China, where is your conscience? The tragic curtain call of substitute teachers | ChinaHush

January 7th, 2010 by Key | Posted in News | 17 Comments »

By CC & Key

Starting 2010, 448,000 substitute teachers in China will be laid off (The word ?? [qing tuì] is used in the news. I looked up ??in the dictionary it means to give back something that does not belong). Most of the already laid off teachers are struggling with difficult lives. And the teachers who are waiting to be laid off do not ask for more compensation, but they only want to leave with dignity, and hope that there will still be teachers for the children after they leave. Netizens are outraged, an article on Tianya (translated below) generated over 4000 comments in a day, and this post has also been re-posted all over the Chinese Internet. After the article, there are also pictures showing the hardships of these substitute teachers, so please keep scrolling.


News from

China News reported on January 1, 2010, at the end of 2009, in order to optimize the teaching staff, our country will finally lay off all substitute teachers in many areas. The term “substitute teacher” will become a part of history. In the past, because of the financial difficulties, many remote areas could not afford to hire public teachers or public teachers are unwilling to teach in such poverty-stricken areas Substitute teachers bear hardships, being selfless and without attracting any public attention have made great contribution on the primary education in poor Chinese provinces. Now, in order to conform to the policy, they will return to the farm fields to make a greater contribution.

The Ministry of Education is not only laying off teachers, they are destroying their conscience (from Tianya):

In 2006, the Ministry of Education proposed that in a relatively short period of time, all the 448,000 remaining substitute teachers in China would be laid off, and that the last substitute teachers would be laid off in 2010.

What is a substitute teacher? Substitute teaching is a job with Chinese characteristics, they are short-term teachers in the Chinese countryside with no association the any particular danwei (work unit). In the past they were known as “community-supported teachers,” but about 10 years ago, the over-ambitious and navel-gazing Ministry of Education decided that in the guise of “improving the quality of elementary education teachers,” community-supported teachers would no longer be allowed. Though in reality, in many remote and poverty-stricken areas, they are unable to hire regular teachers or regular teachers are unwilling to go, they can only hire temporary teachers, so their identity was changed to “substitute teachers.”

So what do substitute teachers represent? First, these substitute teachers reveal the difficult and harsh state of China’s rural education. In 2005, Southern Weekend published an article entitled “The Heartbreaking Hardships of Substitute Teachers,” which reported on “China’s oldest substitute teacher,” Wang Zhengming (???), who founded Gansu’s elementary school Zhang Jiabao (???). They pointed out that it is precisely the long-term hard work of substitute teachers like Wang Zhengming that support the foundations for education in poverty-stricken areas. They are truly backbones of education in these areas. Second, they represent poverty. From 1985 to 2005, Wang Zhengming had a salary of 40 RMB a month (note: about $6.00 a month). At the beginning of 2008, the 340 substitute teachers of Jianghui in Hunan province issued a public letter. The letter said:

Even though our workload is heavier than regular teachers, our working conditions more harsh than regular teachers, our teaching results are not any worse, but our wages are drastically lower. Our wages are only 400 rmb/month and we only get paid 10 months in a year. That is not even a fourth of what regular teachers make and we have no other benefits.

The letter then tells of a heart-wrenching story. Liu Junmu had been a substitute teacher for 21 years when she fell ill with a number of illnesses. Due to lack of medical treatment, life was incredibly hard for her. Because substitute teachers have no medical benefits, in 2006 her lingering sickness forced her to leave her teaching position and go to Shenzhen to seek treatment and find part-time work. In less than a year, she passed away. Before dying, she said with extreme remorse, “It is teaching that ruined my life, it is teaching that took my life away!”

Third, substitute teachers represent the lowest classes of Chinese society. After 20 years of being a substitute teacher, in 1984, Wang Zhengming was fired because more regular teachers were hired at his school. In 1985, the number of teachers was insufficient again and he was re-hired but his work standing was completely renewed, which is the reason he was not able to eventually gain regular teacher status. At the end of the public letter issued by the substitute teachers in Jianghua, they said, “What makes us the most sorrowful and humiliated is we have suffered and taught books for decades, but we are not even given the legal status of “public teachers” by the government, this is the kind of ridicule that substitute teachers and the country’s education system suffers!” The intellectuals in rural areas are naïve, in fact, for the people that put the very system to split public and substitute teachers into place, and made the decision to fire them, they do not perceive any of it as ridicule. In their eyes, the dividing of people into different classes according to household registration and identity is as normal as night and day. Also, it is because of this that since China’s opening up 30 years ago, the registration and identity systems show no sign of changing.

So what exactly is laying off (??)? “Laying off” in Chinese has always been used in the case of “cleaning out” undesirable or illegal things. If you search on Baidu, you can see that it’s always phrases like “repaying stolen money,” “repaying stolen property,” “cleaning out bribes,” “repaying rebates,” “laying off doctors who commit malpractice,” “cleaning out illegal fund-raising,” “re-claiming illegally occupied land,” “cleaning-out illegally operating street venders,” that use the phrase “lay-off”(??). In other words, even though the schools are forced to hire substitute teachers because they cannot hire regular teachers, even though substitute teachers are still hired and used by schools, to the Ministry of Education, these substitute teachers are to their discredit (ruining their ambitious plans), these substitute teachers make China’s education system lose face (they expose the deficiencies and backwards situations in poverty-stricken rural areas), so they are put into the same category as other illegal workers.

