10-year-old named locally as Jun Jun plummeted 300ft to his death after refusing to write a 1,000 word “character apology”.

His father is demanding a full investigation after the boy’s notebook was found with the words: “Teacher I can’t do it… I flinched several times when I tried to jump from the building.”

The primary school pupil smashed on top of a parked car at around 6pm on Wednesday in Jinjiang district, south west China, near where the family live.

His father Li Yingju insisted there was “nothing unusual” about Jun Jun’s behaviour before his death.

“All we want now is the truth,” he said.

“Just couple of days ago he won first prize in an English test and was really happy about it. My son had a sunny personality, as all of his classmates and our neighbours know.

“He was so outgoing and was good at handling stress. I just can’t imagine how severe the pressure or punishment must have been to make him do this.”

Security guards patrolled Huarun School in the city of Chengdu today after the family put up a banner saying “The teacher forced our kid to jump off the building”.

Neighbours told Chinese media his teacher, named as “Miss Chen”, ordered him to jump from the 30th floor after he failed to complete the written apology.

His step mother Ms Wen said that Jun Jun had been given two options as punishment for his lack of “honour” – either a 1000-word apology or made to stand for an hour.

Ms Wen said she had been told by teachers Jun Jun then broke down in tears saying he did not know how to write the apology.

After school Jun Jun went home to the tower block where they live on the fifth floor but took the elevator to the 30th floor roof instead where he jumped to his death.

One witness told local TV crews the sound of Jun Jun hitting the parked car sounded like an explosion.

The family has now launched a campaign against the pressure placed on young pupils to obey instructions.

Strict discipline is an essential part of the Chinese education system within a culture which values deference to authority.

Friends of the family said Jun Jun was ordered to write the apology after several children laughed during a poetry recital.

The school uploaded a message on its official account on Chinese social network Sino Weibo claiming Jun Jun died “by accident”

But the school admitted some of his classmates were ordered to write reviews of their behaviour after they disturbed a speaking competition.

“The police investigation is still under way,’ an official in Jinjiang district said but refused to comment further.

Jun Jun’s parents divorced when he was three and he lived with his father, stepmother, grandmother and one-year-old sister.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death in China for those aged 15-34.

The cause of death is being investigated.

The boy’s school said today on its verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that the child and some of his classmates had been ordered to write reviews of their behaviour after they disturbed a speaking competition.

He died ‘by accident’, it said.

Strict discipline is an essential part of China’s education system and culture, and tradition demands deference to authority, putting children under pressure to obey instructions.

Campaign: A banner outside Jun Jun's school was put up by his heartbroken relativesCampaign: A banner outside Jun Jun’s school was put up by his heartbroken relatives. He was reportedly told to jump from a building by his teacher Miss Chen as punishment for not completing a task he was set
Fired: Jun Jun's parents are calling for the teacher that allegedly told him to jump from a building to be sackedFired: Jun Jun’s parents are calling for the teacher that allegedly told him to jump from a building to be sacked
Messages: Photographs of the boy's study book pasted around the school by his parents showed that he had written several times that he had tried to jump from a buildingMessages: Photographs of the boy’s study book pasted around the school by his parents showed that he had written several times that he had tried to jump from a building
Since reading this in the UK press I spoke with some friends over here to get an idea about what the Chinese press are saying.  Here there is a lot more focus on his family life.  Questions are being raised about how much pressure he was under at home to do well from his parents, especially his step mother.  If, as his father claims, he was a happy child and good at dealing with stress, why would he not talk with his parents.  As was said above, he was given the choice by his teacher between a written apology or standing for an hour.  There is nothing corroborating the alleged order to kill himself.  The message on the cover page of his text book was the only mention of being ordered to kill himself and doesn’t make sense.  Surely an apology to the teacher would need to have been on something that would be given to the teacher.  There is the suspicion that he might have written it to implicate the teacher in his suicide.  The press coverage here suggests the all too familiar pattern of a boy driven hard to succeed, unable to cope with admitting his disgrace to his family, choosing to kill himself.
I don’t know what is worse.  Children so blindly obeying authority figures that they will kill themselves on order, or children being driven so hard to succeed by their parents that they would rather die than have their parents find out that they had been disgraced in class.  Either way, it is a very worrying story.  It shows a disturbing social problem.  It also highlights the way that press in both countries only tell half the truth, in order to give the tale they want to tell.
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