Beat­ing bul­ly­ing

Gov­ern­ment tack­les the grow­ing prob­lem of phys­i­cal and men­tal tor­ment on cam­pus, re­port Xin Dingding in Bei­jing and Liu Ce in Shenyang.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Liang Shuang and Xin­hua con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writ­ers through xind­ingding@ chi­

The gov­ern­ment has re­leased a guide­line to ad­dress bul­ly­ing and stu­dent vi­o­lence in pri­mary and sec­ondary schools.

The gov­ern­ment has re­leased a guide­line to ad­dress the prob­lem of bul­ly­ing and stu­dent vi­o­lence in pri­mary and mid­dle schools. The mea­sures were re­leased on Fri­day by nine gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, in­clud­ing the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, the Supreme Peo­ple’ s Court, and the Min­istry of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity.

Schools have been or­dered to strengthen aware­ness of bul­ly­ing, to in­form stu­dents about the con­se­quences and to teach them to pro­tect them­selves. More­over, stu­dents with se­vere be­hav­ioral prob­lems face be­ing trans­ferred to spe­cial schools ap­pro­pri­ate to their needs, and in se­ri­ous cases, the per­pe­tra­tors will face ad­min­is­tra­tive or crim­i­nal penal­ties.

Lo­cal govern­ments have been in­structed to estab­lish teams headed by lead­ing lo­cal of­fi­cials to over­see com­pli­ance, and of­fi­cials will be held ac­count­able for se­ri­ous in­ci­dents or vi­o­lence in ar­eas un­der their con­trol.

Wide­spread prob­lem

The move ac­knowl­edges that bul­ly­ing has be­come a wide­spread prob­lem in China’s schools, spawn­ing phys­i­cal vi­o­lence and men­tal an­guish. In the most ex­treme cases, stu­dents have been forced to drink urine and even threat­ened with arsenic poi­son­ing.

Xi Leng, (not her real name, but her user­name on Zhihu, a ques­tion-and-an­swer web­site) was bul­lied dur­ing her early school­ing. Even though she turned 20 this year, she is still trau­ma­tized by her ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing her “night­mare” years at pri­mary school.

“I strug­gled des­per­ately ev­ery day then, and even con­sid­ered sui­cide,” the Shanghai res­i­dent said, re­call­ing how her lunch was dumped on the floor be­cause she re­fused to fetch a bowl of soup for a class­mate in the school din­ing hall, her books were cov­ered with graf­fiti and ripped, and her name was de­lib­er­ately changed on her home­work be­fore it reached the teach­ers.

Xi’s prob­lems be­gan af­ter a boy be­gan act­ing ag­gres­sively to­ward her, but re­ceived no pun­ish­ment ex­cept a ver­bal warn­ing from the teacher. Grad­u­ally, she be­came the tar­get of bul­ly­ing for the en­tire class. “I had hay fever and had to use lots of pa­per tis­sues to wipe my nose, which many of my class­mates found an­noy­ing, I guess,” she said.

She tried to fight the boy, but lost, so she told her par­ents about the prob­lem. They spoke with the teacher in charge, but no ac­tion was taken.

Xi’s suf­fer­ing didn’t stop un­til her par­ents said that they would bring the mat­ter to pub­lic at­ten­tion and al­low the school and the teacher to suf­fer the con­se­quences. Feel­ing the pres­sure, the teacher warned the stu­dents that if they con­tin­ued to bully Xi, they would not be al­lowed to grad­u­ate from pri­mary school.

“Back then, no­body took school bul­ly­ing se­ri­ously. They thought it was just a nasty spat be­tween kids — af­ter all, I wasn’t beaten up or forced to hand over money,” Xi said.

For some vic­tims, the ef­fects of bul­ly­ing canl ead to crip­pling so­cial dis­lo­ca­tion in later life. Zhang Xiaoyu, an­other Zhihu user, wrote that her mid­dle school class­mates ridiculed and hu­mil­i­ated her be­cause she had body odor: “All I thought about in those years was killing my­self and killing those who hu­mil­i­ated me. I hated to hang out with peo­ple, quit school and suf­fered de­pres­sion. Even now, I still have so­cial pho­bias, a fear of other peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and I do not eas­ily trust oth­ers.”

Le­gal limbo

Al­though a num­ber of laws and reg­u­la­tions pro­tect ado­les­cents in China, none of them specif­i­cally tar­gets bul­ly­ing, which re­searchers de­fine as un­wanted, ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior among school-age chil­dren that in­volves a real or per­ceived power im­bal­ance and be­hav­ior that is, or has the po­ten­tial to be, re­peated over time.

Too lit­tle at­ten­tion has been paid to bul­ly­ing in schools, ac­cord­ing to Sun Hongyan, a se­nior re­searcher at the China Youth and Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter.

