Friday, February 02, 2007

A new girl

So there’s this new girl.

She’s quite the head turner. Young, vivacious, full of life, feminine fire to the masculine mud that is so common in China. Even though she’s expected to conform – for everyone must conform in this society – she finds little ways to be an individual – sometimes just her smile, that twist of the body, that sparkle in the eye that is her individuality; or maybe it’s the way she walks into a room, surrounded by people yet still all herself – or the way she answers a question, or asks one. It’s the way she rides her bike, whipping full of life between the more staid cyclists, up on the pavement, dodging between the lampposts. It’s the way she dances to her music, the way she drinks a cup of tea, the way she twirls a pen between her fingers.

From the first time you see her you know she’s special. She’s got that something, that spark of sass, of drive; it animates her, energizes her. She’s full of secrets and laughter, plans and hopes. Her presence fills a room and her absence empties it. She’s not someone you forget. I want to know her, know what her life is, who she is, how, what she thinks.

She’s young, and she’s got her life ahead of her. She’s not going to become a robot, not going to put up with the grind and the shit, with the third-rate university education China offers, with its meaningless lip service to ideas no one believes in. She’s not going to sit through Mao Zedong theory or learn about Hu Jintao’s trite, risible ‘Socialist Countryside’ (that a once great country comes to this!) She’s not going to wear the staid, dull regulation haircut her tutors will want, and she’s not going to get up at 6am in the morning to do their silly physical exercises and go to sleep at 11pm when they put the electricity off. She’s not going to be a good girl for them, quiet, polite, obedient.

Not her. Not for her the three or four years of rinkydink ‘higher’ education nor all the English tests; not for her the semi-slave labor as some prof’s lab flunkey, nor graduation in some cheap, gaudy robe, nor the kindergarten-style routine of the tassel on her mortarboard being moved from left to right. Nor, after that, the fuss and scrape of finding a job, and having to pick out the right clothes and style to make some dull potato of a Chinese guy offer her some shit job with shit wages in a shit firm, with a shit contract that says she must work as many hours overtime as she’s told and must not get pregnant. Not for her the causal abuses of her humanity that getting a job in China requires (for getting a job here is putting yourself on the slave auction block). Not for her putting up with the inept, bashful wooing of office colleagues, their fawning when they chase her and contempt when she declines, nor the constant drip of sexual harassment coded into the country’s DNA; and certainly not marriage to some passionless clod followed by decades of servitude and conformity.

None of this for her.

None of it.


She’ll have no future, she’ll have no life, no chance, no joy, she’ll never grow and develop and explore her potential, what she could be.

Because she’s dead.

Her name was Zhang Yaoyi. She was 11. She was a pupil in a school in China’s central Hunan province.

I imagine her. I see her. She’s sitting at her desk and there’s that smile in her eye, that little wisp of steely will that marks her individuality. She says something to the teacher – Li Hengyi – just a little comment, just slightly too bright and certainly not servile enough, not docile, humble, as all good girls should be.

And then the lunacy that lurks beneath the male skin slithers to the surface.

He smashes her head against the desktop several times, hard, brutal; she falls to the floor. He kicks her, thick, heavy blows from his feet into her stomach, her ribcage. He jumps on her, kicks her head. Already she’s covered in blood and barely conscious. He grabs an iron bar that’s used to pull open the high windows and beats her with it, beats her, smashes her, bloody, murderous, brutal.

And now she’s totally still, blood spreading out over the floor, the soft slick spread of the puddle of red, teeth smashed, fingers broken. He picks her up –picks her up – and carries her to the window. Opens it. And throws her out. Four stories she falls; it kills her.

Dead. Gone. Erased.

And where were all you frothing lunatics then? Where were the witchhunts then? Where was the anger and the outrage? Where were the frenzied press reports? Where were the blog sites calling for this guy’s head?

One Western man has sex with a bunch of women. Women who are adults, who consent freely, and who enjoy it thoroughly. He writes about it, throws in a few run-of-the-mill opinions. Behavior nothing special. Thoughts little new.

Chaos. Millions of madmen fussing and strutting and firing off absurd emails.

