April 28, 2010

15 year old commits suicide after classmates vote to suspend her

Translation: 河南15岁少女被全班同学投票赶走投河自尽

Photo: http://news.xinmin.cn/rollnews/2010/04/28/4640367.html

"Lei Mengjia's (雷梦佳) life ends right now! Dad, Mom, I am sorry! I will repay your kindness in the next life! Huihui, let's be best friends in our next life!" After leaving the 3-line note by the side of the Yellow River Canal near school, Lei Mengjia jumped into the water and ended her young life. Lei Mengjia was a first year student from Xixia Middle School student in Meng Jin county, Luoyang, Henan (河南洛阳孟津西霞院初级中学).

On April 20, Lei Mengjia's father told the reporter that Lei's 15th birthday was April 10. Last year, she invited several friends to celebrate. Sadly this year, Lei has to spend her 15th birthday without blessings from friends and parents. Is she happy in the other world?

According to previous news reports, Lei died around 10 A.M. in the morning of April 7. Just before 10 A.M., a majority of her classmates had voted to suspend her from school.

The previous day, April 6, Lei was involved in a fight with a female student from a different class. Lei's head teacher Zhou first asked Lei to step out of class and then proceeded to administer a "test" concerning Lei's behavior, which seriously violated class policies. The single question on this test was: should Lei be given a second chance, or should Lei's parents take her back home for one week of re-education? 26 students voted for Lei to go home, whereas 12 classmates chose to give her another chance.

Following majority's rule, Teacher Zhou phoned Lei's mom Mrs. Zhu. Mrs Zhu said that she did not fight with the teacher's decision, but by the time she arrived at school, Lei was nowhere to be seen.

Lawyer: This is another form of corporal punishment

As one of the parties involved in the tragedy, Teacher Zhou admitted during one interview that although the class had voted to determine Lei's fate, her subsequent death was quite unexpected. Teacher Zhou also said that disciplinary actions by democracy is allowed in the class constitution.

By April 15, as a result of several prior discussions between the Mengjin government, the school, and relatives of the student, it was determined that the county government, village committee and the middle school would collectively pay 90,000 yuan to Lei's parents as compensation.

Mr. Lei expressed strong disapproval of the teacher's actions. No matter how naughty his child might be, the teacher had no right to organize the students to kick her out. How can an emotionally immature 15 year old girl be subjected to this kind of extreme treatment?

Mr. Lei said his daughter had a cheerful disposition, without signs of mental problems. Her grades were not low either, and she showed an interest in literature. Before this, the class teacher treated her well. If the teacher administered a beating instead, she would not have jumped into the canal. But the democratic voting hurt her self-esteem.

On April 14, when Lei Mengjia's suicide hit the news, Mengjin Board of Education submitted a report to Louyang's Department of Education. The report was titled "Concerning the Baihe Xixia Middle School Student Lei who drowned after leaving school grounds without permission, the investigation results and the final decision." On April 15, the school handed the compensatory money to Lei's family.

Lei Mengjia's Mother Mrs. Zhu did not agree with the choice of words "leaving school grounds without permission." She told the reporter that it was the teacher asking the child to leave. He did not personally hand the child over to the parents either, and this lapse was irresponsible.

Luoyang lawyer Zhang Yaoxian (张耀显) said that the voting is essentially a form of corporal punishment. It directly contradicts the spirit behind "Protection of Minors Act," but there are no specific legal provisions for how much responsibility the school should bear.

Class teacher in shock. Principal suspended

The reporter visited Xixia Middle School on April 20, hoping to understand the cause and effect of this democratic voting.

Principal Li pleaded with the media to let the teachers be. TV, newspapers, and the internet are taking turns to criticize the teachers and the school. Teacher Zhou is currently resting at home due to his miserable state of mind. Zhou's relatives went to the school several times to refuse further interviews, citing that his mental well-being is not very good.

Principal Li said that after Lei passed away, Teacher Zhou was reprimanded by the supervisors on the Board of Education. He himself has been stripped of his position and now only serves as the acting principal. The 48 teachers, fearful and insecure, no long dare to discipline the students. The school system is facing a complete breakdown.

Mr. Lei pointed out that Teacher Zhou had not apologized for Lei Mengjia's death. The school needs to re-educate its teachers so that similar tragedies will not happen in the future.

However, according to Principal Li, it is really not a matter of not apologizing. Rather, Teacher Zhou is still reeling from shock. Beginning April 10, the school has administered 4 training sessions to the entire teaching body. More will follow.

