A 23 year-old Henan woman named Qiu Zi (秋子) may become the center of China’s first appearance-related work discrimination case after accusing a company of firing her because her head is too big.
Qiu Zi was given a job at a company called 上海昂立投资咨询有限公司 which seems to be the official name of Only International Education, a private training institute where they teach English, translation, Japanese, offer a mini-MBA course, etc. In 2004 they were voted the top foreign language training institute in Shanghai by someone or another. Mostly, they are an educational franchise, with branches and institutes all over China.
In November 2006, Qiu Zi began with Only by receiving 15 days of teacher training. On December 1, she signed a contract. On Dec. 21, 2006, she was told to report at a branch of the institute located in Zhejiang province. She arrived there on the 24th, and received a call from the Zhengzhou branch to immediately return to Zhengzhou. On the 26th she returned and was told there that her appearance did not meet their requirements and that they were letting her go. She could get another job, they could tear up the contract — but they weren’t going to let her teach.
The report refers to the relevant laws in this following paragraph:
What this says is that all law-abiding Chinese citizens who are committed to education, are of upstanding moral and intellectual character, and possess the relevant education, training and qualifications should be allowed to become teachers. Nowhere in these laws is it stipulated that the teachers have to be good looking, much less have a normal-sized head.
Qiu Zi recorded several conversations with a person named Zhao Yan at the company. Here’s a particularly galling excerpt after she’s been told that something about her appearance didn’t cut it:
Qiu: Oh, so she said it was just because of my appearance, well that’s discrimination, isn’t it?
Zhao: I don’t know if this is discrimination, because over there, each school as their own investors and they have to consider the bottom line, and if it’s a franchised school, it’s definitely going to be that way because …
Qiu: I think that her actions are definitely discriminatory, because she didn’t even bother listening to my course. I just sat there for an hour.
Zhao: A lot of people make this kind of mistake, but it’s not something I have control over, and it’s not something you have control over, and it’s not something that anyone has control over, this is just the continuation of several thousand years of customs and habits.
After the media got wind of the situation, they began interviewing Qiu Zi. The reason why her head is abnormally large is because when she was born she had a water retention problem, and in fact, she’s pretty lucky that she even survived. In 1998, she had an operation that stabilized her condition, though obviously it wasn’t a remedy, as the shape of her skull had long since been determined.
Qiu Zi was asked by a reporter whether or not this whole thing was just another attempt at 抄作 (chao zuo) which means something similar to “hyping” in terms of purposefully bringing media attention onto oneself.
She replied: “No. Going to the media about my problem is now considered hyping myself up? Isn’t going to the media one of the ways of defending my rights? I’m not just in this to get an explanation for myself, but for any others that might face a similar situation.”
The reporter then contacted Only, which seemed to have a lot of problems with their phone connections. After awhile, instead of hanging up and equivocating they got someone at the company to declare that “nothing of the sort was said,” referring to Zhao Yan’s conversation with Qiu Zi. They denied that they would ever reject someone based on their looks. They gave “inability to teach adult classes” as the reason for Qiu Zi’s dismissal.
The report makes it seem like the company is just trying to stonewall the media, but what do we know? As for the legitimacy of the tapes, Qiu Zi is confident that they can be verified by experts as being the real thing.
If this case goes through, it will be the first ever case in China of appearance-related discrimination.
Photo of Qiu Zi holding her teacher’s certificate from huash.com