Sara Costa

Voices – Keep Ads Out Of Our Textbooks

This is what happens when new media gets its hands on old materials.  

Before the advent of China’s Weibo platforms not three years ago, all manner of shenanigans in China went largely unnoticed. No longer. Netizens are now eager to pounce on any evidence of corruption, neglect, or just plain greed. And they’ve got plenty of material–even the very learning materials they themselves may have used not long ago.

Recently, netizens’ keen eyes alighted on a fourth-grade Chinese language textbook in use in Jiangsu province. Curiously, the cover, which has been in use since 2003, depicts young children presenting nurses with flowers in front of “Bo Ai” (or “Universal Love”) Hospital. Universal Love Hospital is a private hospital in Jiangsu specializing in andrology and gynecology.

Not your usual language textbook cover

The phenomenon is, in part, a sign of the times. Advertisers have been aggressively opening up the Chinese market for female and male, ahem, enhancement, with @法MOON complaining that “it’s everywhere on TV.” But netizens erupt with anger when commercialism insinuates itself in schools. @君子流氓 lamented, “This wonderful country has everything: abortion advertising on the bus, sexual transmitted disease advertising on the street, Viagra ads, now we have publicity in teaching materials.” @暗默在行动 added, “when we take something, it’s always from the children.”

At least netizens knew how to have fun with this particular topic. @世纪末的魔术师LCQ tweeted sarcastically, “This is also a way of education! In my time we didn’t have this kind of thing. I would also like to learn about sexual education!” @ 树魂飞逝 exclaimed, “How creative! Little students can already be gynecological hospital consumers?!”

Phoenix Media Publishing Group at Jiangsu Education Press, which denied intending to conduct advertising when it published the book, did have its defenders. @小志_阳光给房间开了灯 chastised commenters, writing that “Perverts see obscenity everywhere.”  @Yuni云儿 wrote, “Chinese language is profound with rich connotations. This is just an image and it can be just a coincidence.” 

Perhaps @奔奔冲 asked the most important question: “Do the children know what Universal Love Hospital does?” Before this discussion broke into Weibo’s list of “hot topics,” they probably didn’t. But in a world where “netizens” gather round to scrutinize every controversy, it’s hard to stay blissfully ignorant for long. 

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Sara Costa