One online dictionary defines interning as:
- The act of training someone for a job or vocation
- Restriction to a locale, country or prison
Recently a group of girls in Guilin who were training to be dancers were sent by school officials to intern in their craft. They lived in Guilin, a part of the exceedingly poor Guanxi autonomous region often in the news lately for civil disturbances related to government enforced birth control and abortion.
I don’t know about Guanxi, but in areas of Guangdong, arts schools and their charges are not held in high regard. Dancing, painting, contemporary music and poetry are often thought to be frivolous activities meant for those not expected to succeed in life. Business, marketing, engineering, medicine, and law are more socially acceptable here.
But most students in China, regardless of their vocational choice, are hungry for life experience in their chosen fields. They believe that transferable skills are learned in the workplace rather than the classroom and they trust teachers and authorities to guide those experiences. And most of the teachers there, a dear friend of mine among them, make about $100 USD a month for their efforts, but take their responsibilities seriously.
Xinhua news euphemistically reported this week that “The law was broken” when one school lost its moral compass and arranged for its students to work as bar girls: Guilin Intermediate Vocational Dance School’s cadre arranged “internships” for 22 teenagers in Hangzhou, China nightclubs.
The school officials told parents that their children would perform at “well-regulated places” and would each be paid 750 yuan (US$94) a month, a very hefty salary for an ethnic minority student in Guanxi, but the dark reality was they earned 100 yuan ($12.50 USD) and paid 50 yuan to an “agent,” 25 yuan to the dance school, leaving 25 yuan (a little more than $3 USD) for their them.
The most bizarre part of this story is the spin some educators and officials have put on the event: Yuan Bentao, a professor at Tsinghua University, said, “It is even more important that private schools like this maintain a respectable image so that they can survive in China’s competitive education marketplace.” Ya, that was the first thing that came into my mind.
Internet chat-rooms have called for jail time for the school officials. The school’s Chairman Guo Guisheng claims he believed he was “doing a good deed” for the impoverished girls and their families.
In all of the reporting on this issue I have seen no indication that anyone has done anything to dress the wounds that were surely opened for the girls involved. My mother and her sister were abandoned on the steps of an orphanage during America’s Great Depression because my grandparents could not afford to feed them. They never got over it emotionally and they were not morally degraded like these girls were: The students were often forced to share toasts with middle-aged businessmen then sent to bed to cry themselves into a drunken sleep.
A law firm director, Qiu Baochang, of the Beijing-based Huijia Law Firm added, “These schools have to improve their teaching if they hope to have good reputations; otherwise, they will easily fall into a vicious circle.” Alleged professionals like these make a case for the re-thinking of industrialized education in China.
It’s too late, counselor: The vicious cycle involves the haves and have-nots in your new China. The internships given to those underprivileged children better fit the definition of imprisonment. They are now socially and psychologically locked in to a wheel of poverty and trauma. The only thing these girls learned is that a lack of self-esteem for a poor child is not a self-induced psychological condition, but part of a realistic self-assessment. A prospering economy has driven off and left these dancers on the steps of bankrupt orphanage.