Local police manhandle teachers protesting over bonus

A photo circulating online purportedly shows protesting teachers being manhandled by police. Photo: Weibo

More than 40 teachers in a small Chinese town recently took to the street to protest against the authorities' unfulfilled promise of performance bonuses, only to face rough treatment by the local police, triggering a public outcry on the lack of respect to educators.

The maltreatment of the demonstrators in Luan, eastern China's Anhui province, came to light through a series of unverified photos and video clips released during the weekend on social media platforms showing police officers beating and hustling the teacher protesters. Luan is home to Maotanchang Middle School known for churning out students who gain high scores in the college entrance examination through excessive exercises.

The photos and video clips have created a huge sensation among the Internet users, who showed strong sympathy to the teachers and pointed the finger at the local government for going back on its word.

"Complaints by Luan teachers (about the issuance of performance bonuses) already occurred ahead of the Chinese New Year. If the problem had been solved, it would not lead to this protest. How China could be revitalized if educators are treated like this?" commented a Sina Weibo user, a popular microblogging platform in China.

"Protests are normally considered as chaos in China. Few people dare to launch protests against the government even though it is defined as citizens' legal right under the Chinese law," another Sina Weibo user wrote.

In response, the public security bureau of Luan on May 27 published a statement on its official Sina Weibo account to brief on the latest situation.

"Some 40 teachers from schools in Jinan and Yuan districts of Luan gathered outside the southern gate of the local government building in the morning of May 27 … a small number of the offenders were taken away from the scene after the police officers failed to persuade them to leave," said the statement, which described the group protest as "seriously disrupting public order".

The statement also said that the bureau has launched an investigation into the allegations that police officers beat some of the teachers during the group protest.

The event also drew attention of the state broadcaster China Central Television, which published an article on its website calling for the creation of an institutional channel to tackle teachers’ complaints and discontents.

The article titled "Let unpaid teachers have a place to put forth demands" called for a probe into whether the local government was responsible for the arrears of the teachers' wages, while calling on the Internet users to keep cool over the online rumors which distort the facts.

The article also urged the local education department and provincial officials to make public the result of the investigation as soon as possible in order to present a true account to the teachers and the public.

"There should be a place where teachers can put forward their reasonable demands, which is a basic requirement for a rule-based society and would reflect China's respect for teachers and education," concluded the article.

The protest by teachers is not the first of its kind in Anhui province. In November last year, about 80 teachers marched to the government building of Chaohu, a small town in Anhui province, clamoring for an equal status with the local public servants in receiving a one-off work bonus.

Last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated at a State Council meeting the commitment to increasing educational investment in the country's impoverished regions in the latest effort to narrow the salary gap between teachers working for public schools and civil servants.

In 2017, China's Ministry of Education published a document stipulating that the average salary of teachers serving at public schools cannot be lower than that of the local public servants.

Experts say that low payment and lack of educational infrastructure make it difficult for China's poor and remote regions to attract and retain qualified teachers, which is detrimental to the balanced development of the country.

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