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Classroom Battle Reflects Culture of 'Power Worship'

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On a late October afternoon, Duo Duo went to the railway station after class, instead of going home as usual.

The fifth-grader's plan to run away was foiled when police in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, noticed her and took her home.

Duo Duo's attempt to join China's army of street children was prompted by her failure to become class monitor - an ambition that her father described as an "obsession".

"We would have liked her to become the monitor, but we are worried that she is kind of obsessed," Duo Duo's father said.

However, her ambition is nothing exceptional in China's primary schools.

A survey by Beijing-based newspaper Mirror Evening News last month found that 90 percent of 180 interviewed first-grade students wanted to be "officials" in their classes, and 70 percent aspired to be the monitor.

In China's schools, each class usually has a committee, headed by a monitor, whose members are chosen from outstanding students to help teachers administer the class. The committee is appointed by the head teacher or elected by fellow students.

A monitor or other class committee members have the authority to keep order when the teacher is absent and to punish troublemakers or recommend teachers to punish them, and often get preferential treatment from teachers.

Sociologists and experts believe the widespread obsession reflects the culture of "power worship" in the world's most populous country.

The Chinese have traditionally valued official rank. A saying in The Analects of Confucius, the collection of the words and acts of Confucius (551 BC-479 BC), famously goes, "He who excels in study can follow an official career."

The tradition still exists. China's 2011 national civil service examination to select government employees attracted 1.3 million qualified applicants, but only one in every 65 is expected to get a civil service job.

Some pupils surveyed by the Mirror Evening News described class official posts as "awesome" because class officials "govern people".

"It looks cool to become a class leader and that would make me feel great," says Teng Haonan, a first-grade student in Shanghai.

Teng's bid for a post is supported by his mother, who believes it would give her son confidence and help him develop management and communication skills.

However, more immediate incentives also drive the trend. Monitors are more likely than their classmates to win honors, which can earn them bonus points in competition for enrollment at prestigious middle schools. Sometimes the position itself is an advantage during enrollment.

Many parents take part in the competition by asking for "special favors" from teachers. They make phone calls and visit teachers, and some even offer "gifts".

"Many parents call me before the election of class leaders and ask for special care for their children," says a teacher surnamed Huang, who was in charge of Duo Duo's class and described the situation as "embarrassing".

Some teachers, in an attempt to cool the rivalry among children and parents, rotate the positions among students.

Wang Jin, a sociologist at Sun Yat-Sen University, said education authorities are to blame for the situation because leader positions are used from primary school to university to reward good students.

"Children learn from adults. Some kids are apparently influenced by the misguided values of the adult world that judge a person's social worth by their official rank," said Wang Ning, dean of the sociology department at Sun Yat-Sen University.

Wang Ning said the problem is made worse by many adults who use official careers to gain personal benefits, instead of serving the public.

(China Daily November 15, 2010)

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