Early this month in Changzhou, Jiangsu, a fifth-grade girl committed suicide at school, stirring a debate about the ethics of pushing political ideology on schoolchildren. The girl, ten-year-old Miao Kexin, is shown on school surveillance footage jumping to her death from the fourth floor after leaving a writing class in an apparently distressed state. According to a preliminary investigation, Miao’s teacher, surnamed Yuan, did not abuse her the day of her suicide, but there had been reports of abuse and other misconduct by the teacher. At Caixin Global, Yilin Chen notes the teacher’s use of “positive energy,” a heavily promoted Xi era propaganda catchphrase, in her earlier critique of Miao’s work, and reports on the online debate that the episode sparked concerning harsh teaching methods and teacher qualifications:
Miao’s parents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the preliminary investigation findings on Weibo and urged witnesses to step forward. Officials confirm that the teacher had previously slapped Miao in the face, and encouraged the parents to pay for extra lessons. The teacher ran private writing lessons for profit, a practice which is forbidden by the education authorities. The parents suspect that the teacher was especially harsh towards Miao because she would not attend the private lessons. Several of the teachers’ former students have come forward with testimonies of the teacher’s abuse of students.
Several widely circulated photos of Miao’s essays immediately before her death show large chunks of her writing crossed out without any reason or feedback. The essay was a reading response to an excerpt from one of China’s four classics, Journey to the West. Above a sentence where the girl wrote “we should not be fooled by hypocritical facades,” the teacher criticized Miao for lacking “positive energy.” Meanwhile, the teacher failed to notice a factual mistake that Miao made about the book’s author, raising doubts about the teacher’s qualifications. […] [Source]
CDT Chinese editors note that Yuan later claimed Miao had marked the essay up on her own, a claim that severely angered her parents and led them to post an article on Weibo titled “Don’t Again Throw Mud at my Child!”
State-run China Daily’s English coverage of the episode and investigation into Yuan mention claims that she ran a private for-profit class and had “verbally abused” students, but only as allegations from Miao’s parents, not as official confirmations. The China Daily report, by Li Lei, also notes coverage from the Beijing News stating that Yuan had admitted to slapping Miao last year after she missed homework. A report published at AsiaOne—also filed by Li Lei, and cited as a collaboration between China Daily and AsiaOne—goes into far greater detail about the case and debate it stirred:
The post [from Miao’s parents] said Miao, the only child of the family, had been outgoing and had been doing well in her writing classes. Her parents said they were appalled by her death and disappointed by the school’s explanations as well as the parents who voiced support for Yuan on WeChat.
[…] An online influencer named Liushen Leilei wrote on WeChat that what Yuan had deleted were vivid descriptions that abounded in details, which should not have been deleted. The passage got more than 100,000 views and 65,000 likes.
“In fact, revising a student’s essay is to modify the child’s mind, modify the child’s heart, modify the way the child sees the world, modify the child’s personality and spirit,” he wrote.
But some netizens have accused of Liushen Leilei of beautifying Miao’s essay, saying the revision is reasonable by deleting redundant parts in sketching plots, which should be as concise as possible. [Source]
CDT Chinese editors’ coverage includes a longer excerpt from Liushen Leilei’s (@六神磊磊读金庸) essay, attacking the teacher’s reference to “positive energy” and her role as a conduit for political propaganda:
“Transmit positive energy.” This is truly dumbfounding. Saying this to 10-year-old Miao Kexin, a little girl who loves to write, is no different than a smack to the face. All of her independent thought, all the individuality of her personality, it all collapses in the face of those three words. Teacher Yuan, if all you understand is that slogan, what are you doing being a writing teacher? Where can’t you learn about that? Why did you even assign that essay [on White Bone Spirit, the disguised demoness in Journey to the West whose lies were seen through]? Why didn’t you just require all the students to write “justice shall prevail over evil” and “all our enemies are only paper tigers“?
The irony of it all is that Teacher Yuan took pains to correct countless parts that needed no correction, but can’t see a genuine error. Miao Kexin begins by saying Journey to the West was written by Luo Guanzhong. This needs correction, or at least, that can’t be proven as of this time. Teacher Yuan totally missed this. Or, maybe she didn’t even know at all. If that’s the case, that means she failed and is incapable of teaching her students.
This reveals a reality: the more uneducated a person is, for example, like someone from Yuan’s generation, the more likely they are to adore and chase after so-called “positive energy.” This is because it shields their ignorance and inability to reflect. […] [Chinese]
CDT Chinese coverage also reports that Miao Kexin’s death and other recent tragedies have stirred public ire over aggressive propaganda aimed at distorting reality, a trend that has increased substantially under Xi’s drive for “positive energy.” For example, as state media and censors were obscuring the truth of the initial novel coronavirus outbreak, the Wuhan Party Secretary Wang Zhonglin in a March 6 statement said: “We must begin educating the entire city population to feel thankful, thankful to the General Secretary, thankful to the Communist Party; to listen to the Party, to go with the Party, to form a strong ‘positive energy’.” According to later revised (but still widely doubted) official statistics, at that point there were already over 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in China, and locals in Wuhan had just issued warnings that, regarding the official line on the situation, “everything is fake.”
Earlier this month, as Beijing was experiencing a new cluster of COVID-19 infections, an orthopedic surgeon posted a picture to Weibo of medical workers napping on a basketball court in the middle of the night, below which read “click and like for positive energy.” Many netizens were appalled, calling it “shameless propaganda” that proves Beijing’s inadequate epidemic prevention.
Others recalled the recent case “Zhong Meimei,” a comedic impersonation by 13-year-old Zhong Yusheng, who in April rose to social media fame imitating his teachers on the Kuaishou video sharing app. Zhong was reprimanded by local educational authorities, and his parents were told to encourage his “production of works brimming with positive energy.” His online videos were then taken down, causing an outcry from his newfound fans. Zhong subsequently did begin posting videos with a spirit of positive energy, which many netizens were not as keen on. CDT editors rounded up comments in the spirit of @白日妖鬼’s who said: “This imitation lacks soul. So-called positive energy eviscerates the soul.”
At the South China Morning Post, Maria Siow reports on the “darker side” of Xi’s “positive energy” catchphrase. She cites the anger caused by the Zhong Yusheng case, and more tragically, the suicide of Miao Kexin, as evidence that, “while relentless positivity may play well in the state media, it can have devastating real-world effects.” Siow also quotes Tsinghua Professor Sun Liping, who sees the increasingly fervent promotion of “positive energy” in recent years as the core of the problem:
Sun said the problem was that the environment “created and filled with this so-called positive energy” was “getting more rigid [and] also more violent. Such an atmosphere not only squeezed but also crushed [Miao].”
“If we had a relaxed and flexible environment this tragedy might have been avoided.” [Source]