Photos of kids doing homework while on a drip spark horror in China

Beijing officials tell parents not to rush kids back to class and to relax about homework while they're sick.
By Huang Chun-mei for RFA Mandarin
Photos of kids doing homework while on a drip spark horror in China Children and their parents wait in an outpatient area at a children’s hospital in Beijing on Nov. 23, 2023.
Jade Gao/AFP

Health officials in Beijing have put out an official plea for leniency amid an online outcry over photos of schoolchildren studying while receiving intravenous fluids in hospitals, as a wave of respiratory illness sweeps China.

In a Nov. 27 directive, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission reminded parents and schools that "Children’s health is the top priority in everything!" and announced that students aren't required to do homework while sick.

"Schools do not impose strict requirements for students' homework while they are sick," it said. "It is not recommended to rush to make up homework during an illness." 

The announcement came as photos of schoolchildren doing their homework at desks while connected to medical drips at the hospital sparked shock and debate on Chinese social media about the hothouse environment that is the national education system.

The photos have been circulating on Twitter and other social media platforms in recent days, often reposted by social media influencers.

The Jiangsu-based Yangtze Evening News followed up with an expose of a similar situation at the Nantong No. 1 People's Hospital, which set up a special "study area" for young patients on a drip, so they wouldn't fall too far behind with their schoolwork while they were sick.

"Our reporter reached the infusion area on the second floor of Nantong No. 1 People's Hospital at around 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 27," the paper reported. "The area was almost full of people on drops, and more were lining up."

"An area in the corner labeled 'Study Area' had a sign which read 'Reserved for students who need it most,’" the report said. "There were four long tables and a row of chairs, already filled with young students and their parents."

"The children were receiving a drip into their left hand, and holding their pens in their right to do their homework," it said. 

It quoted one child as saying that it was better to keep up with his studies, and that the arrangement was "very convenient," and another as saying that he shouldn't have to do homework if he is sick.

A nurse at the hospital told the paper that they would prefer that the children rest more, to ensure a faster recovery, and that the hospital doesn’t encourage them to study while sick.

Outbreak underway

The photos have emerged as a wave of respiratory disease sweeps through the nation's children, prompting reported class closures across the country, amid official warnings of growing cases of influenza, mycoplasma pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19.

The World Health Organization called on Beijing to share its data on an outbreak in Beijing and Tianjin that made international headlines last week.

But Chinese health authorities said they haven't detected any new or unusual bugs and provided the requested data on an increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of pneumonia in children.

Xpeng Motors chairman He Xiaopeng also posted a photo of children on drips doing their homework, commenting: "I never used to fear getting sick, because there was always nice food and I didn't have to go to class or do homework – Now I'm grown up, I'm afraid of getting sick because I will have to do overtime when I get back to work – does the world really have to be so turned in on itself?"

A screenshot from a Yangtze Evening News video shows a section labeled 'Study Area' at Nantong No. 1 People's Hospital on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. (Screenshot from Yangtze Evening News)

Officials at the Beijing Municipal Education Commission appeared to agree with He.

"Parents should let their children get adequate treatment and rest," the directive said. "Even if their health improves, they should not be in a hurry to return to school and resume classes. They should strengthen their health and use rich online teaching resources to study at home." 

"They should help their children eat a balanced diet ... and promote health."

Parental anxiety

Reports continue to emerge on social media of mass absences in schools around the country.

A teacher in the northern province of Hebei posted a video to Weibo of three children sitting in their kindergarten classroom, saying that the other 23 children are off sick, garnering more than 100 million views on one repost alone, and topping the list of Weibo hot searches.

"Can't we just let the kids off school if things are that bad?" one person commented on the video, while another called for class to be suspended.

"This photo is worrying," another commented. "The flu is so serious this time – what's going on?"

The Beijing municipal health announcement said cases among children and teachers should be monitored "to ensure that teachers and students do not go to class while sick."

It also called for mask-wearing in schools along with frequent hand-washing and ventilation.

State broadcaster CCTV blamed the hospital studying phenomenon on parental anxiety, calling it "a more infectious disease than the flu" in a report this week.

"Rather than taking responsibility for their children, some parents are doing this to ease their own anxieties," it said.

Some online comments called for children to be allowed to rest when they're sick, cry if they're upset, and sometimes to do nothing at all.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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