Eleven expensive cars were lined up to get body work done at a repair shop in Jinan, Shandong province on July 4. All bore vulgar words scratched into their paint.
The owners were, understandably, furious. A Jinan TV program News Community reviewed surveillance tapes to identify two teens – a boy and a girl enrolled in a nearby summer school – who were responsible for the damage.
Soon after the incident, the car owners met the children’s parents to demand monetary compensation. The girl’s mother lost her temper and began beating her in front of everyone until the crowd intervened.
Although many news sites shared the footage as a warning that parents must watch their children more carefully during summer, few tackled the question of whether the mother’s reaction was justified.
Spare the Rod
“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” is a Western saying similar to “Gun Bang Zhi Xia Chu Xiao Zi,” a concept long been accepted in the Chinese culture.
More educated parents tend to spank their children less, favoring non-violent forms of punishment. But many still believe spanking can be a more “effective” form of punishment.
“I think physical punishment is more effective and less harmful than verbal abuse,” said Nico (alias), 23. “Parents can argue with a child as much as they want, but it’s bad if the child thinks he can do whatever he wants. Beating is direct and delivers a clear message that the child’s action was wrong.”
While Nico said a child’s mental development is important, a clear sense of right and wrong is even more so.
When the rod was literally not spared
By and large, most people in China consider spanking appropriate as long as it doesn’t turn into habitual abuse.
Spanking can be used to help a child form a habit or discourage one, and a similar approach is often used in animal training. But children are not animals.
And in some cases, physical punishment can produce cold-hearted criminals.
An article on Sina.com titled “Children Raised Under the Rod” shocked many parents who believed in beating. The article explored a fatal offense on the evening of April 20, 1999.
An emergency operator in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region received a call that a taxi driver had been murdered by the local fertilizer factory.
Four police officers went to investigate. Three were killed in an explosion and died immediately: the survivor was stabbed 22 times. The call was a trap set by several men who needed police weapons to rob an armored car. The group’s leader was Yang Jie.
According to the article, Yang was a very emotional child. But over the years, almost everyone in his family was convicted of various crimes. When Yang was sentenced to death, his father cried on TV saying, “I always wanted to educate him to be an obedient child. [For example], I thought swimming was dangerous. He wouldn’t listen, so I followed him and tried to drown him [so he would understand].”
The youngest brother, Yang Hui, shared one of his memories of childhood. “On New Year’s Eve one year, my father beat me for making double-layered dumplings. The beatings became more frequent as time went on,” he said.
Yang’s father beat all his siblings, as well as his mother.
Sun Qichao, a teacher at Donghuamen Preschool, said striking children can have serious consequences that remain with them throughout their life.
“Perhaps hitting can make a child behave for a moment. But depending on the seriousness, the action might change them,” Sun said. “Children learn very fast, and that learning includes their parents’ behavior. When they experience violent acts at home, they will project that violence at school. It’s not easy to correct when they grow up.”
Sun said such children also lack confidence in communication, putting their social skills at risk. They usually grow up to strike their own children.
The Yang brothers’ childhood may have subtly shaped them into hateful adults.
Thinking back on their innocent faces as boys, would their story turn out differently if the police was involved?
Dealing with the Rod
When children come to school with bruises or an unusual mood, teachers are usually the first to investigate. They play a significant role in recognizing problems in the home.
Wen Cheng is a class advisor at ShiJia Elementary School. In China, every class has an advisor who takes care of the students in that particular classroom. He said it’s uncommon to see such serious abuse today.
“If it happens, I would first investigate the cause and degree of abuse, both physically and mentally. It is complicated when it’s serious. The child might not know what counts as abuse,” Wen said.
“Some children might exaggerate the situation while others are being abused and don’t even know it. I would certainly inform the police if it is necessary, but children should also learn to protect themselves,” he said
Sometimes it’s too late when a problem is discovered.
A Beijing Youth Daily report by Xu GaoYang focused on the case of a woman in Henan Province who killed her 13-year-old daughter on November 13, 2015. The girl stopped breathing before she reached the hospital.
Police said the mother might had beaten the girl to death because she received bad grades at school. She was immediately arrested, and police suspected her of having a mental illness.
Abuse does not happen only once or twice – especially if it goes on behind closed doors. But can police officers detain parents before their children are severely harmed?
Police officers usually treat non-severe beatings as a civil dispute. One police officer, who would not be named, said police usually instruct the parents about physical abuse, notify the neighborhood committee to be on the lookout, and inform the Women’s Federation to check up on the family.
Since “face” is an important matter in Chinese culture, the abuse usually either ceases or worsens soon after.
However, if the abuse is serious enough, police may treat it as a criminal matter.
Article 234 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China states, “A person who intentionally inflicts bodily injury upon another person shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention or public surveillance.” If the victim is killed, both life imprisonment and a death sentence are possible.
But if the child is not harmed severely and the parents apologize, police officers will not and cannot investigate further.
Chapter II, Article 8 in the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Minors, states, “The parents or other guardians of minors… shall not maltreat or forsake the minors, nor shall they discriminate against female or handicapped minors.”
Fine words, but they give no enforcement power to any authority.
“This law indicates what should be done, but it does not indicate what punishment will result,” said one officer. “The punishment depends on the degree of injury… Most cases are dealt with as civil disputes.”
A cultural focus on privacy and face keeps many cases from ever reaching the police.
Should the law itself have a loophole preventing the protection of children from physical and mental abuse? And why does the law exist if it is up to one’s own cultural interpretation?
Raising a child is not easy, but raising them right is most important. Perhaps it is time to draw a clear line between law and tradition.