OPINION> Liu Shinan
Spare the rod and spoil the child?
By Liu Shinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-14 07:23

China Daily carried four photographs yesterday that showed a few teenaged boys torturing a schoolmate in a classroom in Shanxi province.

The scene in the high school was shocking. Three of the four photos showed two teenagers leaping high into the air to pound the victim with the force of their entire weight, while the others kept kicking him. The last photo showed the victim being kicked in the head and buttocks.

What made the scene more grim and appalling, however, was the delight the teenagers demonstrated in contrast to the pain on the victim's face.

The violence took place last month. It involved six students, including a girl who took the photographs "for fun".

Apart from being angry, I feel perplexed. How can these teenagers be so heartless? It seems they did not thrash the poor kid because they hated him. They did it only over a minor quarrel or purely "for fun", according to different witnesses.

The girl who took the photos said she had asked the assailants to "make exaggerated poses". And one of them confessed: "I thought it was cool to take the pictures."

According to the students' teacher, the boy who was thrashed is a "slow" student. What a ruthless heart one has to have to bully and traumatize such a poor boy! How can these kids be so cruel, or "cool" as they call themselves?

The incident is not isolated. In May, seven girls of a junior high school in Yunnan province "taught" another girl "a lesson" by beating her up in a toilet. They hit her with shoe heels and forced a dirty napkin into her mouth. They shot still and video photos of the incident, too, which continued for 10 minutes. Similar cases have been reported from many other places in recent years.

Critics of my column may deride me for "making a fuss over a trivial incident", for such cases are still rare on China's campuses. My answer to them is we have to make this "fuss". Even if such incidents don't take place regularly or widely, the violence demonstrated by youngsters is still horrifying enough to cause alarm, especially because their frequency has been rising in recent years.

There are a number of reasons why more such incidents are taking place, and that include negligence of moral education in schools in favor of academic performances, irresponsible parents and deteriorating social ethics.

Addressing these problems may be a time-consuming exercise, but two things need to be done immediately. First, teachers should get more encouragement to bridle unruly, violence-prone students.

Currently, teachers tend not to confront such students for fear of being accused of "corporal punishment". Reports of students or their parents beating up teachers are not rare. That is the result of undue emphasis on "students' rights" and indiscriminate repudiation of all forms of punishment. Teachers should be able to punish in some form or the other students who have seriously violated norms.

The second thing that needs to be done is to rid movie products and video games of all violent elements. These products have very gory details and unnecessary description of crimes. Some even play up the "pleasure" of killing and injuring humans or animals, and their influence on kids is obvious. In the Shanxi classroom violence case, one of the students said: "It was just like being engaged in a gun battle in online computer games."

To do the two things is not very difficult. The onus lies with the authorities in charge of school education and the entertainment industry.

E-mail: liushinan@chinadaily.com.cn