Sexist Remarks by Yu Minhong — Leader in English Education Amasses Public Resentment

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“The degenerate behavior of women is what’s causing China’s degeneracy.”

On Nov. 18, Yu Minhong (Michael Yu), founder of China’s largest English training school New Oriental delivered a speech that aroused public resentment, with obvious sexist implications.

During his speech, he gave an example to prove his point, he said “the standards of assessment determines the orientations of education”, and continued, “Let’s say, if all women in China want rich guys regardless of his moral standards, then all men in China will become men that earn a lot of money but without a good conscience. This is exactly how Chinese women choose their men nowadays. Therefore, the rise and fall of a nation usually depends on its women. In present-day China, it is the degenerate behavior of women that leads to the downfall of the whole nation.”

Michael Yu has always been a role model for hardworking and persevering Chinese intellectuals. Born into a humble rural family, he took the college entrance exams three times until he was finally enrolled into the country’s top university -Peking University. He is living the “Chinese Dream”.

When I was in high school, I was so deeply touched by an article Yu wrote about himself that I even shed a tear. He used to wander around the winter streets, carrying buckets of glue to put up posters for his English training courses. Back in the 1990’s, studying overseas was a distant dream for most Chinese students, and an old and narrow classroom in Peking University is where that dream started. With their inspirational training atmosphere and their own set of vocabulary memorization methods, New Oriental became the “lighthouse” for the curious souls longing for the outside world.

I still remember a detail from the article, about his wife kicking him out of bed, urging him to recite English words for the GRE tests. In spite of the rumors of conflicts among early founders, the company indeed earned massive success. Up until today, New Oriental is still the first choice for candidates across China when taking foreign language tests including IELTS, TOEFL and GRE. Their English training mentality is test-driven, accused of utilitarianism, but downright effective.

Yu Minhong and his wife (source: tianya999.com)

His sexist remarks all of a sudden caused huge stir on the internet. Famous actress Zhang Yuqi questioned him on the twitter-like Weibo directly, saying “I got to say that ‘education in Peking University and the success of New Oriental failed to help you understand the true value of women and equality in relationships. You even fail to understand what is gender equality.”

actress Zhang Yuqi (source: Meiritoutiao)

Later in the evening that same day, Michael Yu apologized for his previous remarks, “Today I used an example to demonstrate the point ‘the standards of assessment determines the orientations of education’. As I haven’t expressed my point clearly and have caused misunderstandings among netizens, I now sincerely apologize for what I said.”

He then further explained on Weibo, “what I really want to say is that the values of women represents the values of the country. A well educated woman and mother will be able to bring up a well-educated kid. Men are also under the guidance of women’s values. If women pursue intellectual life, men will become more intelligent; if women only have eyes for money, men will try to earn money desperately, while neglecting spiritual cultivation. If women are strong, men will be strong, then the country will be strong.”

The explanation is hardly a good excuse for his previous remarks. First, it completely ignores men’s status in family education, as it’s written in ancient Chinese classics Three-Character Classic, “To feed without teaching, is the father’s fault. To teach without severity, is the teacher’s laziness.”

Ever since the agrarian age, it has been a long-lasting tradition that the father is the family’s breadwinner, whereas the mother often stays home to take care of the household and the children. Even today in most rural areas of China, a prevalent saying would be “a good wife will bring fortune to her husband’s family for three generations”, emphasizing that the wife is the cornerstone of a family’s stability. It is true, in a sense, but it undoubtedly puts too much pressure on women in marriage and relationships. In modern-age nuclear families, both parents should shoulder the responsibilities of raising the children.

Helen of Troy

Another obsolete idea in his speech is that of femme fatale or Helen of Troy, blaming a country’s downfall on women, which is a concept from feudal times. Bao Si, a gorgeous woman and consort of the King, who is often demonized in literature, has always been regarded as the culprit of the demise of Zhou, a major dynasty in ancient China. The King would light up the signal fire meant to gather the armies simply for the amusement of his beloved. Feeling tricked and humiliated, the army leaders then refused to save the king when a real war eventually broke out.

Here I would like to quote Lu Xun, one of the greatest and most poignant contemporary writers in China, which I believe is the best answer to this. “I believe that in a patriarchal society, women would never have such great power. The rise and fall of a nation should fall upon the shoulders of men. However male writers tend to shift the blame onto women. This is just what useless men would do.” Sure the consort might be enchanting but the king is stupid enough to fulfill her every wish.

Cancerous “straight men”

What Yu says once again triggered the war between cancerous “Zhinan” and feminists. In Chinese, Zhinan literally means a stereotyped “straight men”, with a tendency towards male chauvinism. We would use the word “cancerous” since it refers to a kind of deep-rooted narrow-mindedness towards the two genders, that’s already embedded in their flesh and blood like an incurable disease.

To paraphrase what Yu said, it really sounds like, women shouldn’t ask too much of her husband, or curse him for not making enough money. Instead, they should behave, follow ethical standards and stop worshiping money. Then why would a woman’s inherent value be fully reflected through her influence on her man? Can’t she just mind her own business?

Feminism is never about fighting against the superiority of men, it’s about believing that women has something else more important to do than supporting her man.

I understand there is a long way before mankind can fully achieve gender equality, as it is written in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. However, what shocks me most is not that some men still firmly believe that a woman is a mere appendage to her man, but that it comes from someone who’s built up his career by teaching English, who should be well immersed in western culture, who should have been greatly familiar with the idea of equality and inclusiveness.

It is true that his wife must be a devoted and supportive woman, that doesn’t mean all women should be taught and guided that way.

Just as I’m about to wrap up this article, Yu issued another official apology through the website of China Women, which finally seems sober and clear. He said, “I’m now deeply aware of my inappropriate remarks and my erroneous perceptions of gender issues. What I said didn’t show enough respect towards women, and I failed to understand both genders should shoulder family and social responsibilities.”

New Oriental (source: tech sina)

“Now I will try my best to create a corporate culture of gender equality in New Oriental, using New Oriental as a platform for advocating the advanced gender culture with gender equality at its core.”

The apology sounds official, but at least somewhat genuine. After all, an English training business should also put emphasis on helping students understand the essence of western culture, instead of simply memorizing words and scoring high on IELTS tests.

Featured photo credit to yiewan.com

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