Principal Li agreed with Mr. Lei's assessment of Lei Mengjia's cheerful temperament. He also told the reporter that Mr. Lei has gone to the police regarding the student's death. In fact, the school is very much interested in the cause of death as well. The canal water level typically does not reach above Lei Mengjia's knees. However, on the day she drowned, it rose. What had caused the water level to rise? Right now public opinion is one-sided, accusing the school of forcing the child to die. This is not fair.

The student who fought with Lei Mengjia was also reprimanded. But she did not face suspension by class voting.

What the media and the public don't understand is why did the teacher organize the voting? Principal Li said that the county Board of Education have held seminars in the past, requiring the promotion of self-management among students. Yet, when Teacher Zhou let students manage themselves, tragedy struck.

So was Lei Mengjia's case spelled out in school policies? Principal Li said no. Because self-management is a relatively new concept, the Board of Education and school only encourage teachers to explore the novel method. There are no firmly established guidelines which mandate punishment be determined through voting.

What form of self-management do students need?

In the Western judicial system, the presence of a jury often lets citizens to determine the fate of fellow citizens. Why can't the same thing work in schools?

Lawyer Zhang Yaoxian thinks that juries only apply in the case of suspected criminals. First year middle school students are not adults. Letting a group of minors determine the fate of another minor is ludicrous and irresponsible. Furthermore, it is against the law to deprive the child of her education rights this way.

Older media reports reveal that many schools have already implemented like policies. Three years ago, to encourage self-management among students, a grade school in Luohe enacted the Principal Assistant Program, in which young students act as principals to enforce school regulations. The program was praised by both parents and teachers. In 2008, the Departments of Education in both Jiaozuo and Qinyang abolished homework in grade schools so that students have more control over their out-of-class time. This was also met with parental satisfaction.

Why did the promising method of self-management fail so spectacularly at Lei Mengjia's school? Mr. Tao Xingzhi (陶行知, a prominent educator) once wrote, self-management gives students opportunities to organize so that they can improve their abilities to govern themselves. Vasyl Sukhomlynsky, a well-known educator in the former Soviet Union, wrote in his 100 Suggestions to Teachers: "Self-education necessitates strong motivating factors--self esteem, sense of self-respect, and desires for improvement..." Chen Mingkui, head of Zhenghou Department of Education, believes that Xixia Middle School attempts to instill the idea in a humiliating way and should not be equated with self-management.

Chen Mingkui also said that in China mainland, no education department openly promotes self-management. How it should be implemented and where to draw the bottom line remain an open question.

Principal Li of Xiaxia Middle School admits that village teachers are not as qualified as city teachers. Hopefully Lei's tragedy will serve as a wake-up call to schools that the society should pay more attention to the quality of teachers in less-developed areas.

Some of the most popular comments:
The teacher is responsible!

Anonymous from Foshan, Guangdong:
The teacher who initiated this vote cannot be human!

Anonymous from Sichuan:
Minors are easily incited.

Being a teacher is a tough job! You can't beat, and you can't scold. Even letting the students self-manage doesn't work.....Sigh

Anonymous from Beijing:
Overall the teacher is responsible. My junior high school teacher once did the same thing. This is mainly due to bad teachers who don't take students seriously.

Anonymous from Guangzhou, Guangdong:
She did the wrong thing, so other students had the right to vote for her suspension. You can't blame her death on others when she is psychologically weak.

Anonymous from location unknown (in response to Anonymous from Guangzhou):
Who didn't do wrong at one time or another? Are you bastard a saint?

Anonymous from Qingdao, Shandong:
If the teacher did not drop hints, the students would not made such a decision.


  1. Wow, what a tragic story, so horrible. Thank you for sharing.


  2. what a tragedy. hopefully teachers all over can learn from this...

  3. Yikes, "In the Western judicial system, the presence of a jury often lets citizens to determine the fate of fellow citizens. Why can't the same thing work in schools?"

    This is a wildly inaccurate description of western jury trials! First, the jury is carefully screened and selected to reduce biases - certainly an accused person would never be judged by a jury of their accusers! Secondly, a judge often has the final say.

    My opinion - the teacher abdicated his responsibility multiple times - by yielding his authority to the mob of excited kids, and by not acting as a custodian to the expelled student after he ejected her from class. That guy isn't fit to teach, and his negligence has cost a life. I'm not sure where he stands in terms of Chinese law, but in the US he could be guilty of negligent homicide.

  4. These kinds of social ostracizations can have a very severe impact on people. Especially youths that are still at school and have a greater desire for peer acceptance.

    In this case it could have been somewhat avoidable by the teacher, if he put an immediate stop to such a silly idea as this voting thing.

    Author at Cellulean


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