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College student murder case provokes profound soul searching
Death knell tolls for the Chinese educational system
Zeng Renquan
4/17/2004

Ma Jiajue, a Yunnan University senior, killed four of his classmates. The killings shocked China. The police have arrested Ma based on a tip from a motorcycle rider and are quite proud of themselves. The media is hailing the arrest, and CCTV Channel 4 has been following the case as if it were the Iraqi war of 2003. Educational experts and criminal psychologists are expressing their views as well. However, after the shock, I am really shocked, not by the case itself, but by the methods and structure we use in our educational system.

Since the 1990s, our “cram-it-in” educational style has buried students in exams. From elementary school to high school, the quest for higher exam scores has deprived students of any creativity or self-motivation in their study. This rigid and inflexible education model is disconnected from our cultural poverty and moral decay. Urban students are only capable of understanding one thing – study hard so that they do not have to become workers. Their rural counterparts study hard to avoid being stuck as peasants and to get out from under poverty. Those who are lucky enough to get into universities, especially top universities, can expect fame and riches only officials are entitled to.

The only standard that the educational authorities measure students by, from elementary to high school, is exam scores. The authorities measure the number of students in each junior high school that get into top high schools and the number of students in each high school that get into top universities. Schools’ reputation and their teachers’ bonuses are tied to these measurements. Naturally, all a school cares about is raising students’ exam scores and the only way to do so is to force their students to cram. From elementary to high school, Chinese children face mountains of homework and rarely have a free and joyful childhood. The pressure to survive oppresses our children much too early.

One they get into universities, they find out that what they have learned from books have no resemblance to reality. There they see that family and social backgrounds make a huge difference. Most poor students have low self-esteem when they observe their free-spending rich classmates. The extravagance of rich students also causes jealousy and envy. Poverty distorts their view of money and society. In addition, the defects in the educational system are also a direct cause of some students’ warped thinking. Nowadays, the outdated educational principles teach students that money is “Almighty” and through this, students are forced to believe this rigid ideology. No healthy and independent personality could come from such an educational system.

First of all, heavy tuition and expense burdens scare most students whose parents are workers and peasants. They generally have low self-esteem. They know very well that money does not come easily. These days, everything is privatized in universities. In some universities, enterprises even manage bathrooms. Low quality and high-expense living conditions are unbearable for most students. The universities charge students for every scrap of paper and every pencil. Many students often go to their classes without eating. Half-starved students are forced to listen to professors who tout the “superiority of socialism.” Seeing rich kids who spend freely and the materialistic world outside universities, poor students often feel desperate or harbor hatred. On the one hand, they soak in the philosophical nonsense from Marx and Mao Zedong that has nothing to do with economic reality. On the other hand, they are forced to work as laborers, tutors, or even prostitutes and gigolos. All these have distorted their personalities.

Secondly, academic corruption and intellectuals selling themselves out have caused a general psychological malaise among students. Yu Jie, a well-known writer, described Beijing University this way, “Many economics professors in Beijing University manufacture seemingly mystical academic papers from their ivory towers and are convinced that their works can move the government and save citizens. Actually they know nothing about the social reality in China. They have find food to eat and nice cars to drive. They have never ridden the subway and have never tried to squeeze into crowded buses. They never go to dirty vegetable markets to shop. They have no concern about what commoners want, care about, or hate.”

Systemic corruption in our society has penetrated into politics, economy, culture and other areas. Teachers and professors, who are supposed to be model citizens, have eyes only for fame and money. How can they teach students about a positive value system? An ancient wise man said that teachers should teach and answer challenging questions. These days, many teachers and professors have incorrect value systems and have no moral convictions. How can anyone expect them to teach students properly? Such an educational system itself reinforces the confusion, paranoia, narrow-mindedness and megalomania of students like Ma Jajue. At the same time, the educational system and environment nurture students’ low self-esteem, suspiciousness, anxiety and cold-heartedness.


Thirdly, the uselessness of education and the pressure of employment are terrible burdens on our students. Due to fundamental problems in the social system, there is an abundant oversupply of able-bodied people. Those who have talents are not needed or their talents are not valued. These pressures have given them a sense of desperation. The students are at a loss when they find out that society does not really need them. Like Ma, many students these days are callous, numb and lonely. As Fu Guoyong pointed out, “Universities may have taught Ma Jiajue enough skills to get a job, but he could not possibly develop into a fully developed person under an educational system that trains students to be tools.”

The murder case of Ma Jiajue is not simply an individual crime and has sounded the death knell for the Chinese education system. The case has given an assignment to our education system and political system – how can we nurture our next generation into adults with both healthy morals and proper skills?

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