Chinese pupil poses moral conundrum after being criticized for “wrong” answer
In a quiz on Chinese reading, a first grader answered “No, I won’t” to the question “Would you give up your pear out of courtesy to your brothers if you were Kong Rong?” He got a huge “X” for his answer from his teacher. The child’s father, upon seeing the answer sheet, took a picture of it and uploaded it to Sina Weibo, the hugely popular microblogging service, which has had the nation question the purpose of education.
The reading section of the exam is a passage, written in both Chinese characters and pinyin, about a classic moral story, commonly known as “Kong Rong giving up pears” (孔融让梨), that has been taught in elementary schools since the Song Dynasty in the same way the tale of George Washington felling a cherry tree lingers in the U.S. classes. According to the story, Kong Rong, later a politician in late Han Dynasty, picked the smallest of all pears and let his brothers choose the rest that were bigger, despite being only 4-year-old and the youngest in the family at the time.
The post by the child’s father was reposted by 2,000 users and received 400 comments within one day. It is heatedly discussed on Sina Weibo, as netizens debate if educators should enforce values onto students, and if honest expression of unorthodox opinion should be encouraged.
A reporter from Dongfang Daily contacted the child’s father. The child is in Grade 1 at an elementary school in the city of Shanghai. When the father saw the exam paper, he questioned his son about the answer, but the son insisted that he was not being playful. “ I asked him, ‘Why did you write that you won’t give up your pear?’ He answered, ‘I don’t think Kong Rong, a 4-year-old, would have actually done that.’ I asked him why not. He answered, ‘Because he was only 4 years old,’” the father recalled. He said that his son was pretty confident in the answer and refused to correct it, at least not until he got an explanation from the teacher.
“Actually, my son is not selfish. He understands the significance of sharing. He passes food to me, his mother and his grandma at the table every day.”
Illustration of the story ‘Kong Rong giving up pears.’
The majority of the flurry of the online commentary it inspires is supportive of the little boy. In an online survey on Sina Weibo, 57.1% of all 3,569 respondents say they wouldn’t give up pears in Kong Rong’s situation, and 23.7% say “I don’t know.”
Selected comments from Sina Weibo
兔兔窝大宝贝 ：Kids are kids. They are very selfish about food they like. It is very normal. You can’t kill kids’ nature. After he grows up, he will naturally understand that some insignificant things can be given up. Since (the pear) is just a small thing, giving it up or not does not matter a great deal, and “Yes” shouldn’t be the only answer.
不如人意：I wouldn’t. Ordinary kids’ mentality will say no.
June的窝：I probably wouldn’t when I was little. Now it doesn’t matter at all.
Fawave猫：Nowadays, things are different than before. In a society where competition is so fierce, education should be changed accordingly. Many opportunities only come about once, and you won’t have it in the rest of your life if you miss it!
猫耳闹不住菇：I don’t like eating pears, so, why not give it up. But I am not sure if Kong Rong disliked eating pears too. Virtues are not the result of regulation. But when we were little, we all wrote artfully the supposed answer, no matter whether we would really do it or not. A kid like him who speaks honestly is truly lovely.
木易囡囡313：Damn, what were they thinking? What the heck would a little child know? In my case I would definitely refuse to give it up.
A commenter said that the red cross is crude; there is nothing wrong with the kid’s answer, as, first, not everyone should be required to be a saint, and second, at the very least, the boy was honest, much better than those who answered “Yes” but thought rather differently.
Another commenter said, if teachers forbid children to speak honestly, “how can you expect the society to have integrity and honesty?” One Weibo user asked, “The question was only asking ‘What would you do’, as long as one tells what he would do and did not give an irrelevant answer, how can you give him an ‘X’?”
The boy’s misery has also found company. A net user said, “My nephew in elementary school stumbled upon a question asking ‘What character do you get if you dot the character ‘Big 大’? He wrote ‘Dog 犬’, and got an ‘X’. The only acceptable answer was ‘Extreme 太’”.
Others think that the question should have been asked at all, “For so many years, Chinese literature classes have been focusing on moral education while ignoring core skills such as classical Chinese, world literature, reading comprehension and independent thinking…Just look at how little adults read each year and how scarce their knowledge is.”
There are netizens who disagree, “What makes human beings different from animals is human beings have the sense of right and wrong and know courtesy and modesty. Does teaching children to pick the biggest pear at their own will really mean an emancipation of human nature?”