“I often dream of you beating me”: A Chinese fourth grader’s heartbreaking essay to her abusive teacher

Subjected to you.
Subjected to you.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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Earlier this month, a Chinese mother stumbled upon an essay her daughter had written detailing the physical and emotional abuse she suffered in the classroom. When the mother posted the essay to WeChat, China’s most popular social network, it instantly went viral, sparking outrage online and catching the attention of the local education bureau.

The heart-wrenching essay, posted on Aug. 6, depicts a child desperately craving validation from a cold teacher who often berated her students and beat them with a stick. The girl, whose school is in China’s northern Shanxi province, was in this teacher’s classroom for four years, and she described being hit for minor mistakes as well as seemingly arbitrary reasons, such as not giving her teacher a birthday gift. Once, when the girl tried defending herself, she was beaten 20 times, wrote the fourth grader.

“I am fighting so hard to be the good child in your eyes, but things never develop as I wish,” she wrote. “I am always the one who takes a beating and a scolding when I don’t even know what I did wrong.”

Though China has banned (paywall) corporal punishment in schools since 1986, physical abuse still happens. In some rural areas, it is not uncommon for schools to practice a kind of tough disciplinary education called dama jiaoyu, loosely translated as hit-and-curse education. In April 2016, for example, a leaked video showed a kindergarten teacher in China’s southwestern city Chongqing beating and pulling the hair of a four-year-old girl.

The essay was written over summer vacation, when the girl woke up in the middle of the night. “I often dream of you beating me,” she wrote. “My heart is trembling, tears are running, hands are shaking. Why is the world so unfair? Why does it give so many pains to a kind and quiet girl like me?”

Though the teacher, surnamed Yan, punished students for tattling, the girl tried to tell her mother about some of the abuses. According to the essay, the mother had explained that a “teacher has the right to beat her student” and “one only learns from mistakes by taking a beating.” On occasion when the mother had talked to the teacher about her daughter—avoiding the subject of physical abuse—Ms. Yan would punish the daughter further. Parents also felt pressured to send their children to Ms. Yan for after-school tutoring for 1,000 yuan ($150), which the girl said could “buy us poor families one year of rice.”

According to media reports, the mother eventually reported the abuse to the local education bureau on June 28. She heard back from the bureau on Aug. 7, the day after her post, which was taken down that day. The agency said the teacher was a substitute teacher, and she had already asked to end her contract on June 30 because of her pregnancy, according to a rundown by local media (link in Chinese) on Aug. 9. On Aug. 12, the school issued a statement saying it would ask all teachers to do self-reflections (link in Chinese).

On Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, internet users were livid. “Is resignation enough? She should go to trial and take legal responsibility,” commented one user whose post received more than 45,000 comments (link in Chinese).

“When I was young I studied in a primary school in a rural area,” another user commented on the post. “The teachers would kick and hit the kids and made us terrified in class…it kind of strikes me that these phenomena still exist.”

Here’s the full text (link in Chinese) of the letter, translated by Quartz:

Teacher, what I want to tell you

My teacher, I truly have no idea of what I’ve done that offended you ever since the very beginning of school. I remember very clearly that the first time you hit me was the fifth day of the first semester in grade one. You threw the exercise book at my face when I had no idea what I did wrong. Your facial expression was so unforgettable that I’ve feared you since.

I’ve been the most obedient one in school since—I always cooperate no matter what you ask me to do, I pay attention to every class, never mess around during the breaks, never tattle, nor talk to my classmates secretly in class. What’s more, I’ve never told my parents what happened at school. I am fighting so hard to be the good child in your eyes, but things never develop as I wish—I am always the one who takes a beating and a scolding when I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong.

Meanwhile, my classmates bully me so much that I would hide in the restroom and be afraid of coming out. I didn’t dare tell you, because I know you hate snitching. There was one time when I went to your home for tutoring after class, and you wouldn’t let us use your bathroom. While waiting for my mum, I peed myself, which I asked mum to never mention to anyone. I’ve been only working harder ever since, but I am never appreciated, even when I get an excellent grade. I wish deeply that you can at least praise me once, but all I only have are disappointments. You never call my name whenever I raise my hand, which I have stopped doing.

Once, I sat still on my seat without doing anything, and you came straight to me and hit my back third times ruthlessly. I felt so aggrieved—I could only handle that much as a small child. I broke the usual habits, and talked to my mum about the beatings. But she only said, “A teacher has the right to beat her student.” I was speechless because I was beaten up for no reason.

One reciting practice saddens me most. I was very much capable of reciting the full text of an article, but my study group leader did not pick me and while [the leader reported to you that I couldn’t recite the full text], I failed the assignment. You were about to hit me, and I tried defending myself for the first time. But you only believed the group leader’s words and never gave me a chance to recite in front of you. Instead, you gave me 20 beatings [with a stick].