Be­fore May, when the State Coun­cil, China’s Cab­i­net, re­leased a doc­u­ment order­ing a na­tion­wide cam­paign to tar­get the prob­lem, there was no large-scale sur­vey of the sit­u­a­tion, Sun said, adding that only low-level re­search has been con­ducted into the topic. “Some sam­pled 200 stu­dents, oth­ers cov­ered just one school,” she said.

The lack of re­search doesn’t mean the sit­u­a­tion isn’t se­ri­ous.

On Oct 16, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion re­ported that 68 con­firmed cases of school bul­ly­ing had been re­ported be­tween May and Au­gust, and in re­cent years, video clips up­loaded to the in­ter­net show­ing teenagers bul­ly­ing class­mates have at­tracted na­tional head­lines.

Sun be­lieves that many cases go un­re­ported. “What has been seen on the in­ter­net and in news re­ports is just the tip of the ice­berg,” she said. Hav­ing con­ducted her own sur­veys, she said many chil­dren refuse to re­port bul­ly­ing: “Some teach­ers tend to as­sume that it takes two to make a quar­rel, so the vic­tim also gets crit­i­cized. The worst teach­ers tell the vic­tim: ‘You are not good, ei­ther’.”

Gao Xia, a mid­dle school teacher from Jiangsu province, be­lieves that many cases are cov­ered up be­cause bul­ly­ing is not a topic that school prin­ci­pals like to talk about out­side of cam­pus.

“Even if the school man­age­ment hears about on-cam­pus bul­ly­ing, they tend to re­main silent and not dis­cuss it out­side of school, be­cause the rev­e­la­tions would be ex­tremely dam­ag­ing to the schools and the prin­ci­pals’ rep­u­ta­tions,” she said.

Left-be­hind chil­dren

Re­search has found that bul­ly­ing is es­pe­cially se­ri­ous among “left-be­hind” chil­dren, who live in iso­lated ru­ral ar­eas and whose par­ents have moved away to work in cities.

A sur­vey of ru­ral stu­dents in two (un­named) prov­inces, con­ducted in Oc­to­ber last year by Grow­ing Home, an ed­u­ca­tional NGO, showed that 36.3 per­cent of the 6,120 left-be­hind chil­dren who re­sponded claimed they had been bul­lied in school, and 48.6 per­cent said they had seen oth­ers be­ing bul­lied.

Sun has con­ducted re­search into bul­ly­ing among left-be­hind chil­dren. Her team asked nearly 6,000 chil­dren to fill out ques­tion­naires. “By com­par­ing the an­swers of those who are left-be­hind and those who are not, we found that chil­dren be­long­ing to the for­mer group have many is­sues. Boys tend to be ag­gres­sive, like to breach dis­ci­pline de­lib­er­ately and fight with oth­ers. Girls tend to be depressed and self-con­temp­tu­ous— un­healthy emo­tions that need to be let out,” she said.

Many ed­u­ca­tors be­lieve that left-be­hind sta­tus, com­bined with most stu­dents be­ing the only child in their fam­ily, con­trib­utes to the prob­lem.

Liu Hong, from Shenyang, Liaon­ing province, who has taught for 20 years, said: “Be­ing the only child in their fam­ily, young­sters tend to look down on oth­ers. In many cases, they push some­one out sim­ply be­cause they think that per­son is un­pleas­ant to the eye.”

Re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that ado­les­cents who are bul­lied are more likely to have anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, and grow up con­sid­er­ing self harm. “Some peo­ple who were bul­lied in school have low-es­teem for their en­tire lives and can­not prop­erly han­dle re­la­tions at work and in mar­riage. Oth­ers be­come bul­lies them­selves,” Sun said.


Ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts said teach­ers can play an­i­m­por­tant role in in­ter­ven­tion, while Sun be­lieves coun­selors should be em­ployed on cam­pus: “Not only for those be­ing bul­lied but also the bul­lies them­selves be­cause they need to let the anger and ha­tred out.”

How­ever, few schools hire coun­selors and many of those that are em­ployed are not pro­fes­sion­als, she added.

Xi Leng said she hopes the gov­ern­ment and me­dia will fo­cus on the is­sue to change the lives of bul­lied chil­dren.

“When I was in school, no one paid at­ten­tion to such is­sues. They thought it was just ar­gu­ments be­tween chil­dren, but for me it was night­mare. I hope no one ever has to go through the suf­fer­ing I had to en­dure.”

Some peo­ple who were bul­lied in school have low-es­teem for their en­tire lives and can­not prop­erly han­dle re­la­tions at work and in mar­riage.” Sun Hongyan, a se­nior re­searcher at the China Youth and Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter


A po­lice of­fi­cer teaches stu­dents how to avoid be­ing bul­lied dur­ing an aware­ness-rais­ing class at a mid­dle school in Shenyang, Liaon­ing province.


Stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in an anti-bul­ly­ing ses­sion at a pri­mary school in He­fei, An­hui province.

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