As a student in junior high school, my daughter’s academic performance was mediocre, but she had a sweet personality— cheerful, charming, tender and considerate. We were perfectly happy with her, though once in a while, our thoughts might have been overshadowed by the prospect of her struggling in the relentless exam-oriented educational system where only the fittest survive. When our friends talked about how their daughters threw tantrums or were forever at odds with them, we were thankful that our daughter was different.
Last year, during the summer vacation, my son, who was hoping to enter high school, came back home one day with his entrance exam results, forwarded to him through his old school. While we were nervously matching his scores against the basic requirements of individual high schools, my daughter came back from her summer school.
“All hell has broken loose!” she shouted in our direction. This was what my daughter was like back then, day in and day out. The moment she got back from school and put down her school bag, she would follow me around the house, enumerating the day’s happenings, things big and small, relevant and irrelevant. But that day, the adults were not in the mood for such small talk.
“Quiet, please! Go and eat on your own. I’m helping your brother to look for a school,” I said.
We finally finished with our calculations a little bit later.
Tension had been gripping the whole family for quite some time
because of the all-important high school entrance exam, but at
that moment, I was thankful the stress was finally relieved.
However, just as my son and I started talking about the school
he might be qualified for, my daughter came barging in again.
“All hell has broken loose! My teacher wants you to go see
the Dean of Student Affairs,” she said with an air of mystery.
An invitation to the Dean’s office generally means trouble.
My poor heart, which had scarcely begun to enjoy a little peace,
was agitated again.
“What happened? Why the Dean’s office? What for?” I
almost jumped up from my chair in alarm.
Taken aback by my strong reaction, my daughter tried to
play down the event.
“I was beaten up by a classmate. She’s also beaten up other
classmates. Their parents reported it to the school. . . . Anyway,
our teacher is asking you to go to the Dean’s office. Go and
you’ll find out.”
Now, such news shocked me even more! How could my daughter, who had always been courteous and docile, get
involved in a fight? When did this happen? Why did she never
mention it? Why hadn’t we detected anything?
“It happened quite a while ago, when you went to Nanjing
for a conference. One day, when I was reading on the floor of
our Japanese-style study, Dad noticed bruises on my leg and
asked me about them. I lied, saying I got them in a fall. But
what really happened was that I was beaten up by a classmate. I
didn’t tell the truth because I didn’t want to worry him,” she
“Why did your classmate beat you up? What had you done
“I have no idea.”
How come my daughter was beaten up and didn’t even
know why? Things might not be as simple as they appeared!
That evening, I was in for an even greater shock when I called
her teacher. My daughter was beaten up not just once, but four
times! According to the teacher, the fight was initiated by three
girls, all from problem families. The leader, called R, lived with
her maternal grandmother. When called to the office, the grandma
banged on the desk, angrily rebuking the staff for wronging
her granddaughter. Quite a few girls suffered intimidation or
beating of some kind, but my daughter’s case was the most serious:
she was beaten up four times in ten days. The teacher suggested
that I formally report the case to the Dean’s Office, which
would facilitate an investigation.
When I put down the phone, my hands were trembling.
How could my daughter, who had always been talkative and
never kept anything from me, have managed to withhold from
me things of such enormity, not betraying a clue of her agony all
this time since I came back from Mainland China? She must have been tormented by the stress pent up inside of her. Just as I
guessed, after a lot of prodding and coaxing by her father and
me, she finally broke down.
“K threatened me, saying that if I should dare to say anything
to our teacher or my parents, she would push me from the
top of the building, and see that I die an ugly death,” she said
I felt a chill running down my spine.
“Besides, I didn’t want to worry you and Dad,” she added.
I felt a stab of pain in my heart. Our daughter was a gentle
and reasonable girl, who did not usually get into trouble. That’s
why we’d never seen the need to warn her about bullying on
campus, . . . .