Incarceration of schoolteacher in psychiatric hospital prompts online outcry in China

Li Tiantian has been incommunicado since her online support for a fired Shanghai journalism lecturer.
By Qiao Long, Shum Yin Hang, Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman
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Incarceration of schoolteacher in psychiatric hospital prompts online outcry in China Schoolteacher Li Tiantian is shown holding her book Fox Watching the Moon in an undated photo.
Screenshot from video

Chinese social media users are voicing support for Hunan teacher Li Tiantian, believed to be detained in a psychiatric hospital after she spoke out over the expulsion of a Shanghai journalism lecturer who encouraged her students to verify official accounts of the Nanjing massacre.

Li, who is currently pregnant, has been incommunicado since she issued a cry for help on the social media platform Weibo Moments on Sunday as officials from her hometown of Shaba in Hunan's Yongshun county committed her for psychiatric care.

"The leadership benefits when local governments do evil things," Twitter user @fjv_n commented on Wednesday. "Anyone can be be mentally illed if the wind rises."

Being "mentally-illed" is a satirical term used to describe the use of psychiatric diagnosis and incarceration by the authorities to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Others retweeted an open letter from writer Li Xuewen, who said Li's disappearance had caused "great indignation" on the country's tightly controlled internet.

In the letter, Li Xuewen says Li Tiantian was likely targeted by officials in the local education bureau in Hunan's Xiangxi prefecture, who used her support for Song Gengyi as a pretext for retaliation over a critical article she wrote about rural education in 2019.

"She was just exercising the basic rights of a citizen, and you actually forced her to disappear," Li Xuewen wrote. "This is an abuse of public power ... and must be immediately rectified."

In her 2019 article, Li Tiantian wrote: "What makes me feel most helpless and upset is that, while, as teachers, we teach students to be honest and trustworthy, we can't actually tell the truth ourselves. We have become captive intellectuals who are forced to live carefully."

Hunan scholar Li Ang said Li Tiantian's husband hasn't been allowed to visit her since she was sent to the Yongshun County Psychiatric Hospital.

"She's just a primary-school teacher of Chinese, who likes to write poems, and is a very thoughtful person," Li Ang said. "She turned 27 this year."

Some social media users have flocked to buy Li Tiantian's book, Fox Watching the Moon, which uses poetic language to retell some of the folk legends of her native western Hunan with an ecological twist. Her unique teaching style had earned Li the nickname "Fairy Teacher" among her students, according to some comments.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, user @Szhou12345 dedicated a poem to Li Tiantian using the wild grasses of western Hunan as a metaphor for her spirit.

"A small flower bloomed among the wild grasses, but was trampled by a bunch of pigs," the poem said.

Informants, denunciations

Current affairs commentator Xiang Wei said China's education system has become rife with politically motivated denunciations by "informants" among both students and teaching staff at every level.

"Informants have become a kind of political asset used by the authorities to bolster their grip on power," Xiang said. "I remember when I was at the Qianhai Primary School in Nanshan, Shenzhen, there were a few little spies among the students."

"They weren't just there to study, but also to ... observe the mood of their classmates, and any psychological changes," he said. "They would report back to the teachers at specified intervals."

Literary scholar Chen Kun said informing is an inherent part of the communist way of governing.

"The communist way of thinking absolutely prohibits the progression of logical thinking, political psychology and so on in an educational setting, so this kind of informing is an inherent and logical part of communism, and has been from the start," Chen said.

"It is a process of de-intellectualising the people, and an important tool for them to govern by."

Meanwhile, veteran rights lawyer Ran Tong said lawyers hoping to extend assistance to Song Gengyi have been unable to contact her.

"Everyone saw [the video clip], which is normal teaching content," Ran told RFA. "What it means is that ultra-leftism now prevails everywhere, and any teacher who tells the truth is regarded as a problem."

"I could offer her legal assistance if needed, but I'm not able to get in touch with her right now."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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moon not yet in hands
Dec 25, 2021 01:30 PM

May heavens come to Li Tiantian's aid!
May she be safe and at peace!
May the conscience and courage she embodies live on!