Subscribe to our newsletter

     By signing up, you agree to our Terms Of Use.


    • About Us
    • |
    • Contribute
    • |
    • Contact Us
    • |
    • Sitemap

    China’s ‘Supernanny’ Stirs Controversy With Ultra-Harsh Methods

    Education influencer Zhao Juying has won a huge following by promoting tough disciplinary methods that hark back to a more conservative age.
    May 08, 2024#education#family

    Zhao Juying’s approach to motivating students to study harder is extremely simple: smash their toys with a hammer and whip them with a bamboo cane if they slack off.

    The former teacher has emerged as a popular education influencer on Chinese social media by advocating harsh, old-school forms of discipline. But her aggressive approach is stirring controversy in a country where many consider these methods outdated at best — and borderline illegal at worst.

    Zhao has risen to prominence by filming a show for Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, that closely follows the format of the reality TV show “Supernanny.” In each episode, concerned parents invite Zhao into their homes to help them encourage their teenage children to study harder.

    Zhao will then set about her task with relish, subjecting the children to a barrage of harsh disciplinary measures aimed at forcing them to focus solely on their school work. Forty episodes in, the show has become hugely popular: Zhao has attracted over 400,000 followers on Douyin since she joined the platform late last year.

    But the latest of these videos have landed Zhao in hot water this week due to their particularly extreme content. In one episode, Zhao visits a junior middle school student surnamed Huang in the eastern city of Suzhou. To eliminate any distractions from studying, she first instructs Huang to smash his collection of toy cars and Gundam figurines with a hammer. 

    Zhao then proceeds to slap Huang on his palms and torso with a bamboo cane — to punish the child for his past indolence. Under the impassive gaze of the boy’s mother, Zhao shouts:

    “Will these toys help you improve your math or English grades? If you fail to get into high school, you won’t even get a chance to sit the university entrance exams. No girls who have been to a good university will marry you.”

    In another recent episode, Zhao orders another junior middle school student to throw all the stuffed toys, stickers, and ornaments in her bedroom into a trash can. “You are a middle school student, not a baby in diapers,” she says as the girl silently complies.

    These two videos have quickly become among Zhao’s most watched episodes, but they have also sparked intense backlash this week. Zhao’s Douyin feed has been flooded with comments from users condemning her methods. Several related hashtags have become trending topics on the microblogging platform Weibo.

    Many users said Zhao’s approach to education — with its aggressive style, obsessive focus on boosting students’ exam scores, and liberal use of corporal punishment — reminded them of their own childhood experiences. During previous decades, a “good grades, good life” mindset was prevalent in Chinese households, and parents were often willing to use tough tactics to achieve their desired goal of giving their children a good education.

    But the country is increasingly moving away from this mentality. Authorities have implemented several policies designed to reduce the pressure on students amid a concerning rise in the prevalence of anxiety disorders among school-age children.

    China also passed a revised Law on the Protection of Minors in 2020 that bans violence against children in schools, homes, and care institutions. 

    Many parents expressed sympathy for the students featured in Zhao’s videos. Some said Zhao’s actions amounted to a form of bullying rather than education, while others said they were concerned for the children’s mental well-being.

    “Suppressing children’s interests isn’t real education; it’s an adult obsession with power and control,” read one highly upvoted comment on Weibo. “The purpose of education isn’t to mold individuals, but to unlock their potential.”

    Quan Huaxiang, a 47-year-old mother from the central Hunan province, told Sixth Tone that she was happy to allow her daughter to indulge her interest in cosplaying. “If it makes her happy and she’s not causing harm to others, it’s OK to have hobbies,” she said.

    She added that corporal punishment was counterproductive, as it only pushes children to rebel and act out even more. “It’s never good to use violence,” said Quan.

    Amid the debate over Zhao’s methods, questions have also emerged regarding her qualifications as an educator. In her promotional materials, Zhao has claimed to be a certified lecturer from the U.S.-based Positive Discipline Association, a development branch of the American Montessori Society, but there is currently no mention of her in the association’s records posted online, China Youth Daily reported.

    A representative from a local education bureau in the northwestern Gansu province, however, told domestic media that Zhao had retired from teaching at a nearby elementary school in 2023. Zhao’s profile on Douyin claims that she worked as a teacher for over 30 years. Following concerns raised by the public, authorities have said they will investigate the matter.

    Additional reporting: Ding Xiaoyan.

    (Header image: A screenshot shows Zhao Juying forcing a boy to smash his toy. From Weibo)