Caixin
Jul 03, 2019 07:49 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Why Was an Alleged Child Molester Put in Charge of a Rural School?

Tianquan village primary school, which has just one teacher, caters to the more than 100 local families. The village is a 30-minute drive from the Wuyuan county seat. Most of the school-age children are so-called “left-behind children,” whose parents have left their rural homes to find work in bigger cities. Photo: Shen Fan/Caixinc
Tianquan village primary school, which has just one teacher, caters to the more than 100 local families. The village is a 30-minute drive from the Wuyuan county seat. Most of the school-age children are so-called “left-behind children,” whose parents have left their rural homes to find work in bigger cities. Photo: Shen Fan/Caixinc

On May 24, at a county-level court in East China’s Jiangxi province, a teacher in his late 60s named Jiang Conglai was accused of molesting 15 female students under the age of 14. He faced two trials that day — one moral, one legal.

White-haired Jiang sat at the witness stand. Facing the questions of the lawyers representing the victims, he often responded with “I’m too old to remember” or “I like teaching, and I love my students.” The parents in the courtroom were in an uproar.

This wasn’t the first time Jiang has been accused of sexual assault. In July 1997, he was relieved from his post as general director of the Meilin middle school in Wuyuan county for molesting female students. After that, he was hired as a teacher at a primary school in the same county until his retirement in October 2011.

In September 2012, Jiang was rehired by another primary school and sent to be a substitute teacher at a rural school. According to the Wuyuan County Procuratorate, or prosecutor’s office, over the following six years he committed indecent acts toward at least 10 young girls multiple times, both in the classroom and in his office. Gynecological examinations showed that six of the girls were injured to different degrees. Some lawyers suspect that he raped girls too.

In court, they objected to the jurisdiction of the case and the facts of the crimes, believing that the public security agencies did not supplement the investigation according to the procuratorial requirements. In two victims’ statements, there were descriptions of Jiang undressing and sexual organ contact, which the lawyers argue, shows rape may have occurred.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers emphasized the importance and complexity of the case and requested that it be transferred to the jurisdiction of a higher court.

The trial was adjourned following the request. It has not restarted as of the time of publication.

Wuyuan county is located in northeastern Jiangxi, adjacent to neighboring Anhui and Zhejiang provinces. It has a long history and is known as one of the most beautiful counties in China — it is home to 10 nationally-designated scenic spots that draw tourists from around the country.

However, the shortcomings of its education system were exposed by Jiang’s case. Caixin learned that many of the rural “teaching points” in Wuyuan are one-person operations, with little oversight from the local authorities.

Often a single teacher is in charge of running these small schools, but many in Wuyuan are only qualified to be substitute teachers, a practice banned by the Ministry of Education more than 10 years ago. Jiang, a retired substitute teacher, was the only teacher for dozens of young students.

Six years of indecency

On Sept. 9, Wang Qian (pseudonym), a villager from Tianquan village in Wuyuan, was the first to make a police report. The night before, Wang confirmed with her daughter that she had been molested. She repeatedly told her daughter, “It’s not your fault. I will get justice for you.” Finally, her daughter agreed and burst into tears.

Wang’s daughter had been molested four years earlier while attending the Tianquan Primary School. The school caters to the more than 100 families in the village, a 30-minute drive from the Wuyuan county seat. Most of the school-age children are so-called “left-behind children,” whose parents leave home to find work in bigger cities, often coming back only once per year — if that often. She now attends the central primary school, which is set up for grades one through six.

Though Wang called the police, she still felt ashamed for her daughter. “It was my carelessness,” she said. “When I was away working, I didn’t pay close enough attention.” Since 2007, Wang and her husband have traveled to different cities for work, only returning for the Lunar New Year holiday. She called her daughter from time to time to inquire about her studies and her life, but she never heard about her daughter being molested.

According to Jiang’s confession, when Wang’s daughter was in first and second grade, he often asked her to come to the podium so that he could correct her homework. While discussing her homework, he would put his hand into her trousers. “My indecent female students are not very hard-working or obedient. When I molested them I wanted them to remember the lessons and study very hard,” he said.

Case materials show that between September 2012 and September 2018, Jiang had used his teaching position to touch the lower bodies of 15 girls under the age of 14 during class, while correcting homework, and during lunch breaks, resulting in differing degrees of damage to the hymen and other parts of six of the girls.

