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Jan Cao

[Bilingual Brew] Years in Elite Chinese Elementary School Were Darkest of Their Lives

[Please enjoy this Tea Leaf Nation bilingual brew. The article is first shown in English, and then in the original Chinese. 亲爱的读者,欢迎享受我们的 “双语茗茶”。英文翻译在上,中文原文在下。]

A few days ago, the articles “My Two Years at Lhasa Road Elementary School” and “My First Four Years at Lhasa Road Elementary School” caught fire on Chinese social-networking sites Renren, Douban, and Weibo. The authors are two PhD holders, one from Northwestern University and the other from Cambridge University. Zhang Zaoli (章早立) and Li Xuan (李萱) both were once students at the “brand-name” Lhasa Road Elementary School in Nanjing. Both maintain that their time studying at that elementary school were the darkest years of their lives.

Exemplary student from Lhasa Road Elementary who won an award

Lhasa Road Elementary School is one of three brand-name elementary schools in Nanjing, the other two being Lixue Elementary and Liangya Road Elementary. According to a survey of realtors in the Lhasa Road area conducted by Sina blogger Li Zhi, the vast majority (about 95%) of Nanjingers who purchase real estate in the area covered by Lhasa Road Elementary do so to allow their children to attend the school. The homes in this area are all old houses, and yet the price for housing there is normally about 20,000 RMB per square meter.

The crux of the two authors’ complaint with the Lhasa Road Elementary School centers on academic pressure and various instances of “inhuman” and “brutal” treatment of children there, including corporal punishment, open criticism, personal humiliation and moral decay. Zhang Zaoli says that the results of all tests were ranked, with each test’s results printed and posted on the classroom wall. Li Xuan says that in the study group for the mathematics olympiad, students spent three nights per week in extra classes, as well as all of Saturday, with relentless testing following each extra session. Zhang recalls that,

“By the time we were in the sixth grade, it was a sprint to test into Nanjing Foreign Language School…Saturday morning’s make-up sessions became day-long sessions. After that, the teacher brought together the more promising students to daily self-study sessions at seven o’clock in the morning. In the afternoon, after school was out we would continue to study for the math olympiad; in the evenings, we would study on our own until about seven o’clock p.m. I became a big coffee drinker.” 

In addition to the endless homework assignments, there was forced repeated copying, ripping up of test papers, yelling, whipping, and other varieties of punishments. Li mentions that the principal once grabbed her by the collar and screamed in her face, right in the hallway.

Perhaps even more harmful to the elementary students were the tattle-telling and the open criticism meetings. [Open criticism, or 批斗会 in Chinese, carries a heavy political undertone. During China's Anti-Rightest Movement and Cultural Revolution, many Chinese were persecuted and physically tortured during these meetings.] In these kinds of open criticism meetings, in addition to being required to point out all of each others’ mistakes from class, students would likely also have their school bags jerked open, get slapped in the face with their books, have their school bags dropped out of the window, and endure other types of punishment. One way of dealing with a student who refused to participate was for others to refuse to speak to him or her. Zhang added that if one’s test scores were not good, they would be scolded, and if their test scores were good, they would be suspected of cheating.

Open criticism meetings during the Cultural Revolution

At the end of the article, writing as a researcher in child development, Li concluded: Lhasa Road Elementary School graduates have a more difficult time integrating into society, especially with regard to social interaction and their overall personality. Being publicly humiliated and socially attacked cause long-term damage to the children’s self confidence, giving the children an acute sense of insecurity that can persist for the rest of their lives. It causes them to suppress themselves in order to please others, which when severe can even lead to a nervous breakdown. 

Netizens aghast, sort of

Users on China’s major social media platforms have spread this article far and wide. On Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, user @风雪雨琳 wrote, “Lhasa Road Elementary School is so very scary…did elementary school teachers all hit students then? To this day I cannot forget the fear I felt when I saw a teacher grabbing a student’s head and ramming it against the windowpane. Six years of primary education can destroy a lot of good kids.” Many people expressed fear and puzzlement at the violence against children in schools such as Lhasa Road Elementary, and still others told stories of similar personal experiences.

Could Zhang have been admitted by the elite Tsinghua had he not attended Lhasa Road Elementary?

But some netizens believe this is how education should be. @其实我是可乐王子 said, “I just saw someone on Renren criticize how Lhasa Road Elementary is inhumane…but I didn’t think so. Honestly, which good elementary isn’t like this? What do kids know anyway; you think they’ll study hard without being pushed?” 

@其实我是可乐王子 isn’t the only one. Responding to Zhang’s statement that “maybe if I didn’t go to Lhasa Road I would’ve had a happier and less anxious childhood,” Netizen @Proton retorted on Douban, “I think these two say they hated elementary school because they have everything now, having degrees from brand name high school and universities. Maybe other people who went to normal schools are really jealous. This is saying that you don’t care about something precisely because you’ve already gotten it.” @双 on Douban also chimed in, saying “I was a happy kid but now I am nothing special!”