Zhang Yaoyi beaten to death by her teacher – by her fucking teacher – and what? A story here, a story there. Page 4 of Shanghai Daily. Ignored by China Daily. A few reports in one day's papers, a smattering of interest from the lazy, idle, muzzled Chinese language press, none of it front page. And then silence.

Nothing much for a few days. More silence. Then a buried-away follow up report that Li Hengyi was mentally ill and thus would face no charges.

He’d been working at that school since 1998, and began to show signs of mental illness in 2001. Li Hengyi’s treatment, which came in late 2003, two years later, lasted two months and then he went right back into the classroom. That’s why he was still there in 2006 – despite it being perfectly well known he beat the kids – and that’s why Zhang Yaoyi died.

So where were you, you angry fuckers? Where were you then? Where was your outrage? Where were the letters to the press?

Silence from you all. I have in class many times raised the name Zhang Yaoyi, written it up on the board, in Chinese and so far not a single student has known the name. Not one!

Unbelievable? Not in China.

Another girl: Zheng Shaojuan.

Zheng Shaojuan was a second-grader, nine years old, in the village of Putian, in Fujian Province. Her teacher , Liang Liyu, sees her peeping at the deskmate’s answers in a math test, and so he – of course it is a he, it is always a he – grabs a broom handle and begins to beat her on her back. She starts sobbing, which enrages our fine, honorable teacher all the more and so he starts hitting her head, blow after blow after blow – all the while her brother, sitting in the row behind, is forced to watch this display of pig brutality. The girl tries to move her body forward, away from the rain of violence and this just adds fury to anger.

What! She tries to get away from him? He jabs the broomhandle into her, viciously rabid thrusts, trying to force her body round so that she will meet his eyes. For how dare she not look at him as he beats her? What disrespect!

And so frenzied are the blows, so great his brutal rage the broomstick snaps in two, splinters of it piercing even through the thick fabric of her school tracksuit and lacerating her skin. His wrath is purged and he’s taught her his lesson. Back to teaching he goes, full of pride at his display of good teaching methodology. Shaojuan spends the rest of the afternoon slumped on her desk. Later, another teacher walks by and sees this and she, having the decency the man did not, acts like a teacher (parent?) should, comes into the class to see what’s wrong with the girl. Shaojuan says she is not feeling well and the woman teacher suggests she goes home; she gets to her feet, shakily walks to the door, respectfully asks permission to leave from Liang, fighting down her shame and anger and contempt, leaves the classroom but collapses, right there, in the corridor, no strength in her body, her head fuzzy, unfocused. Liang carries on not giving a fuck and so the woman teacher helps Shaojuan home, carrying her part of the way.

An ambulance is called but this being China takes an hour to arrive; by that time another child has died in the Chinese educational system. By that time Shaojuan is dead.

And what of Yaoyi, whose bright future, whose hope and potential has been beaten to death, whose parents have been bought off for a mere US$25,000 and are now expected to shut up, seeking no further redress? And what of Shaojuan’s parents, who had gone to other provinces as migrant workers, leaving her with relatives? Of them I have found no trace; for they, being migrant workers, belong to that class of people who have built this country and who are routinely despised, belittled, cheated, abused and subsequently forgotten.

Where were you brave citizens of China then? Where was the anger? Where was the press, so like dogs baying for Chinabounder? The outcry? The mass of internet idiots so concerned about China’s honor and dignity? They offered silence and remain silent. Not a word, not a sigh, not a shrug of the shoulder, not even a raised eyebrow.

Here is an example of the anger I received just because I slept with a few women, just one of the ten thousand emails I got, from

Food, Wine, and Women

Food, you will be eating your own shit covered in shards of blood-stained metal.

Wine, you will be drinking your own blood while drowning in your own piss.

Women, the only bitch you had and will ever fuck is your mother's raw and bloody corpse.

I am supremely confident that you will enjoy the inhumane pleasure of being skinned and buried alive in a metal coffin fill to the top with sulfuric acid 6 feet under a stranger's grave.

Live everyday like your last, one day you will wake up in a bathtub full of ice with parts of your family all around you, I know you will enjoy the smell of dead corpses and you will definitely love to hear the black flies circling you while maggots crawl and burrow themselves under your skin.

It's springtime in Nottingham for me to watch your sadistic and pleasurable misfortune.

Shame on the citizens of China! Your children are dying and your silence is complicit in their death.