I returned home that afternoon with a broken heart, and I didn’t want to eat or go back to school. My mum called you but you chose not to pick up the call, so she forced me to go to school. She spoke to you but never mentioned a single word of your beatings. She asked about my situation, and you only pretended nothing happened. You only questioned my refusal to go to school, but I didn’t dare argue that it was unreasonable for me to take these 20 beatings. My mum and I both suffered from your mean face and heavy criticism. I know my mum didn’t fight back or say anything because of me. A few days later, you called me to the back of the classroom and hit me because of a wrong calculation. You said, “It appears that I’ve been indulging you that you [dare] snitch. Now try telling [your mum] again.” But I didn’t feel aggrieved because it was my [calculation] mistake. And mum always says that one only learns from mistakes by taking a beating.

What angers me is that you even asked the class student monitor and study group leaders to beat the group mates. Do you know that you should be educating us? Why did you ask them to toss books [at us]. Do you know how self-abased I felt when picking up the books from the ground? They are copying your actions, and you do the exact same things to us.

Prior to a Children’s Day, you expressed your exhaustion. You called out our names to bring the teacher food and snacks. Our parents followed [the orders] and so did my mum. … But we were too innocent thinking only food for ourselves would be enough. I brought a melon, but when we were about to eat, you scolded at us, accusing that we were inconsiderate, ungrateful, and didn’t respect you. So we delivered our favorite foods to you. I was happy when you ate my melon with joy.

Oh my teacher, we spend living everyday looking at your facial expressions. If you are happy, we are too. If you are angry, we are sacred. Do you know that I feel nervous, terrified, and want to use the toilet whenever I am in your class? I am so afraid that you will hit me for no reason. And it terrifies me more thinking of you beating the other classmates in the hall. Their heart-wrenching cries terrify me more, and my belly aches. For half a year, I have only hoped that school would end early, but I didn’t dare talk to my parents because I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary trouble. And I still want to be the good child in your heart.

On your birthday, June 3 on the Chinese lunar calendar, some of my classmates gave you flowers, necklaces, birthday cakes, and red envelops as gifts. You highlighted that some parents already sent you gifts that afternoon. But I was so overwhelmed by homework that I didn’t tell my mum. As a result, you hit me with a stick the next morning. Why did you only pick me while a dozen others were also standing with me? You used that stick to hit me eight times consecutively, and there were bruises on my arms. I felt OK lifting them, but my heart was more painful than the physical feelings.

Oh my respected Ms. Yan. Have you ever thought about how my mum has been treating you with things that not even my grandparents have been able to enjoy in these four years? All the money, gifts, and food during festivals [that she presented to you] was because she wants me to be free from your beatings and scoldings. But this is only wishful thinking, and you are never satisfied. You’ve always wanted us to join your after-school homework tutorials, right? I’ve already been taking writing tutorials for four years with you, and I am really tired. I can finish my homework myself [without these tutorials]. The 1,000 yuan [$150] fee can buy us poor families one year of rice. It’s not easy for my parents to make this money. But my mum said I should go to these tutorials for the sake of being free of your beatings and scoldings. But the fact that my parents have to work so hard for the money troubles me, and I don’t really want to put out such an unnecessary request for money. So I bear many of your beatings and scoldings.

I’ve been living in fear during the summer vacation. Your ferocious face and crushing words have been spinning around my head. I often dream of you beating me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. I want to pee, but it doesn’t come out when I squat. I feel stabbing pain like a needle in my brain. I am just so sacred thinking of school, and of you.

Oh Ms. Yan, my heart has been suffering from your strikings for four years. I’ve endured too much grievance and pain as a minor. But in your opinion, I am simply an introvert. I laugh, talk, sing, and dance in front of others, but you—I don’t dare reveal my true self. Not sure if you share the same feeling as I do, but I have developed a deep understanding of the concept of “fear” ever since being your student. You have a child of my age but what will you think if she suffers the way I do. No, it’s impossible that she will ever suffer as I have. I wonder sometimes, what if my mum is a teacher, I will be enjoying my childhood as your daughter does.

Oh Ms. Yan, I really wish to know what kind of child I am in your eyes. I want to ask for a persuasive explanation of all the out-of-nowhere beatings and scoldings. I won’t be so saddened, nor would my childhood be shadowed if my sufferings are the result of my school performance.

It’s middle of the night, and I wake up to write down my distress that I can’t tell anyone, or figure out the reasons behind them. This brings up the depression I’ve suffered over the years. My heart is trembling, tears are running, hands are shaking. Why is the world so unfair? Why does it give so many pains to a kind and quite girl like me? We can’t control the agonies caused by natural calamities and man-made misfortunes. But are these man-made behaviors uncontrollable too? [32 crying emoji]