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    Ghostwriters Thrive Doing Students’ Summer Homework

    Parents want to give children their vacation back, but critics say it’s immoral.

    Halfway through their summer holiday, many Chinese pupils still haven’t enjoyed any time off — instead, they have been working hard to finish their vacation homework. They have been so busy in fact that the ghostwriting industry is making a pretty penny alleviating their burden, according to a report by Legal Daily on Monday.

    One parent quoted in the article said that she went online to hire a ghostwriter because she couldn’t bear to see her fifth-grade son working on his homework every day.

    On Taobao, China’s biggest online marketplace, searching for related search terms returns nearly 2,000 results, offering services such as original essays and copying over handwritten works.

    One Taobao shop owner from the eastern Chinese province of Shandong told Sixth Tone that they have been working in the industry for seven years. “We guarantee the originality of the articles we write,” the owner said, adding that they had closed more than 2,600 deals in the past month. For original writing, they charge 400 yuan (about $60) per 1,000 English words.

    Another Taobao shop based in China’s southern province of Guangdong employs 300 university students as part-time “writers” who copy over text in handwriting for one yuan per 100 words. “We will pick the scribe whose handwriting is most similar to yours,” said the shop owner. For July, they said the shop had an income of nearly 50,000 yuan.

    Zhang Li, principal at a primary school in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that parents choosing to hire ghostwriters for their children exposed a severe shortage of moral education in today’s society. “In life, honesty is the bottom line,” she said, adding that both teachers and parents should pay greater attention to help children foster a sense of responsibility.

    Under the slogan of “burden alleviation,” Chinese authorities have been trying to cut back on homework and class hours for primary school students. The Ministry of Education released regulations in July 2013 that banned written vacation assignments for first and second year primary school students.

    However, many parents decide to use their children’s spare time — including vacations — for extracurricular classes, hoping they can outcompete their peers in the class room. The phenomenon has spawned a big demand for tutors.

    Zhuo Xiaolin, mother of a fourth-grade student, told Sixth Tone that the vacation homework that the teachers assigned was too easy for her daughter, who attends one of the best primary schools in Shanghai.

    In an effort to help her daughter make more progress, Zhuo signed her up for four extra classes — English, math, and two arts subjects. “She’s fond of drawing and playing piano,” said the mother. “She is not good at English and math, so summer vacation is the best time to catch up.”

    “It’s unnecessary to do the homework if it is content that the students have already mastered,” Zhuo pointed out. But she also said paying for someone to write and copy the homework “would send the wrong message to children.”

    Chen Xiaoling, a geography teacher at a senior middle school in Shanghai, admitted that teachers understand most students don’t take vacation homework seriously. “We assign homework to pupils due to pressure from parents,” he told Sixth Tone. “We would be criticized as irresponsible if we didn’t give any homework.”

    Additional reporting by Wang Lianzhang.

    (Header image: Keren Su/Corbis Documentary/VCG)