In fact, before Wang Qian reported the case, other parents had already learned of their own daughters’ experiences. In 2017, Wang spent a year at home. One day, she went to the home of one of her daughter’s classmates surnamed Li, and asked the girl’s mother, “Did your daughter tell you that she was touched by a teacher at school?” The mother responded, “She came home and said she was in pain down below, she said the teacher was picking on her.” Wang Qian felt something was wrong. She asked other parents and got more similar responses.

Of the 15 victims included in the case, only two or three were not “left-behind children.”

Wang Qian felt she couldn’t bear it. “I thought the school was safe, I didn’t realize that we were pushing our children into a pit of fire. If someone had said something sooner, many children could have avoided this pain. If I don’t report it, my younger daughter will be studying with him later this year, and she’ll be hurt too. How can children forget such things?”

She told her husband what happened to their daughter, and he sent a message in the village WeChat messaging group accusing the teacher of molesting the children. Some villagers said that Jiang is the uncle of the village chief’s wife, but Caixin was unable to independently confirm this.

Lawyers for one of the victims think that the situation is much graver than just these incidents. In an objection letter submitted to the court and prosecutor on the day of the trial, statements of two of the victims showed that Jiang had been suspected of rape three years before his first trial, and that the victims still had clear memories of the incident. Xu Weihua, one of the lawyers, said: “The procuratorial organs have asked for a supplementary rape investigation, but the public security organs have not done so. The public security organs have no clear reason why they should not perform a supplementary investigation.”

Who is responsible?

Many parents described Jiang as “very nice, smiling man who occasionally brought us food,” but said they were unaware of his past.

According to the Wuyuan County Public Security Bureau, when Jiang was managing the Meilin Middle School in 1997, he entered the second grade girls’ dormitory alone and molested one student while the others were asleep. In July that year, Jiang was dismissed from his post and had his senior teaching qualification withdrawn, though he was not convicted of any crime.

Later, the parents of students at Tianquan Primary School learned that Jiang had been hired by the previous principal of the Meilin primary school. They wondered why Jiang, who had molested his students, had been hired for another teaching job.

In the criminal prosecution indictments, many parents listed the Meilin primary school, the Ziyang town government, Wuyuan’s education bureau, and the Wuyuan county government as the second, third, fourth and fifth defendants respectively. Ziyang is the township which administers Wuyuan.

They believed that these four parties should bear the legal responsibility of inadequate supervision and improper employment and be required to bear joint liability for compensation. The relevant responsible people should be investigated for malfeasance.

As of the time of writing, the families had only received a response from the Ziyang town government. The Ziyang government expressed deep sympathy for the injuries suffered by the victims, but said that it was inappropriate to classify the township as a defendant. There was no legal basis for demanding that the town should bear any liability or pay any compensation or pay any of the psychological and rehabilitation treatment fees.

Wu Zhihui, director of the Beijing Normal University Rural Education Research Institute, disagrees. He said that the one-teacher schools in the countryside are not independent legal entities but are managed by townships, which are responsible for supervision, inspections and teacher assessments.

A number of teaching personnel in Wuyuan county confirmed to Caixin that the townships manage multiple teaching points and sometimes would send officials to visit for semester assessments, focusing on lesson prep and quantitative assessments based on student performance. More often, the single teacher at these small, rural schools is the sole authority over the students.

The deputy director of the Wuyuan education and sports bureau surnamed Wang told Caixin that the day-to-day management is handed down to the central elementary schools in the townships. He said sometimes this means the towns “don’t have a good understanding of each school,” but that “overall, the situation is good.”

However, Caixin visits to multiple teaching points in Wuyuan county found that many of the teachers are only qualified as substitute teachers, a cost-saving measure, despite the fact that this practice was banned by the central government in 2005.

Wang said that in recent years, the county — like many counties in rural China — has struggled to find teachers. Though in 2018 the county recruited 47 new university graduates from a centrally-run program where graduates serve as teachers in rural areas, Wang said only a handful of these were assigned to the one-teacher schools.

Wang and Wu both put the problem down to needing more financial support from the government to improve rural education, access to schools, and the treatment of teachers in order to avoid such a situation from happening again.

Contact translator Ren Qiuyu (qiuyuren@caixin.com)

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