Content Warning – Suicide

A Chinese schoolgirl jumped off a building a week ago, ending her life at the age of ten. This is a tragedy that even while living in the West, we should all care about.

The schoolgirl’s name was Miao Ke-Xin, a Year 5 pupil at the time of her death. She was a cheerful child and enjoyed art and literature. From all the awards she had won in dancing, singing and painting, we would have no doubt that she was indeed her parents’ pride. In fact, she loved studying and was adored by her classmates. She said in her diary that she was “addicted to learning”. But the school failed her. Hours before she ended her life, she was condemned by her teacher for a piece of homework she handed in which was a short discussion on the story “Three Defeats of the Skeleton Demon” from the Chinese literature classic, the Journey to the West (i.e. Monkey King). In the essay, she wrote: “Don’t be deceived by the superficial and hypocritical people. In today’s society, some might disguise themselves with an innocent appearance, but they have darkness inside. They will use a variety of tricks to achieve their despicable goals”. Miao’s teacher circled this paragraph out, and wrote beside it: “(You should) promote a positive message! “

Reading through Miao’s 400-word essay with her teacher’s remarks, we can easily track what happened there. Miao started her essay by telling the readers the story between the protagonists and the skeleton demon. “Tang Monk and his three companions (including the famous Monkey King) arrived at a place called the White Tiger Hill, where they became exhausted and very thirsty. Monkey King volunteered to fetch some fruits for the group and his presence in the jungle disturbed the skeleton demon who lived there.” She carried on, “The demon had long been told that by eating Tang Monk’s flesh (he was believed to be holy), one would become immortal.”

“However, the skeleton demon could not capture Tang Monk easily because his companions were protecting him. Hence, it disguised itself as a beautiful young woman, holding an indigo pot in her left hand, and a green vase in her right hand (typical items that the Chinese version of Avalokitesvara carries), intending to lure Tang Monk away from protection. As she approached Tang Monk, Monkey King swiftly returned and saw right through her disguise. He killed the ‘young woman’ with one bash on her head. However, the demon turned into a cloud of smoke and escaped, leaving only a sham corpse.”

“The demon did not give up, it turned into an old lady looking for her ‘missing daughter’ and later an old man looking for his ‘missing daughter and wife’. Monkey King consequently killed all of them which infuriated Tang Monk. How could a follower of Buddha commit such grisly crimes? Tang Monk banished Monkey King as a result.”

The actual story proceeds as the demon made its fourth attempt and succeeded. While Tang Monk was tied up in the demon’s den, waiting to be cooked alive, Monkey King returned and defeated the demon for good. Miao then concluded that one should be careful not to fall into other people’s hidden agenda. 

Miao’s teacher accused her of sending out “a wrong message”, and publicly shamed her. She even went out a great length to criticise the use of rhetoric in this essay with the purpose of discrediting Miao’s conclusion. Miao had been called names by the teacher, according to some of her classmates, for a prolonged period of time before she took her own life, but this public shaming of her essay was the last blow. 

After Miao’s death, her peers, the parents of her peers, mostly remained silent. Some even expressed their stance to stand in solidarity with the teacher. One said in a parent-teacher chat group that “keeping silent is the best way to show respect to both Miao’s parents and the teacher.”

Whether her opinion was right or wrong is a different debate, but the fact that the teacher didn’t allow her to express her view was what deeply troubled me. Even if it was a message that we should not embrace, the teacher should have listened to her arguments and allowed a rational and fact-based debate on the topic, and guiding her to change her point of view, instead of launching a Cultural-Revolution-like public shaming. My parents and grandparents lived through those times when Red Guards and Thought Police roamed the streets torturing people with different views. There was only one voice allowed, no one dared to question it. This many years later, do we still hold the same view that everyone should have uniform thoughts? If so, why can’t we just live in the world depicted in 1984?

Looking at the world we live in today, are we acting just like the teacher, shutting down opinions that we don’t want to hear or see, or are we the parents, cowardly trying to look neutral and not dare to offend either side? Ask yourself this question: who should we really be?

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