Two people were arrested over the weekend in connection to a child abuse scandal at a private Beijing kindergarten which has shocked and outraged the country.
A 22-year-old woman, surnamed Liu, who worked as a teacher at the now-infamous RYB Education kindergarten in Chaoyang District was detained on Saturday on suspicion of abusing children. Police did not release further information about the woman or about their investigation into the kindergarten.
However, they did announce that they had arrested another woman, also surnamed Liu, on suspicion of spreading false information, in what appears to pertain to rumors that began circulating late last week about a military group that was involved in sexually abusing kids at the school. Police said that the 31-year-old woman had expressed “deep regrets” for her actions.
Last Thursday, a large group of outraged parents protested outside of the kindergarten, demanding to speak with the school’s principal and be allowed to view surveillance tape. The parents said that they had discovered needle marks on their children’s arms, legs, and buttocks. When they asked their kids about the marks, the children said that teachers had given them injections, fed them mysterious white pills, and had even punished some by having them stand naked for extended periods of time.
The most troubling accusation comes from the mother of a 3-year-old who spoke with Tencent News. In a video that has since been taken down, the parent says that her child told her that kids at the kindergarten were given regular “health checkups” by an “uncle and grandpa doctor” in which they were made to stand naked while one of the doctors was nude as well.
RYB is one of the country’s biggest early education chains with some 1,300 daycare centers and 500 kindergartens across 300 cities in China, according to its website. In September, the company was even listed on the New York Stock Exchange and had been doing pretty well until Friday when its shares dropped more than 38%.
In a statement on Saturday, RYB apologized to children, parents, and the public for the incident, adding that it would bear responsibility and take steps to rectify its operations. It has started by firing the teacher in question, along with the school’s principal.
The previous day, RYB had released a statement explaining that it had suspended some teachers and was cooperating with police, but also added that it had filed a police report against some who had made “false accusations,” a move that outraged netizens.
In the wake of the scandal, the Beijing government has ordered that all of the city’s kindergartens must be staffed with an “educational inspector” who will oversee the school’s operation. Meanwhile, a nationwide inspection of kindergartens was announced on Friday by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The inspection will focus on “assessing teachers’ behavior and aims at strengthening preschools’ emergency response mechanism,” reports Chinese state media.
According to MOE statistics, there were 239,800 kindergartens in China in 2016, up 59% from 2010. Meanwhile, only 50% of teachers at kindergartens are certified for the job, while just 22.4% hold college degrees.
As with any major event or scandal, Chinese censors have been working hard to contain the story and prevent harmful rumors and reports from spreading. On Friday, China Digital Times published a leaked directive which was sent to Chinese media outlets, telling them simply: “Don’t report or comment on the matter of the Red Yellow Blue New World Kindergarten in Beijing’s Chaoyang district.”
That same day, the Beijing garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) issued an unusual statement, denying that its officers had anything to do with the child abuse scandal. Rumors had been floating around that the PLA owned the kindergarten and that a “Tiger Regiment” (老虎团) had been regularly sexually molesting children there. The PLA admitted that the school director’s husband had once been an official at the base, but denied any further connection.
Meanwhile, the Global Times has cheered the arrest of the apparent “rumormonger” accusing her of using the internet to turn a rumor into a “destructive force.”
“The Internet is like a tropical ocean, and a tiny move of a butterfly’s wings might create a huge storm. Internet rumors could be instigated by external hostile forces, however it is not always the case,” the party tabloid writes.
While news organizations may have been barred from fully reporting on the story, that hasn’t stopped the scandal from becoming the most discussed topic on Chinese social media, as well as the most heavily censored. At the moment, Chinese censors find themselves in a difficult predicament as they try to control a towering wave of outrage that is coming from middle-class parents concerned about the safety of their children.
On Twitter, a number of China experts and journalists have given their two cents about why this scandal is different from the usual cases of child abuse that happen at kindergartens in rural China.
Short thread: I think it is important to put into context, the importance of the scandal in Beijing context. Let me note, I am passing on details about the scandal rather why it is important and hit the public. 1/n
— Comrade Balding (@BaldingsWorld) November 26, 2017
On the Beijing kindergarten scandal: the number of times I’ve interviewed middle class people whose luck ran out and hit China’s lack of rule of law and how gobsmacked they look. Suddenly, human rights matter. Funny how your view changes when it’s you. 🤷🏻♀️
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 25, 2017
Agree. People say “don’t mess with Chinese people’s kids” etc. but if it’s not a family’s own kid, while it provokes disgust, tbh the impact is limited. Unless some kind of power play is going on and a situation is instrumentalized by certain/whatever interests etc.
— Didi Kirsten Tatlow (@dktatlow) November 25, 2017