Death of a Student

by Patrick Nohrden

Note: This article was first published in March 2012. Since then, world political and financial situations may have changed. Some things never change.

Han Hai Long, 19, died about a week and a half ago. The exact date is somewhat of a mystery. His parents don’t know, because his school won’t give them the details of his death. They learned of their son’s death about three days after he died at school, and for eight days they have been trying to get the school to say what happened. The headmaster of Guo Hua Gao Kao School on Wen Hua Road in Zhengzhou refuses to tell his parents what happened.

In an effort to quiet the situation, the school contacted Henan Television, the main television station in Zhengzhou and indicated that the parents were compensated for the loss of their son. But the compensation was merely a token payment and barely covers the hospital fees associated with handling their son’s dead body. In a follow-up report this evening, the school said that Han Hai Long died because he had a diseased heart. When Han Hai Long’s parents first saw their son’s body at the hospital, he was covered in bruises as though he had been severely beaten, which is inconsistent with heart disease.

Wanting answers, the parents, the grandparents, and a couple of other relatives traveled by bus from their village of Zhou Kou to the school this morning, but they were denied entry by the guards at the school gate. So they sat down at the gate and refused to leave. That is when the police came. The police tried to forcibly remove the parents from the school property, beating them in the process, but the gathering crowd reacted to the police, making the police fear for their own safety. When the police departed, a half dozen or so black-uniformed “urban managers” took over to keep an eye on the crowd. These men are paid thugs whose job is to enforce city regulations in the neighborhoods. Often uneducated, these men control the neighborhood through a system of low-level bribery and billy clubs.

When a woman attempted to take photographs of the scene with her cell phone, the police snatched her telephone from her hands and smashed it into tiny pieces. Because I was the only foreigner in the crowd, the police, both uniformed and ununiformed, watched me intently, which allowed another to take photos unmolested.

The grieving family, separated from the crowd by a security gate, was plain to see by the large crowd that had gathered. They had unfurled a large paper sign on the gate proclaiming how unfair the school had been to them. Because I am not Chinese, the guards did not try to stop me from passing through the gate. The crowd became noisy when it saw me pass some money to the victim’s grandfather, and it was not long before several in the crowd were telling me what had happened to Han Hai Long. And it was not long before school administrators were telling me that I was blocking traffic, despite the fact that I was standing on the sidewalk.

Han Hai Long apparently had been a victim of bullying, not only by his fellow classmates but by his head teacher as well. This only encouraged other students to bully him more, and now he is dead. But these facts are unconfirmed, because the school refuses to say what happened.

Chinese students learn what a dangerous place America is, because all Americans have guns. They learn that students take guns to school and shoot each other. And stories about shootings at schools, such as the recent story out of Cleveland, reinforce this propaganda. But, unlike Chinese schools, American schools have a zero tolerance when it comes to any kind of violence. Students who engage in fighting are summarily suspended regardless of fault. Students in American schools are taught to recognize and avoid all kinds of bullying. However, it seems that if students kill another student in China, the school helps cover up the facts and tries to buy off the parents with a token payment.

For the most part, China does not have the record of violence against each other as do western countries. Most Chinese would rather avoid violence, but it happens. One of my own students spent more than a month in the hospital after he was attacked by a group of students from another school. They were fighting over a girl. Last year, in a fit of rage, a student hurled a heavy, sharp object at another teacher, barely missing him. The student was back in class the next day after a stern talking to. I can imagine how the rebuke was phrased: “You shouldn’t try to kill the foreign teachers. It will cause the school embarrassment.” The teacher tried to have the student removed from his classes for the rest of the year, but that never happened. The student’s parents must have been well-connected and rich, because, despite the fact that he finished high school with only a 50% average in 12th grade English, he was admitted to the University of California.

The parents of Han Hai Long are poor. They are farmers and likely spend 70% of their income on their son’s education. He was their only chance to change the family’s history of poverty. They rested all their hope on their son to finish this last year of high school and get admitted to a university. Instead, they are without most of the meager income of their farm for the past 12 years, and they have no son. They don’t even have enough money to bury him.

I gladly teach Chinese students. My students will leave China after this year to study in North America. Some of them will stay away for the rest of their lives. Most of them will return with good job prospects because of their western education. For those who return, I only hope that they bring back those values from the west that make us different from the developing part of the world, the sense of fairness, the sense of righteousness, and a concept of the dignity of human life.

China is an interesting and at times wonderful place. There are many things about China that make it good: the history, the sense of obligation to one’s family, the dedication to improving the lot of one’s parents. There are many things about China that puzzle me, however, namely its lack of human dignity and the concept there is no place for human rights.

China has lawyers, some who are willing to take on the state to represent the interests of people like Han Hai Long and his family. But those lawyers are few and far between, and when one of them takes a case like this, he is likely to have his law license revoked and to find himself in jail on some trumped up charge of subverting the government. Tonight I will pray for the soul of Han Hai Long. Tomorrow I will pray that a lawyer is willing to represent his parents and sue the hell out of Guo Hua Gao Kao School, its headmaster, the teacher involved, and the parents of the students who killed him.

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