Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Child Abuse in Taiwan

with 2 comments

I wanted to add the positive attributes of Taiwan to this blog before I wrote anything else. However, fate intervened, as it does.

I will tell this story as it happened:

I walked into my second class of the morning, yesterday. I began my normal routine of hopping around the class and getting the kids excited, awake, and speaking. I noticed that one of my favorite students, Virginia, arguably the smartest little girl in the entire kindergarten, sitting down. Normally she would be chasing me around like all the other little hulligans. I approached her and could immediately see marks on her legs, what looked to me like faux tiger stripes.

I turned to the Chinese teacher, asking her if she had noticed these marks. She gave a very common Taiwanese look of pure cluelessness. Virginia, by this time, was starting to get really self-conscious, pulling her little school uniform shorts over her knees. A useless effort, since these lash marks striped her legs to the ankle. I held her hand and brought her downstairs to the main Chinese-English teacher, the only real bilingual person in the school, and the principal. I asked them if they had noticed, since they welcome all the students in the morning. No. Of course not.

They convinced shy little Virginia to pull up her shorts a little bit, and the marks were placed about every two inches from her ankles to her thighs. They were brownish-purple on her yellow-tan skin. They were shocked, but seemed ready to drop the issue. Luckily, this caught the attention of our rather butch female gym teacher, who came over and pulled Virginia’s shorts way up.

What I saw next is one of the most fucking disturbing things I have ever seen. On the very top insides of her thighs were more bruises, larger, bigger bruises. These bruises were passed purple, passed yellow and green. She had been hit so many times here and so hard, that the stick or cane had broken her skin. This type of wound could only be inflicted if someone held one of her legs in the air and repeatedly struck her uppermost inner thigh.

They asked her in Chinese, who did this? She said her mom. Where? In her house. Why? Because she was shaking her legs at the dinner table.

I am angry. Even now, a full day later, I am burning. This little girl is incredible, super intelligent, well-behaved… just all I can ask for as a teacher. She is friendly. She is confident. And I care for my students, especially those few who I can really communicate with even that much more, students like Virginia. In many ways, these are my children.

In Taiwan, parents drop their kids off at school for 12 hours or longer each day. Sometimes it isn’t even the parents, it is the grandparents who pull this duty. Parents “work” which generally means sitting in front of a 16″ TV in one of their All-the-Exact-Same-Shops that line All-the-Exact-Same-Streets. In most cases this is their excuse, in this culture (allegedly) based on the extended family unit, to shun their children. Education is a prviate industry and is expected to care for children from 7a.m. until 9p.m. six days a week. These are my students. These are my children.
Beat my kid and I get pretty fucking heated. I asked the teachers what they were going to do. The response was sheepish. The best answer was that they would take pictures and if it happens again, call the police. This raises a slew of tough questions. Child abuse is prevalent in this country; it permeates to the core.

I have personally witnessed teachers hitting, smacking, even using large rulers on children in the classroom– almost all of which occurred in my former school. It was borderline behavior, but I was told it is the accepted norm here. I heard one story of a foreign teacher being fired from his job because he attacked a father after seeing the father drag a student down the street with a rope tied around her hands.

I have heard it. I have seen it. The evil exists. As it does everywhere. The answer I hear the most on what to do: Be the best you can be when with the student, for them, because getting the police involved tends to make the situation even worse. From the student’s standpoint it can lead to more abuse (anger induced and projected upon the student by the abusive parent for being humiliated when this comes to light), abuse to other family members, a complete disruption of the home (sending the child to live elsewhere)… and it begs the question, how can one make it better without making it worse? And where do you draw that line?

From a teaching standpoint, it is different. I wrote a letter home to the parent voicing my blunt opinion of the matter. Who knows if it will make it to the intended reader. “Face” is big in this culture; it is basically synonymous with egotism. If I make a big scene the parent will be humiliated and pull its child out of school. The student will be dropped in a new school, and the problem will be hidden away. Generally, most bosses will likely be upset from a strictly business standpoint, since most of these schools are set up for no other reason than to turn a profit. My boss, luckily, is not that kind of man.

Still, I am stuck in this situation. I don’t know what to do. I am tempted to wait around school until Virginia is picked up and put some hands on her parents. Let the bodies hit the floor. Go John J. Rambo on the situation, law in my own hands. But then what does that make of me?

I don’t know. All I know is this anger I have now and the guilt I will carry if I fail to act.


Written by Miles

October 14, 2006 at 10:39 am

2 Responses

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  1. Miles, That was a disturbing story about the little girl. Hard to belive a parent would inflict that much punishment on a child. Your in a tough position. I would think there would be some kind of child social service organization. Maybe one of the Taiwanese friends of yours could intervene by acting as a mentor /Big Sister and spend a small amount of time with that little girl. With the wave of rapid change going on in Asia, woman are starting to be seen and heard. This possible mentor, could be the best person to communicate with this childs mother.

    When I was in China and Lao this past year I noticed rapid change. More so in China then in Lao. A friend I met who grew up in an ethnic Dai chinese village (along the Mekong River) was one of the first girls to be given an achievement test. That got her a 4 year scholarship to Beijing Univeristy. She is a lawyer now, and works for the equivalent of the FDA. A job rarely ever given to a woman. Her salary is $2400 a year. (No, not $24,000.) She lives at home/shack appartment with her parents who are young retired government workers. She has a sister 14, which is rare. Somehow, her parents got an exemption to have more then one child.

    The Chinese government has nearly completed a “super highway” from Kunming, through Lao, to the Thai border. Their goal is to open up a huge market in both Thailand and Lao. They have yet to get permision to place the first bridge ever over the Mekong River into Thailand though.

    Times are changing for the woman and lifestyle of the Asian culture. Its been said that China is back in time about 50 years. Thats a lot of catching up. With a polulation of 1.4 billion people, China has yet to confront most of its pressing problems.

    My friend Amy (English name) has great ambition to travel outside of Jingjong, where she lives. To at least go to Hong Kong, Mongolia, or Nepal.

    Maybe we will be seeing you in Taiwan.

    Liking your BLOG!!!!!!!

    Dave McKenna

    October 16, 2006 at 12:25 am

  2. Commenting on the passing of a commprehensive ban on corporal punishment in Taiwan. This is an excerpt from a post on Michael Turton’s website (

    “Why do so many teachers object? As Clyde Warden* has argued in a landmark paper in TESOL Quarterly last year, in Chinese culture students are shaped through internalization of what we in the West think of as “extrinsic” motivators, one of which is physical threats. Hence, teaching methods that seek to “reduce the affective filter” — lower the anxiety level of students — backfire here, since students do not self-motivate and their internal experience of “the pleasure of studying” was long ago impaired by teachers and parents who sought to reshape them to internalize external motivators like family prestige, intrafamily competition (“Your cousin Jane got 98 on Math….why did you only get 61?”) and income. Many teachers fear the loss of what they experience as an important driver of student performance. To a certain extent, eliminating corporal punishment will thus require comprehensive reform of child rearing in local society, not merely changes in the way discipline is carried out in the local school system.”


    January 2, 2007 at 3:34 pm

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