A famous thinker from the Song Dynasty, Li Gou, has a famous saying, “The root of good is teaching, and the root of teaching is the teacher.” That is to say, teachers are entrusted with the responsibility of creating good citizens and a good society. Conversely, if a society does not treat its teachers well, then there will be immense moral consequences. In “Mister Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals,” it says “Respect your teacher, no matter their economic status.” The education department today turns a blind eye to the endless corruption in colleges and universities, yet they ignore the poverty-stricken substitute teachers. The root of this problem is that they fail to treat teachers as if they are teachers, fail to treat education as if it’s education, fail to identify good when they see it, their mentality is similar to that of feudal landlords, and their actions are no better than sweatshop bosses.

The fact that China has an endless amount of quality cheap labor is the reason that “Made in China” products are all over the world, it’s the reason that China’s economy can expand so rapidly, and it’s the reason that China has been revived as a nation. Who remembers that behind all this is the tremendous hard work of China’s substitute teachers? We have already exploited community-supported teachers, and now we have continued exploit substitute teachers for decades. Now, no matter what is the reason that we are forcing them to leave, we must give them an explanation, we must give them economic compensation, we must give them a justification for their social status. If we kick out these teachers who have worked hard for their entire lives like dogs, let these teachers become the poorest people of the countryside, let these teachers with graying hair not have the ability to enjoy life with the status of a teacher, leave these teachers with nothing and then let them slowly disappear, then it is not only a moral failing of the Chinese education system, it is a failing of the Chinese conscience. We say that an immoral person is insignificant even if she is rich, so even if a corrupt country is developed, they are still despicable.

At this point in writing, I cannot stop my tears. I do not have anything else to say, and I don’t have anything else to prove. This is not a matter of proving something; it’s just a matter of conscience. China, where is your conscience?

Pictures from Netease:


At 7:30 in the morning on December 22, 2009, at the Northwest Mountain district when it was still dark outside, all the teachers and students have already began their morning exercises. To these teachers who get up early with the students, the mornings of this windy day perhaps felt colder than usual, because entering 2010 the last 448,000 substitute teachers will be laid off.


December 21, 2009 evening, Wang Anzhi (???) came to the school he used to substitute for. The pine trees he planted back then had already become lush and green, but he did not belong here anymore. Wang Anzhi was a substitute teacher in Heiyinggou village, Weiyuan County. Turning 54 years old, he had been a substitute teacher for the local primary school since 1974. Because he stopped for one year, he was not eligible to be converted to a full-time teacher. In September 2009, he received 600 yuan in compensation and got laid off.


December 22, 2009, three substitute teachers’ (first row) have breakfast – red date tea with a steamed bun. Before 1984, these teachers were called community-supported teachers (????). Since 1985, in order to improve the quality of the teachers for basic education, the Ministry of Education decided that community-supported teachers were no longer allowed across the country. However many poverty-stricken mountain areas due to financial difficulties could not hire any public teachers, or no public teachers were willing to go there. These positions needed to be filled by temporary teachers, who later were referred as “substitute teachers”. They had the same work as the public teachers, the only difference was – the public teacher’s had a monthly salary around 2000 yuan, but these three who are at their primes only made about 220 yuan.


At 9 am , on December 22, 2009, when Su Hanwei and his first grade students were take a family portrait, he wiped away his tears and said, “Every year we only take this picture when the six graders graduate from primary school, this is the first time I can take pictures with my first grade students, it is also probably the last time.” Currently, Gansu Province government is “firmly and gradually” laying off substitute teachers.


December 22, 2009, written on the wall of a local shop, a banner says “Respect teachers, and care about education.” These kinds of slogans are everywhere. A reporter visited Weiyuan County where substitute teachers still exist. In the western regions and remote rural areas, substitute teachers have played a major historic role in being responsible for giving compulsory education.


December 22, 2009. College student Liu Yadong is surfing the internet at home. With her salary, buying a 4,000 yuan computer means working for 100 month. She graduated from Tianshui teacher training college, she had a chance to work as a civil servant or become a regular teacher, but because she is an art teacher, and the county only hires a few of them, she missed many opportunities. She will only have three chances; this means if she still cannot be converted to a regular teacher by next year, she will lose her qualification to ever become a public teacher.


December 22, 2009. Zhao Yongfu won the outstanding teacher’s certificate issued by the county in 2001. After the layoff, she is currently working at a construction site.


December 21, 2009, Yang Xianxi is raising his piglets. In April, 2009, he and three other laid-off teachers contracted a poultry farm, however the farms are not profitable due to the bad economy.


December 22, 2009, a former substitute teacher Zhao Yongfu working at a construction site. Monthly salary is a little over 1,000 yuan.


December 22, 2009 morning, during the morning class, substitute teacher Zhang Weirong and his students are enjoying the sun together. Usually there is no light during the winter in the western mountain areas, the temperature has dropped to minus 10 degrees Celsius. On the way to the village, the reporter often saw three to five primary school students going to school in the cold. In order for them to change their lives, and not become farmers, and not become like their parents, going to school is the only way out.


The afternoon of December 21, 2009, Wang Anzhi is walking with crutches on the mountain road. He said, back then he went to school to teach he also walked up the mountain roads. Now, he goes to a nearby village to help pick potatoes. He is helping out in the busy farm season, at the same time helping himself a little. Being a substitute teach for 34 year, also was the school principle for 9 years, three generations in the villages were all his students. He only got 600 yuan in compensation when he was laid off, but his family still owes 50,000 yuan in debt. Substitute teachers that are laid off like him do not have high demands. They only hope to leave in dignity. However they are all uncertain about their future when they are laid off.

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