Some cry out, but nothing changes

Indeed, as @Proton said, while alums of this elementary school poured out their blood and tears over their experiences, countless parents are pouring their children into this school, buying property in the right areas and working personal connections. Li Xuan and Zhang Zaoli wrote this article hoping that parents will come to understand the physical and psychological harm of Lhasa Road Elementary School to children, and maybe lessen the pain future students will endure.

But in many elementary schools around the country, tactics harsher than those of Lhasa Road’s continuously occur. The two authors may not know that child abuse has essentially become a fact of life in many elementary schools. It is not something that can be remedied by alluding to one specific case. Scores of responses online tell stories of similar physical and psychological abuse. Some say those were traumatic memories, while others simply say, “I got used to it.”

Perhaps worse than the violence itself is ignorance of the violence, or justification for the violence. Zhang mentions that many have said to him, “If you didn’t go to Lhasa Road you wouldn’t have gone to Nanjing Foreign Language School, nor the [super-elite] Tsinghua, nor would you be where you are today.”

But Zhang’s so-called “success” does not justify Lhasa Road abusing its students. First, no one can definitely prove that his accomplishments are caused by the abuse. Second, even if Zhang himself is relatively “successful,” what about other Lhasa Road students? They not only suffer from the stress caused by themselves, their parents, teachers and peers, but actual physical and mental pain. As Douban user @白 said, “For the rest of us who did not go to Lhasa Road, aren’t we mentally warped too? Our latent jealousy, isn’t that a psychological condition as well?” When our desire for “success” surpasses our aversion to violence, and even turns into our justification for violence, we do have something to fear.

Even Amy Chua wouldn't have approved of Lhasa Road Elementary's practices

Even if we say that Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mom” style of child-rearing is no more than a stern upbringing, we must admit that schools like Lhasa Road Elementary represent violence and torture. Even if there is something to be learned from the rigor that Chua advicates, there is no excusing the latter. If only China had criminalized child abuse.  

[English translation by Fleur, David Wertime, and Chieh-Ting Yeh]

 

前几天,我的死党在人人网的一条关于小学教育的文章的评论里@了我,说:“像当年没有转学去拉萨路小学这样的精英学校真是太好了。” 死党的评论的,是两篇如今红遍人人网、豆瓣和微博的文章——《我在拉萨路小学的两年》和《拉萨路小学的前四年》,作者是两位分别在读于美国西北大学和英国剑桥大学的在读博士,章早立和李萱。两人都曾经就读于南京一所“名牌”小学——拉萨路小学,并分别在文中声称在这所小学就读的时光是人生中最黑暗的几年。

拉萨路小学是南京三大名牌小学中的一所,与其齐名的还有力学小学和琅琊路小学。据新浪博主李智对拉萨路小学附近的房地产中间公司调查显示,购买拉萨路小学施教区范围内的房源的市民绝大数(95%左右)是为了给小孩上学。这一地段的“学区房”都是老房子,但价格都普遍在20000元/平方米左右。
 
两位作者对于拉萨路小学的控诉主要集中在过重的学业压力和各种“惨无人道”的虐童事件,包括体罚,批斗,人格羞辱和道德摧毁。章早立说,所有的考试都要排名,每一次排名都要打印出来贴在教室里。李萱说,奥数班每周三晚上补课, 周六全天, 补课后还有无穷无尽的试卷。章早立回忆道,“到了六年级时,要为考南外冲刺⋯⋯周六上午的提高班改成了周六全天。再后来,老师把“尖子生”每天早上七点就召集到学校:早自习。下午放学后继续学奥数:晚自习,直到晚上七点。我开始大量喝咖啡。”除了无休止的功课,还有罚抄作业,撕考卷,辱骂以及用教鞭殴打学生等各类体罚。李萱说,她曾在走廊里被校长拎着领子在空中大声辱骂。
 
对小学生伤害更大的可能是揭发检举和“批斗会”。在这样的批斗会中,学生除了被迫互相揭发上课讲话一类的过错,还可能面临被当众抖开书包,用书扇耳光,把书包从楼上丢出去等惩罚方式。要求隔离孤立某个同学,不和他/她说话也是一种手段。章早立又补充说,考试成绩不好,要挨骂,考试成绩好了,则会被怀疑作弊。
 
在文章的最后,李萱以以一个学习儿童发展的研究者的身份评论道:拉萨路小学的毕业生在未来的人生道路上更难以适应,尤其在社交活动与综合素质方面。当众羞辱和社交攻击等手段造成长期对儿童自信心的打击和摧毁, 给孩子带来的可能是蔓延一生的强烈的不安全感, 使得儿童为了取悦他人而压迫自己,甚至在这种强大的精神压力下崩溃。
 
在这篇文章在各大社交网络平台上被相继转发的同时,新浪微薄网友“@风雪雨琳”评论道:“原来拉萨路小学那么那么那么可怕……是不是那时候小学老师都有打学生的习惯?我到现在都不能忘记看到某老师推着同学的头去撞窗杆所带来的恐惧感。6年的初级教育,可以毁掉很多好孩子。” 许多转发的评论都在表达对许多和拉萨路小学一样的教育机构中发生的儿童暴力事件的不理解和恐惧,也有许多网友在评论中诉说自己类似的遭遇。
 
