In a world where many children cannot receive a proper education, China appears to be succeeding at ensuring its youth can attain basic literacy. Yet these “flowers of the motherland,” as they are sometimes called, are in danger from their “gardeners,” that is, their teacher and principals. In the past twenty days, the Chinese media has exposed seven cases of teachers or government officials molesting schoolchildren, leading to public outcry in the online community.
Most recently, netizens were shocked and appalled when a school principal was discovered to have kidnapped six female primary school students and, together with a government official, taken them to a hotel room in Hainan province, where they were allegedly raped.
In response to these infuriating incidents, Chinese citizens have waged a unique form of protest. Unlike in the Jasmine Revolution or the Arab Spring, where street demonstrations and offline conflicts were the primary forms of dissent, this campaign was carried out online by concerned citizens all over the country.
The protest that began with Ye Haiyan’s posting of the image above, in which she exhorts the principal to go with her and not young children, sparked a round of similar posts and Photoshop jobs. Weibo user @邓飞 commented on her post, stating, “Whenever the country faces troubles, heroines will rise up.” User @浩浩先森 wrote, “Thank you for your courageous voice. Let’s make sure your voice continues to resonate so that the fading ‘positive energy‘ in our society can be upheld.” He further stated that he “saw Mr. Lu Xun’s charisma” in Ye’s act of protest.
The campaign extended far beyond Ye’s photo. Minutes after she posted the image on Sina Weibo, her post received hundreds of replies, and others posted their own photos. The trend soon escalated into a full-scale act of protest against the recently reported incidents of child harassment by schoolteachers.
This form of protest is not unprecedented in China. Netizens have conducted similar protests for justice in recent years, calling for the government to recognize their “Chinese Dreams” and decrying brainwashing education. This use of memes and social networking to further a cause is one significant way that China’s citizens are connecting and creating to change their society.