“I used to dress in such a stylish and revealing way — wasn’t this equivalent to asking people to insult and rape me?” asks a whimpering woman in a promotional video shown at a kids’ summer camp in Wenzhou, a city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. Following an official investigation, the camp was ordered to suspend its operations, effective immediately, local media reported Monday.
According to three videos published Saturday, Sunday, and Monday by online news platform Pear Video, a “feminine virtues” summer camp was held in Wenzhou in August after a similar program in the northeastern province of Liaoning was shut down amid public backlash a year ago. Borrowing from the patriarchal tenets of the school in Liaoning, the Zhejiang camp espouses a rigid code of “feminine” conduct, teaching women and girls to safeguard their virginity, submit to their husbands, and fulfill filial obligations to their parents. Saturday’s video shows a lecturer standing onstage next to a slide of a large, gangrenous foot, explaining: “If girls change boyfriends, their hands and legs will rot — and will have to be amputated!”
The association of “immorality” with illness was also applied to the traditional Chinese virtue of filial piety, or obedience to and respect for one’s parents and elder relations. In the third video, published Monday, a clip titled “Confessions of a Cancer Patient” explains how a malignant tumor befell an unfilial daughter: “The patient’s tumor was enormous, and it turned into late-stage cancer! Why is that? Because of her impieties!”
Another example in the same video claims that a woman who’d had a fever of 40 degrees Celsius for half a year was miraculously cured after she washed her parents’ feet and confessed her wrongdoings.
Apart from attending lectures, the child participants were instructed to practice expressing gratitude to their parents through humble acts such as kowtowing. “Through this [camp], I hope children will learn how to fulfill their filial duties, work collectively, and acquire life skills,” a parent whose child participated in the course told Pear Video.
The video posted on Saturday reported that several of the instructors at the Wenzhou Traditional Culture Promotion Association training center, where the feminine virtues classes were held, had been recruited from the Fushun Traditional Culture Education School in Liaoning. While the Liaoning school enrolled adults, however, the trainees at the Zhejiang summer camp were children aged 5 to 18, along with some of their parents. Of the 56 children who participated in the August camp, 44 were girls.
Sixth Tone’s calls to the association — an NGO that organized the summer camp and received a charity award from the Wenzhou municipal government last year — went unanswered on Monday, as did calls to Fushun Traditional Culture Education School. By midday, much of the content on the association’s official WeChat account had been deleted.
The Liaoning school had announced in a Friday post on its official WeChat account that the Wenzhou Traditional Culture Promotion Association was recruiting students from across the country to join its “good pupil, good child” course, scheduled to begin Dec. 23.
As with last year’s case, the Zhejiang camp outraged netizens. “The parents who sent their children to this camp must be crazy,” read the most upvoted comment under Sunday’s video. “This evil cult should be eradicated immediately. Stop scarring the next generation,” read another popular comment.
To Zhong Shulin, a professor at Wuhan University who has written extensively on traditional Chinese culture, programs like Wenzhou’s feminine virtues summer camp are the result of opportunistic individuals distorting China’s true traditional values. “For one thing, some civil bodies are extrapolating from rotten kernels of traditional culture to make a quick buck,” he told Sixth Tone. “For another, parents who desperately want their children to succeed are easily manipulated by the market.”
“To effectively address the problem, the market should cooperate with universities and colleges to promote the essence of traditional culture, instead of the dregs,” Zhong said.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Young brides wash the feet of their mothers-in-law during an event aimed at preserving the Chinese tradition of filial piety in Huaibei, Anhui province, March 2, 2016. VCG)