但也有网友认为教育就该是这样:新浪微薄网友“@其实我是可乐王子”说,“刚刚还看到人人上一篇日志批判拉萨路没有人道。。不过我还真没觉得⋯⋯其实哪个家长定义中的好小学不是这样的啊⋯⋯小孩子懂毛,不逼会好好学习么?” 相似的想法不光“@我是可乐王子”有。对于章早立在结尾对自己不读这间小学,也许会成为更快乐,更少焦虑的人的这段感叹,豆瓣网友 Proton 反驳道,“我觉得楼主的两位同学是因为什么都有,名校的中学大学研究生,所以现在说起那个小学很恨,但是其实很多普通学校一路上来的,也许羡慕还说不定。 这个就是围城效应,说不在乎不想要的,往往是因为其实自己有呢。”  同是豆瓣的网友“双”也说,”突然觉得我小时候好幸福,不过我现在好平庸啊!”
 
也许正如Proton所说的围城效应,当读过这间小学的学生在网路上发表“血泪控诉”之时,无数的家长还在挤破头把孩子往这间小学里送,为此买学区房,找关系,都是必经之路。李萱和章早立写这篇文章的初衷是,假如更多的家长知道这间小学中各种对孩子身心健康极为不利的升学手段,也许少一些孩子会受他们当年受过的苦。然而,在很多中小城市的小学里,比起拉萨路小学来更胜一筹的体罚学生的招数层出不穷,两位作者可能没有想到,虐待儿童这件事在许多小学里已经成为了几乎难以避免的家常便饭,不是单单控诉这一间小学能得以解决的。不少网友表示从小在学校里受到了类似或多或少的精神和肉体折磨,只是有的人至今觉得这是一段惨痛的记忆,有的人则表示,“习惯了。”
 
也许比暴力更可怖的是对暴力视而不见,或给其找一个存在的理由。章早立说,总有人对他说“没有拉小你就上不了南外,就上不了清华,你就没今天。”但他的“成功”并不代表所有进入拉萨路小学的学生被体罚就有了理由。首先,没有人能断定他在毕业后的任何成就一定与这段经历有着决定性的关系;第二,就算他的确相比之下“成功”了,其他的拉萨路小学毕业生呢?他们承受的不光是巨大的来自自己、父母、老师和同辈的压力,更是心理和生理的双重折磨。豆瓣网友“白”评论道,“…而我们这些没上过“拉萨路”小学的人,又何尝没有病态心理呢? 一种隐含着的羡慕不也是一种病态吗?” 对“成功”的渴望已经超过了对暴力的厌恶和憎恨,甚而变成了对虐待的赞许和肯定,这种心理的确是可怖的。
 
如果说耶鲁大学教授蔡美儿所著的育儿经《虎妈战歌》和其推崇的亚洲父母式“棍棒教育”只是一种严厉的教育方式,拉萨路小学的部分教师和校长的行为则是虐待和暴力。前者也许还可以说在某种程度上值得借鉴,后者则完全是毫无商榷的余地——只是中国的法律里还没有虐待儿童罪这一条。
 

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Jan Cao

Jan Cao is a senior and a comparative literature concentrator at Brown. She loves watching Japanese TV dramas and cooking.
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  • godfreeroberts

    I’ve heard tales like this from an Indian gentleman, and from an Austrian. Their stories stuck in my mind because they were both, when I met them in late adulthood, world famous and at the pinnacle of their (music) profession. After telling me the hair-raising stories of their education they both confessed their gratitude for it. Without it, they said, they would never have gone far.
    The complainants in this story, though still young, have scaled the peaks of academic achievement. Coincidence?
    Perhaps, when they are older and the painful memories fade, gratitude will come to the fore.

  • http://www.inpraiseofchina.com/ Godfree Roberts

    I’ve heard tales like this from an Indian gentleman, and from an Austrian. Their stories stuck in my mind because they were both, when I met them in late adulthood, world famous and at the pinnacle of their (music) profession. After telling me the hair-raising stories of their education they both confessed their gratitude for it. Without it, they said, they would never have gone far.
    The complainants in this story, though still young, have scaled the peaks of academic achievement. Coincidence?
    Perhaps, when they are older and the painful memories fade, gratitude will come to the fore.

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  • eeeee

    Definitely a lot of successful people had extremely torturous experiences with education…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all successful people had the same experiences. Even if that were true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all kids who have torturous experiences will become successful. Even if THAT were true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that kids SHOULD have torturous experiences so they can be successful in life.

    And I doubt that kids who go to Lhasa Road will be encouraged to pursue a career in music, but that’s somewhat of a tangent.

  • eeeee

    Definitely a lot of successful people had extremely torturous experiences with education…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all successful people had the same experiences. Even if that were true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all kids who have torturous experiences will become successful. Even if THAT were true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that kids SHOULD have torturous experiences so they can be successful in life.

    And I doubt that kids who go to Lhasa Road will be encouraged to pursue a career in music, but that’s somewhat of a tangent.