In late January, the best students in a school in eastern China were given fresh pork meat during a ceremony meant to celebrate their hard work. This rather strange celebration sparked lots of discussion on Chinese social media, with many people supporting the idea. Our Observer says that this practice is becoming more and more common throughout China.
On January 26, the best 600 students at a junior high in Fuyang in Anhui province were each given several kilos of pork meat during a ceremony, according to What’s on Weibo, a website that covers stories that are making the rounds on Chinese social media. Several different Chinese media outlets posted videos of the ceremony (check out this article or another one by clicking here - in Chinese). The videos show students all lined up, holding pink diplomas. Then they are given red bags with a little picture of a pig on the side of it.
The students from a junior high in Fuyang line up for their awards ceremony. (Screengrab from a video posted here.)
According to What’s on Weibo, the director of the establishment spoke to the media:
In the past, the school would give the best students pencils and notebooks. But now, families have enough school supplies. So we had the idea to give them pork instead.
The students’ hard work is rewarded with something that they can bring home and share with their families and the other people they love. It also shows them what it is like to have other people recognise their achievements.
A number of people on Chinese social media were surprised by this initiative, even though it is becoming more common. More and more schools in China give their best students meat, or sometimes fish, to reward them for their hard work, instead of the more traditional pencils and notebooks.
The same thing happened in Liuzhou, a relatively poor area in the autonomous region of Guangxi Zhuang in southeastern China. The best students at a local primary school were awarded with pork meat dangling from a piece of string.
At a school in Dongguan, in the southeastern province of Guangdong, the 90 best students were given live fish. According to the school principal, who was interviewed by The Paper, the fish were from the school’s pond, where they had been fed on lunchroom leftovers. He said that it was a way to make the students happy while also teaching them to respect the environment.
Another school in Guangdong, this one located in the town of Shanwei, also gave their star students pork. Teachers were also rewarded in the same way.
Students at this school in Shanwei were given pork. Screengrab of a video posted here.
Similar images also circulated in 2018. In November of that year, students in Nan’an, in the eastern province of Fujian, were given pig’s feet. The school principal said that the meat was purchased with donations from former students.
Back in July 2018, the best students at a primary school in Dudongxiang, in Guangxi Zhuang, were given the same reward. When interviewed by the South China Morning Post, the school principal said that he was given money by a donor living in Beijing and that he decided to buy the meat from local farmers, who had been struggling financially.
He said that, in the past, students had been given cash but that quite a few of them spent it without speaking to their parents. He also said that 90% of students at the school came from poor families
Screengrab from an article in the South China Morning Post, published on July 8, 2018.
What do most Chinese people think?
Many people on Chinese social media seemed to approve of this kind of reward. They said that being awarded meat could boost students’ confidence and that they could share the fruits of their labour with their families. They also said that it was a symbolic way of showing them that they will always have food to eat if they work hard.
Some social media users, however, were more critical of the practice. They said that pork meat is not the best thing to give to young people and that meat is no longer considered like a rare treat.
Allen Ai is our Observer in Beijing.
Chinese companies often give their employees food as gifts, especially during the holidays. For example, I worked for a steel factory when I was younger and I was given rice and oil for the New Year. That’s quite a typical gift. In the past, it was common to give employees lamb meat or beef, but that happens less now.
This trend of giving food as a reward to students is much more recent. I think it is great. Well, it is better than giving them nothing. Here, some people think that the students should just be given a diploma. Other critics say that it is important to watch out for African swine fever [This highly infectious disease reached China in 2018]. However, others suspect that nepotism is at play and that school officials only get the meat from suppliers who are friends or family members.
I personally think that school officials have started giving out meat because it is practical as it is something that they can give to both students and teachers. In the past, people were very poor so it was a privilege to eat meat. So, giving meat as a gift is sort of a tradition. That said, today, it isn’t just schools in deprived areas that hand out meat
This article was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).