Is corporal punishment a good method for teaching children how to behave? Or is it just a way for impatient and frustrated parents to unload their negative emotions on defenceless children?
Just a few days ago I was walking on a street in Taipei and I saw a mother who kept yelling at her young daughter. Then she suddenly hit the child across the face so hard that her cheek immediately reddened. I do not know exactly why the mother was so upset, but slapping her daughter in the middle of the street and in front of everybody doesn’t seem to me a good way to teach anything. Passers-by, of course, saw what happened, and some looked slightly shocked. But as this is considered a private family matter no one would have dared interfere or even show too much attention. The child will have to learn to submit.
As I have explained in one of my posts, corporal punishment used to be common in East Asia and is still relatively widespread, though not as much as before. However, mild forms of aggressive behaviour are widely tolerated even in public.
In Taiwan, which is often considered such a harmonious and friendly society, I often witness cases of people yelling at each other shamelessly in public. I saw girlfriends shouting at their boyfriends, a man hitting his wife, a wife yelling at her husband inside a bakery – and I could go on. I was also myself shouted at by some people whom I considered friends; funny enough, exactly because they saw me as a friend, they shouted at me. Apparently, this means they “trusted” me and wanted to “improve” me – had they not “trusted” me and “cared” about me, they would just have been polite. An interesting and common perception, however twisted, that justifies aggressive behaviour.
Fortunately, though, severe corporal punishment doesn’t meet with approval any more, as the following case shows. On October 16 a video of a Chinese mother beating her child went viral, sparking outrage. The young woman ferociously hits the child with a stick, then kicks him repeatedly. The whole video lasts for about 5 minutes. You can also see that the child’s pants have been pulled down by the woman, perhaps to make the punishment all the more painful.
Netizens were outraged by the violent beating. Some criticised the person who shot the video for not intervening, though intervening is always a tricky thing, especially in China or Taiwan. First, people will get really aggressive if you meddle in their private affairs, as they consider you a stranger. Some cases, such as that of a man who was beaten up in Shanghai because he complained that a father was letting his child pee inside the metro, are a warning to those who would like to show civil courage. Second, even if the witness had called the police, they might have arrived late. I don’t know whether the PRC police is efficient enough to take up the matter and thank the witness for his or her cooperation. Maybe the person did not have enough faith in the police (now I’m speculating, of course).
Despite their claim to live in harmonious societies, some people in China and Taiwan seem to have so much negativity and aggressiveness inside that they must vent these emotions on those who are in an inferior position. Children are, in this respect, the most defenceless individuals. Drill, hard work, or pressure are not enough to turn a young person into an upright and principled adult.