A bullying epidemic in Chinese schools came to national and international attention in a big way this summer, as a series of videos were posted online, subsequently going viral, of Chinese school children abusing their classmates.
Concrete figures are hard to come by, but if media attention is anything to go by, the year 2015 has seen a dramatic rise of student bullying both in Chinese schools across the country and among Chinese students abroad, raising serious questions about China’s Child Protection Law and the underlying causes of such extreme bullying. In the very worst cases of bullying in China, the victims were beaten to death.
China’s current Child Protection Law dates back to 1991, and essentially it states that minors (legally, those who are under the age of 18) under the age of 16 cannot be subjected to criminal punishment except for serious crimes, such as murder and rape. Furthermore, minors who commit lesser offenses—which bullying categorically falls under—are sometimes taken into custody for rehabilitation and their parents are instructed to discipline them. However, the matter of bullying is usually resolved between the families and, if applicable, the schools.
Public sentiment is muddled, but in online forums, the loudest voices are the most critical. Much of the commentary over the Child Protection Law has been more along the lines of, “I hope they reform the Child Protection Law so that it actually protects kids who have been harmed, rather than the little beasts who connive to carry out violence”, as one Weibo user said.
This hostility is due to a string of abuse cases that came to light in June and July this year, bringing the issue of bullying into the spotlight, with an intense push for reform of the Child Protection Law and accountability for bullies. At least 30 serious bullying cases have been reported by Chinese media this year, though a select few of them went viral.
The first high profile case to make international headlines took place in Fujian Province when a 15-year old boy was hospitalized with a ruptured spleen and left in critical condition, missing his high school entrance exams. Reportedly, the boy had been bullied by his classmates for years, but he only told his parents about the abuse when he was in acute pain and needed to be taken to the hospital. The bullies were taken into custody for the abuse, but they were soon released after their parents agreed to pay ¥210,000 ($33,000) to the victim’s family as compensation.
A few weeks later, a group of Chinese “parachute kids” in California—students who are part of the new wave of Chinese students studying in the United States on F-1 student visas while their parents remain in China—also made news in the United States as three teenage girls were charged (all pleading not guilty) with torture, kidnapping, and assault of their classmate. The dispute was allegedly over an unpaid restaurant bill. “I’m sure they suffer from loneliness”, said the defense attorney of one of the girls, “so they bond with other kids in the small Chinese circles with no supervision, no one to turn to for assistance. So these things can get out of control.” The judge in the case likened the situation to William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies about a group of boys who are stranded on a deserted island.
A few weeks later, another video surfaced of a first grader in Zhejiang Province tied up with a rope as junior high students beat him. The four older bullies were taken into custody by police in response to the video of the incident being posted online and garnering a large amount of attention. One Weibo user wrote about the incident, saying “you want to spare these monsters because they’re under 16 years old, well, the victim is an elementary school student. The shadow this incident leaves on his heart will be something he carries with him for the rest of his life.”
The next day, another video was posted of a group of seven or eight junior high girls in Jiangxi Province beating their classmate, and by the end of the week the video had been viewed more than 25 million times on Tencent. The girls beat the victim as she kneeled on a roof before making her strip her clothes and take naked pictures with them. The victim was president of their class, and the group of girls were allegedly unsatisfied with the victim’s management of their class. Three of the girls were fined, given administrative detention, and made to apologize to the victim; two of the other perpetrators were under the age of 14, and their parents were simply ordered to keep a closer eye on them.
Since the highly publicized incidents in June and July this year, no real reform of China’s Child Protection Law has been announced, and, as these issues tend to do, the push for reform is dying down as time passes. Bullying is a serious issue in schools across the world, as studies indicate that being bullied as a teen has long lasting effects, and can lead to depression in adulthood.
While these cases are no doubt symptoms of other, larger issues in society—ranging from left-behind children in the countryside all the way though to poor mental health care—until there is any real deterrence or initiative against bullying in schools across China the epidemic will continue to spread.
If you liked this article, check out this article about Chinese education